India waiting to hear the ‘good news’ MRIA bid is still open for investors says Government

Mattala airport

While India is ‘waiting’ to hear the final word on their bid proposal to uplift the defunct Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA), through a joint venture project, the Government says the bidding to run the MRIA on a lease agreement is still open for local and international investors.

Deputy Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Ashok Abeysinghe told Ceylon Today that the bidding for the MRIA is still open for investors while India’s proposal was being studied simultaneously but they have not given a word to India.

He noted that the final decision has not been taken on the India’s proposal, tabled last August and that they had sat to discuss the proposal three times in the past months.

Deputy Minister Abeysinghe noted that the total expenditure to construct the MRIA was USD 260 million and any new plans should be to recover that expenditure.He said at least a US$ 390 million worth lease agreement, for a joint venture, is being targeted where the land area of the MRIA is only leased to the investor, so that, no payment of interest is involved. He said the Cabinet approval was to go ahead to rebuild the MRIA and not mentioned that it is given to Indians.After the Government officially handed over the Magampura Port to the Chinese in July last year, India tabled its US$ 200 million odd proposal to boost Hambantota as a tourism hub and run an in-flight training school apart from other deals.

There is also a need to boost the facilities inside the MRIA, the Indians had mentioned in the proposal.The Indians say that Sri Lanka first needs to create a tourism hub in Hambantota to attract tourists, so that, they could take a flight to MRIA and back. They also have seen the golf courses around Kataragama and lots of other interesting places to connect to Mattala in the Hambantota District. According to the Deputy Minister of Aviation, China also came forward with their proposal but the ‘better option’ on the deal was from India.Having considered that the Magampura Port has been given to the Chinese, the best way to look forward was to enter into a public private partnership to develop MRIA with other countries, he noted.Visiting the MRIA last week, Ceylon Today was told that there was a nearly 200 odd paid staff.There were a couple of private planes carrying few passengers landing at the MRIA occasionally.

The only budget airline, Fly Dubai, is operating five times a week where around 7 to 12 passengers arrive at random. Even Fly Dubai flights don’t operate regularly despite scheduled.

The expenditure of the MRIA is being borne by the Bandaranaike International Airport, noted the Deputy Minister.Some of the officials working there said there is hardly any public transport service from Mattala to the Hambantota town or beyond and they pointed out that there is no scheduled transport system so how can one expect passengers to even visit the MRIA.The MRIA is open for visitors to see the place, at a charge of Rs 100 per ticket bringing in revenue of between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 per day randomly.

As of now, Rs 185 million is spent monthly on the MRIA whereas the revenue is only Rs6 million. He also pointed out that since the MRIA was built, the Chinese gave a grace period of five years and that was over three years ago.”We are paying Rs 3 billion annually to the Chinese and that will continue for the next 12 years,” noted the Deputy Minister.As part of the infrastructure development, a highway of nearly 208 km is being constructed by the Chinese, directly from MRIA to Matara and that would connect to Kataragama later on, Ceylon Today learns.

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan)