Protests against development | Sunday Observer

Protests against development

3 October, 2021

Protesting against everything by the Opposition, newly formed pressure groups and some trade unions is now a common scenario.

Some of these trade unions also broke quarantine curfew and led a teachers’ March to Colombo. It was sad to note that the Opposition even went to the extent of protesting when Covid-19 vaccines were imported from China.

This kind of uncalled for protests/remarks even irked the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Badulla District Member of Parliament Chaminda Wijesiri who castrated the leader of Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa.

Wijesiri said that to be a responsible Opposition they should do constructive criticism.

“I like to remind our leader Sajith Premadasa that our party cannot come to power by pointing out weaknesses of the present Government and over the dead bodies of Covid-19 victims. We have to come up with a plan to build up the nation if we are to come to power,” he said.

He said that he cannot agree to this modus-operandi as his party will not gain anything by pointing out only the shortcomings of the Government.

In addition to criticising the Covid-19 management drive by the Government, the Opposition is also leading protests against development projects which were stalled under the Yahapalana Government.

The Opposition carried out the same protests when the Port City was launched seven years ago. Their common slogan is selling assets , however, in the case of the Port city over 450 acres of new land was created in the sea and bulk of it was given to the Government while others were offered to investors.

Protests are also being led against several other projects in power generation, Port and other areas stating they are being sold out when they are only leased mostly under the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model.

Economists said that one of the most productive investments for developing countries is the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model. Under this model, Governments do not have to invest in money but only provide land for a stipulated period (giving time to recover the money by the developer/investor and make profits) and the investor takes the risk in the project.

After the stipulated timeframe the ownership of the project comes back to the country while the project is in operation.

However, these are mostly for ventures where there is Return on Investment (RoI) for the investor and not for welfare projects like Dams, hospitals, schools and so on where the Government has to invest.

When Malaysia was underdeveloped, then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed invited leading European road building companies to build roads for Malaysia. These companies built roads and charged a ‘toll’ to recover their investment and later handed it back to Malaysia.

Through this BOT model several investors came and invested out of the capital, Kuala Lumpur as there was a good highway network to transport back products to airports and harbours. Global giants like Nissan and Sony built large factories in rural areas taking development to underdeveloped regions.

Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel, India, Iran, Croatia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Egypt, Myanmar and a few US states (California, Florida, Indiana, Texas, and Virginia) also have used BOT to build harbours, airports, rail links, theme parks, mega roads and so on.

Sri Lankan BOT projects

Lanka Ceramic was one of the first projects under the BOT in the 1960’s by then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Several other foreign countries built, operated and handed over similar projects to Sri Lankan during this time.

Though not a BOT, but a joint venture agreement saw Sri Lanka Telecom merge with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) in Japan and transformed the country’s telecom network.

Before this people had to wait for over nine months in a ‘waiting list’ to get a land telephone connection and this was turned around to a ‘week of waiting’ due to NTT inputs. In addition, trunk calls were needed to make long distance calls and for overseas calls people had to wait in a ‘waiting list’ and it was expensive.

It was the then Minister of Telecom Mangala Samaraweera who negotiated with Japanese NTT that brought about this telecom revolution in Sri Lanka.

Hambantota Port

It is true that the then Government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa took a massive loan of USD 307 million to build this Port. Both the JVP and UNP said this was a waste and said there was huge bedrock and the project would be a failure. Today the critics of this project have forgotten where this so-called ‘bed rock’ is.

The harbour was given to China Merchants Port which paid US$1.12 billion to Sri Lanka. In July 2017, the agreement was signed and CMP was given a 70 percent stake and a 99-year lease on the port.

Many said that the Yahapalana Government did not negotiate this deal properly as a lease of 99 years was not justifiable.

Due to the ownership change the Hambantota Port went through a rapid transformation and today the harbour is a major transshipment hub for motor vehicles while several other developments also took place.

In 2020 Sinopec’s company invested USD 5 million in bunkering and partnered Lanka Marine Services (LMS) in supplying very low sulphur fuel oil.

In July 2019 LAUGFS Holdings opened a Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) terminal which imports butane and propane and produces LPG to sell domestically or re-export. Within the first 14 months, it handled 413,000 metric tonnes of LPG, 60 percent of which was exported to Bangladesh, Maldives and India.

Ships calling at the Port also increased and as of August the terminal handles around 15 – 20 ship per month and it is expected to increase up to 30.

