The present government is taking steps to sell Colombo harbour that is profitable stating it is run at a loss, the present Maithri – Ranil administration, like the previous regime, is taxing the people as well as making plans to sell state institutions says Parliamentarian of the JVP Bimal Rathnayake. He says the Ports Authority is running at a loss not because of the Colombo Harbour but because of Hambantota and Pachchaperumal harbours.
Mr. Rathnayake made these observations at a press conference held at the head office of the JVP at Pelawatta today (29th). The Member of the Central Committee of the JVP and its Kalutara District Parliamentarian Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa also participated.
Speaking further Mr. Bimal Rathnayake said, “A programme has been activated to sell East Container Terminal of Colombo Harbour. Colombo Harbour is more than a thousand years old, successful and a very important harbour. It has been a navally important port for centuries and is the main harbour owned by Ports Authority. It is being maintained successfully despite large scale frauds, corruption and irregularities that were committed during the previous regime. According to facilities it has it is graded 24th internationally in handling large containers. Colombo Harbour has been able to maintain its position as a higher grade harbour according to international standards. It could compete with US and Chinese harbours. The Ministry of Ports & Maritime Affairs had published an advertisement to sell the East Container Terminal of Colombo Harbour and offers have been called. According to the advertisement ‘The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has called for Expression of Interests (EOIs) for the development of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port.’ The government has planned to sell the terminal stating it is going to be developed. The advertisement states East Container Terminal (ECT) has a 440m long 18 m deep quay wall, a 20 hectares yard area and connected facilities developed by the SLPA. It states “The Concessionaire has the advantage of deploying container handling equipment upfront and operating existing facility while developing the rest of the terminal.”
Accordingly, ECT already has the ability to handle 18,000 container ships. What is lacking at present are cranes and relevant equipment. During Rajapaksa regime quotations had been called to buy necessary cranes. Even with irregularities present 95% work had been complied during that time to install cranes. An agreement had been signed with a foreign company and preparations had been finalized to buy cranes for US$67 million. However, the relevant agreement was cancelled in 2015 due to the change of government and and the increase in prices.
When there was the possibility of buying cranes and starting work in the terminal the present Minister of Ports Arjuna Ranatunga presented a cabinet paper on 20th June, 2015 proposing to develop the ECT. The Minister states only 70% of containers and handled by the terminal and in the competition to gain volume of containers the terminal has to compete with Port of Tanjung Pelepas, Singapore, Salalah and India declaring Vallarpadam in Kochin as an International Container Transhipment Terminal the competition has intensified. The Minister also points out that modernizing 12 harbours in India would affect our harbours as 90% of eh containers handled by our harbours and from ships sailing to India.
As such, there is a necessity to develop ECT states the cabinet paper. The Minister also states that re exporting harbours in Asia are threatened and pointed out that 4 of the 5 main jetties in Colombo harbour handle container ships.
The weakest two terminals are the ones that belong to the government. As they are not deep enough ships go to the privatized jetties that are deep as they have a depth of about 18 meters and have facilities. As other jetties in Colombo Harbour have been 85% or 93% privatized it is necessary to have the ECT with the government. Jetties in which the government had ownership of 7% or 15% earned a profit of US$45 million in 2014. Despite this the Minister proposes shipping company or a terminal operator to take over 49% of the shares of the ECT of which the main shareholder is the SLPA. The Minister of Finance has approved the proposal and has instructed to appoint a committee to consider the decision. Based on this the cabinet has approved the cabinet paper. Also, the Asian Development Bank represents SLPA. The report prepared for the buyers in June, 2016 states only 15% ownership would be sufficient. Accordingly, Advertisements have been placed for tenders without any cabinet approval to sell 85% of the ECT in Colombo Harbour retaining only 15% for the government. What this indicates is that a plan is being hatched to sell ECT when there is scope to modernize it. What is serious sis that the process to sell is contradictory to the proposal in eh cabinet paper. After this deal Colombo Harbour would be left with only sea water.
During the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime too people were taxed and state institutions were sold. Also, there were large scale frauds and corruption connected with Colombo Harbour. With all that Colombo Harbour earned profits. SLPA runs at a loss not because of Colombo Harbour but due to Hambantota and Pachchaperumal harbour projects. Hambantota and Pachchaperumal projects are pet projects. The government spent millions for those projects. It is these wasteful spendings that has made SLPA a loss. Rajapaksas’ wasteful spendings or corruption is not relevant to Colombo Harbour as it earned profits. Hence we ask the President, the Prime Minister and the cabinet from where and how was the process to sell approved. This process of selling would be effective for 35 years. This means the government wants to pawn the economic resource of our country for 35 years. Also, the government is violating the economic sovereignty of our country. All Ceylon Ports General Workers Union distributed a leaflet in June, 2016 against the attempt to sell the ECT. Also, we wrote to the Minister. The President was informed in writing. The engineers in SLPA wrote a letter to the Prime Minister on 27th June that ser vices could be carried out once the cranes are bought. Privatization would have a bad affect on the employees. As the government owns only two jetties in Colombo Harbour the number of ships arriving at these jetties is diminishing. Privatizing ECT would jeopardize jobs of port employees.
The UNP began privatizing state institutions in 1987. With that large scale frauds that went beyond taking commissions from projects begun since then commenced. Large scale thefts were committed from the privatization process that began with privatizing AMW. Lands in ‘Janawasama’ were sold for pittance. When resources in Steel Corporation were sold the valuation taken into account was so small that the value of a two door Tata bus to transport employees was estimated as one rupee. The privatizaation process begun by the UNP continued during Ms. Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga’s period as well. Mr. Kumaratunga sold state enterprises including Puttalam cement factory. Again, during the UNP regime the Insurance Corporation was sold. There was a loss of billions. Institutions belonging to the masses were sold for meagre amounts. Rajapaksas stole by selling state institutions more than they did from commissions.
As such, the port deal is an underhand transaction. This is why the period for closing tenders is extended. We, as the JVP, say the attempt to sell the terminal should be stopped immediately. The trade unions as well as the people in the country should oppose this move. Investigations by COPE have revealed information about the deal. Trade unions too have revealed information about the deal.”