Arguments by the Government that the Colombo Port City Tripartite Agreement is ‘highly confidential’ and cannot be publicly released have been dismissed by the Right to Information Commission which, this Tuesday (March 3rd), ordered the Ministry of Urban Development to release the Agreement to the Commission.
The Agreement, between the Chinese Government backed company, CHEC and the Government of Sri Lanka has been boasted to lead to China’s ‘jewel in the sea’ of the Indian Ocean, a brand new city development and a so-called ‘world class city.’ However, environmentalists have staged protests saying that the project has been undertaken bypassing environmental approvals and that the aim is to set up a ‘rich zone’ where those who have money and privilege are favoured. Colombo’s urban poor and the fisher communities of the West Coast are projected to suffer most from environmental harm and livelihood destruction. Impact on fish breeding areas, coastal erosion and damage to coral reeefs.
Already the famed golden beaches of Negombo are disappearing they say, while pollution in Colombo will be increased hundred-fold due to poor environmental controls over the Port City operation. Massive amounts of sand and ‘black rock’ have been mined from the country’s natural reserves to use for this project. Also, there is no clarity on whether a separate legal regime will operate within the Port City under the control of the Chinese Government.
While questions have been raised within the past several years, during the Rajapaksa term when the idea of a Chinese backed Colombo Port City was first mooted and when it was continued during the Wickremesinghe Government, the process remained closed off to the public. Even though cases were filed in court, the Agreement itself was not made publicly available unlike in many other instances of major developments. This is the first time that the Agreement was released to an outside agency, apart from ‘those in the know.’ That followed the Commission taking a stern position with the Ministry and citing provisions in the RTI Act to order reasons for non-disclosure to be clearly and strictly justified.
It is reported that the RTI Commission will examine the Colombo Port City Tripartite Agreement in the following weeks.