Former Sri Lankan President Rajapakse’s ‘extravagant’ port projects questioned

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapakse’s ‘extravagant’ port projects questioned

Colombo: Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse, who was voted out of office in January this year, is being confronted by the current government over the spending of vast amounts of money, in the form of Chinese loans, in setting up several “extravagant” projects like the port of Hambantota and the Colombo Port City Project.

In particular, he was being questioned over the money he spent in his home district of Hambantota, where “a giant Indian Ocean harbour had been blasted out of the island’s southern shoreline at costs that have exceeded $1bn”.

The port is being utilised exclusively for vehicle imports that were earlier effected through Colombo, but there is very little dry or wet bulk cargo, and there is little likelihood of a container terminal being built there. Officials say Hambantota port is unlikely to break even for years.

Rajapakse is also being quizzed over an international airport built two years ago at a cost of $210m. It has hundreds of employees, but receives only a handful of passengers daily. Sri Lankan Airlines, which was operating two flights a day there, and losing $8m a year, has suspended operations to Hambantota.

The 35,000-seat Mahinda Rajapakse International Cricket Stadium and a new convention centre, all funded by the Chinese, are rarely used, as are miles of expansive new highways that see little traffic, apart from the occasional herd of cattle.

The ambitious Colombo Port City Project, entirely funded by China, was also suspended a few weeks ago due to the absence of environmental and other clearances. However, President Maithripala Sirisena, during his recent visit to China, assured Chinese Premier Xi Jinping that the project would be resumed after the mandatory clearances had been obtained.

Shirish Nadkarni

Shirish Nadkarni is a management consultant and freelance international journalist, who has been writing on all spheres of Indian business for the past three decades for a number of reputed overseas publications. An avid sportsman, Nadkarni has represented India in international veterans' badminton since 1997, and was the 55+ age group doubles world champion in 2005.

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