President marks second anniversary with Ruhunu Development Project

8 December 2016 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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In coincidence with the second anniversary of President Maithripala Sirisena in office, the government has made arrangements to launch its grandiose Ruhunu Development Project which includes the restructuring of the Hambantota port under what it called ‘debt to equity swap’. The Cabinet discussed it earlier and finality had been reached.   


However, it came up for discussion on Tuesday at the Cabinet meeting. It has now met with resistance as Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga is opposing.   
The agreement is proposed to be signed in coincidence with the President’s second anniversary in office which will fall on January 8, 2017. However, Minister Ranatunga is not in favour of the restructuring plan. According to Cabinet sources, Minister Ranatunga is primarily against the proposed transfer of the Port to ‘China Merchants’ which is a leading global company because it will deny income for the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. Likewise, it is learnt that there is a clause in the proposed agreement to stop all forms of any other port development within a radius of 100 km.   


Against such developments, it is now feared by the government whether the employees of the port will go on strike to apply pressure on the government to halt the project. However, the government has already laid down plans to convert debt obtained by the previous rule for the developments of the Hambantota Port and the Mattala International Airport to equity. In this manner, the government intends to dispense with its debt burden to a great extent, and its future economic development policy is premised on it. As a result, any abandonment of the move will derail the whole process it contemplates for 
the future.   


The government is to declare the proposed economy zone covering the southern province in main, and the adjacent Sabaragumuwa and Uva Provinces to some extent, as the Ruhunu Development Area on January 8.  
Lands are being identified for the purpose. Already, the District Secretaries concerned have been assigned to earmark lands that can be allocated for the investment zones. In the process, the government has to leave out agriculture and environmentally sensitive lands. As such, it is now doubtful whether the government will be able to acquire as many as 15,000 acres from the districts to be covered under the project. If the government opts to acquire agriculture lands, people will be up in arms.  


Let alone, China is keen for investment in this project, and once Chinese Ambassador Yi Xianglian said Chinese PM Li Keqiang stressed, at a meeting with Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, the importance of putting up investment zones for economic development in Sri Lanka.   
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa undertook a tour of China for one week on an invitation. It has to be analysed in relation to the proposed Chinese investments in Hambantota and other parts of the south.   
China has regards for MR as it was during his time that the Sino-Lanka relationship was elevated to the level of Strategic Partnership Cooperation. Alongside, MR is a politician with a main following in the south. So, his support for the proposed investments would be important for the smooth launch of them and subsequent operations.   


During the visit, the Chinese authorities discussed the matter with MR. According to former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris who accompanied the former, it was emphasized that the land extent of 750 acres, originally proposed during his time for such investments, would be ideal under the initial step. The Rajapaksa delegation said it could be expanded gradually with the consent of people later on.   
Otherwise, Prof. Peiris said that it was notified to the Chinese authorities that the move for the acquisition of 15,000 acres was bound to be resisted by people as it would displace them from 
their villages.   

While planning Chinese investment zones on a grand scale in the south, the government is to attract Indian investments in Trincomalee. It is learnt that the government will initiate work in this respect next year.  


ETCA talks to resume soon


The public discussion on the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India remained subdued for a while. However, it has resumed now with another round of talks between officials of both sides being scheduled towards the middle of this month.  


The ETCA is to broaden the existing Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India even covering service and investment sectors. The current FTA was implemented in March 2000. During the last 15 years in operation, the bilateral trade has grown exponentially, but Sri Lanka appears to be a loser. India has a healthy trade surplus in goods. India exported goods worth $5.30 billion in 2015-16. Yet, its imports from Sri Lanka are worth only $0.75 billion.   
Sri Lanka is India’s major trading partner in South Asia. Next year, the government is planning to conclude three trade agreements including the ETCA. The others are the ones being planned with China and Singapore.   


Top committee appointed to finalize FTA talks 


For the finalization of FTAs proposed, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management has appointed a top level committee. It comprises R. Paskaralingam, the Advisor to the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, the Secretary to the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade, a representative of the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, the Executive Director, Institute of Policy Studies Dr. Saman Kelegama and the Central 
Bank Governor.   
Alongside, the government is to explore the possibility of signing a FTA with the United States 
and Japan.   


Arjuna, Dayasiri clash in Parliament 


The Ministers of the government have started slandering each other in public. It happened even in Parliament on Wednesday during the debate on the vote of Sports Minister. Here, Ports Development Minister Arjuna Ranatunga was critical of Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara saying he had to act to ‘save the sports’.  
The latter shot back saying he would act to save the port. “If you opt for ‘Save the Sports, I will do ‘Save the Port’, Minister 
Jayasekara said.   

TNA incensed by Swaminathan’s remarks 


The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) appeared to have been incensed by Resettlement and Rehabilitation Minister D.M. Swaminathan’s remarks that only the implementation of the 13th Amendment with police and land powers would suffice.   
Minister Swaminathan made such remarks during an interview with Daily Mirror. For it, he was taken to task by TNA MP for the Jaffna District Mavai Senathirajah in Parliament.  
“How dare you say like that?” he asked.  


Mr. Swaminathan and the TNA are in conflict over some northern development projects as well. He proposed to build prefabricated houses for war affected people. However, TNA leader R. Sampanthan scoffed the move, and said Tamil people only wanted to live in houses not in cages.   


As for the constitution making process, the TNA seeks an extensive power devolution arrangement, and the 13th Amendment falls far short of their expectations. Therefore, Mr. Swaminathan’s statement would have infuriated it. Already, Parliament has allotted three days - January 9, 10 and 11, for the debate on the proposed constitutional proposals. However, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), a constituent party to the government, is yet to submit its proposals in detail to the Steering Committee.   


Govt. under pressure from the west to bring about Constitutional changes 


The government has committed to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to enact a new Constitution. It is now under pressure from some western countries to fast-track the process. It has to be referred to approval of people by referendum. 
A section of the government has second thoughts on going for a referendum at this hour as its popularity is on the wane. Be that as it may, there is an international obligation in this regard. At one point, the government may be compelled to make a hard choice and declare a referendum.  


SLPP conducts workshop on new constitution 


Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the new political party, conducted a workshop recently on the constitutional proposals that have been worked out by the six subcommittees. Its Chairman Prof. Peiris, diplomatic analyst Dr. Dayan Jayatilake and President’s Counsel Kushan de Alwis were among those who addressed the workshop. The particular emphasis was paid on the reports by the two subcommittees on Centre-Periphery Relations and Law and Order, Defence.  
The point, made here, was that though the proposed constitution was to be named ‘unitary’, it was fundamentally different to the unitary principles in content. 
A note, prepared by Prof. Peiris, was also handed over to the participants.   


He said it had been proposed to dilute the powers of provincial governors and made them subordinate to the Chief Ministers and provincial board of ministers. The governor is the nexus between the executive president and the provincial council concerned. 


The executive administers the affairs of the provincial councils through the governors appointed by him. The SLPP is also concerned about the proposal to devolve police powers to the provincial councils. It says there is a proposal to make recruitments to the police service on the residential categories. Inter-province transfers are also not possible. 
The party fears that this, if enacted, will lead the northern and eastern provinces developing their own police services.   
Meanwhile, the SLPP leaders also had a meeting with the Foreign Correspondents’ Association, and discussed various matters including media freedom.     

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