Trinco, Hambantota projects face growing public outcry
PM tells party stalwarts: Minimise foreign trips; focus on LG polls
Challenging May Day for JO
The government is still struggling to get clearance from all the stakeholders to proceed with the Hambantota Port project with a Chinese company. It is hampered due to differences within the government itself and legal issues arising from the original text of the agreement.
It will mar the process of signing the agreement any time soon. Be that as it may, the government is bound to be hit by yet another wrangle involving the proposal to lease out the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm to India for development under a joint venture between the Sri Lankan authorities and Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC).
Already, a delegation of China Merchants Ports Holding Company, selected for the Hambantota project, is in town to negotiate areas with hurdles. The Cabinet subcommittee appointed to look into this matter is working out its report to be handed over to President Maithripala Sirisena. Amidst efforts underway to sort the matter out with the Chinese side, the Cabinet of Ministers on Tuesday took up for discussion the proposed move to develop the remaining oil tanks in Trincomalee in partnership with India.
Earlier, a Cabinet memorandum had been presented seeking approval for the establishment of a Joint Venture in this regard with LIOC. The matter came up again on Tuesday for consideration. The original proposal, made in consequent to Indian PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka, is opposed by Petroleum and Petroleum Gas Minister Chandima Weerakkody.
Minister Weerakkody raised objection to this agreement to lease out all the tanks to LIOC to develop under a Joint Venture. Instead, he insisted that 15 tanks should remain with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). The Minister represents the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in the unity government, whereas the original lease proposal was mooted by the United National Party (UNP) led by Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The two parties fall apart in their policies on the deal to develop the Hambantota port with the Chinese company as the majority shareholder. Similar differences are bound to widen with regards to the project in Trincomalee involving India. President Sirisena decided to subject the port agreement for a review after growing public controversy on the decision to hand over 80% of equity to the state-owned China Merchants Ports Holding Company. The original deal is now renegotiated.
It is now widely anticipated that a similar review would be undertaken over the Trincomalee project involving India. According to reports, the Prime Minister is slated to visit India later this month to discuss this project amongst others.
Actually, the original agreement was signed on February 7, 2003 between the then UNP government and LIOC. The agreement was to hand over the Oil Tank Farm to LIOC for operation for a period of 35 years. Alongside, a separate lease agreement was to be signed giving effect to this. So far, no such agreement has been signed. The previous government was not keen on it, and, as a result of that, the project was delayed indefinitely. However, LIOC is utilizing 14 tanks up to now since 2003. Yet, there are 84 tanks remaining in the Upper Tank Farm. The current proposal is to develop all of them under the proposed Joint Venture with LIOC. The CPC maintains that the ownership 15 tanks should be vested with it, and the rest could be considered for development jointly.
JO again fails to challenge a controversial Bill in Court The Joint Opposition placed a vigorous fight against the enactment of the Office of Missing Persons Act in Parliament. It even demonstrated in the Well of the House. However, it stood the chance of challenging it in the Supreme Court before it made its way to Parliament. Yet, it failed to resort to this effective means of thwarting the enactment in its original form. It missed the chance in this respect. Likewise, it laments once again that it missed yet another opportunity to challenge the Bill to give legal effect to ‘International Convention for the Protection of All People from Enforced Disappearances’. Sri Lanka is a signatory to the International Convention. Legal advisors of the JO view this as a dangerous piece of legislation due to the inclusion of certain provisions. It could have been challenged in court. But, it is now impossible because the time stipulated for such action in terms of the Constitution has lapsed.
“In terms of this Bill, not only a foreign government but also an institution on behalf of a foreign government can appeal for the extradition of a Sri Lankan political leader or military leader on the ground of command responsibility. “This is not for something they have done, but also for something which had happened within their scope of responsibility. Sri Lanka has to abide by all the provisions enforced by the International Convention. The Prime Minister keeps saying Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Treaty and that a Sri Lankan could not be tried before the International Criminal Court. What would happen if the country that was seeking extradition had signed the Rome Treaty? Then, there is the damage of military or political leader extradited ending as a defendant before the ICC,” Prof. G. L. Peiris argued.
He said , “There is a provision to set up a special High Court in Colombo to try offences of this category. No bail can be granted. The Police will be given the authority to investigate in the absence of investigations. The NGOs are given an extensive role to be more active in the area and to give assistance to complainants.”
Dinesh takes on Sumanthiran The Steering Committee meeting turned tense somewhat on Tuesday after the JO parliamentary group leader Dinesh Gunwardene took Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran to task over remarks made by him to the Daily Mirror that broad agreements had been reached in connection with the proposals on power devolution.
MP Sumanthiran said such agreement was reached at the party leaders’ meeting. However, MP Gunawardene queried how could MP Sumanthiran utter such falsehoods without consulting others in the Steering Committee. The two were involved in a heated argument, and finally the PM too had to intervene.
The TNA advocates far-reaching Constitutional Reforms, whereas even the SLFP has categorically stated that it will not move for reforms that warrant approval of people through a referendum.
Ravi K’s proposal rejected Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake presented a Cabinet paper on Tuesday seeking to reduce the periphery earmarked for the sale of liquor from the places of religious worship. Currently, it is 500 metres. The periphery was sought to be reduced to 100 metres. However, it was met with resistance by others in the Cabinet. So, it did not get the go-ahead.
Challenging May Day for JO The Joint Opposition leaders had a meeting with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the chair on Tuesday evening to discuss the preparations for the May Day Rally at the Galle Face Green. It sought permission well in advance to conduct the rally there. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority readily agreed to it.
Now, looks a challenging task for the JO because it is a vast area that needs to be filled with people. Politically savvy people will judge the success of such an event by the number of participants. A head count is practically impossible. So, they assess the number from how crowded the ground would be. It is a gigantic task for the JO to attract as many people as possible.
Let its leaders look at it positively. When a rally is conducted at such a location in the heart of Colombo, it becomes the central point of political attraction. SLFP has chosen to conduct its rally in Kandy and the UNP in Colombo. The JO is working hard to make this a success. Meanwhile, the UNP Working Committee that met yesterday also discussed arrangements for its May Day rally. Already, the UNP MPs had visited ten districts to meet with the party organizations in view of May Day. It is intending to bring 100,000 strong crowd. The remaining districts would be covered during the weekend by the MPs.
UNP getting ready for elections Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the capacity of the party leader, instructed the Working Committee members to minimize foreign travel during the time ahead, especially with two elections to be held before the end of the year. The UNP discussed about the pending election to the local authorities and three Provincial Councils. It held the view that the elections should be conducted whenever they are due no matter what comes first. It would start the organization of the party after the New Year period.