By Saman Indrajith
Those who built the Hambantota Port had expected all ships going past Sri Lanka to stop there for refuelling, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament yesterday.
“They thought that ships would come there the way the vehicles come to the petrol shed at the Alexandra Place in Colombo for refuelling.
The agreements they entered into with China over the Hambantota port were not favourable to our country, Wickremesinghe said.
“The initial agreement gave a grace period of four years to Sri Lanka. The objective was to make profits in four years and start paying back the loans obtained for the construction of the Hambantota port. In reality, not even a petrol shed could cover all of construction within the first four years,” he said in response to a question raised by UPFA Matara District MP Dullas Alahapperuma.
The Prime Minister said the previous plans had envisaged granting outright ownership of the Hambantota port terminal to a Chinese company. “Soon after we came to power, we went for re-negotiations. We got the term outright ownership for the Chinese company removed. We pointed out to the Chinese government that the agreement it had signed with our predecessor was not in the interest of Sri Lanka and we needed to re-negotiate the terms. The Chinese government agreed. It named two Chinese companies, China Merchants and China Harbour. We are holding discussions with them. This evening, too, there will be another round of talks. Instead of handing over the port to a Chinese company, we intend to convert it into a joint venture. The previous arrangement was to go for a SOT (Supply, Operate and Transfer) agreement. We changed this into an agreement with clauses and terms more favourable to our country.”