Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday, January 31, assured that the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port will not be sold or leased out to any foreign country.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa made this assertion speaking to the media on Sunday from his ancestral home Carlton House, in response to a question raised by a journalist regarding the ongoing controversy in the country that the operations of the Eastern Terminal (Jetty) of the Port will be handed over to two companies in India and Japan and the trade union actions.
“Of course, the opposition has nothing to blame in this regard. We will not give it to anyone. Not for sale or lease. It is under our control. I think the unions know that too,” the Prime Minister said.
He explained that the government has not even discussed the issue. “We tell the trade unions clearly. We haven’t even discussed whether to give. So there is no problem with that. We will never give,” he said.
“There is no problem here. There is nothing to strike. If you come and told me I will explain the truth,” PM Rajapaksa said addressing the striking trade unions, which have commenced a work-to rule action in protest of the purported plans to sell the ECT to foreign companies.
He said a majority of the cabinet is also against selling the national assets to anybody and the President too is not of the opinion of selling properties.
“It is not our policy to sell property. That is the policy of the United National Party. We say very clearly that we’ve been given power not to carry forward the policy of the UNP,” the Prime Minister also said.
The previous United National Party led government signed an agreement with governments of India and Japan on May 28, 2019, to jointly develop the ECT with the aim of enhancing Sri Lanka’s status as a maritime hub.
Under the agreement Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA) retains 100% ownership of East Container Terminal, while a joint venture, Terminal Operations Company (TOC) conducts all East Container Terminal operations. Sri Lanka will retain a 51% stake, and the joint venture partners hold a 49% stake. The agreement envisaged obtaining a loan from Japan and purchasing construction equipment with the loan money.
However, the trade unions and a majority of political parties in the Rajapaksa government oppose any agreement with a foreign country over the Eastern Container Terminal.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Saturday issued an extraordinary gazette notification declaring Sri Lanka Port Authority and all its services as an ‘essential service’ with immediate effect after trade unions decided to launch a strike on Monday.