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Perverted Patriotism

Apr 14, 2011 3:29:54 PM - thesundayleader.lk

In further developments to the lead story that appeared in our last week’s edition on the Hambantota Port fiasco, it is now learnt that the public will have to cough up an additional Rs. 15.9 billion as new capital costs for blasting the bedrock at the Hambantota Port to obtain the required 17 metre draft to accommodate mega container carriers as well, coupled with other new costs.
That Rs. 15.9 billion is equivalent to meeting the Government’s Samurdhi welfare bill, the handout or food stamp package given to the country’s poor, for a period of six months.
Additionally, the state owned Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) also had to meet the cost of building the Hambantota Cricket Stadium.
The capital cost of phase one of the Hambantota Port project originally estimated at US$ 360 million will now go up by 41% or US$ 148 million (Rs. 15.9 billion) to US$ 508 million as a result of these additional works.
The original US$ 360 million costing was worked out on the basis that US$ 306 million of those expenses being met by China’s Exim Bank at an interest payment of 6.3% and payable over 11 years with the balance chipped in by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). The second phase of the project, also funded by China’s Exim Bank seemingly under the same conditions will cost the taxpayer another US$ 800 million.
These are all commercial loans; not grant aid nor concessional loans.
Due to the aforesaid escalating costs, the original capital costs of both phase one and two of the project originally estimated at US$ 1,260 million cumulatively; will now go up by 11.7% (US$ 148 million) to US$ 1,408 million.
However the bedrock found at a depth of seven metres at the Karaganlevaya, the cause for these additional costs, is not a new discovery.
It was first noticed by a consultancy called SNC Lavalin of Canada which did a feasibility study on a Canadian grant during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s regime of 1994-2001 for the construction of a port at Hambantota. Afterwards another feasibility study at a cost of US$ 2 million was executed by Ramboll of Denmark, another consultancy, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was Ports and Fisheries Minister during the tail end of the Kumaratunga regime.
That cost was borne by the SLPA.
The question is if this bedrock at a depth of seven metres at Karaganlevaya where the Hambantota Port is located was already known to the authorities, including Rajapaksa, before the construction of the Port, why was this matter not taken into account at the original costing?
Why has this new cost of Rs. 15.9 billion suddenly crept in and why has it been kept out of the public information domain? After all neither Rajapaksa nor his family nor his Chinese friends who are both funding and executing the project are going to meet the additional costs, equivalent to the island’s Samurdhi welfare bill for a period of six months.
This will have to be borne by the ordinary citizens of this country.
When they see their bus fares going up, children’s milk food prices and clothing increasing, vegetable and other food prices going up and other day to day living costs escalating, is it due to the pigheadedness, nay possibly corrupted, tainted projects such as the Hambantota Port?
For the sake of transparency and good governance, Rajapaksa in his triple capacity of being the President, Ports, and Finance Minister of this island, at the very least owes an explanation to the masses of this country about the Hambantota Port fiasco.
But it is we the masses who continue to be assess allowing ourselves to be suckered the way we are.
Recall how President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year in November took oath for his second term simultaneously as when the gigantic white elephant called the Hambantota Port was declared open.
Ironically both these events symbolised the unparalleled wastage of public funds by this regime.
Rajapaksa and his obsession with Hambantota can be described in two words – Perverted Patriotism.
Hundreds of millions of rupees are wasted regularly for tamashas and foreign travel with massive delegations that make even the leaders in rich countries raise their eyebrows. Remember how we reported last year how tens of millions of rupees were spent to take 110 people to New York and house them in the iconic Waldorf Astoria Hotel? To add insult to injury 15 of the richest businessmen of this country had an all expenses paid trip with public funds.
Only two weeks ago we were all witness to another state funded joy ride for Rajapaksa and a 30 strong entourage of parasitic acolytes who flew with him to Mumbai to watch World Cup cricket.
The now notorious IIFA celebrations cost the country a cool billion rupees and all because an ambitious Presidential son wanted to hob-knob with Indian film stars. Up to date nobody has been held responsible for the three billion rupees wasted on an airline called Mihinair. Sajin Vass Gunewardene — a symbol of this regime’s corruption, wastage and ineptitude continues to prosper thanks to his god father, the President.
No doubt massive infrastructure projects have been started by the Rajapaksas and they keep reminding us of it ad nauseam. But what they don’t tell us is the hundreds of millions of dollars they have collected as kickbacks. The country is paying a cool 20 percent more than the real cost for most of these projects. It is astounding that less than two dozen Sri Lankans worked in the Hambantota Port project. Instead of giving thousands of our people the opportunity to earn by working on these projects it is the Chinese who have benefited. Other than in the construction of the BMICH never in the history of this country has foreign labour been allowed to work on major infrastructure projects. In all the projects the Chinese are involved the workers are coming from China. The Indians too followed suit bringing in 500 workers from India for the southern railway rehabilitation project. One would think that Sri Lanka has achieved full employment. But we know better. The only people who have achieved full employment since 2005 is the extended Rajapaksa clan.
And  there seems to be no end to the white elephants.  Srilankan Airlines and Mihinair will be forced to land planes in Hambantota just to hoodwink the people. State institutions will be forced to have functions at the newly constructed International Conference Hall in the President’s home district at huge extra cost. Of course that International Conference Hall is even bigger than the BMICH. It had to be. The Rajapaksas do have an inferiority complex when it comes to the Bandaranaike dynasty – the one Mahinda Rajapaksa would like not only replaced but also to be forgotten by the people.
True the earlier political dynasties of the Senanayake clan and the Bandaranaikes were no angels. But when it comes to corruption, wastage of public funds and family bandism, the Rajapaksas are in a league of their own.
Whether the  Rajapaksa dynasty is here to stay is  not quite assured as most people believe but  what is guaranteed is that the extended family of hundreds will all be super rich by the time President Rajapaksa ends his second term  in November 2016.
The problem is that our leaders have lost any sense of shame and our people have lost any sense of outrage that the leaders are having a gala time while hundreds of thousands of people whose money they are busting are struggling to put three square meals on the table.