Minister of Ports and Shipping Arjuna Ranatunga insisted that, contrary to speculation, the government had made no decision on restarting the controversial Colombo Port City Project. He was responding to allegations leveled by environmentalists that the government was laying the groundwork for the project to recommence.

Last week, Cabinet approved a proposal by Minister Ranatunga to appoint a committee consisting of senior officials headed by the Secretary to the Prime Minister to review and submit recommendations on the project to the Ministerial Committee on Economic Management, which is chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Speaking on the appointment of the committee, Minister Ranatunga said it comprised ministry secretaries and officials of other relevant ministries that are directly involved in the project. “The committee will review the agreements we have entered into on the project as we have some contract issues over those agreements,” Ranatunga stated while adding that the committee has been tasked with briefing the government and suggest necessary amendments to the agreement after conducting their review.

None of this meant the government had made a decision to recommence the project, the minister insisted. A final decision would be made only after the review and based on the recommendations made in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, which is still being completed, he noted.

However, Ranatunga’s assertion ran counter to what Joint Cabinet Spokesperson Minister Rajitha Senaratne had told China’s Xinhua news agency on Thursday (October 8) after the weekly Cabinet press briefing. “We want to overcome these issues so that we can continue with the project. We hope to sort all these issues within the coming six months,” Senaratne is quoted as telling Xinhua.

A six months extension on the agreement between the Port City Project’s construction company China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) and the Government of Sri Lanka, was signed in mid-September after Cabinet approved it.

Speaking on the issue, Executive Director of the Environment Conservation Trust (ECT), Sajeewa Chamikara, blasted the government’s ‘complete lack of transparency’ regarding the future of the project. He added the government was exhibiting the same attitude as the previous Rajapaksa regime regarding the project. “All this is happening while a court case is still ongoing. The government’s actions are tantamount to insulting the judiciary,” he charged.

The Court of Appeal on Thursday (October 8) directed the Attorney General to submit all documents pertaining to the Colombo Port City including the government’s stance on the project to Court on November 17. The directive was issued when the writ petition filed by the Center for Environment Justice (CEJ) seeking a suspension of the project agreements was taken up for hearing.