The Premier was making a special statement in response to questions raised by JVP leader Anura Dissanayake on 6 February followed by the Leader of the Opposition Nimal Siripala de Silva on 10 February. They demanded to know the Government’s stance on the Chinese-funded project.
Seeking Parliament’s support and patience, the Prime Minister said: “I have appointed a committee to investigate the Colombo Port City project from all possible angles including every tiny detail. The committee is headed by Ajith de Costa. Professor Ruchira Kumarathunga, Dr. N.P. Wijeyananda, Dr. Anil Premarathne, Professor Samantha Hettiarachchi, Channa Fernando, A.S. Obesekara and Sunila Jayawardena are the other members. Their report will be further examined by a Cabinet Sub-committee headed by me, making it easy to take necessary action.
“The findings of these committees will be made available to the public. The Colombo Port City project became so serious simply because the facts were not disclosed to Parliament,” Wickremesinghe added.
Earlier on in his statement, the Premier said that the new Government has reiterated that the process followed by the previous regime with regards to the Port City project was unlawful.
“In fact we brought this matter up on several occasions. On 7 February 2014, the then Leader of the House, Nimal Siripala de Silva, stated that all these decisions had been taken according to the necessary regulations and all the relevant reports would be presented to Parliament. However, 11 months after we raised this question neither Nimal Siripala De Silva nor anyone in the Government presented any report to the House. Even on 4 March 2014, then Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne told the House that a report on the project would be presented. However, even until the debate at the presidential poll, this report was not presented to the House.”
Premier Wickremesinghe told Parliament yesterday that all the relevant activities related to the Port City project were not conducted in a transparent manner. “Several lawful methods were not adhered to. The agreement with regards to the project was signed without Cabinet approval. In addition to that there was no proper response to the allegation that the proper Environmental Impact Assessment was not obtained,” he said.
“After coming into power, we started looking at all these aspects. On the face of it, it seems that there is serious suspicion regarding this transaction. It became clear that the previous Government had hidden from this House all the facts and reports pertaining to the Colombo Port City project. Additionally, many false facts had been placed before this House,” Wickremesinghe alleged.
He said in view of this status quo, a special committee headed by Ajith De Costa was appointed to look into the Port City project. Furthermore, a Cabinet subcommittee was appointed, headed by Wickremesinghe, to study the report of these experts and take necessary action.
“This committee as well as the subcommittee will study the Port City project in depth. All the angles will be looked at in great detail. In addition to that the representations made by the public will also be looked into. Several environmental groups have expressed concerns about this project. We will look into all these,” the Prime Minister said.
He said as Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne once revealed, the new Government has not yet taken a decision to terminate this project. “We will inspect all aspects related to this agreement. We will take necessary action if there are any malpractices, illegal transactions, corruption or anything against national interests,” Prime Minister added.
He said a final decision would be made on the basis of the report of the experts and the findings of investigations. Parliament would be kept informed of such findings and any final decision.
“The President and I discussed this issue with a delegation from China. We informed them that we would not pardon anyone, whether they are politicians, officials, public institutions or corporations, if they are involved in any corruption or fraud connected to this project,” the Prime Minister asserted.
However, Wickremesinghe said that the Government would not let goodwill and friendship between China and Sri Lanka be jeopardised because of fraud and corruption.
“Either in China or Sri Lanka, we will not protect fraudsters. Not only Sri Lanka but China also takes a strong stand against fraud and corruption,” the Prime Minister added.
“I would like to wind up my response with a quote from Chinese President Xi Jinping. ‘We will make sure that the party’s conduct continues to be improved, that the ills of formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance are properly dealt with, and that new progress is made in promoting party conduct, political integrity, the people’s morality and social ethics. We will further strengthen the efforts to punish corruption, and let discipline and the law function effectively to guard against corruption. We will consolidate our work of corruption prevention, and see to it that party members and officials perform better in upholding integrity, practicing self-discipline and warding off degeneration and corruption’.”
The Port City is planned on 233 hectares of reclaimed land in Colombo. Under the proposed deal, 108 hectares will be taken over by the China Communications Construction Co. Ltd., including 20 hectares on an outright basis and the rest on a 99-year lease. The development will include shopping malls, water sports, golf, hotels, apartments and marinas.