PM frowns on ‘traitors’ blocking ETCA, reveals fresh Chinese investment in Hambantota

Ranil Wickremasinghe

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe vowed on Saturday to go ahead with the Indo-Lanka Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) regardless of mouting opposition to the government move. He said the government had the required majority in Parliament to achieve its objectives. The UNP leader was addressing the media at the Hambantota Port having inspected major projects, including the Harbantota airport, port as well as the international cricket stadium built during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President.

Premier Wickremesinghe castigated the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) as well as a section of the media for obstructing the government’s plan. He was accompanied by several ministers, including Sajith Premadasa, Sagala Ratnayake, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Mahinda Amaraweera and Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala.

An irate Wickremesinghe called those opposing ETCA traitors, while accusing them of seeking to sabotage his efforts to create employment.

Commenting on new projects envisaged in the deep south, PM Wickremesinghe said that the Chinese wanted 1,000 acres. The UNP leader revealed that discussions were continuing with the Chinese. He explained efforts to attract business to Hambantota port.

Earlier in the day, the Premier flew in a helicopter to Mattala airport to be received by several ministers and officials.

Wickremesinghe dismissed claims that ETCA would open the job market to Indians at the expense of Sri Lankans. The UNP Leader emphasized that traitors wouldn’t be allowed to derail projects implemented for the betterment of the country.

Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday alleged that governments of India and Sri Lanka were in the process of implementing a controversial service project amidst a simmering dispute over the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA).

Prof. Peiris pointed out that the launch of an Indian sponsored emergency pre-hospital ambulance service here was part of ETCA. Prof. Peiris said that Sri Lanka should be wary of post-war Indian projects meant to expand their role here.

The former Minister alleged that the Indian funded ambulance service would pave the way for Indians to be employed here. Prof. Peiris pointed out that the two governments were going ahead with what he called a plan inimical to Sri Lanka’s well-being.

Responding to a query by The Island, Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was making a despicable bid to prevent the media from giving coverage to growing opposition to ETCA, the ambulance project as well as the Geneva issue. Referring to a spate of recent statements issued by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe critical of those who had dared to report what was going on, Prof. Peiris alleged that Western embassies were silent today. The former Minister said that ongoing attacks on the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) reflected the ruling coalition thinking. The government was hell-bent on bringing those critical of its strategies to heel, Prof. Peiris alleged.

Acting Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva insisted that the ambulance project had been offered by India during its Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit in March, 2015 as a goodwill gesture. The economist strongly denied accusations that the proposed ambulance service had been implemented in accordance with ETCA.

The Colombo District MP told The Island that a project immensely beneficial to the ordinary people of Sri Lanka was being opposed for political reasons. De Silva accused the Joint Opposition of seeking to sabotage the Indian project worth Rs 1 bn.

Minister de Silva said that 88 ambulances would be deployed in Western and Southern Provinces. He denied claims that hundreds of Indians would be brought in to run the service at the expense of qualified Sri Lankans.

The Acting Foreign Minister said that a quality ambulance service could save the lives of many Sri Lankans who couldn’t afford private ambulance services currently available in Sri Lanka. Having lost two national elections during 2015, a vindictive Opposition was obstructing UNP-SLFP coalition efforts to improve living conditions. Obviously, they couldn’t stomach progress made by the government, De Silva said, urging people not to be misled by those propagating lies.

According to Dr de Silva, Sri Lanka had finalised an agreement with the Hyderabad-based GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (GVK EMRI) to run the operation for a year. The Indian enterprise could seek an extension, the Acting Minister said, adding that there was a bar to other interested parties from competing with GVK EMRI.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)