A public tribunal hosted by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Sri Lanka yesterday decided that the Port City project should be cancelled, as all benefits it may provide are outweighed by economic, social, environmental and political harm.
“They (China Communications Construction Company Ltd.) simply say that there are no impacts. The economic, environmental and social harms far outweigh the benefits. We have to stop this,” Attorney-at-Law S. G. Punchihewa, who chaired the panel of judges said.
Attorney-at-Law Chandrapala Kumarage and Coast Conservation expert Dr. Jayampathy Samarakoon made up the rest of the panel.
Quoting various individuals who had presented their cases against the development of the Port City, Punchihewa said that 32,000 species of marine life could be destroyed, and along with coastal degradation, would affect up to 500,000 lives depending on the fisheries industry.
He added that coastal tourism would face harm, which would not justify the 83,000 jobs and tourism opportunities created by the Port City.
Punchihewa also said villagers in the areas where the 8.5 million tonnes of sand and granite are being mined are facing difficulties as well.
He said that an Environment Impact Assessment had not been completed, and the whole project was based on a report compiled by an academic who was at the University of Moratuwa, who has since been employed by the Chinese, and added that proper archaeological assessments were also not done.
Meanwhile, Punchihewa noted that if Port City project goes ahead, the country would have to face what he called “constitutional crises.”
Punchihewa said that the foreign land ownership would give China rights to the airspace, and a maritime territorial strip extending up to 200 nautical miles.
“Will our executive, judiciary and legislature be effective in there? Will the people living there be Chinese or Sri Lankan?” Punchihewa asked. Further, he said that the agreement between the two countries was commercial, and written just to reclaim land, and not to construct any buildings.
Punchihewa and the testifiers said the new regime is now not concerned with the project despite saying that they will halt it during election season.
However, no government representatives, professionals in the construction or tourism industry and officials of CCCC were present at the tribunal to either express their ides or to defend themselves.
The government is currently conducting a special investigation into the matter, while CCCC has claimed that it has submitted all relevant paperwork.
The Chamber of Construction Industry recently called the government to allow the Port City to go ahead, as it said that proper procedure has been followed, and that retracting signed agreements would paint an extremely negative picture in the minds of potential investors.
However, the professional body was also criticized at the tribunal for not caring about the public.
The findings of the tribunal will be forwarded to the President and the Prime Minister shortly.
By Chandeepa Wettasinghe /DM