By Shamindra Ferdinando
Top Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) spokesperson Mujibur Rahman yesterday (28) said that the recent allegations directed at Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva by his own deputy State Minister Premalal Jayasekera pertaining to a high profile investment at the Colombo port had exposed the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government.
The former parliamentarian said that the accusations made a few days after he sought information regarding the proposed establishment of South Asia Logistic Centres in the port of Colombo from the Ports, Shipping and Aviation Ministry in terms of the Right to Information (RTI) Act could help to verify the allegations.
“State Minister Jayasekera couldn’t have made such accusations at a worse time,” the former UNP MP said, adding that the Ratnapura District MP had implicated President Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, in the Colombo port project given to China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited represented here by Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).
CICT is a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited, a listed blue chip company in the Hong Kong stock exchange, and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). China holds 85% of the partnership whilst the balance 15% is being held by SLPA.
Responding to another query, the former parliamentarian said that during the media conference given by State Minister Jayasekera, the parliamentarian referred to the valuation of the 14 acres of land allocated for the project.
Ex-Colombo District MP and SJB’s mayoral candidate for CMC Rahman said that he handed over the RTI application to Ports, Shipping and Aviation Ministry on Aug 18. In terms of the RTI Act, the relevant authority would have to respond within 14 days. Failure to do so could result in legal proceedings, SJB spokesperson said. The politician alleged that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government was continuing with controversial projects launched by the previous Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration.
This particular investment had been initiated during Rohitha Abeygunawardena’s tenure as the Ports and Shipping Minister.
Rahman said that the SJB would like to know whether the Cabinet of Ministers had taken a decision on 26 July, 2021, consequent to a Cabinet memorandum, dated 21 July, 2021 pertaining to the port deal.
“We want to clarify the appointment of a Negotiation Committee as envisaged in the cabinet paper and determinations made by the aforementioned committee,” Rahman said after having handed over the RTI application. “We asked for the names of the members of the Negotiating Committee.”
RTI became law in 2017 following a campaign spearheaded by the likes of the Yahapalana Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and a section of civil society grouping. The ex-MP said that they sought information regarding this particular deal as the party was aware of the 14 acres of land, situated within the area, coming under the purview of the Colombo port, was to be given to a Chinese project at terms highly unfavourable to the country.
Rahman said that they also sought documents pertaining to the deal after Nimal Siripala de Silva succeeded Kalutara District MP Rohitha Abeyguna-wardena as Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister. Pointing out that de Silva took over the Ministry after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster in July 2022, Rahman said that they asked for legal opinion expressed by the Attorney General as regards the BOT (Build-Operate and Transfer) agreement pertaining to the large infrastructure project.
According to a copy of the RTI application seen by The Island, Rahman has sought the observations made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Finance, Economic Stabilization and National Policies Minister as regards this project that involved an investment of USD 150 mn and working capital of USD 25 mn.
Rahman said that State Minister Jayasekera’s spate of allegations against his own minister and the SLPA proved that regardless of the change of government the same old corrupt system remained. In fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should inquire into these accusations as revival of the economy would only be a dream as long as the incumbent government failed to address waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement at every level, Rahman said.
Minister de Silva hasn’t officially refuted the allegations so far.