Govt has no idea of selling ECT to any foreign country - Dr. Ramesh Pathirana | Sunday Observer

Govt has no idea of selling ECT to any foreign country - Dr. Ramesh Pathirana

24 January, 2021

Co-cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Plantation Dr.Ramesh Pathirana said under any circumstances, the Government has no idea of selling the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port to any foreign country. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the agreement pertaining to the ECT was signed by the former Yahapalana Government in 2017 as a public-private partnership to develop the ECT. This partnership will continue only for 35 years. After that, the ECT will be fully owned by the Sri Lankan Government. As a responsible Government, we can’t suddenly reject an agreement signed by the previous Government. Therefore, all those aspects will be seriously looked into and the Government is committed to safeguard all the resources and values of the Sri Lankan nation.

Q:The main Opposition SJB alleges that the Government attempts to sell the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port to India. Could you explain?

A: This is an agreement signed between two countries in 2017. It was signed by the previous Government as a public-private partnership to develop the ECT. As a responsible Government, we can’t immediately reject any agreement without looking into the details of it. That company will have a 49 percent stake in the ECT and it will go as a public-private partnership. The Sri Lankan Government will have a 51 percent stake. Under any circumstances, we have no idea to sell the ECT to any foreign country.

This partnership will continue for only 35 years. After that, the ECT will be fully owned by the Sri Lankan Government. However, we have to be concerned about the transshipment facility that we provide. Of the transshipment facilities, 80 percent is provided to India. India is a very important market for us and it is also important to take into consideration the geopolitical situation. As a responsible Government, we can’t suddenly move away from the agreement that the previous Government has switched. All those aspects will be seriously looked into and the Government is committed to safeguard all the resources and values of the Sri Lankan nation.

Q:Engineers and the Trade Unions of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority say the ECT can be developed without any foreign investments or foreign loans. Your views?

A: It is going to be a long drawn process and I also saw those views expressed. We are open to listen to any such claims and we are concerned to look into the country’s interests. However, we have to keep in mind that the two Governments have reached an agreement three years ago. If we reject that, we should have reasons. We have to look into all those aspects to explore different possibilities.

Q: The GMOA and certain sections have raised concern on the increase in Covid-19 cases daily. Is it mainly due to the delay in conducting PCR tests or are there any other reasons?

A: This is partly due to the fact that this virus is very contagious. It has become somewhat difficult to control the second wave of Covid-19 in the world. The Sri Lankan Government has controlled it reasonably well. When we look at the other countries, their situation is worse.

We have to acknowledge that under the guidance of the Government, those in the health sector and the Security Forces are doing a commendable job. We will continue to do that. Once the vaccine is available we would be able to control the Covid-19 outbreak more effectively.

The people are also concerned and they adhere to good health practices which is a good sign. We hope this situation will be controlled in three to six months.

Q: The SJB has raised concern on making military training mandatory for those above 18 years. They say this is an attempt to take the country towards militarisation. What is your comment on this?

A: This is a training to develop the personality and the leadership skills of youth. This scheme was also proposed for the undergraduates in 2014.

At that time, the Inter University Students Federation opposed and criticised it.

There were also certain elements who criticised that activity. At present this is only a suggestion. Even if this training is provided, it would be given for the Sri Lankan youth. There is nothing wrong in developing their physical fitness, leadership skills and personality.

Q:The SJB attempts to portray MP Ranjan Ramanayake’s imprisonment as a political witch-hunt. Your views?

A: When we were in the Opposition, that case was filed against Ranjan Ramanayake regarding some public criticism of the judiciary. That case was filed when the former Yahapalana Government was in power and it was heard over a period of time.

The judges who delivered the judgement stated that Ramanayake not only made that statement but also after leaving the court complex he made several controversial remarks to the media, criticising the judges and the judiciary. That is why he was sentenced for contempt of court. The Government has nothing to do regarding his imprisonment.

