Addressing a gathering of foreign correspondents based in Colombo, Rajapaksa said that he did not want to revisit the commercial agreement regarding Hambantota, and stressed that his concerns lay more with the port’s control and security, adding that he has been consulting the Chinese stakeholders regarding the matter.
When asked specifically if he is looking to change the 99-year lease, the President said he was not attempting to change it, as it was a commercial agreement which the previous Government had committed to. He recalled that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) had voiced strong opposition to the lease agreement when the previous Government negotiated the agreement.
“It is not renegotiation, since it is a commercial contract, I am not worried about the commercial aspects of it, I am worried about security lapses, those are what we are going through with them,” he said. Responding to a question, Rajapaksa said he is studying the port’s control mechanism, pointing out that port control must be held by the Government similar to any other Sri Lankan port.
“Especially border control and security, that has to be with the Government, it must be the Government who decides which ships will come in or go, like the Colombo Port, that authority must be with us,” he elaborated. The President claimed that he had discussed the security aspect with the Chinese representatives, and that they were in agreement that security of the port should be vested with the State.
“When a ship comes in to port in Colombo, there is a procedure to follow; the same procedure must be followed in Kankesanthurai, Trincomalee, or Hambantota,” he stressed. Rajapaksa said he has discussed the matter with the Chinese special representative who visited him after taking office, and that the representative was agreeable to revising the security and port control of the Hambantota Port.
Rajapaksa stated that he did not want to give investors the impression that commercial agreements signed with one Government are not honoured by the next. “We don’t want to give the impression that when one Government signs a commercial agreement with an investor, that another Government will come in and change it. That is not the case,” he opined.
Referring to the port as a “vital strategic economic centre”, he opined that it is an asset that must be under the control of a sovereign Government. “We don’t want to become a part of global power rivalries,” he reaffirmed. Rajapaksa pointed out that he has appointed a committee to study the agreements, and that based on its findings, he may seek to restructure the port’s security and control apparatus.
Commenting on Mattala International Airport, the President said it will be developed by the Sri Lankan Airport Authority, with the aim of making it an alternative international airport.