Govt. Assures Law for Port City Will be Ready by 2020 end – Head of Strategy CHEC Port City, Tulci Aluwihare
Head of Strategy and Business Development of CHEC Port City Colombo Pvt Ltd., Tulci Aluwihare explains that the Government has assured the law for the Port City will come by end 2020 and that the land blocks of both the Project Company (CHEC) and of Sri Lanka will be promoted as one Port City and dismissed the allegation that the Chinese’116 hectares of land is what they are concentrating in promoting currently. However, he also noted that under the agreement between the Project Company and the Government, the marketable plots of land that belongs to Sri Lanka cannot be sold till 2023.
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
What is the latest about the Colombo Port City?
We are open for business. We completed the land reclamation of 269 hectares that is 2.7 Sq.km city as scheduled in January 2019. The utility infrastructure, internal infrastructure, roadways and landscapes are progressing and we should be completing these by end 2021. The 2 km public beach is ready now.
Currently, 68 hectares in Port City is ready for investment.
Which side of the 68 hectares of land is ready for investment? Is it the Chinese-owned land plots or Sri Lankan owned plots?
There is nothing called Chinese-owned land, Sri Lankan owned land here. All land belongs to Sri Lanka and owned by the Government of Sri Lanka.
But technically it is segregated, right?
There is an allocation of plots for the Chinese in return for the USD 1.4 billion investment made. The 68 hectares include a mixture of both. We don’t consider the separation as it is the Port City project of Sri Lanka. All the blocks of land are scattered if you look at it as an investor, as a buyer or as an outsider, it will seamlessly integrate whether it is Government plot or Port City plot. Everybody will have to sit and discuss the master plan. The only consideration on the lands that the project company comes to the project company and those of the government go to the consideration of the government. But the development will have to follow guidelines on whether it is the government or the project company.
Are you supposed to promote the entire Port City and not segregating the plots that are on sale for the Chinese side and plots on sale for Sri Lanka?
We have to promote Sri Lanka first .
Isn’t that the basic understanding that if you promote the Port City you are promoting Sri Lanka?
Yes, but it should be the other way around too for us to attract investors from the West or the Middle East. We should put Sri Lanka on the map and talk about the country and then the Port City.
Did you hold an official launch of Port City stating it’s ready for investment in Sri Lanka? We are only seeing on social media about it. Why?
We planned a local launch and to couple with its first overseas launch in Singapore at the World City Summit in July 2020. Due to prevailing pandemic, it did not happen. So we floated about 28 hectares on Request For Proposals (RFPs) (not 68 hectares) on our website. We did not have a big bang.
But did the Chinese hold a mega event promoting their 116 hectares of the Port City in Singapore last year?
No. In 2018 World City Summit, former Prime Minister was the keynote speaker who promoted the Port City in Singapore. At that time the land was not ready.
It seems that the propaganda on the Port City is on social media to reach the top investors in the world tells that you are ready to invite the investor. On seeing your propaganda on social media if an investor approaches you what is ready here? How long will it take to hand over a plot of land to him or her?
We are preparing an online platform so that we can go offline. We will be able to proceed when the online propaganda will synchronize at the end.
When COVID-19 is under control we hope to launch it at the World City Summit in Singapore next year hopefully or in the year after. Now we are receiving calls and holding conference calls from the investors.
Now you say the 68 hectares is ready. What does that mean?
The entire infrastructure for those plots is done and ready for investments.
Can you explain what is the legality and procedures that are involved here?
The payment must be made to us. In terms of approval, all those areas are completed because the master plan is signed with the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and under the master plan we have the Development Control Regulations (DCR) for building heights.
Is the DCR ready?
It is ready signed by the UDA and going to be gazetted soon so that it would become Law.
When is the Government going to gazette it?
The whole point of the Port City is to address some of the bureaucracies through the proposed special economic zone
Is that coming up soon?
That is delaying. The hard infrastructure is ready, there is a delay in the software.
You mean only the law is not there but the rest is ready?
The final draft of the Port City governing law is at the President’s office for approval.
Have you seen the draft of the law and is it satisfactory?
We held discussions with the Government and they did consult us.
Are you satisfied with the law that is drafted?
Let’s see once it is passed.
Haven’t your project company added its suggestions and thoughts in it?
We did and the Government assured us that the law will be tabled in Parliament before the end of this year.
Does the Port City Pvt Ltd., have the power to get what they want because Port City is a unique structure, unlike other private companies. Or do you have to battle it with the government every time over a certain matter?
As one of the largest investors, we have the fear of the Government, secondly, to market the Port City we have to speak to the international investors and businesses. They have to be confident as to what kind of business they can bring and their requirements that we have communicated to the government, hence the government should ensure that the existing issues are addressed through the proposed special economic zone law. The idea here is to address the existing limitations and delays so that it becomes one place where the investor the business developer comes streamlined and fast-track everything for him. That experience is very important to us and that will be communicated to the rest of the world.
