COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – A vocal Marxist party which backed a political alliance that ousted former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has fired its first salvo against the new regime of President Maithripala Sirisena over a controversial 1.3 billion dollar deal with a Chinese firm.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe told parliament this week that the new regime would not "completely tear up" a 1.4 billion US dollar concession given to China Communications Construction Company to reclaim and develop the sea near Colombo Port.
Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Seneviratne said earlier in the week that the administration would go ahead with the project after rectifying problems.
"That it not the reason for which Rajapaksa was defeated," JVP leader Anura Dissanayake told a rally in Tangalle in Southern Sri Lanka.
"That is not why power was given to Ranil and Mr Maithri. The reclamation of the sea has to be stopped."
Wickramasinghe has earlier labelled the project as an environmental disaster. His party has objected to deals with Chinese companies, including the sea reclamation deal, which were done without competitive bidding and were alleged to be corrupt.
"The Chinaman has been given (Cheenater deelar) 576 acres in front of Galle Face grounds to fill up and build an island," Dissanayake said.
He alleged that more than 1000 acres of sea bed will have to be filled create 570 acres of dry land and 120 million cubes of rocks were needed for the project. He asked where the rocks were going to be quarried from.
Wickramasinghe told parliament that one environmental study has been found but some other reports were missing and they hoped to discuss the findings of a cabinet committee with China.
Jathika Hela Urumaya, another constituent party of the administration expressed fears that China would lay claim to the sea around reclaimed after getting freehold rights to part of it.
China has is trying to claim the sea around Vietnam and has ongoing disputes with other smaller nations including Philippines and Japan.
Wickramasinghe’s first budget also slammed massive taxes on some of the largest private employers in the country to finance an unprecedented salary hike to state workers, making it more difficult for the firms to raise salaries of their own workers this year.
After keeping prices artificially up for years with taxes imposed through the coercive the power of the state, the Trade Ministry is also unblushingly threatening to unleash the Consumer Affairs Authority on ‘errant traders’ who failed to bring down prices quickly enough after a tax cut.
Many small traders as well as importers who have stocks bought at higher prices suffer losses when old stock is sold at lower prices, making the downward adjustment take some time.