Sri Lanka’s proposed deal with India over the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport will “unnecessarily” embroil the island national in India-China “regional power games”, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said.
The Sri Lankan government earlier this month had announced that it would go ahead with the deal with India to jointly operate the airport in the southern Hambantota district.
The country has also entered a 99-year lease with China to develop an industrial park and an oil bunkering facility at the Hambantota port.
“We are opposed to the selling of national assets,” Rajapaksa said while in Tangalle.
“Our country will be unnecessarily caught in regional power games due to this,” he added. Rajapaksa was underlining the concerns that the current government in a bid to balance India in Sri Lanka’s “over dependence” on China is to handover the Mattala airport to serve New Delhi’s interests.
The USD 210 million facility, 241-km south-east of Colombo, is dubbed the “world’s emptiest airport”. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) is to enter a deal with the Sri Lanka Civil Aviation Authority to run the Mattala airport.
The airport was built with high interest commercial loans from China. The AAI is to have a 70 per cent stake while Sri Lanka’s CAA will invest 30 per cent.
The private public partnership will see AAI entering a 40-year lease agreement to take up the management control of the airport.
However, India’s Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha yesterday told Parliament that there was no proposal under consideration for the AAI to buy a controlling stake in the airport. Sinha also clarified that there were no plans for the AAI to build a flying school and a maintenance, repair and overhaul unit at the airport.
On July 19, Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva had told the country’s Parliament that the AAI has been asked to submit its business plan for operating the loss-making Mattala airport. The airport was officially opened in March 2013. The only international flight operating from there was halted in May due to recurrent losses and flight safety issues.