If given power We’ll develop country in two years -Chandrasiri Mahagamage
By Krishan Pathirath Jayasuriya
All Ceylon General Ports Employees Union secretary Chandrasiri Mahagamage says that the proposal to build the Hambantota Harbour was made in 1906 when Leonard Woolf was the Assistant Government Agent there. "The Magampura Port at Hambantota has been leased to a Chinese company. Now there are talks about leasing oil tanks in Trincomalee Harbour to India. We don't know what is in store for the future of ports in Sri Lanka," he said in an interview.
What is the history of the All Ceylon General Ports Employees Union and what has it achieved?
A: After 1994, a section of Port employees joined us to strengthen the Janatha Vimukthi Peramauna (JVP). In consequence a convention of the Socialist Workers Union was held in February 1996, and then the port trade unions were formed on 25 April and the unions of the Sri Lanka Railways were set up on 26 April in the same year. That was how the Inter Company Employees 'Trade Union (ICTU) came into being. We are a workers' union with a history of 21 years. 90% of the workers in the country have confidence in us.
It said that 60,000 members of your party were killed in '88-'89. Is that figure accurate?
A: Nearly 60,000 were killed. Those statistics are there. Even the families that sympathized with the JVP were exterminated. However, the Sooriyakanda issue became a personal issue, then. Chandrika used it for her personal gain. They said the murderers would be brought to Galle Face.
Do you think your party will come to power some day?
A: We should definitely come to power. If a JVP Government is not formed in 2019 it is the misfortune of the people of this country. We have a vision. We will develop this country. We will take only two years to build this country.There has to be a production based economy in this country. The Mahaweli Ganga should be diverted to the North. It can be done. If not the soil there cannot be turned.
How much of assistance could be obtained from the ports for such development?
A: Even the teacher's salaries could be paid with the profits from the harbour.
Can't the Tricomalee Harbour be put to better use to generate more income? But why it isn't happening?
A: The rulers are only boasting that it's the best natural harbour in the world. We, as workers know that the harbour could be made more productive. We have been telling the Governments about it from 2006. But our proposals were not implemented. There are a lot of employment opportunities for the youth of the North and the East at this harbour.
How are the shipping activities of the Trincomalee Harbour are being carried out at the moment?
A: Only one ship has been boarded in this harbour since three months. That's a coal carrier. There are over 400 employees. It's that the countries such as Canada make containers but if we set up an iron smelting plant we can make containers for the whole world at a lower cost. The Trincomalee Harbour is a boon to the country. We can use the harbour for production processes in a big way. The Hambantota Harbour is an important location for shipping operations. If rulers wish, both harbours can be made to contribute to the country's development. We have the vision to do it.
The Hambantota Harbour has been given on a 99-year lease to a Chinese company. The Government says that it was done to earn profits. You were on a firm stand that the harbour shouldn't be given on lease. But now it has happened. Have you stopped the struggle now?
A: The proposal to build the Hambantota Harbour was made in 1906 when Leonard Woolf was the Assistant Government Agent there. It was discussed during the time of D.S. Senanayake, too. It was even discussed during the time of Chandrika Kumaratunga. The problem with the Hambantota Harbour is that's an inland port. It was made in that way because it is easier to get commissions. The harbour should not have been built at the present location. It should have been built on the coast facing the open sea. It was the people's money that was spent to build this harbour. After plundering the money of the people to build the harbour now they have sold it to China, saying it was done to earn profits.
A large number of ships pass the Hambantota Harbour, so couldn't it have been a profitable venture?
A: We don't underestimate it. It was a correct decision to build it. But it is not the correct way to operate it. We said those days that the Hambantota Harbour should operate under the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). It was not done in 2010. At that time, Mahinda Rajapaksa also tried to sell this port. Today, there are about 500 workers there.
Now, the port has been built. Was there a possibility for the SLPA to get profits without having sold it?
A: We can run it at a profit even now. About 256 ships pass by the port. We can provide bunkering facilities for those ships. The transhipment of containers can be done at this harbour on a large scale. The Chinese Government knows about the large profits that can be earned. However, our rulers don't care about it. We can manage the Hambantota Harbour well.
Aren't the workers there at a risk of losing their jobs? Even by now some workers have been sacked. Will a situation arise in the future where all workers will lose their jobs?
A: Yes, there is such a risk. Some have been sent out by paying compensation. Workers couldn't have been sacked like that if the SLPA would have managed the port. This is a semi-Government institution. That is why such a situation has arisen. It is not surprising if all the employees are sacked in future.
Will the Colombo Port City be advantageous to the country or not?
A: There's a problem there. The land has been given to China on a transfer deed. It has an impact on the Colombo Harbour, too, because it's through the harbour that the expressway to the port city would be laid. Its cost too will have to be borne by the SLPA.
All the profits would be accrued by China. A large number of buildings on our land have been destroyed. The authorities who implement the plans don't have an understanding, so much as, where the road will run.
You said that there would be an oil monopoly in the country by giving the oil tanks in Trincomalee to India. How does that happen?
A: There will be a loss to the Trincomalee Harbour if these oil tanks are given to India. The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation being a State institution supplies oil on credit to the Sri Lanka Railways and the Ceylon Electricity Board. But it cannot be done under this set up. What the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation said was that an oil reserve should be maintained in the Trincomalee oil tanks. This will give us a profit. If the ships go straight to Trincomalee then the reserves will also remain in Trincomalee.
What about the Oluvil Harbour?
A: Oluvil harbour is a sheer white elephant. It was the ransom Chandrika gave to Ashraff. The cost of the harbour was US$86 million. This was a ransom given to remain in power. But now ransom has to be paid by the SLPA too. It's only a light house that's in operation at Oluvil. No ship can come there. The location is not fit for a harbour.
If only one ship comes to Trincomalee Harbour for three months, how can the workers there be paid their salaries? Isn't it a big loss to the country, too, as the harbour doesn't generate any profits?
A: There are about 450 employees at this harbour. They are paid partly from the Colombo Harbour too. The harbour is made to run without considering its loss making. No Government has taken steps to develop it. This harbour can be developed. It can be developed as one of the best harbours in the world as it is a natural harbour. This has happened because, a set of fools have been governing this country. It is sad that such a situation prevails when a son of a farmer is at the helm.
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