China unmoved over deal tampering, hell-bent on owning freehold land in Sri Lanka despite government’s persuasion

Despite reports that work on Sri Lanka’s controversial Colombo Port City project is expected to recommence around February 2016, the China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) says that work would only resume in full throttle by September or October next year.

The CHEC, which is involved in the construction of the Port City earlier, stated that the project would take off in February next year.

However, an official at the CHEC in response to an email query by Nation said that a considerable time period was needed to remobilize a project which is large as this.

In addition, the official pointed out that the South West monsoon period which begins around April would make it difficult for them to construct the breakwater.

“Without the breakwater, it is impossible for us to protect the sand reclamation,” the official said. “What this all means is that while we may be able to do some minor work once we are allowed to recommence, we do not foresee work going on full steam until September or October,” the official added.

In a recent report published by the South China Morning Post (SCMP), it was reported that the Sri Lankan Government had given the necessary clearances.

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said the government had asked the Chinese project company to agree to a change in provision of freehold land into leasehold land to enable the project to resume.

“This is in accordance with the law of the land. Foreigners can’t own land in this country and everyone has to abide by it,” the Minister had told SCMP.

Initially, the CHEC would reclaim 233 hectares off Colombo coast. It would keep 108 hectares, including 20 hectares on a freehold basis and the rest on a 99-year lease. Sri Lanka would own the rights to the other 125 hectares.

However, the Chinese company last week contradicted the Minister’s claims stating that the provisions pertaining to the lease agreements. According to the company spokesperson, the CHEC continues to have 88 hectares on leasehold for 99 years and 20 hectares in freehold.

The Port City project was officially halted on March 8, after the government said it was reviewing the tender process pertaining to the project.

The CHEC claimed that it was incurring a loss of USD 380,000 (Rs. 50 million) on a daily basis owing to the stoppage of the project. When asked on the losses incurred and on the manner in which the company hopes to claim compensation, the official wished to remain non-committal since negotiations were still ongoing with the Government.

The Government recently released a Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) report, which has been kept in eleven government institutions including divisional secretariats.

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