By Kusal Perera –
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.
In 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;
- a recent, detailed profile of the Chinese contractor(s) handling the project
- details of funding including who the supposed investors are
- a Status Report on work carried out as at 31 December, 2014 including any payments made
- the preliminary information provided to the CEA by the project proponent that in all probability is the SL Port Authority.
- 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.
Journalist as a Citizen