By Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda –
Denial of People’s Right
The citizens in Sri Lanka are being kept in the dark as to the nature of the project known as ‘Colombo Port City Project’ (CPCP) which was launched in a hurry by the former President in Sept. 2014. An EIA report, which is an essential condition prior to receiving the official approval to launch a major project, is said to have been prepared but was never made available to the public. Thus, in the case of CPCP, the usual procedure has not been followed.
It is common sense that people have right to know what their leaders are doing for development of their people and what contracts they enter into with other countries, in the name of development.
In this case, information related to the ownership, the extent of the land to be reclaimed, project activities to be carried out, total cost, environmental and social impact, possible economic activities planned to be implemented and a profile of the contractor, have not been made available to the citizens of the land, leaving room for diverse speculations. According to unofficial reports, the Chinese contractor of this project is one who has been blacklisted. Therefore, in many respects this is a denial of a basic right that the citizens are entitled to.
However when taking into account factors such as the capital to be invested, the ownership of the reclaimed land, physical and environmental changes, sovereignty of our land, and even more, our politicians who are not very dependable and can hardly be trusted, the citizens have to take greater interest and responsibility in the issue of the Colombo Port City project, in order to safeguard their rights.
It is up to the government to provide an opportunity to the citizens to express their views on this project. Had the previous government provided the basic information prior to the launching of the project, the citizens would have already voiced their concerns on this matter.
The previous government should take the blame for its failure to provide the required information which would have enabled the citizens to perform their civic responsibility in this regard.
Good governance was proclaimed as the major agenda of the Maithree –Ranil government on every political platform during the election campaign. It can be realized only if they keep up to the promises they made before the masses.
It is a universally accepted principle that people’s participation in the governance of the country is an essential element of good governance and democratic rule. If our rulers are honest they should now place before the public what this Colombo Port city is about.
Colombo Port City: A Hidden Agenda?
As for now, the secrecy surrounding the CPCP is a major issue. On the one hand, the previous government has been in a mighty hurry in launching the project and on the other, all information about the project has been purposely hidden from the people. Not only the general public but even the Central Environmental Authority, which is the government arm established for the protection of the environment, seems to be kept in the dark. Had it been informed, by now it would have conveyed its position to the general public. Therefore the question arises whether the previous government has had a hidden agenda behind it?
The new government which pursues the policy of good governance should now set a good example by listening to the views of the people and acting in a totally transparent manner.
We have seen, in the recent times, the earth falling apart in the hill country causing several deaths and immense hardships to the people in the plantations area. Several affected families are still living as refugees in welfare centres. Many people now believe that such tragedies are caused by the unplanned development projects carried out in the area.
Thanks to the media we are now informed about the catastrophic situation prevailing in Bandarawela area due to the Uma Oya project launched by the previous government with the assistance of the government of Iran in spite of the warning given by our environmentalists. Such development programmes have only brought disaster and have disrupted the peace which was prevailing prior to the launching of the so called development project.
The traditional farmers complain that their paddy lands have dried up due to lack of water and so are the drinking wells; that the houses they had built with all their hard earnings are now cracking. The land value has dropped. Such were the woes that people revealed before the media.
The CCPP needs millions of tons of granite and large amount of gravel which have to be brought from the interior of the country to reclaim the sea. The sand is being pumped already from the sea. What will be the impact of such activities on the natural and social environment? When questioned, the fisher communities expressed their fear about the possible damage that this project would cause to the fish breeding grounds, corals and the sea coast. Who can guarantee that the fate that befell the people due to the Uma Oya project may not fall on the people living in the western province and those living in the coastal belt?
Therefore the government should insist on a serious study of the environmental and social impact of the project by an independent committee. Only on the information so collected should a decision be taken. Until then the project has to be suspended.
The Promise given during the election
People remember well the promise made from the political platforms that the Colombo Port City Project would be discontinued because of its disastrous environmental impact. These leaders would not have made such a promise to the people if they had no solid ground for it. Therefore the promise needs to be honoured.
If they have made such a promise solely for the purpose of attracting votes, then they have violated both social and political ethics.
Some argue that a contract signed by two countries cannot be annulled. However, if the contract really undermines the sovereignty of the country and brings it harmful effects on, the leaders of both countries have a moral duty to reconsider the contract.
Does a project which comprises a golf course, racing car track, facilities for sea sports, casinos, tourist hotels and shopping complexes, make any sense in Sri Lanka, where more than half the population receives only a two dollars a day? The focus of development programmes in a country where 75% of the population are peasants ought to be the needs and concerns of the peasantry. Indeed the CPCP is an agenda meant to cater to the needs of the foreign tourists and the urban rich, at the expense of the majority in the country.