ECONOMYNEXT – Constituent parties of the ruling coalition have a role to play within the government without being political slaves to any one faction, Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa said.
The outspoken minister drew flak from within the ranks of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) yesterday for his critical remarks about the now-scrapped plan to hand over a minority stake in the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port to an Indian firm.
In a widely publicised comment yesterday, SLPP parliamentarian Sagara Kariyawasam expressed the party’s disappointment over Weerawansa’s remarks.
Responding to the criticism today, the National Freedom Front (NFF) leader said that no one other than the people of the country need approve or disapprove of his actions.
Speaking at a joint press conference held today with ten constituent parties in the ruling alliance who oppose the ECT deal, Weerawansa the minor parties in the government have their own identities and freedoms. Their only priority should be to protect the mandate given to the government by 6.9 million people, he said.
“We must not be afraid to face resistance within and outside the government in order to remove the obstacles faced by the president and fulfill the wishes of public,” he said.
Weerawansa further said that the ECT issue has snowballed into a problem that could decide the nature of the government in the eyes of the people.
In 2017, he said, then Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama entered an agreement with the then Indian Foreign Minister to implement 10 projects in Sri Lanka with Indian participation and developing a terminal at the Colombo port was one of them.
“Then in 2019, Minister Sagala Rathnayake, signed an MOU with India and Japan to develop the ECT. Since the new government was bound to a certain extent by that agreement signed by the former government, a controversial situation arose,” he added.
Weerawansa further said that the Colombo port is located on an important naval route with potential for high earnings, drawing the attention of Western powers.
“The ECT in Colombo Port is not only a terminal which can earn extraordinary revenue but a terminal important when considering national security. Given all of this, the President and Prime Minister took the right decision,” Weerawansa said, referring to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s announcement earlier this week that the ECT will be owned 100 percent by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.
Though some are of the view that Sri Lanka ought to give a stake in the ECT to India taking into account geopolitical realities, the minister said Sri Lanka must avoid being dragged into someone else’s turf war.
“With regard to the question of power in the Indian ocean, India, the US and China – with India and the US on one side and China on the other – are engaged in a mission to establish their dominance. Sri Lanka’s interest here should be to avoid becoming prey to any of these powers,” he said. (Colombo/Feb03/2021)