Sri Lanka citizen’s group concerned over Chinese funded port city project

Apr 17, 2015 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s citizen’s group, Friday Forum has expressed concern about a recent controversial Chinese funded project and said full disclosure is needed on the 1.4 billion project.

“The Friday Forum calls upon the government to immediately place in the public domain the details of all agreements, assessments and regulatory determinations related to the Colombo Port City development project,” Friday Forum said in a statement.
Earlier in April the port city builders said that the government is yet to invite the company for discussions or issue a directive regarding the project review process, which is currently underway.

The new regime suspended the project in March this year due to a pending investigation report.
The 1.4 billion US dollar Chinese Port City is to be constructed between the Southern edge of the new Colombo South Port and the Fort Lighthouse.

The total area of sea to be reclaimed is 252 hectares.

The full statement is reproduced below

Full disclosure needed on Port City project

The Colombo Port City development project is a matter of considerable public interest and controversy, because of the unprecedented level of foreign direct investment involved and also because of concerns raised about the project’s impact.

The project is currently under review by an expert committee appointed by the government, which will report to a Cabinet sub-committee headed by the Prime Minister that will reportedly make a final decision about the project.

Inadequate information to make a responsible decision

The lack of specific detail available in the public domain (and in the hands of the Sri Lanka government) about the construction and operational phases of the project precludes a robust evaluation of its initial and longer-term environmental and social impacts, its economic viability and potential benefits, or indeed what implications it will have for governance and foreign relations. In the absence of this information, it is not possible to responsibly determine whether the project is in the Sri Lankan people’s interest – and whether it should be allowed to proceed, be subject to modification or terminated, or indeed to assess what the costs and benefits of these options would be. The lack of clarity and transparency with regards the terms of the agreement between the government of Sri Lanka and the foreign developer is a major hindrance to public scrutiny of this project that has far-reaching implications for Sri Lanka.

Far-Reaching Implications

Based on the limited information currently in the public domain, there have been major concerns raised about the project’s environmental, economic, social, geopolitical and national sovereignty implications. Questions about the lack of due rigour on the part of the previous government and relevant regulatory authorities in the evaluation and approval of the project have also arisen. This is illustrated by the glaring absence of a comprehensive feasibility study, serious limitations of the original environmental impact study (e.g. the absence of detailed consideration of continuing impacts on the power grid, water supply and sewage and waste disposal systems) and subsequent expansion of the scope of the project without a full re-assessment. Credible fears have been expressed on whether the developer may have already exceeded the approvals granted and violated Sri Lanka’s environmental laws in the context of the dredging of sand for the project.

Full Public Disclosure

The Friday Forum calls upon the government to immediately place in the public domain the details of all agreements, assessments and regulatory determinations related to the Colombo Port City development project. The government’s review of project must also be conducted with complete transparency, inclusive of a mechanism for public submissions to this review process.

Given the significant financial interests at stake with this project and the considerable scope for corruption, there is a need for on-going public disclosure of all aspects of the project, as well as timely investigation of allegations of impropriety or irregularities to date.

The ‘exclusive’ nature of the proposed development project also calls for a public debate of whether its benefits and costs will be shared equitably (through taxation for example) amongst the citizens of this country, especially those living below average income levels within and beyond Colombo. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the long-term interests of all the Sri Lankan people override any other considerations.