Q:Some Government lawmakers say the Opposition attempts to take political mileage even from the Covid-19 issue. Would you like to comment?

A: I think they don’t act as a responsible Opposition. At this particular time, they have not come forward to extend any helping hand to the Government in its attempts to safeguard the people.

They haven’t given any positive criticism. They are merely criticising the Government’s attempts. We have to understand that this is an unprecedented scenario.

We are adjusting to the current day scenario day by day. We have responded very positively and effectively. Certain segments of the people are exposed to the virus.

We have to keep in mind not only the health sector but also, look into other social aspects and the economic cost, and how to revamp everything. The Government has to provide a solution to all these matters.

Q: Is there any truth in the Opposition’s allegation that the Government has failed to control the second wave of Covid-19?

A: It is under a certain level of control. This particular virus is highly contagious and spreads very fast. Therefore, there is always a risk factor.

That is why we request the people to adhere to best health practices. At times, it would be difficult so that we have to take precautionary measures to control it.

Q: The final report of the Presidential Commission to probe the Easter Sunday attacks is scheduled to be released by the end of this month. Do you think it would be able to bring the culprits to book who are held responsible for this disaster?

A: I think so. They have conducted a comprehensive inquiry.

The Presidential Commission report would unveil who is held responsible for it. Based on that, they would be able to take legal action against those responsible.

Q: Do you think it was prudent to open the country for tourists from January 21 due to the prevailing situation?

A: We can’t keep the country closed forever. Under accepted health guidelines, many countries reopened their airports. There is a certain element of danger. On the other hand, if the country closes forever, we are losing a lot of income, foreign exchange revenue through tourism.

There are a lot of people waiting to come back to Sri Lanka including Sri Lankan expatriate workers. Having considered all those aspects, we decided to reopen the airport. We have to closely monitor what happens. All the returnees to the country have to undergo two PCR tests, one before they leave their country of origin and the second after reaching Sri Lanka. So we hope we would be able to take things under control.

Q: Some SLFP seniors have told the media that they are given step- motherly treatment by the SLPP. Is there any truth in this allegation?

A: There is no confrontation between the SLPP and the SLFP. Some people have openly said certain things. But as the main political party of the alliance, it is true that the SLPP should have more faith. We can always discuss these matters and reach a consensus. There is no issue between the two parties. We should be able to talk to them and sort out matters.

Q: Different views have been expressed on the Provincial Council system. Some say the PC system should be abolished while others say it should be continued. What is your view?

A: My personal view is that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in relation to a particular issue that had prevailed in the country for a long period of time. That was introduced with the help of the Indian Government. Geopolitically, we cannot deny the fact that India is an influential party. We have to provide a longstanding solution to this issue through the new Constitution which we will introduce.

Until such time, there is a debate whether we should hold the PC elections or not. I believe we should hold the PC elections until we provide a concrete solution. Otherwise, these PCs governed by the people’s representatives would be lying idle.

It is better if these institutions are governed by the people elected by the popular vote in a democratic manner. However, there is concern whether the PC elections should be conducted under the old preferential vote system or a new electoral system. Once that is sorted out, we would be able to hold the PC elections.

Q: How would you respond to the Opposition’s allegation that the Gazette notifications issued have failed to control the prices of goods and provide relief to the people?

A: There are some issues in relation to some Gazette notifications but they were issued in good faith to ensure that the prices are kept at certain levels.

At times, they have not been very effective and I agree with that. On the other hand, we have been able to control very high price escalation through the Gazette notifications even though they have not been that effective. We know it is not hundred percent effective.

Q: Has the plantation sector faced any major issues due to the prevailing Covid-19 in the country?

A: There is no special danger as such. But we have laid emphasis on certain issues and we have been able to manage them rather well.

Q:Has the Government been able to sort out the daily wage issue of estate workers?

A: The Estate Owners’ Association has given their solution but the estate worker trade unions have not agreed to that. So the discussions are ongoing. Hopefully, we will be able to reach a consensus soon.