26 September, 2020

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An Open Appeal To PM; Release Colombo Port City EIA For Public Consultation

By Kusal Perera

Kusal Perara

Kusal Perara

At a media briefing held on January 05 Thursday, spokesperson for the Cabinet, Minister Rajitha Senaratne announced the government’s decision to proceed with the controversial Colombo Port City development project as proposed by PM Wickrrmrsinghe. He was quoted in the media as saying, “We have decided to allow the development project to proceed but without any fraud or corruption. The EIA on the project was carried out by the Moratuwa University, which is known for its assessment quality.”

This project fully funded by a Chinese investor to the tune of 1.4 billion US dollars in creating a 223 hectare offshore island adjoining the Colombo Port, will provide China total control of 108 hectares, through ownership and a 99 year lease.

Cabinet ministers of the Rajapaksa government were not briefed about this total project it is said and from the very beginning, was seeped with controversy. While many issues on corruption and fraud were raised, also important are the issues raised by Ranil Wickremesinghe as Leader of the Opposition, pledging the new government would immediately scrap the whole project. Wickremesinghe on the election campaign trail addressing numerous forums were quoted in the media as saying, the Colombo Port City project would pollute the whole coastal area from Negambo to Beruwala. His pledge to scrap the project was preceded by environmental lobbies and a loud and open protest by people of Negambo, demanding the abolition of the Colombo Port City project.

DSD Wolfowitz host Honor Cordon iho PM Ranil Wickremesinghe of SIn just 24 days into governance, the new government has turned around on its pledge to scrap the controversial project and now claim, the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) done by the Moratuwa University is good enough to proceed with the project, despite some “grey areas”. The government will negotiate and President Sirisena would discuss those issues when he visits China next month said minister Senaratne. What was not told is, it was a local company, “Master Divers” that was contracted to do an underwater soil test that for a project of this nature is extremely important. How Master Divers came to be contracted and how competent they are in such soil tests are not known.

For a government that promises and insists it is working on a “good governance” agenda to establish a “Compassionate Rule – Stable Country”, such statements and guarantees hold no water, especially when it comes after a major broken pledge. It is neither the Cabinet nor the PM that has the legal authority to decide on an EIA. Conducting an EIA and its approval has a clearly laid down procedure under the National Environment Act No.56 of 1988, amended in year 2000 as Act No.53. The whole procedure is Gazetted and is prescribed in the Gazette No. 772/22 of 24.06.1993.

In brief, the procedure begins with the client/project proponent required to submit preliminary information to the Central Environment Authority (CEA), that then decides whether the project proposed could go ahead with an Initial Environment Examination (IEE) or would need an EIA. For every project requiring an EIA, the CEA will have to establish a Project Approving Agency (PAA) that will guide the conducting of the EIA and subsequently decide if it could be approved with or without changes to the project or refuse approval. This process includes a legally mandated period of 30 days for public consultations that holds the client/project proponent to respond, before approval is granted.

Now the issue is, will this government go through this important legal requirement that the Rajapaksa government ignored from the very beginning ? It seems, this government though with a promise for transparency and accountability, is also ignoring these legal requirements and believe they can manage the whole Colombo City Project by negotiating with the Chinese counterpart.

That will not answer any of the issues that make the Colombo Port City development project the most controversial project begun by the Rajapaksa government. I would therefore appeal to PM Wickremesinghe, as head of government responsible for the promise to scrap the Colombo Port City project and as Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs to make public;

  1. a recent, detailed profile of the Chinese contractor(s) handling the project
  2. details of funding including who the supposed investors are
  3. a Status Report on work carried out as at 31 December, 2014 including any payments made
  4. the preliminary information provided to the CEA by the project proponent that in all probability is the SL Port Authority.
  5. the full EIA on which the cabinet of ministers had given approval to proceed with the project

While calling upon all environmentalists and good governance activists to lobby the government to have all above information released to the public domain for a healthy public perusal of the total project, I wish to believe PM Ranil Wickramasinghe as head of government promising a new political culture for responsible governance, will not hesitate in releasing all information and documents listed above, into public domain.

Kusal Perera

Journalist as a Citizen

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    All this time it was blamed that no EIA reporting was done. It may be that there are contraversial matters in it and we will come to know only if MS Govt. is honest and open with it.

    Hidden are many things over the past 9 yrs. Todays details will provide
    good reading here:-
    [Edited out]

    • 1
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      Punchinilame,
      Well, you’ve been censored.

      A 99 year lease does NOT transfer ownership as Kusal laments.

      • 1
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        Good one Kusal! There needs to be a LONG TERM environmental and social impact assessment of this project.

        When land is filled in one part of the coastline, there is sand and coastal EROSION in another. This is a Law of nature and coastal tidal flows and wave patterns.
        The coastlines and homes and livelihoods of Ambalangoda, Galle and Kalpitiya residents may well be impacted by this Colombo Port project which seems another ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL DISASTER in the making – in the name of development to benefit the rich and super rich – in years to come!
        There must be an INDEPENDENT Environment and SOCIAL Impact assessment on habitat and livelihood of poor coastal fisher communities upstream and down stream of the Colombo port project is needed.
        Like the Uma Oya project this will be another Development Disaster whereby the rich benefit at expense of poor coastal communities.

  • 3
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    It would have been incredibly brave for anyone to cancel a contract that was signed by the Chinese President himself.

    The pledge was to “review”. I don’t know why. But that was a silly thing to review after the contract was signed and the work had already started.

