Hambantota Port Deal – Getting curious by the day
The controversy surrounding the deal with between Sri Lanka and China Merchant Port Holdings Company (CM Port) once again took another turn after Deputy Minister of Ports and Shipping, Nishantha Muthuhettigama sent a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena stating that the letter regarding the Concessionary Agreement on the Port of Hambantota sent by Cabinet Secretary S. Abeysinghe to the Secretary of his ministry (P&S), was contradictory to the "so called decision" taken at the Cabinet meeting.
The document prepared by Cabinet Secretary S.Abeysinghe states that "it was decided to grant approval to the proposal (1) in paragraph 13 of the memorandum dated 2017 -03- 17 by the minister of special assignments and chairman of the ministerial committee on development of Hambantota Port, subject to amending the concession agreement attached as annex II to the memorandum, as proposed in the note dated 2017 - 03 -21 by the minister of special assignments and the chairman of the said ministerial committee..."
However Muthuhettigama in his letter states "during the Cabinet meeting, held under your chairmanship, on 21 March, the Ministers considered the Concessionary Agreement on the Port of Hambantota sent by Minister Sarath Amunugama (17/0901/753/002) and my note (no 17/0598/737/012), as the acting Minister.”
Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) notes this development with distress because this is not the first time that there was an attempt to manipulate this deal. This also makes us question the authenticity of the cabinet decision presented to the public on Wednesday.
We noted that State Minister for International Trade Sujeewa Senasinghe repeated, during the cabinet Press Briefing, that this deal will be transparent unlike the agreements made during the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration. However the past behaviour of the government regarding the Hambantota Port Deal as well as the letter by Muthuhettigama, clearly indicates that the negotiating process is anything but transparent. Thus CaFFE fears that deal with between Sri Lanka and China Merchant Port Holdings Company (CM Port) might be another adverse one for the country, much like the deals under the Rajapaksa administration.
What is more striking is that Muthuhettigama’s implication that the opinions of the President has been ignored by some sections of the cabinet.
"During the Cabinet meeting it was decided to appoint a five member Cabinet Subcommittee on the matter and to consider the two documents sent. However the letter sent by Cabinet Secretary S. Abeysinghe to the Secretary of his ministry presents a contradictory version of what transpired," he said.
President Sirisena urges caution
President Maithripala Sirisena, after considering the Concessionary Agreement of the Port of Hambantota sent by Minister Sarath Amunugama (17/0901/753/002), sent a note dated 2017 March 20th, to the Cabinet urging them to take a decision considering all the complications involved.
"When considering this document, we must keep in mind the balance of payment issues faced by the country, IMF recommendations and the discussions and agreements that we have carried out with diplomats, including Chinese officials," he said in his note. Is this recommendation, considered seriously? is one of the many questions coming out by the letter.
Cabinet press briefing
On Wednesday co cabinet spokesperson Minister Gayantha Karunathilake said that the Cabinet of ministers decided to appoint a Cabinet Subcommittee chaired by Minister of Special Assignments Sarath Amunugama to oversee the implementation of the concession agreement of the Port of Hambantota between Sri Lanka and China Merchant Port Holdings Company.
“Concession agreement of the Port of Hambantota which is to be signed between Sri Lanka and China Merchant Port Holdings Company (CMPort) in China aims at preparing future plans, financial provision, operational promotion and development of infrastructure including completed phase I and II and proposed phase III. The Cabinet of Ministers has decided to enter into the above agreement which is cleared by the Attorney General and to appoint a Cabinet Subcommittee chaired by Minister of Special Assignments Sarath Amunugama to supervise its implementation,” he said.
The PPP operator is to be capitalized with an amount of US $ 1.4 billion and CMPort is to invest 80% of the transaction value, which is US $ 1.12 billion.