We want an anti-UNP government
By Denagama Dhammika
United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Namal Rajapaksa says a UPFA government will one day reclaim the Hambantota Port like the way his father reclaimed SriLankan and the Insurance Corporation.
?: Why is there so much protest against the Hambantota Port deal?
A: Implementing a development project is not a problem. But, basically, the plan to lease out the Hambantota Harbour is now afoot. The basic plan was signed in October. Did they consult the Attorney General? Who selected China Merchant Company? The company which set forth the most disadvantageous conditions to the country, based on the recommendations of the Port Director Board, has been selected. Those who signed this agreement, without the knowledge of the Ports Authority, have no right to do so. Parliament has not been made aware of the content of the agreement. They didn't have any trust in us. As we believe, the Attorney General has not been consulted.
The involvement of the Minister of Labour is essential if any institute is privatized. In relation to the Hambantota Harbour deal, the Minister of Labour has no engagement. Although it is said that this is leased for 99 years, the company is allowed to develop the second, third, fourth stages also. This is a permanent transfer, although it is not directly said.
They say the estimated value is US$ 1.1 billion. How was it decided? As we are informed, the agreeing company says they cannot come to an agreement because an estimate has not been done. Stages I and II have value estimation but the Stages III and IV are allowed to be developed without valuation.
The company will own 2,000 hectares. We have developed a number of hectares under stages one and two. According to this agreement, although a Harbour Master is appointed in the first few months, it will not be given later. It is detrimental to the sovereignty of the country. That private company will control even who comes and goes to the harbour.
Q: It is alleged that the previous government transferred the ownership of the Shangri-La Hotel land and the Port City permanently?
A: That is seven acres. It was given to build a hotel. Now an entire harbour and thousands of acres are to be given to foreigners. We are against it. We are not against developing the country.
Q: The present government always highlights that all these things are done to pay back the loans taken by the previous regime.
A: Ranil Wickremesinghe says that this money will be used to repay debts. Ravi Karunanayake says part of the loan will be settled and the other part will be invested. The Governor of the Central Bank demands money as the dollar deposits are not enough. Now these three persons fight to share this. Finally, we shall lose the harbour. The debt will remain. We shall lose income for 15 more years.
Q: Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne says the previous regime also promised to establish an investment zone on 15,000 acres. Why is it bad now, if it was good then?
A: We signed agreements to start industries as part of the Hambantota Harbour project, Mattala Airport project and the Mirijjawila Industrial City project. There are 11,000 hectares. Taking over of 15,000 acres more, without starting industries, is a problem for the people. Some 12,500 families will lose houses. And, 50,000 people will lose residences. It is not practical to take over more after stopping the investment agreements that came during the period of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Q: The government says it is not only the Hambantota District, but land will be taken over from the adjacent districts as well.
A: Speaking about Matara and Galle started recently. On the other hand, we have problems regarding giving land in three districts to a company.
During our time, land belonged to the Board of Investment or the Ministry of Industries. They leased them to subsidiary companies. But, these people give all land to foreign companies. After these lands and the harbour are given, they will not pay any money to the government for 15 years. The 20% dividend of the Ports Authority is given after 20 years.
During the previous government, 66 project proposals were submitted for industries. Eleven of them were selected. The investment was over US$ 1 billion. Those 11 institutes give us more value than what is given by China Merchant Company. Even though more won't come, we will receive US$ 3,177 million for 33 years.
Q: The government says these are done to repay the loans taken by the previous government.
A: These people have no economic plan. That is why they are saying these things. We paid an instalment of US$ 6 billion a year. Because of what this government is doing, it is now US$ 8 billion. The increase is due to the depreciation of the dollar. That means Rs 426 billion will be paid as instalments for debt. That amount is more than the value of the mega development projects done by the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government.
Q: Mahinda Rajapaksa has said the port will be reclaimed after he sets up a government. Can it be done?
A: This agreement is signed under an Agency for Development. It is established under the Development Special Provisions Act. But, that Bill was defeated by the Provincial Councils. It is not passed in Parliament. When the Bill was tabled in November, the positions had been already shared. Therefore, a company signed as per a non-legal draft can be legally taken over.
