Thursday, June 13, 2024

President’s guidance needed for economic recovery – Nimal Siriplala de Silva

by damith
May 19, 2024 1:06 am 0 comment 2K views

  • NPP will not win any election
  • Better to hold Presidential Election first
  • Stalled development projects to be resumed

Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva, and leader of a faction within the crisis-hit Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), recently sat down for an interview with the Sunday Observer and addressed ongoing projects like the expansion of Colombo Port and Jaffna Airport, along with the controversial decision to involve an Indian-Russian consortium to manage the Mattala Airport.

De Silva also commented on the upcoming elections, expressing his preference for a Presidential Election before a General Election and his belief that the JVP-led National People’s Power (NPP) is unlikely to secure a majority. Additionally, he hinted at his support for President Ranil Wickremesinghe if he decides to run for President as a common or national candidate.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Are you hopeful of the resumption of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) expansion project with Japanese assistance?

A: Yes, I am very hopeful about the resumption of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) expansion project with Japanese assistance. I recently met the Japanese Finance and Foreign Ministers, and had an extensive discussion on this matter. We anticipate that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will play a crucial role in moving this project forward. Currently, our progress is hindered by ongoing debt restructuring processes. However, we are actively preparing the technical and logistical groundwork, which will take between five to eight months to complete. The project committee is also in the process of finalising bidding documents. Following our consultative meeting with JICA, I am confident that we are on track for the resumption of this vital expansion project.

Q: The Colombo Port seems to have gained from the conflict in the Red Sea. How do you plan to convert this to long-term gains for the Colombo Port?

A: The recent conflict in the Red Sea has positively impacted the Colombo Port, leading to a 23 percent increase in vessel traffic. To capitalise on this growth and ensure long-term gains, our strategy involves enhancing the Port’s efficiency. We aim to transition towards semi or fully-automated operations to maintain operational reliability and boost confidence among port users. Implementing a Port Community System is a crucial initiative to facilitate paperless transactions and optimise port and logistics processes. We have initiated the process by inviting Expressions of Interest (EOIs) for establishing this system, which will serve as an intelligent and secure electronic platform for information exchange among public and private stakeholders.

Q: What is the progress with regard to the Jaffna airport expansion project to accommodate larger aircrafts?

A: We have recently solicited EOIs from private developers for the expansion of Jaffna (Palali) Airport to accommodate larger aircraft. India has shown strong support by awarding a grant of US$ 67 million for the rehabilitation of the nearby Kankesanthurai (KKS) harbour. This support from India gives us confidence that they will extend their assistance to the Jaffna airport expansion project, enabling it to accommodate larger aircraft such as the Airbus A220 or A320 and enhance regional connectivity. Right now, only turboprops such as the ATR 72-600 can land there.

Q: What is the advantage of giving the Mattala airport to an Indian-Russian consortium? What are their plans to develop this airport?

A: The decision to involve an Indian-Russian consortium in managing Mattala airport stems from the need for a capable partner with strong aviation expertise and financial backing. By entrusting them with the management of Mattala airport under a revenue-sharing model after three years, we believe they can revitalise the airport’s operations and financial viability. This partnership is focused solely on management, allowing us to leverage their expertise while still retaining ownership.

Q: With China controlling the Hambantota Port, have you considered the geopolitical implications of such moves?

A: We have considered the involvement of various international parties in the development of Hambantota Port, including China. Our decision-making process involved inviting interest from multiple stakeholders to ensure comprehensive development plans that align with our national interests. We remain vigilant and proactive in managing any potential geopolitical implications arising from these partnerships. But for now, I assure you that there are no such complications and we should not be creating any.

Q: What is the rationale behind the move to develop Hingurakgoda as an international airport? Will it be another Mattala?

A: Unlike Mattala, the Hingurakgoda Airport has significant potential due to its strategic location. The decision to develop Hingurakgoda as an international airport stems from its significant potential, unlike the challenges faced by Mattala Airport from the beginning.

The Hingurakgoda airport will undergo development in phases, starting with the extension of the existing runway from 2,287 meters to 2,500 meters in length and 46 meters in width.

This crucial enhancement will allow the airport to accommodate larger aircraft such as Airbus A320 and Boeing B737, facilitating expanded international flight operations.

Importantly, there is ample space available for runway development without requiring extensive land acquisition. This development initiative will not only benefit Hingurakgoda but also contribute to the growth and development of Polonnaruwa in general. The funding for the development of Hingurakgoda airport is being sourced internally, highlighting our commitment to this project.

Q: If President Ranil Wickremesinghe decides to contest the Presidency, will you support him and why?

A: Yes, I am inclined to support President Ranil Wickremesinghe should he decide to contest the Presidency. He has demonstrated stellar leadership qualities with a proven track record of guiding the country towards progress. While his candidacy remains undeclared, I believe he has the qualities needed to lead the nation effectively for another five years.

Q: What will be the stance of the SLFP faction led by you? Who will it be supporting at a Presidential Election or will you be fielding a candidate?

A: The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), like many other parties, is experiencing internal divisions. I believe that the SLFP needs to confront reality and focus on resolving these internal conflicts rather than entertaining unrealistic hopes. Currently, we are really not in a position to field a Presidential candidate. Instead, the SLFP should prioritise preparations for Parliamentary Elections and concentrate on improving our performance to secure more seats.

Q: What do you prefer to have first – General or Presidential election? Why?

A: I prefer a Presidential Election because all parties are currently dealing with internal conflicts more or less. Holding a General Election at this point would exacerbate these issues. It is crucial to prioritise the Presidential Elections to prevent certain parties from exploiting the situation and inciting violence, because there are parties who would like to resort to violence at any point. Therefore, we should not make any space for such violent activities. Additionally, timely Presidential Elections are essential for upholding our democratic image in the eyes of the international community.

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