By Ranil Senanayake –
It is heartening to see our Government standing up for the rule of law and the protection of our rights and health in the face of corrupt deals made my shadowy individuals with no concern or love for this nation. The Port City project has nothing to do with bi-lateral projects involving the government of China and the government of Sri Lanka. It is a deal struck with a corporation and we should always be conscious of that fact. Fortune 500 or 600 or whatever, a corrupt deal that does not consider the well being of the citizens of a sovereign nation, is still a corrupt deal that must now become honest or go away. We are all aware of the corruption that reigned during the rule of the last Government, with that in mind we should examine the “procedures and conditions stipulated in the said agreement entered into with the Government of Sri Lanka”. Did these conditions consider the impact of this project on the citizens of Sri Lanka? more specifically on the environs around the proposed project? If not, they must attend to these needs without delay.
This is especially pertinent when considering the words of the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who when commenting on the landfill projects that China was doing on the Spratly Islands stated, “We are not like some countries which have carried out ‘illegal building’ in other people’s homes, and we won’t accept unwarranted remarks about work on our own home,” If the construction of the Port City has commenced without the requisite studies and against the law of this land it has to be viewed as ‘illegal building’ in our home ! We trust that Foreign Minister Wang Yi will step in to defend the image of China as not carrying out ‘illegal building’ in our home and request the China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC) to examine and abide by the legal and environmental consequences of continuing with the Port City Project.
We also look to the words of President Xi Jinping, who recently stated his view on companies and individuals contributing to polluting activities, last Friday he said that “We are going to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or the environment, with no exceptions,” We welcome his words and trust that this will apply to the Port City project as well. The Sri Lankan Government should immediately commission a study on the impact of this proposed project on our health, land, water and air quality and if the ecology and environment of Colombo city and its environs are going to be impacted, report these facts officially to the Government of China.
The stated vision of the Port City is also suspect, It states that: “The land created will attract local and international investments for shopping malls, hotels, apartments, an exhibition center, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, theme parks, restaurants etc. Port City is planned to be very much a city for the people of Sri Lanka to be shared and enjoyed by all Sri Lankans”. There is no mention of high noise and polluting racetracks for car racing and the possibility of gambling, to name a few of the ‘hidden agenda’ items. High-speed racing not only produces a massive amount of noise pollution, it also generates large quantities of particulate matter that are 2.5 microns or less. Known as PM 2.5, these particles are the tiniest of airborne pollutants, and contribute to a range of diseases, including asthma and heart disease. The air quality of major Asian cities has now become a source of major concern, has the EIA of this project addressed the air quality that the existing City of Colombo will receive from the proposed project?
It seems that the current operators are hiding behind the very narrow EIA issued, they state that they will continue to adhere to: “commitments contained in the approved Environmental Impact Assessment study and addendum thereto “ These documents must be presented to the Sri Lanka public to see if the EIA under discussion has addressed the impact on public health, air quality, water supply and toxic garbage, just to name a few. There is also a statement of jobs for Sri Lankans, is this during the construction phase (which is temporary) or once the project is completed? What are the jobs available in the new city?
As for us, we need to examine the agreements signed and identify the individuals who have signed away our birthright, we have to examine their accounts to see if they are part of the ‘Criminal Cabal’ who have been looting this country. If so they must be punished to the fullest extent of our law.
If indeed we control this runaway Port City project, what should be the next steps? While the conformity to contractual obligations and national laws have to be examined and argued we do have a physical landfill to deal with. If this project does not meet with the requisites of a comprehensive EIA, what should be done with the land reclaimed? It might be good to envision a new public park much like Galle Face that could provide much needed public spaces for the Megapolis that is envisaged for Colombo.