The eastern container terminal will not be sold or rented, assures the president of Sri Lanka.
In his government’s first admission of Indian involvement in the development of a container terminal in the strategically coveted port of Colombo, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Wednesday that 49% of the investment would come from the “Adani Group and ‘other stakeholders’.
President Rajapaksa was speaking to representatives of the port workers’ unions, amid their continued resistance to any foreign involvement in the proposed Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) development project. “The TCE will not be sold or rented,” he assured them, adding that foreign investments would not prejudice the sovereignty or independence of Sri Lanka, according to a statement issued by the president’s office.
This development comes a week after the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, S. Jaishankar to Colombo, during which he is said to have urged the Sri Lankan side to speed up the finalization of the agreement. While 66% of the terminal’s transshipment activities are linked to India, New Delhi’s strategic interest in having a presence at the port, located along one of the world’s shipping lanes, is not a secret.
In May 2019, the predecessor government – led by Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe – signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with India and Japan for the project. The three countries agreed that the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) would retain 100% ownership, while a jointly owned terminal operating company – 51% with Sri Lanka and 49% with India and Japan – would manage the terminal. However, in the statement from President Rajapaksa’s office, he said he “pointed out” to the unions that after his government negotiated with India, it was possible to reach an agreement that the SLPA ” retains 51% ownership and control ”.
Asked about the difference between the new deal and the 2019 MoC – which did not include a sale or lease agreement – (retired) SLPA chairman General M. Daya Ratnayake said The Hindu: “We will not use any loans. It will be quite an investment, that is the main difference. Two Cabinet-appointed committees were tasked with reviewing the details of the project and negotiating the new deal, he said.
Sources based in Colombo said that Japan was also considering the request for investments.
However, opposition lawmaker Vijitha Herath of left-wing nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – who held a rally on Tuesday to protest India’s involvement in the TCE – said he was not convinced. “The investment is just a way to hide the real role and control of Indian business here. This does not exclude a sale or a lease in the future, ”he said. The Hindu.