Hambantota Harbour is being sold without a legal base. One Mangala Yapa has been appointed as the chairman of the Agency for Development, which has not been established legally. How can that institute get immunity, which is not enjoyed by the President? On the other hand, the ownership is harmed. Therefore, a company which is set up in an erroneous manner can be taken over. This government had cancelled the Port City project at one time. We will not cancel it. We will reclaim it like we reclaimed SriLankan and the Insurance Corporation.
Q: Can this government be toppled in 2017?
A: It is not sure this government will last until the Sinhala New Year. There are problems between the Prime Minister and the President. Ministers like Range Bandara publicly say they cannot work because of dissatisfaction. The partners of the government like Dilan Perera accuse the UNP. The cracks have started to appear in the government. This is not a country that can be ruled by two persons. One must take the rule. Now we see that this is not ruled by either. Neither can rule. Therefore, we will definitely topple the government. You will see the programme to topple the government in the near future.
Q: There is an allegation that the Joint Opposition is trying to establish a sole UNP Government. Is it true?
A: We have a policy. We are against forming governments with the UNP. That is why we are not partners of this government. We cannot form coalition governments with the UNP because our policies are different. This privatization is solely a UNP policy. We cannot go with them. We cannot be there when war crime tribunals are brought to violate the sovereignty of the country and when they try to split the country through a constitutional amendment. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike established the SLFP because he could not go on with the UNP. The 53 MPs of the Joint Opposition are together because of the UNP. How can we face people when ports and airports are being sold, a Constitution which will split the country is brought, taxed, fined and farmers destroyed? The minister who said rice harvest is too much and who asked not to cultivate paddy now says that we have no rice. We live in such a country.
Q: The government says what they are doing is managing loss making companies.
A: Rs 650 million income was generated by fuel operations in the harbour in the first year. The profit of bunkering operations in the first three months was Rs 580 million. Although these people say that there were two months of loss, it was not a loss but a decrease due to the increase of petroleum prices in the world market. This government did not work to recover that loss.
In 2015, although there was demand for one tonne of spare petroleum for 650 dollars, it was not sold then and later it was sold at 250 dollars. The loss they say could be recovered if it was sold at 650 dollars.
We don't know if there was a commission and who took it. Minister Malik Samarawickrama has said that the Colombo Port has also seen losses because of the Hambantota Port. It is said that a loss was made because the vehicles disembarkation was taken to Hambantota from Colombo. It is a total lie. The reason is we built the Hambantota Port for transhipment. Some 70% was re-exported. Its growth is more than the growth of the Singapore Port. The growth in Singapore is 5-10% a year. But, ours was over 100-200%. When we were in the government, about 70 ships a month came. It is now reduced to less than 30 a month. The unloading is taking place in Colombo Port after a container yard is cleared because there is no space in Colombo. These people stopped the Colombo east jetty. We had a plan that nine years was necessary to bring Hambantota Port to profit making level.
The east jetty of the Colombo harbour was built for this purpose. An income of US$ 15 billion was estimated from it. Paying US$ 6-8 billion of Hambantota Harbour will not be a problem so much, if it happened.
Due to the closure of the east jetty of the Colombo Harbour, the Ports Authority's income has reduced by US$ 100 million a year. Finally, both the Hambantota Harbour and the Colombo east jetty are not there. There are only 12 places in the world where a harbour and an airport are linked. The distance between the harbour and the airport is 10 minutes. Both harbour and the airport are like one. In this way, the airport will also be given. The future of the airport depends on the harbour. Now it is also to be sold. We urge the government not to sell the nerve centres to cover its inability.
Q: The government says the harbour was leased to the most advantageous buyer. Why does the opposition say it is wrong?
A: China Harbour initially pays
US$ 750 million. After that they will pay for the 50 years for which they have asked it. Thus, US$ 3.2 billion will be paid. But, this government wanted to seal the deal at US$ 1.1 billion for 99 years. It was given to China Merchant to take US$ 350 million more at once, rejecting the better productive agreement for the country. This company initially pays US$ 1.1 billion and will not pay any money for 15 years.
Q: There are rumours that the SLFP Government wing and the Joint Opposition will ally again like in the general election, despite whatever you say.
A: No. The Joint Opposition will not do that. We will contest under a coalition in which the Joint Opposition is leading. The SLFPers in the government can join. We will form an alliance under the leadership of the Joint Opposition.
That does not mean that we would resign from the SLFP. It is as the SLFP wing. We need no alliance with the UNP. We want an anti-UNP Government.
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