SLPA TUs urge President to withdraw
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) trade unionists, who met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday (13), to discuss the matter of granting 49 per cent stake of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port to India and Japan, charged the Government is only playing with words regarding the deal.
After the meeting, they said although the President said this was merely an investment, they did not see any difference between an investment and a sale in this deal.
Fourteen members representing 23 Port trade unions met the President and urged him not to award the ECT to India.
They said the President, despite saying the Government is not going to award the terminal to India on a 35-year lease agreement or sell it to India, the bottom line is India will run the ECT and Sri Lanka will gain a part of the revenue.
During the meeting, the President had reiterated the Government is “not selling or leasing out” the ECT to India, but the trade unions pointed out that even Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT) and the Hambantota Port were offered to China, it was said to be an economy-driven business, but it has been given on lease at the end of the day.
Chairman of the Independent Port Employees’ Union, Lal Bangamuwage, told Ceylon Today, the President had spoken to trade union members and allayed fears to protesting Port employees over giving the ECT to Indians, and said he is also “compelled” to offer it to India and to accept the agreement.
“We said we cannot agree to it, as none had consulted the trade unions over awarding it to India, and that ‘selling’ the national asset to outsiders cannot be allowed,” added Bangamuwage.
The President reiterated it would be purely business and 66 per cent of India’s transshipment take place at the Colombo Port, hence giving it to them would be ideal and reasonable.
The Union representatives have reiterated that they will not agree, however, the President has said as per the tripartite agreement where the Sri Lanka Ports Authority will have 51 per cent of shares and India and Japan would share 49 per cent stake, the trade unions can suggest their proposal within that framework.
The trade unionist further added that the President had pointed out the geopolitics involved and the presence of China on the island, which has resulted in the Government having to meet the demands of regional players like India.
The recent Cabinet Memorandum, dated 22 October 2020, by the Ministry of Ports and Shipping, stated that it has been decided to award the ECT to India’s Adani Group and Japan, in a joint venture.
The ECT is half-constructed, spending around US$ 75 million for the construction of the quay wall of 600 metres and another US$ 30 million for three small cranes that were brought for Jaya Container Terminal (JCT), but currently used, as it is in the ECT. What is outstanding is another 600-metre quay wall with cranes for the ECT.
The President said the ECT development was planned, after reviewing all the factors, including regional geopolitical factors, sovereignty of the country, income, and job creation.
He had explained that the Eastern Terminal will be “sustainably developed” under the investment programme.