The Chinese management also set up a $550 million tax-free Port zone outside the Port which drew more international investors.

Sea Horse Yachts (Pvt) Ltd (SHY) of the Maldives came forward to invest USD 58 million (Rs. 11.5 billion) to set up a state-of-the-art yacht building facility at the Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG). The production is set to commence by early 2022.

The project is expected to generate over 200 direct employment opportunities and an additional 500 indirect employment opportunities.

The Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Xiamen King Long United Automotive Industry Co., Ltd (King Long) in Fujian China to assemble vans and busses.Established in 1988, Xiamen King Long United Automotive Industry Co., Ltd. manufactured large and medium sized buses, coaches and vans. With three large manufacturing bases, King Long’s products have been exported to over 140 countries and regions are ranked among the top 10 automobile brands in China.

Agreements were also signed for a mega cement factory and the list goes on.

Colombo Port city

The Port City Colombo is a brand new city development built as an extension of the Central Business District of Sri Lanka’s vibrant commercial capital, Colombo. Spanning 269 hectares of reclaimed land from the sea, Port City Colombo will be South Asia’s premiere residential, retail and business destination.

The development will comprise five precincts including the Financial District, Central Park Living, Island Living, the Marina and the International Island.

When completed, Port City Colombo will have over 5.6 million square metres of built space, boasting the best in design and standards. Its lifestyle and business offerings will include world-class facilities and spaces in healthcare, education, entertainment, hotels and restaurants, retail and office with an integrated resort and a marina, offering the best in living by the sea.

The total investment was estimated to be $15 billion and is the biggest ever project in Sri Lanka to date.

The project has attracted over USD three billion investments so far and without foreign abstinence Sri Lanka could not have built both of them and secondly could not be able to attract investors of this magnitude.

Colombo West Container Terminal 1

The Colombo Harbour was getting congested with traffic and delays in unloading of cargo resulted in the harbour, one of the biggest artificial harbours in the world losing its competitive edge. Industry was asking it to be expanded for the past 20 years. But only little was done.

However, this is now a reality with the new development with the Colombo West Container Terminal 1.

The Adani Group (APSEZ) on Thursday signed a more than $700-million agreement with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and conglomerate John Keells Holdings, becoming the largest foreign investor in the island nation’s ports sector. This is to develop the West Container terminal. (WCT)

The JKH equity commitment is estimated to be USD 70 million. JKH will have an equity stake of 34 percent while APSEZ and the SLPA will hold 51 percent and 15 percent. The agreement is for 35 years and the total investment is USD 700 million.

The WCT will have a quay length of 1400 meters and a depth of 20 meters, thereby making it a prime transshipment cargo destination to handle ultra large container carriers. The Indian side is investing in this project since there is over 70 percent of the transshipment business at the Colombo Port linked to the Indian market.

This will drastically help to reduce congestion and bring in more maritime business to Sri Lanka.

LNG deal at Yugadanavi power plant

In a bid to boost up the power sector New York-based gas-to-power developer New Fortress Energy (NFE) tied up with Sri Lanka’s LNG terminal to construct a new offshore LNG receiving, storage and regasification terminal. The Government agreed to grant New Fortress a five-year LNG supply deal to recover their expenditure.

The parties also expect significant growth as new power plants become operational. The total investment is over USD 700 million and once again the Government is not in a financial position to invest in a mega project of this nature. New Fortress will acquire a 40 percent ownership stake in WCP and plans to build an offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal located off the coast of Colombo. New Fortress will initially provide the equivalent of an estimated 1.2 million gallons of LNG per day to the Government with the expectation of significant growth as new power plants become operational.

‘This is a significant milestone for Sri Lanka’s transition to cleaner fuels and more reliable, affordable power,’ said Wes Edens, Chairman and CEO of New Fortress Energy. ‘We are pleased to partner with Sri Lanka by investing on modern energy infrastructure that will support sustainable economic development and environmental gains.’

“Delivering cleaner and cheaper fuels to Sri Lanka will support the country’s growth for years to come.”

These projects not only bring investment to the country but also technology not available in Sri Lanka and highly paid jobs for local youth thus reducing the brain drain. In addition these foreign ventures increase land and apartment value, tourism and create new side jobs in food, transport and other areas.

These are not sell outs but leases and they are given on a long term basis giving the investor time to recover their investment.