A US embassy cable just leaked by whistleblower Wikileaks has revealed that the US believed Chinese were bribing Sri Lanka officials to win contracts, especially those related to mega development projects in Hambantota.
“It is likely that corruption and political patronage are significant factors playing into the focus on Hambantota. Often when Chinese companies win contracts, their success is due in part on their widespread distribution of graft to senior Sri Lankan government officials. While it is currently unknown to what extent President Mahinda Rajapaksa is involved in Hambantota development, it seems logical that his hand is also out when commercial enterprises, especially the Chinese, jockey for contracts and projects.”
The embassy cable also notes:
“There has not yet been private investment in the Hambantota Region, which could be a hard sell.
“Hambantota is located in the rural south, far from Colombo, there are no significant industrial industries nearby, so at least initially Hambantota will not benefit from local exports and imports.
“The Hambantota project has been government directed,
although private investment could emerge later if the project becomes commercially viable.”
In a comment to its observations, the embassy notes:
” With Chinese and other foreign assistance, the GSL, SLPA, and UDA are pushing ahead with plans rapidly and robustly to develop Hambantota.
When the GSL master plan is completed, Hambantota will have a new seaport, international airport, rail links, roads, and local infrastructure. Despite this, there are no near-term prospects for significant commercial investment. The ‘international’ airport will only be used for charter flights.”