“Port City” Bill Passes Amid Criticism in Sri Lanka

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The Sri Lankan Parliament recently passed the Bill that declares 269 hectares of reclaimed land annexed to the city of Colombo as the country’s first special economic zone (SEZ) for service-oriented industries. Under the legislation, a special commission appointed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, whose constituency contains the port city of Hambantota, will be established to govern the Special Economic Zone (SEZ), with separate statutes for Port City, these laws will give companies there an exemption from some taxes and laws, and some amendments have been made to the project agreement, as there were freehold provisions for lands in the agreement which indicated that the Chinese government could obtain lands independently, but in the new agreement all these clauses were amended and the draft bill was drafted as an extension of Colombo City. For their part, politicians and parliamentarians criticized the Port City project as not a trade deal but a kind of Chinese economic invasion, and economists confirmed that the project was planned as a separate country even though it is in Sri Lanka, noting that the executive powers of the current head of the committee that were appointed to manipulate the affairs of Colombo Port City are limited and that there is a possibility that foreigners will be appointed to the committee despite what the government has stated that the majority of the appointees will be from Sri Lanka, and they demanded that the law not be lenient in how money is managed.

Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe – President’s Counsel – PC, M.P. and former Minister of Justice and Buddasasana. Member of Parliament from ruling SLPP stated that realistically, this isn’t a business deal, China is utilizing economic power to stabilize its hold in the region by containing the involvement of world hegemony. It’s an economic invasion whereby China uses its power to coerce regional as well as global Powers. When you reminisce of this invasion, it reminds me of a speech given by former Prime Minister Sir. John Kothelawala’s speech in 1955 in a conference in Bandung city in Indonesia airing his views stating that in another four to five decades our problems will NOT be the European Invasions, but the Economic Invasion from the regional Super Power China. Our previous Political leaders had the foresight to predict these 65 years ago.

 

In an interview with A24 News Agency Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director at Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) stated that since the Port City Bill has been approved in the Parliament, there is a lot to say about the Colombo Port City. There are a lot of allegations, leaving aside the Economical and technical side aside, let’s look into Good Governance for a while. Now, Port city is a Part of Sri Lanka, but when you look into the Bill it seems it has been planned as a separate country. There is a commission that has been appointed by the Executive President to manipulate the Port City affairs. After the 20th Amendment, the current President’s Executive Authorities’ seems to have no limits or bounds. There is a possibility that foreigners will be appointed to the commission, but the government has stated that the majority of appointees will be Sri Lankans. But he can appoint anyone he wants as per the stances.

 

Further Mr Dhananath Fernando – Advocate Research Institute (ARI), chief operating officer (COO) added especially, when u make this Special Economic Zone (SEZ), the law should not be lenient in how the money is managed since Money laundering and terrorism should be considered to be curtailed. Secondly, the controversy is whether it is necessary to grant Tax Relief / Tax Exemption. On the other hand, the Sri Lankan government also has a responsibility as well as to finance to connect the Port City to other Zones in the Country.

 

Yasiru Ranaraja -Director of Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka (Director to BRISL) LLM @ Ocean University of China) commented that since there were many controversies in 2014 – 2015, certain amendments were made in the agreement of the Port City. There were ‘Free Hold Land Clauses’ in the agreement, which indicated the Chinese government can acquire the land independently. But, in the new agreement, all those clauses have been amended. Apart from that, a Bill has been drafted and passed in the parliament as a City in Western Province and Colombo Municipality as per the constitution. It has also been drafted that the Port City is an Extension of Colombo City. Since earlier, only Sri Lankan borders were included in the constitution since this land (Extended Land of the Port City) has been included in the constitution. Since then, this land (Extended Land of the Port City) has been falling under the Urban Development Authority (UDA) through which it has been handed over to the Chinese Company. Although previously, the Port City had been considered as a part of the Port Authority of Sri Lanka as per the agreement, now it has been amended. And laws can be changed in the future premised on situations.

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