A full new PTA review is underway – The Island
…wonders about the mysterious cancellation of the Japanese-funded LRT project
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Ruling party lawmaker Professor Charitha Herath has said the cancellation of the $1.5 billion Japan-funded light rail transit (LRT) project remains a mystery.
The deputy of the national list of the SLPP declared The Island yesterday (17) that his efforts as former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to unravel the truth failed.
The MP noted that the allocation of funds for this, on a soft loan, was even larger than that of China’s flagship project, namely the port city of Colombo.
Sri Lanka suspended the project in September 2020, just weeks after Sri Lanka Podjana Peramuna (SLPP) won a nearly 2/3 majority in the general election.
“We should at least now set the record straight. The need to reconsider the unilateral decision that jeopardized Sri Lanka’s relations with Japan cannot be ignored, the MP said.
Responding to another question, Prof Herath said he had addressed the issue under consideration in Parliament during the three-day debate on President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s policy statement.
Addressing Parliament on the second day of the debate, Professor Herath pointed out that not only had President Wickremesinge lambasted the previous government for canceling the Japanese project, but that he had blamed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s economic policies and Basil Rajapaksa’s 2022 budget.
In addition to the LRT project, Sri Lanka canceled the joint development of the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) with India and Japan.
Professor Herath told parliament that the SLPP had no choice but to accept President Wickremesinghe’s criticism of the LRT and other canceled projects. Lawmaker Herath questioned whether the decision to cancel the Japanese plan was taken at Cabinet level, at a meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa or elsewhere.
Professor Herath said mysterious things happened in the decision-making process.
Referring to then Presidential Secretary Dr. PB Jayasundera, lawmaker Hearth said whoever briefed affected parties on the decision was silent on this particular issue.
Shortly after the cancellation, Reuters quoted Transport Secretary Monti Ranatunga as saying that the project was temporarily on hold due to the currency difficulties we were currently facing and that some other projects had also been temporarily halted.
The LRT was to link Malabe, Battaramulla, Rajagiriya, Borella and Fort/Pettah. The system included 16 stations and a depot at the Malabe terminal. The SLPP should make it clear whether it accepts President Wickremesinghe’s harsh criticism of economic policy. After repeatedly denouncing what it called the “social market economy” of the UNP/SJB, the current government was now pursuing the same under the leadership of Wickremesinghe.
Prof Herath said that as a member of the SLPP, he felt that a member of the same party should be appointed president to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term. Professor Herath said he voted for Dullas Alahapperuma as he believed the 6.9 million vote mandate received by Gotabaya Rajapaksa was intact. But, a much larger section of the SLPP decided the mandate was “dead” and irrelevant, so that group voted for Wickremesinghe, Prof Herath said.
Professor Herath said some of the reforms proposed by President Wickremesinghe should be implemented. Public sector enterprises must be reformed regardless of criticism, the MP said, urging political parties, represented in parliament, and the public to recognize the urgency of reform.