Government to develop East Container Terminal fully, remaining terminal on paper open for foreign investment

Nalaka Godahewa

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has accepted a proposal by 22 port trade unions aimed at resolving a crisis over the proposed handing over of the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour to India’s Adani Group.

The unions have accepted external investment in the proposed West Container Terminal (WCT) while the government undertook to fully develop the deep water ECT now in operation.

Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal and Community Cleanliness State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, who intervened in the dispute on behalf of ‘Viyathmaga’ yesterday (31), told The Island the trade unions’ proposal was in line with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy statement at the last presidential election in Nov 2019.

The trade unions and the President reached consensus on this latter on Friday (29) amidst several political parties in the ruling SLPP objecting to the deal on the ECT. National Freedom

Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa spearheaded the protest by seeking a common stand on the port issue. Among those who supported the initiative were Yuthukama MP Gevindu Cumaratunga and the SLFP that had been involved in the original plan to involve the Indians at the ECT.

Responding to another query, Godahewa explained that ‘Viyathmaga’ Executive Committee member Dr. Priyath Bandu, who had served as Chairman, Sri Lanka Ports Authority during previous Rajapaksa administration, too, joined discussions with trade unions in the wake of them resorting to ‘work to rule’ as part of their strategy to discourage the incumbent government from going ahead with the tripartite agreement on the ECT finalized during the previous yahapalana administration.

Dr. Godahewa said that ‘Viyathmaga’ intervened as the outfit felt the continuing failure or the delay on their part to address the issue at hand could cause irreparable damage. Dr. Godahewa said that only the trade union affiliated to the JVP refused to reach consensus on this matter.

Asked whether the government was really serious about accepting the trade unions’ formula, Dr. Godahewa said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa accepted workers’ call for one Cabinet paper on the ECT and the proposed WCT. There couldn’t be any further issues in this regard as no less a person than the President gave his go ahead, Dr. Godahewa said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has instructed port minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena to take necessary action in this regard.

The State Minister explained that initially about 16 trade unions had accepted the proposals. There had been some delays as a result of some of the seven remaining trade unions

raising objects, Dr. Godahewa said, adding that finally six more trade unions declared their support. The State Minister emphasized that he along with Dr. Priyathbandu intervened after having received President Rajapaksa’s blessings. The President felt that progress couldn’t be made unless the government reached a clear understanding with port trade unions.

Dr. Godahewa said that in terms of the original ADB approved plan, three terminals at the Colombo port were to public-private partnerships. Dr. Godahewa said: “The ADB plan covered three terminals. China managed Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT) is one such terminal, the partly operational ECT run by the SLPA and WCT, a facility which is only on paper.” The SLPA, according to Dr. Godahewa developed the ECT after the previous Rajapaksa administration secured ADB’s consent to develop two of three terminals with external investments whereas it retained the ECT.

Dr. Godahewa said that the previous administration finalized a Memorandum of Corporation (MoC) with India and Japan in spite of specific decision taken by the government to develop the ECT on its own.

Dr. Godahewa said that the public shouldn’t be confused with the agreement on South Asia Gateway Terminals (SAGT) in the Colombo port finalized way back in 1999. The SAGT investment partners comprised John Keells, Evergreen, A.P.Moller Group and SLPA. The SLPA owns only 15 per cent shares. In the CICT operation, too, the SLPA’s stake is 15 per cent.

Dr. Godahewa said that the government could engage those interested in investing in the proposed WTC as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the trade unions were on the same page as regards the port issue.

In the wake of successful Viyathmaga intervention several political parties met at Minister Weerawansa’s Colombo residence on Saturday (30) where they vowed to oppose Indian investment at the ECT under any circumstances. A senior NFF spokesperson told The Island that of the 14 political parties and groups in the SLPP, the participated in the discussion. Among those present were Ven Atureliye Rathana, State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, Minister Udaya Gammanpila, Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, MP, State Minister Jayantha Samaraweera, Weerasumana Weerasinha, MP, Asanka Navaratne, MP and SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga.

Dr. Godahewa emphasized that their decision not to accept foreign investment at the ECT shouldn’t be misconstrued as opposition to external funding of local projects.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)