Colombo, Jul 10 (PTI) Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has claimed that India on his government's request has decided not to seek a joint venture with it to run the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in the country.
The USD 210 million facility, 241km south-east of Colombo, is dubbed the “world’s emptiest airport” due to a lack of flights.
The Mattala airport was funded through high interest Chinese commercial loans. The airport, built with the capacity to handle one million passengers a year, was officially opened in March 2013.
Mahinda Rajapaksa said he and his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, have asked India not to press ahead with seeking a joint venture to run the airport in his hometown.
During campaigning in the southern district of Hambantota on Thursday for the August 5 parliamentary election, Rajapaksa charged that the previous government headed by Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe had sold national assets to foreign governments.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in 2018 said they were having talks with the Indian Airports Authority to enter into a possible joint venture to operate the loss-making airport.
“They (the previous government) sold the port, but the airport could not be sold...During my recent visit to India (in February) and also by the President I told them please do not take it (airport). It is located in my village and it is only our second international airport. They (India) heeded our request, so we were able to save it,” Mahinda Rajapaksa said.
There was no immediate response from India's ministry of civil aviation.
The Mattala airport and the nearby seaport in Hambantota were major infrastructure projects during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency between 2005 and 2015.
In 2017, the then government entered a long term lease with China to set up an industrial park in the Hambantota seaport. Rajapaksa, who was then in the Opposition criticised the deal, saying it was a sell-off.
Although President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to cancel the Hambantota seaport deal in the run-up to his November 2019 election, the promise is still to be fulfilled.
The then government claimed that the long term lease with China over the seaport was meant as equity to set off the Chinese debt owed by Sri Lanka. PTI CORR NSA AKJ NSA NSA