Yahapalanaya to continue struggling in a swamp
BY Gagani Weerakoon
Just one week into the newly dawned year, Yahapalana Government, and its stakeholders appear to be in a swamp without being able to proceed in any direction.
Though they managed to hide differences of opinion between the camp led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe well under the carpet for two years, the tug-o-war of the hierarchies could no longer be hidden as it has come to the limelight on many occasions in the last few weeks.
While some ministers silently engaged in their ministry work, many of them were busy criticizing their opponents and colleagues. At the lapse of two years, if anything that Yahapalana Government progressed in displaying, it is the arrogance towards each other- be it to the Joint Opposition, the student movement, the civil society movement, allies in the unity government and prominently towards the civil servants.
The backtracking of government on its election promises and going back on its words to the public has immensely resulted in lessening the popularity it once had. The very slogans they used in winning the votes of the people seemed to have vanished with them continuing the same policies, same silence and same arrogance in different ways than that was in practice under the previous regime.
Instead of silencing the voices, you are allowed to express yourself through whatever medium you prefer, yet the authorities will pay heed to those. You are free to come on streets and there will be no white vans, a promise well-kept since elections, yet be prepared to get tear gassed or baton charged. The development projects will not be as corrupt as those used to be, yet, those will not be transparent either and the waste of public funds will be lesser. Opposition could point out financial irregularities and mega scale frauds, yet no actions will be taken against those responsible – only committee reports could be tabled in Parliament.
Investigations into controversial murders committed during last regime were expedited, only to a point where remains were exhumed.
It was in the midst of this that the Consultation Task Force (CTF), appointed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, releasing its report recommended that foreign involvement was needed because of a lack of confidence in the local judiciary, which it said did not have the expertise and capacity to prosecute war crimes.
However, the Sirisena camp dismissed the CTF recommendation, to include foreign Judges in any future tribunals on alleged war crimes.
"People can say whatever they want, but the government has been clear there will be no foreign Judges. Yes, we are open to having experts to assist us in technical matters, but there is no room for foreign Judges," several ministers opined. They were of the opinion that committees can recommend whatever they want yet the government has the right to decide what recommendations should be followed.
"Even the United Nations agreed that there is no need for foreign judges. So people have the right to say what they want but we are not bound to implement everything," Cabinet Spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne said.
Senaratne went on to say that the members of the CTF are not the greatest intellects in the world but a set of Sri Lankans from a certain background.
"We will look at their report and we will adopt what will work. The government has explicitly stated its position not to involve foreign judges in domestic mechanisms. We have stated our position repeatedly and the UN envoys have agreed to it. Even UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, who visited the country some time back agreed to it and expressed his consent," Senaratne said. However, the UNHRC took to twitter rejecting Sri Lanka's claim and said "Zeid has always urged the creation of a Hybrid Court in Sri Lanka and has not changed his position in this regard".
Special development zone
Amidst protests, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and Chinese Ambassador Yi Xianliang, launched yesterday a special industrial zone in Hambantota with the expectation of attracting $5 billion in Chinese investments within 3-5 years after opening the industrial zone.
The Logistics and Industrial Zone comes under the Southern Development Plan of the Yahapalana Government.
"The then government wished to attract foreign investors into the country by opening the Hambantota Port. Unfortunately, due to several key reasons the entire project became a 'white elephant'. Investors did not arrive as expected and there were not any commercial goods to export from the port. Therefore, the port continued to incur heavy losses. Apart from bearing losses, from 2017 onward we have to pay debt installments and the country is not economically strong to bear it," Wickremesinge said.
Therefore, the government was left without any other alternative apart from discussing the matter with China in a diplomatic manner. In the first phase of discussions the government tried to find if there was a possibility of cancelling those debts. But the Export-Import Bank of China refused to do so. The only alternative we had after this is to develop the industrial economy of the area with collaboration of China, the Prime Minister said.
Wickremesinghe stated that China wanted 15,000 acres so the cost for building infrastructure facilities could be reduced. They also told us that they will allow two Chinese companies, which are China Merchant Ltd and China Harbour Ltd to operate in Sri Lanka. Between those two companies, it was China Merchant Ltd which placed a higher bid for the Port, which is US $ 1.1 billion and 80% shares, he added.
"The government also plans to relocate the Galle Navy Camp to Hambantota. Sri Lanka Coast Guard Agency will be operated from Galle after signing the agreement with China Merchant Ltd," he added.
Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang also addressing the crowd said that China considers Sri Lanka as a top priority to place investments.
"This is a great opportunity for Sri Lanka, as more than 50 Chinese investors are interested in investing in the Southern Development Project. If everything goes well, at least US$ 5 billion might be invested in the next three to five years, providing 100,000 jobs to Sri Lankans."
He said it was during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Sri Lanka in 2014 they decided to make Sri Lanka their first priority for investments.
"Then in 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena visited China and we confirmed it and decided to support each other. Last April, Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe visited China. It is quite clear that the Chinese President and the Sri Lankan Prime Minister reached a consensus. Now, China will join Sri Lanka to help it establish its basic industrial system," the Chinese Ambassador said.
He also opined that the Southern Development Zone would be the most important area of economic activity for Sri Lanka, its government and the people of Hambanota. "Sri Lanka is not a small country, but a great country with a 20 million population. It's a big country with big potential. That is why today we have gathered here and I stand here to share with you my feelings. I will do my best to help develop Sri Lanka," Yi said.
He assured that all Chinese projects would follow the Environmental Impact Assessment and also the laws of Sri Lanka.
"This is my promise and a promise from all Chinese business people. We will respect decisions made by the Sri Lanka Government and people. We will corporate with you, government ministers and the people, to make this area a developed area, within the next 30 years," he said.
The JVP, that has joined the Joint Opposition in protesting against the move, charged that the country will have to let India control the Trincomalee Harbour as a result of giving Hambantota Port to China.
Party Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake noted that the Hambantota Port deal is a part of the Chinese Maritime Silk Road which ultimately deals with geopolitics.
"The issue of Hambantota Port is not merely about profit or loss. We are losing one national asset and letting India to take control of Trincomalee Harbour to balance powers of those countries. Trincomalee Harbour is the second best natural harbour in the world and the available water and land area is about 10 times as much as the Port of Colombo. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority has completed a zoning plan to utilize the huge existing unutilized land under its jurisdiction," he added.
Dissanayake said there will be no Chinese factories coming into Sri Lanka apart from the cement factory, paints factory and sugar refinery.
He said over 40,000 workers are currently working in Katunayake Free Trade Zone which has only 292 acres of land, while Biyagama FTZ has over 30,000 workers with 190 acres.
"All our 17 Free Trade Zones consist of less than 2,000 acres, why only Hambantota needs 15,000 acres. This is a lie. Why come to Hambantota if Chinese don't even get raw materials or cheap labour here."
Dissanayake said the bottom line is that Sri Lanka has become a victim of the new cold war between US and Chinese allies.
"This is not an economic plan of a country to sell lands and national assets to other countries just showing debt numbers of previous regimes. We will certainly not allow Hambantota land acquisition for the Chinese Zone."
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