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“they are the political traitors, not we” -Malik

18 January 2017 09:49 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrema in a recent interview with the Sunday Lankadeepa disclosed his views about the Ruhunu Development Zone, the Development Special Provision Bill and other matters:

 


QAre you satisfied with the performance of the Good Governance Government over the past two years?
 Of course I am satisfied with what we have done. When our Government was formed the economy of the country was in a mess with Rs. 9,500 billion foreign debt. We inherited about Rs. 1,200 billion off balance sheet debts from the previous Government as well. Despite these figures we have been able to formulate an economic plan while also paying the installments of these massive loans. The good governance administration established by us is obvious to all.


Q The Opposition has alleged that you were selling national resources under the guise of repaying the massive debt. What is your response?

We will not sell any State resource. Our effort is to bring loss making State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) to an economically viable state. The Opposition’s criticisms are baseless and we are not traitors. Those who destroyed the country’s economy are the real traitors. As we are not in a financially sound position we have to think of the ways of developing these enterprises to earn profits with foreign investment.


QWere you able to attract foreign investors to the extent expected?
We are still in the process of finalizing the economic plan. They will start investments from this year onwards. We expect between Rs. 5 to 8 billion on the Hambantota investment plan within a couple of years.


QSLFP and UNP Ministers are displaying their difference of opinions and continue to criticize each other. Certain Ministers have even threatened to leave the Government. How can a Government survive in such a situation?
Our main objective is the development of the country. Our sole concern is not victory at the next election.


QTo achieve your goals, stability of the Government is foremost, isn’t it?
We do have political stability. The two main parties and several other parties of the Government are working in unison. We will continue to work with unity.


QAre you confident the President is still with you?
Certainly! There are no issues at the top level but some Ministers and Parliamentarians have made various comments to the people of their respective electorates. These comments are made aiming victory at the next elections.


QWhy don’t you speak with the President about the views being expressed by Minister Dilan Perera and Western Province Chief Minister Isura Devapriya?
We should not be so concerned about their comments. Our objectives are quite different and development is our concern.


QThe President said he would not contest the Presidential Election for a second term during the 2015 election campaign. However, as reported by the media, the Central Committee of the SLFP has taken a decision about candidacy of the president for the next Presidential Election.
I am not aware of such a decision. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has clarified the matter to the media that such a decision was not made.


QFormer President Mahinda Rajapaksa says that they would topple the Government this year. Isn’t there any weight in this prediction?
All are free to enjoy their dreams.


QWhat is your response to charges levelled by the Joint Opposition that thugs sent from Colombo attacked protesters in Hambantota?
That is wrong. We did not take any thugs with us. People from every part of the country visited to attend the programme. It was the members of the Joint Opposition who rushed to the venue and created chaos.


QThe Government has decided to develop the Hambantota Port as a China- Sri Lanka Joint Venture. How would this project proceed?
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said they had spent $1.3 billion to construct this Port. However, when we inquired about their valuation of the Port, the China Harbour Engineering Company, which constructed the Port, said that the cost was only 1 billion US Dollars. Although they received US$ 1.3 billion the real value of the port is $1.1 billion.


QDid the China Harbour Company demand 80 per cent ownership of the Port?
A. That is a different story. If we consider the relevant point, this company had offered a price which was less than the cost of construction. It was Parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa who wanted us to give the harbour to this company. The other point is that the China Harbour Company has no previous experience in managing operations of a harbour. 


But the other Company - China Merchants offered a price of $1.4 billion to the Hambantota Harbour. That is why we entrusted the harbour activities to this company, which manages Port activities in 28 harbours in the world.


QConsidering only the price difference, is it reasonable to give 80 per cent ownership of the port?
The company will have to invest to US$ 500 million more in addition to the $1.4 payment for the Port. (The 80 percent of shares if it is to be profitable for them).


QWhat was the percentage of shares quoted by the other bidder- the China Harbour?
Their demand was for 65 percent.


QWhy didn’t you accept that condition?
We are already straddled with debt. How can we afford to pay for the balance thirty five per cent? If a profit can be earned, there would have been no need to give the port to anyone. We first have to earn what we have already invested.


