The government says that there would be no sale of the China Bay oil storage tanks complex in Trincomalee under any circumstances to India and what has been proposed for is its development as a joint venture on a public-private partnership (PPP) model.
Early this week, trade unions affiliated to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) conducted a lightning one-day strike in opposition to what they alleged was a move on the part of the government to sell the oil tank farm complex to India.
The strike caused chaos and long queues of motorists at filling stations island-wide and concluded on the same day which was the eve of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s departure to India to meet his counterpart Narendra Modi. Wickremesinghe along with Minister of Petroleum Resources Development, Chandima Weerakkody met with the protesting trade unions to sort out the matter.
At the discussion it was agreed in writing by the government that any pact including memorandums of understanding (MoUs) to be signed with India in this regard would be done only after prior discussions with the relevant stakeholders including the trade unions.
President Maithripala Sirisena too had categorically said that any MoU entered into with India should comply with the understanding given in writing to the trade unions.
Weerakkody in an interview with the Nation regarding the matter and the related issues described the allegation of a sell-out to India as a deliberate fabrication by the Opposition.
“I must say in no uncertain terms that there is no such sale. I will vehemently resist and oppose any such sale. There will be no sale under these circumstances. Indian investments must come through too. However, for any investment to come through, we must not give into anything that is unwanted,” he emphasized.
According to Weerakkody, his efforts in this regard were to “take back at least half of the tanks”.
In 2003, when the government was under then Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the entire farm (102 tanks) had been given to India on a 35-years lease, for which Sri Lanka reaped an annual rental fee of USD 100,000.
Previous governments and the current one according to Weerakkody, annually collected the rental charge from the Indian government. During the period when former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in office, there had been discussions that also involved former Minister of Petroleum Industries Anura Priyadharshana Yapa with regard to developing the farm jointly between the two countries, but nothing had been initiated in this regard.
“The distribution in the Trinco region is about seven per cent. For this purpose the required number of tanks is available and only a few usable tanks are being made use of. I initially proposed through a Cabinet paper that apart from acquiring more tanks to the CPC, a certain number of tanks should be developed through a joint venture between the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) through its subsidiary, the Lanka IOC Public Limited Company and the CPC on an equal sharing basis,” Minister Weerakkody added.
Wickremesinghe had subsequently submitted a Cabinet paper rescinding Weerakkody’s one. Following this, when the country was faced with an energy related crisis, energy experts in the country had informed a Ministerial sub-committee appointed in this regard that a buffer stock was required. “For this, we have to at least acquire some of the tanks in Trincomalee. Ten tanks are more than enough for the operation,” Minister Weerakkody noted.
A joint Cabinet paper presented in this regard with the blessings of Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has since been approved.
“Of the 99 serviceable tanks, the CPC currently uses 10 and the IOC 14. Ten tanks will be given to the CPC and 14 to the IOC. The balance 74 will be in a joint venture. This has been agreed upon. This joint venture is what is being referred to as a PPP between the CPC and the Sri Lanka owned Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals Limited, of which the IOC is a shareholder,” Minister Weerakkody explained.
He pointed out that protests in this regard were efforts to ruin the country by creating uncertainty in diplomatic relations between India and Sri Lanka and to thereby threaten the country’s quest to survive internationally.
“People are making use of freedom in a manner detrimental to the country. The public should be intelligent and patriotic and think openly instead of being narrow minded and becoming stooges of an individual or stooges of a few,” Minister Weerakkody declared.