Looking back at the post independent history of Sri Lanka it is very clear that people have failed as a nation to rule themselves under democracy. For most of the time the country was drifting without direction and with memories of repeated betrayal by the State and Tamil speaking people particular are still very skeptical. Although this issue has received international attention and much publicity it must be understood that other communities in Sri Lanka too have been betrayed by the State, in particular the rural poor. With the quality of legislators in parliament the country will suffer because of the tussle for power between various fractions of politicians who don’t show any love for the country and the people suffer as the result and the present leaders are determined to change this political culture.
After suppressing the two Southern uprisings in the 70s and the 80s the rulers realized the need to take development to peripheries and the proposal to build a port in Hambantota in the south was one such project that date back over three decades. With Sri Lanka situated along the key east-west shipping route between the Malacca Straits and the Suez Canal, which links Asia and Europe, an estimated 36,000 ships, including 4,500 oil tankers, use the route annually; Port of Colombo was the major port in Sri Lanka, which caters mainly for container handling and ships takes three-and-a-half-day detours from the shipping lanes to receive services such as refueling, maintenance, logistics and buying provisions and medical supplies and is unable to provide facilities for port related industries and services. Therefore a new port was proposed near the city of Hambantota, a natural harbour located on the southern tip of Sri Lanka and is only six miles away from the international shipping routes; would have relieved pressure on the Colombo port and created employment for the people in the region that would have taken the country forward. But plans never got out of conceptual stages though it was a viable project is a clear example of people failing as a nation to rule themselves under democracy.
Then in 2002 under the “Regaining Sri Lanka” programme, rulers once again identified the Hambantota Seaport for development and the proposals for the port area included a refinery, petrochemical related industries, a coal powered thermal power station and a desalination plant; with correct political culture it should have been made a national policy to develop the port, but the project was shelved with change of government. In 2005 a native of Hambantota was elected as the President, who promptly launched the project at a time energy security became the core issue for geopolitical change in the South Asian landscape. Construction of the Hambantota Port was started in 2008, by the Chinese companies China Harbour Engineering Company and Sinohydro Corporation. A fact not well known to the people, India was already committed at Trincomalee following the mysterious Indo-Lanka Accord, did not show interest in Hambantota development. But the Chinese involvement in the Hambantota harbour project became a conflict between the two Asian superpowers namely China and India, in a bid to gain supremacy in the case of the former, and a proxy-battle to maintain its natural defense-perimeter in the case of latter.
The first phase of the project was completed and the harbor was formally declared open in 2010 and immediately the second phase was to follow; the total cost of the first phase of the project was estimated at $360 million, excluding $76.5 million for the bunker terminal with 85% of the funding was provided by the Chinese Government and the remaining 15% by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. Thereafter all familiar greed of the previous rulers set in and many proposals such as floating dock by China harbour Coroporation with a local investor and a project to operate oil storage and bunkering by a Middle Eastern firm and industrial projects for bottling factories, sugar bagging plants and grain processing plants were all turned down due to the influence of poor quality legislators in power who wanted to make profit by keeping the activities under their control which led to the port making losses of Rs.18.8 Billion by 2015; very clear proof that the rulers had failed to rule the country under democracy, resulted in the debt payment burden falling on tax payers.
The New Coalition Government has initiated moves to solve many problems inherited from the previous regime, it entered into an agreement with China Merchants Port Company to revitalize the Hambantota Port together with the creation of a large Special Economic Zone of 15,000 acres; with a debt-for-equity swap that will remove as much USD 1 million debt Sri Lanka owes China. Due to the old political culture received heavy antagonism from Joint Opposition that is made up of influential previous rulers who has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the government’s decision to lease land in Hambantota for a period of 99-years, to China, causing difficulties to acquire 15,000 acres all at once in Hambantota or in the adjoining districts and told the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter of the agreement with a view to get him to oppose the project; Thera told them that it cannot be rejected out of hand without first perusing it. All this speaks volumes about how the country has been misruled in the past with old political culture. The present leaders have requested people to choose between the old and new political culture, it is to be seen if this change occur in 2017!