QIs it true that the Minister of Ports and the Director Board of the Ports Authority (SLPA) were in disagreement over the decision to offer operational activities to the China Merchants Group?
Minister Arjuna was not against the decision. We had discussions with him. He also wants it to be more profitable.


QAre you also of the view that the Port problems were aggravated due to the differences of opinions openly expressed by several Ministers in the Government?
That may be due to inadequate knowledge some have on this issue.


QWhat you mean is Ministers in the Government are not aware of the Government’s activities?
It may be. At the same time we have accepted our fault of failing to communicate the matter properly.


QThere is also a problem about the lease period of the harbour. Is it true that China Harbour Company wanted it only on the conditions of a 50 year lease period?
It is entirely wrong. They have not mentioned about a lease period. 


QDidn’t the company impose conditions over a lease period during discussions with the present government?
No such conditions were laid.


QThen, why did you agree for a 99-year lease period with the China Merchants?
Because they agreed to give a higher value for the Port. We also took into account the experience the company has in handling port operations. Based on these factors we decided to agree with their conditions.


QIn the preliminary agreement signed with company is there a clause to extend the lease period for a further 99 years?
This is absolutely wrong. The Joint Opposition is responsible for the spread of such rumours and false information. The final agreement is still in negotiation.


QWhat favourable factors will be included in the final agreement?
We will review the lease, and also the income generated from services provided by the harbour. 20 percent of the profit of harbour operations will also be ours. The establishment of factories in the area will also provide employment opportunities for the youth. Foreign exchange can be earned. In short this area will be developed like Colombo within the next 10 to 15 years.


QIn a statement Mahinda Rajapaksa has criticised the government for seeking 15,000 acres of land without utilizing the 2,000 acres in the vicinity of the harbour for development activities.
Just because he had planned for such zone with wider roads and other facilities they could not attract the investors. We can’t afford to leave the Port in such a loss incurring state. That was why we took this decision.


QWhat assurance can you provide that foreign investors would invest in the new trade zone?
We are already holding negotiations to establish an oil refinery, two cement factories and similar investments.


QThere seems to be disputes emerging with regard to the land required for these industries. What remedies will the government resort to?
Initially we said the entire area of 15,000 acres would not be from Hambantota alone. Only 4,000 to 5,000 acres of State owned land in Hambantota would be used. 
Private land utilised for the project is under 5 percent. We will only acquire this land after negotiating with the owners.


QThere have been numerous criticisms over the utilisation of 15,000 acres of land.
This shows the expertise of the government in attracting big investors. Why should we oppose such opportunities? We can get lands even from Moneragala and Matara. Lands will be acquired at several phases except for religious sites such as temples and places of historical importance. During the last government about 3,000 families have been evicted even without paying compensation. We have allocated Rs. 2 billion to pay compensation for these people. With this project we will have to evacuate residents of about 300 houses. But we will only proceed with their consent in exchange of compensation or alternate houses.


QThe Joint Opposition also has also charged that one terminal of the Colombo harbour will be operated by an Indian company?
There is no such request. There have only been enquiries about the possibility of them engaging in operational activities of the East terminal of the Colombo Port.


QAnother controversial issue raised over the past few days was the Development Special Provision Bill which would supposedly give you super - ministerial power.
There will be no Super Ministers. My name is not linked to the matter and I do not want to be a Super Minister.


QIs there any possibility of an institute under your Ministry being empowered with such authority?
When investors come to our country they have to go to various places for documentation work and other formalities. But in countries like Singapore and Thailand all such requirements are attended to at a single place. What we are trying to do is provide the investors with their requirements at one place.


QHowever this bill had been defeated at the Provincial Councils. They expressed their views on the adverse effects of this bill on PCs.
The matter has no relevance to the PCs. When there is a necessity to acquire lands it will be done with the consent of these institutes.


QThere have been allegations that the economic affairs of the country are being carried out on the decisions taken by a Royal College Team comprising Paskaralingam, Charitha Ratwatte, Malik Samarasinghe and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. What is your response?
As far as I Know Paskaralingam studied in Jaffna and not at Royal College. Charitha Ratwatte has no involvement in these activities whatsoever. All these affairs are taken care of by the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs under the purview of the Prime Minister. But the decisions are not made by the Prime Minister alone. All the matters are first considered at the Economic Management Committee and then submitted to the Cabinet. Changes are possible only on new thinking.

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