Gotabaya Rajapaksa sets up committee to look into Colombo Port concerns

India, Japan had agreed to jointly develop it with Sri Lanka

Following concerns raised by workers and some Opposition parties over a key terminal at the Colombo Port, which India and Japan had agreed to jointly develop with Sri Lanka, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed a panel to look into the issue.

The five-member committee will examine and report on the concerns regarding the development of the State-run Jaya Container Terminal (JCT) and East Container Terminal (ECT), which the three countries were to develop together.

Near China-run port

Among other things, the panel will study “agreements entered by the Government of Sri Lanka with other Governments with regard to Colombo Port and in particular ECT”, a statement from President Rajapaksa’s office said on Friday.

In May 2019, the Maithripala Sirisena administration signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with India and Japan to jointly develop and operate the ECT — with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) holding 100 % ownership — that is adjacent to the Chinese-run Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).

Also read: Sri Lanka keen on enhancing connectivity with Indian ports

Following the change in government last November, the Rajapaksa administration’s plans in regard to the project remained unclear, but meanwhile, port workers protested last week, demanding that three newly-imported gantry cranes from China, meant for the State-run JCT, be installed at the ECT.

Workers alleged “Indian pressure” in preventing the cranes from being installed at the ECT.

Following the strike action, the government agreed to the workers’ demand, local media reported. “Though they are not the right cranes to fix at the ECT, we decided to fix them there,” said Daya Ratnayake, Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman, according to news website Economynext.

‘Selling it to India’

Workers and the Opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna had also accused the government of “selling the terminal” [a national asset] to India — a refrain that often gets amplified around elections in Sri Lanka.

With the island readying for parliamentary elections on August 5, the project has yet again come under sharp focus.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who said “no final decision” has been taken on the ECT, held talks with Port workers on Friday, after which they called off the strike.

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