State sector reforms: Herath endorses Ranil’s agenda


…questions mysterious cancellation of Japanese-funded LRT project

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Ruling party rebel lawmaker Prof. Charitha Herath says that the cancellation of the Japanese funded USD 1.5 bn light rail transit (LRT) project remains a mystery.

The SLPP National List MP told The Island yesterday (17) that his efforts, in his former capacity as Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to unravel the truth, failed.

The MP noted that the fund allocation for this, on a soft loan, was even bigger than that of the Chinese flagship project, namely the Colombo Port City.

Sri Lanka suspended the project in September 2020, just weeks after the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) won a near 2/3 majority at the general election.

“We should at least now set the record straight. The need for re-examination of the unilateral decision that jeopardized Sri Lanka’s relations with Japan cannot be ignored, the MP said.

Responding to another query, Prof. Herath said that he dealt with the issue at hand in Parliament during the three-day debate on President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s policy statement.

Addressing Parliament, on the second day of the debate, Prof. Herath pointed out that not only President Wickremesinge lambasted the previous government over the cancellation of the Japanese project, he faulted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa economic policy and Basil Rajapaksa’s 2022 budget.

In addition to the LRT project, Sri Lanka cancelled joint development of the East Container Terminal (ECT) with India and Japan.

Prof. Herath said in Parliament that the SLPP had no option but to accept President Wickremesinghe criticism pertaining to the LRT and other cancelled projects. Lawmaker Herath questioned whether the decision to cancel the Japanese project was taken at Cabinet level, at a meeting chaired by the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa or somewhere else.

Prof. Herath said that mysterious things happened in the decision-making process.

Referring to the then Presidential Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, lawmaker Hearth said that the person who informed the relevant parties of the decision was silent on this particular issue.

Soon after the cancellation, Reuters quoted the Transport Secretary, Monti Ranatunga, as having said that the project was on temporary hold because of foreign exchange difficulties we were facing now and some other projects have also been temporarily halted.

The LRT was to connect Malabe, Battaramulla, Rajagiriya, Borella and Fort/ Pettah. The system comprised 16 stations and one depot at Malabe terminal. The SLPP should made its position clear whether it accepted President Wickremesinghe harsh criticism as regards the economic policy. Having repeatedly denounced what he called the UNP/SJB’s ‘social market economy’, the current government was now pursuing the same under Wickremesinghe’s leadership.

Prof. Herath said that as an SLPP member he felt that a member of the same party should be appointed as the President to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term. Prof. Herath said that he voted for Dullas Alahapperuma as he believed that the 6.9 mn vote mandate received by Gotabaya Rajapaksa is intact. But, a far bigger section of the SLPP decided that mandate was ‘dead’ and irrelevant therefore that group voted for Wickremesinghe, Prof. Herath said.

Prof. Herath said that some of the reforms, that had been proposed by President Wickremesinghe, should be implemented. State sector enterprises should be reformed, whatever the criticisms, the MP said, urging political parties ,represented in Parliament, and the public ,to recognize the urgent need to undertake reforms.

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