BY PAMODI WARAVITA
Trade Unions (TUs) attached to the Colombo Port would be opposed to any direct agreement about the development of the West Container Terminal (WCT) between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Adani Group of Companies, The Morning learnt.
“We are against a unilateral agreement with Adani that does not involve the Indian government,” Trade Unions to Protect the ECT Co-Convener Sanjeewa Kumara Weligama told The Morning yesterday (7).
Following intense trade union opposition, the Sri Lankan government last month reneged on a tripartite Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) on the East Container Terminal (ECT) signed with India and Japan in 2019. However, the handing over of the WCT for a joint development to India was agreed upon by the trade unions, excluding those affiliated to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), as a compromise, in a letter sent to the President.
Accordingly, a Cabinet of Ministers’ decision on 2 March said that the development of the WCT would be a public-private limited company partnership between companies nominated by the Indian and Japanese governments and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), and that a request has been made to the Indian High Commission and the Embassy of Japan to nominate investors.
However, on 3 March, The Morning exclusively reported, quoting well-placed sources, that any agreement regarding the development of the WCT would be purely between the Sri Lankan government and a private entity of its choice, and that there is no need for the Indian government to nominate a company for the development, including the Adani Group of Companies.
Two days later, the Government of India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that the cabinet decision notification’s reference to the approval of the Indian High Commission is factually incorrect. Srivastava had added that as per their understanding, the Government of Sri Lanka has engaged directly with investors about the WCT.
Speaking to The Morning yesterday (7), Ministry of Ports and Shipping Secretary U.D.C. Jayalal confirmed that currently, discussions are going on between the government and the Adani Group of Companies.
“We are negotiating with Adani and not with the Indian or Japanese governments,” said Jayalal, responding to a query about whether the development of the WCT would follow the same course as the tripartite agreement concerning the ECT.
Jayalal further said that a Japanese company had not entered the negotiation table yet.
“If there is no company from Japan, we would just have to go ahead with Adani,” said Jayalal.
Commenting on Srivastava’s statement, Jayalal said that the Indian government has merely stated that they cannot interfere in decisions that the Government of Sri Lanka makes.
SLPA Chairman Gen. (Retd.) Daya Ratnayake told The Morning yesterday (7) that they were under the impression that the Indian government had nominated the negotiating party.
“Our discussions have only been with Adani so far and they have been going positively. We hope to reach a final decision soon,” said Gen. Ratnayake.
Although the exact shareholding arrangement is yet to be announced, Jayalal told The Morning yesterday (7) that it is expected to follow the shareholding model of the nearby Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT), where China’s state-owned China Merchant Port Holdings (CMPH) enjoys an 85% stake and the SLPA has an 15% stake.
When contacted regarding the matter, Minister of Ports and Shipping Rohitha Abeygunawardane’s Media Secretary Suraj Kathurusinghe said that a press conference would be held today (8) regarding the matter. All attempts to contact the three Cabinet spokesmen too proved futile.
The 2019 tripartite agreement concerning the East Container Terminal (ECT) between the governments of Sri Lanka, India and Japan was a government-to-government agreement. The WCT is among one of three terminals at the Colombo Port, along with the South Container Terminal (SCT) and the ECT. Each Terminal is 1,200 metres in length and possesses facilities to accommodate three berths each.