The thrice cancelled US $ 88 million Chinese funded turn key project which was set to be built in Nuwara Eliya under the former Rajapaksa regime, is likely to be approved by the present Yahapālanaya led government soon, fear environmentalist activists.
A High Altitude Training Centre for athletics and other sports which was scheduled to be constructed initially in 2009, within the confines of the Race Course, is making headway a fourth time around despite reported environmental threats, as seen when it was first first scrapped in 2009.
When Colombo Telegraph contacted well known environmentalist and lawyer Jagath Gunawardena for his thoughts on this project he said ‘”there is a portion of the said property in Nuwara Eliya, where we have already sent in our recommendations to the Mayor Mahinda Dodampegamage in early February 2015, for it to be made a ‘Conservative Zone’ and have it gazetted in parliament.
This is the fourth time that this Chinese project has been sent to the Ministry of Sports as an ‘unsolicited proposal’, which means that open bids are not called for such ventures. On the three previous occasions, the Cabinet Review Sub Committee (CRSC) of the Treasury rejected both proposals.
Documented evidence from 2009 reveal that the then Minister of Sports Gamini Lokuge spent approximately Rs 200 million to develop the infrastructure of the project. This project was eventually made redundant by the Urban Development Authority, due to it being proven that the project if continued would be an environmental threat due to flooding issues.
In the second instance in August of 2013, the former Minister of Sports Mahindananda Aluthgamage was quoted in the Sunday Times on the 4th August 2013 to have said that “China Volant Industry Company Limited has offered to bear costs up to US$ 85 million (more than Rs. 11 billion) and financing would have to be found for the remaining US$ 27.65 million (more than Rs. 3.5 billion). He did say then that the Department of External Resources should be called upon to look for the extra funds needed”.
However this project resurfaced a third time in 2014, when Anura Jayawickrema was the then Secretary to the Ministry. However the CSRC yet again was firm in not approving of it.
Colombo Telegraph was made to understand that Minister Dissanayake has now entrusted professionals of the University of Moratuwa to look into the re-valuation of this project from a financial aspect, as all CRSC committees and all other Unsolicited Proposals are being terminated by the present government as a policy decision. This particular proposal is the only one that currently exists or rather is being pursued.
Colombo Telegraph contacted Kamani Sooriyaarcachchi the Director Sports Development of the Ministry of Sports in the hope that she could shed more light on this topic. However she refused to comment saying she is not authorized to speak to the Media. Colombo Telegraph then contacted the Secretary of the Ministry M.I.M. Rafeek only to be told that he was at a meeting with current Environmental Ministry officials. We were promised that he would return our call after his meeting. That phone call is yet to be received.
“The country’s President Maithripala Sirisena make a strong statement on the protection of all environmental issues of our country. President Sirisena went on to say that even though he has dissolved most of his ‘Executive Powers’ as the President,he will not hesitate to use his powers to the fullest, if for any reason any part of our beautiful island nation and its ecology is threatened. As much as it may be a necessity to have a state of the art High Altitude Training Center for athletes, it may be best to have it built in a location where there would not be any threat to the environment. Also our very own ‘Little England’ could then continue to preserve its identity, heritage and beauty” said Panduka Keerthinanda lawyer and former Chairman of the Sugathathasa National Sports Complex Authority.
Colombo Telegraph did contact Minister Dissanayake in the past and was told that he would happy to answer any questions through email. We did send him questions and a reminder too but he is yet to respond.
Colombo Telegraph reliably learns that a board paper is yet to be filed in parliament regarding this project and this issue is likely to be debated soon.