The Port City U-ey!February 6, 2015, 7:07 pm
The cantankerous grandees of the present administration, while in the opposition, berated the Rajapaksa government for having turned Sri Lanka into a ‘Chinese colony’. Prior to the Jan. 08 presidential election some of them condemned the Port City project being built by the Chinese as an environmental disaster.
On Dec. 16 2014, the then Opposition Leader Wickremesinghe told a group of tourism industry officials at a meeting that he would stop the Port City Project if Maithripala Sirisena won the presidential election. "We have to protect our coastal area. If the port city is built, we will lose the coastal area." He said the project would destroy the sea coast from Negombo to Beruwala! Environmental groups commended him for what they called a bold decision.
The Port City was doomed, many thought. James Packer, the Casino king, who wanted to have a foothold here, was sent packing after President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat and the Chinese engaged in filling the sea off Galle Face Green were expected to face a similar fate.
But, now, the new government tells us that it will go ahead with the Port City project! It has suddenly found that the land to be reclaimed from the sea and the modern city to be built on it pose no danger to the environment! China has had the last laugh!
Some of the excuses Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has given for the government’s volte face on the Port City project are ludicrous, to say the least. Sri Lanka has to maintain good relations with China and President Maithripala Sirisena is planning to visit Beijing shortly, he has said among other things.
Those who bellowed anti-Chinese slogans have apparently realised that China is too powerful to be trifled with. The Port City project was launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping himself during a state visit. Politicians have their heads in the clouds when they are out of power, but the sobering reality dawns on them when they are voted into office.
What one gathers from the government’s U-turn is that it is ready to continue to do what it faulted its predecessor for! One is reminded of Machiavelli, who said, ‘The promise given was a necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present.’
Before last month’s presidential election, the big guns of the current administration claimed that the Rajapaksas had got massive kickbacks from mega development projects. No sooner had they formed the government than they stalled the northern expressway project, alleging that its cost was too high to be realistic, the implication being that someone used that project to line his pockets. People were also given to understand that corruption was also one of the reasons why the Rajapaksa government had approved the Port City Project.
The government has some serious explaining to do about its about-turn on the ‘China Town’ project. Why did they tell the public that it was an environmental disaster without commissioning a thorough study? Did the previous government grant permission for it because of financial inducements? If so, who stood to gain from the questionable deal then and has anyone benefited from the new government’s one-eighty?
It will be interesting to see the reaction of the environmentalists who hailed the then Opposition’s pledge to stop the Port City project. They are obviously smarting from a grand letdown. Will they take the government’s turnaround lying down or continue with their struggle?
There are some powerful countries which have looked askance at the Port City project. They are believed to have helped engineer the Rajapaksa government’s downfall by way of punishment for being pro-Chinese. It is hoped that one of them won’t ask for permission to build another city similar to the ‘China Town’ either close to Colombo or elsewhere.