Sri Lanka has decreed that the Chinese-funded $1.4bn Colombo Port City will go ahead after all, along with a number of other Chinese sponsored projects.
But the government is attempting to withhold giving Chinese entities freehold title to land connected to the controversial waterfront development, to be built on reclaimed land.
We are looking at the environment impact assessment report and the project will go ahead. But there will be no free-hold of lands there– Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
Last week health minister and government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters that Chinese-funded projects worth billions of dollars, which were suspended at the beginning of 2015, would be restarted.
"We tried to renegotiate these contracts with the Chinese, but it was not very successful," Senaratne said. "We have now decided to go ahead with the projects. It is not feasible to abandon them half-way through."
President Maithripala Sirisena’s government had ordered a review of all big-ticket construction projects signed by his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is under investigation for corruption during his decade in power.
However, the government’s intention is to retain control of all land in the Port City scheme, contrary to the original deal.
China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), which wants to build apartments, shopping malls, a water sports area, a golf course, hotels and marinas on the site, was to acquire 20 hectares on a freehold basis.
The government is expected to offer instead a 99-year lease.
"We are looking at the environment impact assessment report and the project will go ahead. But there will be no free-hold of lands there," Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament last week.
During the Rajapakse regime China had secured contracts to build highways, railroads and ports, and had become the largest single lender to Sri Lanka.
Photograph: Colombo, Sri Lanka, in September 2014. The Port City scheme would see a major mixed-use development on reclaimed land (Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne/Wikimedia Commons)