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The SL state’s enduring role in the CHEC Port City Colombo project

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The Sri Lankan state will exercise sovereign control over the CHEC Port City Colombo project and would remain accountable to the people of Sri Lanka by virtue of the fact that the project would remain open to scrutiny by the Sri Lankan parliament, Assistant Managing Director, CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd. Thulci Aluwihare told ‘The Island Financial Review’ in an interview.

Besides, all revenues received by the project would be remitted to Sri Lanka’s Consolidated Fund and would remain within the country, Aluwihare pointed out in a wide-ranging interview with this newspaper, where he debunked the allegation that the CHEC Port City Colombo project will be a ‘sell out’ to the Chinese, rendering the investment area a ‘Çhinese colony’. Besides, the Colombo Port City would not turn Sri Lanka into a ‘money laundering haven.”

Elaborating Aluwihare said- ‘Principal among our aims is the attraction of foreign investment to the country. $ 1.4 billion has been spent by the project company over reclaiming the relevant land from the sea. For a consideration, the state has granted a ‘No Lease Hold Right’ over 116 hectares of the project land which is the ‘master lease’. Under this arrangement 48 marketable blocks of land would be on offer for investment. What is of importance is that in all these transactions the state will be a principal party.

“Even if an investor obtains a “No Lease Hold Right” from the state in respect of a project, the investor would need to obtain a licence from the CHEC Port City Commission to operate. The Commission would issue such licenses with conditions. And the Commission holds the right to revoke such licenses if the conditions are not met.

“In all these transactions, the government of Sri Lanka is the lessor. The investor would be signing a lease with the government of Sri Lanka, who will be the landlord.

‘The majority of members of the Commission would be Sri Lankans. But we need experienced, competent people for this apex body. Accordingly, the Commission needs to enjoy some autonomy and independence as well in employing personnel.

“The anti-money laundering laws that have been operative in this country would continue to be enforced strongly. It is only loose regulatory laws that lead to problems like money laundering. But there will be no let-up by Sri Lanka on this score. The monetary authorities would continue to stringently apply the regulations but these regulations should also need to be market-driven. We expect sophisticated transactions though.

‘It is important to point out that the local courts will have jurisdiction in the Port City. Here too there is no dilution of the state’s sovereignty.

“Our region has progressed into a services economy. We need to compete with countries such as Singapore, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, for example, to attract FDI. You need to offer fiscal and other incentives to attract FDI to Sri Lanka. A dip of 40 per cent of FDI in Sri Lanka last year, drives the point home. But given our location, we are in a position to talk about Sri Lanka as a business destination.

“Of principal importance is the supply chain impact the Port City project would have on Sri Lanka. Local enterprises dealing with the Port City will be paid in dollars and not local currency. Even Sri Lankan SMEs which are part of the supply chain will be paid in dollars. There is also potential for local employment generation where the income earners will be paid in dollars.

“At present there are some 4000 employment opportunities for locals in the Port City. Currently, 1500 to 1800 locals are employed in the project. So, there are growing opportunities for locals in this initiative. They would get the opportunity to work for some the world’s most prominent brands in their own backyard and for dollar remuneration.

‘Sri Lanka produces 25,000 graduates annually. One third of these belong to the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and allied fields. But 20 to 25 percent of these graduates migrate. Our graduates could now work for a multinational company if the opportunities offered by the Port City project are availed of.”

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