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Govt. firm on enacting Port City Bill

22 April 2021 02:55 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The Colombo Port City under construction (Pic AFP) 

 

The Government has stepped in to enact the piece of legislation to govern its business and economic operation

MP Rajapakshe also said the same, and even cited the economic zone a separate state. JVP leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake said the zone would be nothing but a Chinese colony

One cannot expect the Govt. to succumb to pressure from the opposition and any other quarter and abandon the enactment of this legislation

 

A heightened public debate is in progress on the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill. The debate, which started with the presentation of the bill in Parliament, reached the boiling point after ruling party MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe opened up his mind with a sharp criticism of the content of the bill. He joined the bandwagon of critics that otherwise   comprise   the opposition parties.

 

The Colombo Port City is a US $ 1.5 billon real estate project undertaken as an investment by China Harbour Engineering Corporation. Land reclamation from the sea is now complete. The Government has stepped in to enact the piece of legislation to govern its business and economic operation. The bill seeks   to establish   a Special Economic Zone on the new landmass and    a Commission empowered to grant registrations, licenses, authorisations and other approvals to carry on businesses and other activities in and from it. 


Also, it, once enacted into Act, will provide for the identification of a Single Window Investment facilitator for the promotion of ease of doing business within the zone.  In any democratic set-up,   criticism across the political divide   is nothing unusual despite merits and demerits of the subject under discussion. It is a practical reality in the countries where democratic forms of governance are in place.  In the din of criticism, pluses and minuses of the matter in hand are sometimes hard to be heard or fathomed. The present bill, which is before Parliament and challenged in the Supreme Court for its constitutionality, is obviously bound to come under criticism due to the political and geopolitical circumstances. The sheer size of the economic project involved and its novelty to the country also create the ground situation for more attention from those concerned. 

 

The bill seeks   to establish a Special Economic Zone on the new landmass and    a Commission empowered to grant registrations, licences, authorisations and other approvals to carry on businesses and other activities in and from it

The present bill, which is before Parliament and challenged in the Supreme Court for its constitutionality, is obviously bound to come under criticism due to the political and geopolitical circumstances. The sheer size of the economic project involved and its novelty to the country also create the ground situation for more attention from those concerned


So to speak, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Alaina Teplitz said any legislation relating to the port city had to be considered very carefully for its economic impact 


“And of course among those un-intended consequences could be creating a haven for money launderers and other sorts of nefarious actors to take advantage of what was perceived as a permissive business environment for activities that would actually be illegal,” she said in a virtual discussion with the press. 


MP Rajapakshe also said the same, and even cited the economic zone a separate state. JVP leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake said the zone would be nothing but a Chinese colony.  Already, 17 petitions have been filed in court challenging the constitutionality of the bill. 


However, the government is exerting itself in full measure to defend the provisions of the bill and enact it as soon as possible. The Government will not back down whatsoever in this respect since it cannot afford to do so under the present political and economic realities staring at it in the country at the moment. The ruling side badly needs to pass the bill into law and proceed with the implementation of the next phase of the project.  There are ample reasons for it. 


The economy of the country has been hit   by the pandemic. It contracted last year. The World Bank has forecast signs of recovery this year, though.  The economy is facing challenges in terms of depleted foreign reserves now standing at US $ 4.1 billion. The huge bill of debt servicing is a strain on the foreign exchange revenue of the country. Regardless of all that, the government is politically under compulsion to overcome all such challenges standing in the way of it, and to develop the economy to the next level. Any failure in this regard will entail political consequences in terms of its popularity on the wane.   It can even lead to any electoral setback. 


As such, the government banks its fortune on the Port City Economic Zone in main in its popst-Civd-19 economic revitalization plan. The Government badly needs to attract Foreign Direct Investments(FDI). But, it is hamstrung in attracting FDIs competitively with the countries in the region since Sri Lanka ranks 99, way below others, in the Ease of Doing Business Index.  


The establishment of an economic zoned under a special law with a single window for approval or authorisations of investment proposals will apply create the opportunities for it to overcome this problem and woo FDIs to replenish the foreign reserves and boost the economic growth churning out much-needed employment opportunities. 

Therefore, one cannot expect the Government to succumb to pressure from the opposition and any other quarter and abandon the enactment of this legislation, unlike what it did in the face of growing protest against the development of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of Colombo Port with India.  Unlike during protest over the ECT, the government is countering and brushing criticism against the bill in full force this time. 


The opposition is also acting with vigour and might to build a strong public opinion against the bill.  


The bill is under consideration by the Supreme Court at the moment. The government has suspended any internal discussion on the content of it until the court determines on its constitutionality.   After the determination is read out in Parliament, the government   will opt for early enactment of it, sometimes with some amendments to the original version.

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