Sri Lankan Parliament approves Chinese Port City Bill with amendments

·2-min read

Colombo, May 20 (PTI) Sri Lankan Parliament on Thursday approved the controversial Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, with the government saying the Chinese-backed project would bring in investment and boost the island-nation's economy.

The vote was taken after a two-day debate on it. The Opposition parties alleged the bill would lead to the creation of a Chinese colony in Sri Lanka.

The 225-member Parliament approved the bill 148-59.

The bill presented to the Parliament undermined the sovereignty of the country and the Constitution to such a degree that it required referenda on nine instances and a two-thirds majority 17 times to pass it, the Opposition speakers said at the debate, referring to the Supreme Court's determination of the Bill.

The government said amendments would be made in accordance with the Supreme Court's directives, therefore no referendum or two-third's majority in Parliament would be required.

The Supreme Court in April had heard 18 petitions filed against the bill by the Opposition parties and civil society groups who had sought a national referendum and the passage of it in Parliament by two-thirds majority.

The apex court concluded its examination of the bill on April 23.

The Supreme Court had declared that certain provisions of the Chinese Port City Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution.

The USD 1.4-billion Colombo Port City project, expected to play a key role in China's ambitious 'Maritime Silk Road' project in India's backyard, is said to be the single largest private sector development in the island.

China has built the port city on reclaimed sea, adjoining the Port of Colombo.

The bill aims to provide for a special economic zone to establish a commission to grant registrations, licenses, authorisations and other approvals to operate business in such economic zones.

On the importance of the bill, the government on Thursday said the port city would attract foreign direct investment, giving the much-needed impetus to the economy.

Minister for Capital Markets Ajith Cabraal projected that the initial construction of the port city would bring in investment of USD 15 billion, creating over 200,000 jobs.

Sri Lanka, in recent years, has carried out various development projects with an estimated USD 8-billion in loans.

The huge Chinese loans sparked concerns globally, after Sri Lanka handed over the strategic Hambantota Port to China in 2017 as debt swap, amounting to USD 1.2 billion for a 99-years lease. PTI CORR IND AKJ IND

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