Government accused of lack of transparency in China deals

The Government has been accused of lack of transparency in its deals with China.

Harin Fernando, a Minister in the previous Government led by Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, accused the current administration of turning Sri Lanka into a “banana republic” under Chinese rule, the Nikkei Asian Review reported.

“In 2014, before we toppled the government, this is what we highlighted. But now we see [the Chinese] doing this much more strategically,” he told Nikkei.

Fernando said China now has a complete monopoly on Sri Lanka’s development projects and that Sri Lanka is “under debt” to China.

He added that many dealings with China in the past lacked transparency and failed to follow due tender procedure, while the public was often kept in the dark.

Meanwhile, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Sri Lanka’s strong ties with neighboring India are being tested after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced that his Government is reviewing a port deal worth millions of dollars that was signed between the previous Sirisena Government and New Delhi.

Political observers say the move is the latest effort by Rajapaksa to distance himself from grants and other funding offered by the “Quad” nations — the U.S., India, Japan and Australia — which are trying to counter China’s growing geopolitical influence. Sri Lanka’s government recently shelved the Japan-funded Colombo Light Railway project and a $480 million Millennium Challenge Corporation grant from the U.S.

Workers at Colombo Port, which handles more than 7 million twenty-foot equivalent units of cargo annually, are demanding that the government scrap the agreement, which authorizes India and Japan to develop the new East Container Terminal. The port workers want guarantees that the project will be fully owned by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, a government entity.

Trade unions say the project threatens to cede ownership of the ECT to India. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former president and elder brother of the incumbent, said there is “no final agreement” with regard to the project, although the previous government signed a memorandum of cooperation with India and Japan May 2019 to develop the ECT. The terms of the deal gave Sri Lanka a 51% stake, with India and Japan holding the rest. The project was estimated to cost between $500 million and $700 million.

A representative of the Indian High Commission in Colombo said that about two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s international cargo traffic is with India. “There are opportunities for win-win cooperation among India, Sri Lanka and Japan in developing the ECT to promote prosperity in our maritime region.” (Colombo Gazette)