Colombo port trade unions hope SL govt will decide on ECT deal on Monday

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Colombo, Jan 31 (PTI) Sri Lanka's strategic Colombo port trade unions said on Sunday that they were hopeful of a decision by the government on Monday on a proposed joint venture involving India and Japan to develop the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT).

Amid protests by the trade unions, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Sunday that his government will not sell or lease the ECT.

'We are not selling or leasing to anyone. It is not our policy to sell national assets,' he said at Tangalle in the south.

He has asked the trade unions to discuss the issue with him on Monday ahead of a Cabinet meeting.

The state-run Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) signed a memorandum of cooperation in May 2019 with India and Japan to develop the ECT during the previous Sirisena government.

The Colombo port trade unions are not convinced with the proposal of investors from India and Japan buying 49 per cent stake in the ETC. They want the ECT to remain 100 per cent owned by the SLPA as opposed to the 51 per cent.

'We are only hoping that the government would give us in writing tomorrow that the Indian deal is off,' Prasanna Kalutarage, a trade union leader of the ruling Sri Lanka People's Party (SLPP), told reporters on Sunday.

Some 23 trade unions have joined hands to oppose the port deal.

The protesting unions have been bolstered by Saturday’s solidarity expressed by the ministers who are members of the ruling coalition.

They pledged that they would oppose the deal at Monday’s Cabinet meeting.

'We are opposed to national assets being given to anyone, we will raise the issue at Cabinet,' Wimal Weerawansa, the industries minister, told reporters.

A Cabinet sub-committee appointed to review the proposed deal is to finalise their work on Sunday and report to the Cabinet.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa met representatives of 23 Colombo port trade unions at the Presidential Secretariat earlier this month and told them that the previous government had agreed to sell the ECT to Indian stakeholders and take a loan from Japan to procure equipment required to operate the terminal.

The president said his administration had re-negotiated the agreement, according to which Sri Lanka would hold 51 per cent of ownership of the ECT and the SLPA would manage the terminal's operations.

Rajapaksa had also reiterated that the investments would not compromise the country's independence or sovereignty. PTI CORR ZH ZH ZH