‘We have our debt repayment under control’ – Minister Sagala
Sri Lanka’s Minister of Ports, Shipping and Southern Development, Sagala Ratnayaka says Sri Lanka is working hard to get back to normal business after the devastating Easter Sunday bomb attacks.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle’s Janelle Dumalaon about security concerns weighing on investment, and existing development challenges during his visit to Germany, Minister Ratnayake said the April 21 attacks presented major challenges to the country as a whole and the economy but the country is fast returning to normalcy.
“…For the economy it has been a major challenge, for the lives of the people, for them to lead a normal life, …but we are fast recovering.”
He said the security situation is now back to normal but the security forces and intelligence network remain vigilant. “We are working very hard bringing back normalcy to the people of the country and for them to lead a normal life style, so that international community also sees that we are back to normal and business goes on as usual again.”
The Minister said the tourism industry took a severe hit from the attacks.
“We took a severe hit in tourism. In October last year we got to the first position in the lonely planet guidelines. W we were having the best season and for the first time in the Sri Lankan Tourism history we were going to a year on tourism rather than the seasonal tourism we had. That has got affected but we are seeing things turning around again.”
“It is also important for the government to be in control again which we are and to show the world that we are in control, not just to show but to have a safe Sri Lanka again not just for people but also for those who come to do business in Sri Lanka.”
Speaking about Sri Lanka’s role in the Belt and Road program, the Minister said the government had to make a strategic decision on the Hambanthota Port, which was handed over to the Chinese on a 99-year lease because of the inability to pay the loan taken to build the port.
He said the Hambanthota Port was built on a large loan from Chinese Exim bank and other commercial loans.
“We had to take a strategic decision as to whether we want to service this loan and have a port, and have the burden of growing that port, the economy of that port and as a government or whether we were going to have a private-public partnership which is part of this strategy that we are using to bring investments to Sri Lanka. We opted to take the PPP route,” he said.
The Chinese company CM port, a professional Port operator on a partnership with the government’s port operator, the Sri Lanka Port Authority, is growing the business at the Hambanthota Port now, Minister Ratnayake said. He added that the Port is now earning revenue helping the economy of the country and jobs are opening in for the people. The Port will grow even more with the support of the industrial Zone the government is planning to set up in Hambanthota. “Hambanthota venture has now been transfused into a strategic move by the government,” he said.
Responding to questions, the Minister said some of the assets put in place in Hambanthota such as the stadium, and even the port are redundant. He said the industrial zone in the vicinity of the port still doesn’t have facilities such as water and electricity but the government is working on developing these ventures.
“We are not able to set all of it right in one go but we are in the process of working through. We have our debt repayment plan under control,” the Minister asserted.
When asked about his biggest priority, Minister Ratnayake said “Economic cooperation with the world on transparent, solid pillars where the Ease of doing business is attractive to everybody coming in to Sri Lanka feel that is safe, the field is leveled for everybody that you can walk into a government office or an organization which is responsible for what is needed to set up a business, and they get through a transparent process. And mainly we want to deregulate, liberalize and be open for business.”
“Sri Lanka is open for business, we are keen to work with the entire world, on what’s good for the people of Sri Lanka as well as for those who come in and work with us,” Minister Ratnayake emphasized.