Colombo, January 4 (The New Indian Express): Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said here on Wednesday, that the Palaly airport in the northern district of Jaffna, will be developed as a “regional airport,” to serve not only Sri Lanka, but also South India.
India has been pressing for the development of Palaly as an international airport to improve communication links between Tamil-speaking North Sri Lanka with India, especially Tamil Nadu.
There had been an air service between Palaly and Madras and Tiruchi, before the ethnic conflict turned the airport into a military base.
Addressing the media on the coalition government’s development agenda at the end of the second year in office, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that efforts to develop the Kankesanthurai habor in Jaffna district to further develop communication links with South India will be discussed when the new Indian High Commissioner (Taranjit Singh Sandhu) assumes office.
On the current controversy surrounding the joint Indo-Lankan use of the 100 giant oil tanks in Trincomalee, he said that talks are on with the stakeholders concerned. The Lanka India Oil Corporation has been resisting efforts by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation to develop some tanks unilaterally, bypassing the existing government to government agreement signed in 2002.
Wickremesinghe said that Trincomalle port and its hinterland will be developed with Indian, Singaporean and Japanese investments.
On the controversial grant of 80 percent stake to a Chinese government-owned company in the Hambantota harbor, the Prime Minister said there is nothing wrong in giving it that way , because a huge loan taken from the Chinese has been converted into a stake or investment.
He said that his government believes in developing the country through FDIs and not loans in contrast to the policy of the predecessor Rajapapaksa government.
On the grant of 99 year lease on 15,000 acres of land near Hambantota port for the development of an economic zone, the Prime Minister said that it is better than giving land on a freehold basis to the Chinese as the Rajapaksa government did in the case of the Colombo Port. His government had to reverse the earlier government’s decision.
On the finalization of the deal with China on Hambantota port, Wickremesinghe said that eight or nine agreements are still to be negotiated but he made it clear that there will be no change in the grant of 80 percent stake and 99 year lease on land for the economic zone. However, he evaded the question whether any agreement will be signed on January 7.
The Prime Minister said that Sri Lanka will march on the path of development through trade and investment agreements like the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India, and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)with China, Singapore and Japan. He will not be deterred by politically motivated criticism he added.
ETCA and other FTAs will be signed this year, he said.
The government plans to make Sri Lanka a logistics, IT and electronics hub, and hopes to secure US$ 2 or 3 billion in FDIs this year.
On the controversy over the Electorates Delimitation Committee report he said that some political issues need to be resolved which he hopes to do when he meets the political parties in parliament on January 9. He said that a consensus is needed on this issue.
On charges of political instability in his government, Wickremesinghe said that all governments face such problems whether they are single party or multi party governments.
“If there are two big political parties in coalition, jockeying for positions is only to be expected,” he said.