  • 5
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    Well written timely appeal by citizen Kusal Perera with facts and rationality.
    Even if a contract is signed there should be escape clauses. Vibushana’ s comments are not sound. I fully agree with Kusal’s appeal .So full transparency is paramount.

    Giving or selling a peice of the Island on 99 years lease or as a free hold to foreigners is dangerous for the integrity and soverignity of SL.

    • 3
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      Then Kusals and you should press the government to take 400 acres or so in Iranawila given to USA as free hold by a previous UNP government.

  • 4
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    This was to be cancelled to please India, nothing else. All those talks of Negombo vanishing into the sea are just rumors created by the facebook brigade. India simply can’t tolerate the idea of a developed country/city other than them on the Indian ocean. Probably the new government pleaded with India to let them go ahead with the project in return for reducing taxes of Indian products.

  • 5
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    Thank you, Kusal Perera for taking up this crucial issue. I have myself sent off a letter about it to several papers today, although, I fear, we are probably too late to turn back the tide. I have added a factor which I have not seen in previous discussion of the port city — that of the loss to the people of Colombo (mainly) of the (for want of a better word) spiritual value of the sea view one has from the Green. “Going to Galle Face” is one of the great pleasures we have left in this overbuilt city. Standing at the western edge of the Green we are entranced by the sweep of the ocean to the South, West and North — the effect on us may be too subtle to realize but it certainly uplifts the spirit. And it has done this for centuries for millions of people. Already the stretch of ‘reclaimed land to the north is blocking our view of the sea there. How much worse that will be once the buildings rise up.

    I strongly protest about this being taken away from us and hope that it is not too late to stop this theft of our psychic heritage.

    Not to speak of infringement of national sovereignty.

    • 1
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      What ever Spiritual thing you felt in Galle face you can continue to feel it because this won’t stretch the whole galle face. Secondly country needs to increase it’s GDP quite rapidly if we are to increase the quality of life of ordinary people to the level enjoyed by a quite a few people like you. For that we need investments. Can you investment upto Rs 200 billion and create 20,000 jobs?

      • 1
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        In 1903 the US leased Guantanamo Bay from Cuba and since the 1930s Cuban governments have been trying to reassert their ownership. They now have to endure the horror of a prison on their land whose inmates are regarded as sub-human, unworthy of the basic rights of prisoners under international and most national laws.

        You and I, oh Liberal one (easy to sneer at me from behind a pseudonym, and from ignorance of my real situation — which, in fact, is one of struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly difficult situation, though it might not be apparent to ignorant outsiders), will probably pass away before Sri Lankans begin to resent and regret a powerful foreign nation exercising its domination over part of their territory. I am sure the newly independent Cuban government did not look so far ahead (if, indeed, they had the freedom at all to resist the US at that time) when it consented to allow the US to retain Guantanamo Bay simply as a refuelling and naval station. That government’s hands were tied and now generations of Cubans have had to live with the result.

        It is a long time since I was able, myself, to enjoy the special atmosphere of Galle Face (and you are obviously unable to appreciate such things when u say the reclamation wont stretch along the whole of Galle Face — I am fully aware of that), but having known it I happen to care that others should enjoy it, whether I can or not any longer.

        And your implied suggestion that the Port City is the only way to increase the GDP of this country fails to convince me. I am sure economists (of which I am not one) would meet you on that ground.

        • 1
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          Enough is never enough for the financial godfathers of politicians who are also greedy bastards all in all. Why are these still not in jail? Sumathipala, Ravi Wijeratna, Dhammika Perera?

          Hence the need to sell off pieces of the mother land literally and metaphorically.

          They will spew any excuse (rapidly increase GDP – LMAO) to drown out even the most feeble patriotic bleat.

          Maithripala may have been a humble farmer from Polonnaruwa. But now he is an Excellency. Remember that. The universal law is: the large fish devour the small.

  • 4
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    to Kusal Perera,

    In your article, you requesting to make public “the full EIA on which the cabinet of ministers had given approval to proceed with the project”.

    The thing is that cabinet can’t give an approval to any EIA report. It must be approved by Central Environmental Authority after considering the public comments on the EIA. Any way, no one didn’t know whether it was opened up for public comments. Past government did many projects without going through a proper EIA process. If the cabinet was approved this, it is purely a violation of the law.

  • 3
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    This is a project of a significant importance to this country and therefore the public should have access to details of same. It is better for the government to be more transparent in this matter to satisfy the public.

  • 1
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    I am very glad about this suggestion. They must also release the economic and financial assessments as well. Rajitha and others in the coalition criticized this project earlier saying it is a wasteful project and now they are saying that it is going to be undertake. Unless a thorough review of the entire project including anticipated benefits and also the repayment plan, this project should not be undertaken. The opportunity cost of this project is very high and if it fails to provide anticipated benefits, the country could suffer a lot. The only beneficiary would be China. We cannot afford to give this valuable location on lease to any country for any period. The changing intenational economic envoirnment should also be taken into account since the project depends a lot on internationl trade and services.

  • 1
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    EIA reports should be released to the public and a hearing held before the Govt accepts it. Often the Govt with the complicity of Donors edit the EIA original reports and release it to the public the one that suits their motives. eg Irranamadhu/Jaffna water project.

  • 2
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    I find this whole thing funny. Stop pretending that we can say no to the Chinese now. We can’t, for obvious reasons. They tell us to dance, we dance.

  • 0
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    Ranil Wickramasinghe is notorious for selling our coastal belt & Galle fort to foreign companies, this deal too will go through without transparency.

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