by Uditha Jayasinghe
Sixteen months after the $1.5 billion Port City project was suspended a new tripartite agreement was signed by the Government yesterday targeting $13 billion dollars of investment incorporating several amendments including an international finance centre that officials pledged would be beneficial to Sri Lanka.
The new agreement was signed a day ahead of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe heading to China on a visit targeted at touring large scale megapolis and investment projects in the Chinese cities of Chongqing and Zengcheng. This will be Wickremesinghe’s second visit to China this year.
Renamed Colombo International Financial City (CIFC) the project tripartite agreement was signed by the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry, Urban Development Authority and the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), which was a party to the previous agreement made under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government was exempted from the new version as the Port City would now be part of the new Government’s larger Megapolis project.
“Large scale infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka were previously implemented without attention to larger urban and development plans. Therefore they have become a bigger burden than blessing,” said Megapolis and Western Development Minister Champika Ranawaka at the signing ceremony.
He insisted engagement with China, especially with regard to the Port City, was valuable investment for Sri Lanka as it vies to become an economic power in the 21st Century.
CHEC, which is a subsidiary of the Chinese-State run China Communications and Construction Company (CCCC), pledged to tap top global companies in formulating development plans for the Port City and work closely with the Sri Lankan Government over the next 25 years.
“This project will focus on making Colombo the most livable city in South Asia and foster growth for the entire country,” said CHEC President Tang Qlaoliang.
The revamped Port City has been extended from the initial 233 hectares to 269 hectares and the agreement converts freehold land to 99 year leased land.
Land for public use including recreational parks have been increased from 63 hectares to 91 hectares, which will be held by the Government along with another 62 hectares that will be used for State-led investment including the establishment of a international financial centre. CHEC has expressed interest in considering additional investment to build the facilities required to house the financial centre, a statement released by the Megapolis Ministry at the signing ceremony noted. The project will also have 13 hectares of beach, which is eight times the size of Galle Face.
“The previous agreement placed the entire burden of providing utilities and infrastructure to the periphery of the reclaimed area on the Government but under the new agreement the Government has the right to request CHEC to enter into Private-Public-Partnerships for the provision of infrastructure. All infrastructure within the Port City will be provided by CHEC,” the statement said.
Maintenance of the reclaimed area, which was formerly under the Government, will now be handled by a new joint venture company between CHEC and an entity to be named by the Government. Three-year restrictions on land allocated to the Government under the previous agreement have also been removed with Sri Lanka having the power to initiate its own investments.
CHEC will also meet all expenses incurred by the Megapolis Ministry on environmental studies, including already completed feasibility studies and allocate Rs.500 million for a livelihood programme for fishermen who could be affected by the project.
“CHEC has already issued the required written undertakings to withdraw all compensation claims submitted to the Government.” The Chinese company will only be allowed to dig for sand 3-4 kilometers from the beach and only to a depth of three meters where the water is more than 15 meters deep, which would reduce erosion, the statement said. The new Development Permit issued by the Coast Conservation Department containers 70 conditions, almost double that of the one released in 2011, to protect the environment.