Sri Lanka to scale back port deal with China
Colombo, Sri Lanka | AFP | Thursday 3/9/2017 – Cash-strapped Sri Lanka is to scale back a profitable but controversial deal to sell a deep-sea port to a Chinese company after widespread protests, the ports minister said Thursday.
Arjuna Ranatunga said the government was renegotiating the sale of the debt-laden but strategically located Hambantota port.
It had hoped to transfer an 80 percent stake to the China Merchants Port Holdings on a long lease but the proposed deal met with opposition from residents in the southern town of Hambantota and some members of the ruling coalition.
“We have proposed several changes (to the original draft agreement) and we will end up with a situation which is far more favourable to the institution,” Ranatunga told reporters in Colombo, referring to the state Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).
The minister did not give details but official sources said the SLPA wanted to reduce the Chinese company’s equity holding and the lease period, and ensure overall security of the port remained in its control.
Colombo had hoped to raise about a billion dollars from the deal to repay the money China lent it to build the US$ 1.4 billion harbour.
The port, built during the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime, has become a white elephant with revenues insufficient even to pay salaries of staff.
The new government, which came to power in January 2015, has been trying to renegotiate terms of its US$ 8 billion Chinese debt, which includes the construction costs of the Hambantota port.
“I hope we will be able to finalise an agreement within a week to 10 days,” Ranatunga said.
There was no immediate comment from the state-run Chinese firm.