How many investors confirmed their projects in the Port City?
They cannot come here now but there are quite a few and we are having discussions with over 200 investors now and signing Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). We have shared all the information with them. It’s a challenging time with the Easter attacks and then the pandemic prevalence. The world is facing uncertainty at the moment. So every country is competing to attract foreign investments and we will have lots of competition. We need to make sure what is the differentiator here and position ourselves to attract that foreign capital that is required.
There are about top 30 businessmen in Sri Lanka and have they shown interest in the Port City?
We approached them and informed all of them about the investment. We have a sales gallery in Port City. Few have shown interest. First are the awareness and the investment we discuss with them.
There is an allegation that the project company is only promoting the 116 hectares that belong to them (Chinese) and the staff of yours is mainly asked to concentrate on promoting their plot of land. What is your reaction?
It’s grossly miscommunicated and misunderstood. We cannot build a city like that. This is a city development and we are not selling buildings here but selling a mega story. You cannot do it without the government championing it because it is under the administration of the Colombo City plan.
When you say 116 hectares for the Chinese, how are they promoting?
It transpires into 48 plots for them out of a total of 74 plots. In terms of the procurement process, our government will follow their process.
What are the restriction and conditions coming in when the Chinese’116 hectares are sold to investors?
The DCR should be followed by all the developers and that would be implemented on each plot. Everybody has to adhere to that.
Aren’t you all marketing separately for the Sri Lanka own plot of land that is some 153 hectares including the public areas?
We are not ready to do that. We cannot have buildings on the project company own plots and have nothing coming up on the Sri Lankan blocks. We don’t want patches of sand piles and buildings coming up. We want to promote the entire Port City. It will impact on us otherwise.
What we hear is that there is a team separately promoting the Chinese blocks?
That is a huge misconception. Very soon with the law coming in, there would be a joint effort. We promote as the Port City, not in partitions. We don’t force investors. He has choices.
Out of 153 hectares of land 91 hectares is designed for public places common to all. What else is earmarked on the rest of the blocks?
Including the school, hospital and the convention hall, everything would be marketable land.
We hear that on the Sri Lankan plot of land we cannot have buildings that are more than 10 floors whereas on the Chinese blocks you can go up to 70 floors. Is this true?
There are high-rises reaching to about 65 floors that are on the government plots too. The Port City is designed by a Swedish company who are master planners. There are also designers from Singapore. The Government and the Project Company both have financial districts.
There was a company from India and one Karthik had approached you to invest in the Marina but that particular matter was not taken up for discussion and dismissed. What is the real story here?
We are meeting many Indian investors as well as Singaporeans and investors from the Middle East. There is a lot of interest in the Marina. I cannot disclose any names here.
Was there a company by the name of Symbiosis International Pvt Ltd to construct build and operate an international luxury Yacht Marina development and reached the NDA undersigned by the Port City Managing Director Jiang H? The said investor wanted to tie up as a joint venture partner and entice the UK’s Virgin Group for the Marina Yacht business but the Port City rejected stating that they didn’t have the financial credibility. That investor asked for the marina project and exclusivity. Is that true?
I am not aware of it. The project 1.4 bn USD is a debt. Our debt repayment kick-started this month which means September 2020. The moratorium is done now and we need to sell the Port City blocks. If Richard Branson of the Virgin Group can tie-up then what else do we need? That would be the story to sell the Port City to other investors.
Is there an MoU signed that until the 116 hectares of the Chinese blocks are sold or promoted we cannot sell any blocks of land that belongs to Sri Lanka up until 2023? What does the agreement say?
There is a six-year bar until 2023 where the Sri Lankan Government is restricted in selling land and that is in the provision in the debt agreement. We have a debt agreement after investing USD 1.4bn. So we have a head start and our repayment just kick-started. The six-year bar is from 2017 to 2023 and that restriction does not apply to the convention hall, hospital and school project on the port city. Those three projects are available for investors.
Why such an agreement?
For instance, when I borrow money there are conditions. There is a head start for the investment company.
So now you are calling for investors but for whom?
On the Sri Lankan plot it would be in 2023 but the rest of the blocks that are available for investors are now ready. For the school block, there are lots of interests coming from top UK boarding schools. We are supporting these three projects to kickstart. We have hired international consultants from the UK to assist the Government in sourcing investment for the school project. For the hospital, we have hired the PWC from India and for the convention centre, we have tapped consultants from Australia for marketing.
Is there a tennis and basketball court and also luxury houses and a golf course already in the 116 hectares of the Chinese in the Port City that is barred from locals entering and using it?
There is a golf range existing in the public area. We have employees on the site. There are houses for employees to stay. There are recreation facilities for staffers including Sri Lankans. They are not barred from using these areas.
When will the Port City take off in its full form?
It depends on how Sri Lanka is positioned to attract investment and we are moving positively in that direction. The Port City is a game-changer.