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‘Election Port’ In Oluvil Sinks 46 Million Euros

Written By NAFSO on Monday, December 02, 2013 | 11:21:00 AM

By Nirmala Kannangara
The Oluvil Port Project, considered as a futile venture, is to be ‘opened’ next month. Despite the fact that this project has cost the country’s tax payers a colossal amount of money amounting to Euro 46.1 million, it is now said that only ships that carry cargo up to 10,000 tons can enter the port, which, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) employees say is a ‘real joke’.

“What a joke this is? Is it for this Euro 46.1 million was spent? Without spending such a colossal amount of funds, the SLPA could have installed a jetty off Oluvil shores and got the small ships to unload the cargo,” said trade unionists.
It is also learnt that although final plans have now been drawn for the opening, a customs office will not be established in the port till the port is declared open.
“If there wouldn’t be a Customs office in the port, that alone is a clear indication that foreign vessels would not come to the country. In that backdrop, this would be a domestic port. There is no need for a domestic port in a country like ours. The government should give an explanation to the people as to why they went ahead with this project knowing that it is a total flop,” Secretary of the All Ceylon General Ports Authority Employees Union, Chandrasiri Mahagamage said.
However, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) Dr Priyath Bandu Wickrema said that Oluvil would be an international port with all the required facilities provided although it is a small port like the Galle harbour.
“Only the vessels that carry cargo up to 10, 000 tons can enter the port. We will not handle container ships,” said Dr Wickrema.
Accusing the government of unnecessary wastage of public money for a project that can be called a ‘white elephant’ Mahagamage said that port employees are eagerly waiting to see how the opening ceremony of the Oluvil port is going to take place.
“We want to see how operational work is going to start once the port is opened. Like the Magampura Port in Hambantota, there would be only a few security guards in the port after the ceremonial opening but no ships other than fishing boats,” alleged Mahagamage.
“When I went to Oluvil three months ago only the light house, the building which housed a vocational training institute and a few roads were there. There were no cranes, nor immigration, Customs offices, navy or police camps which are prerequisite for a port. How can we call such a place a port?” said Mahagamage.
According to Mahagamage, the officers who carried out the feasibility studies, have told the port employees how the Oluvil project could become unsuccessful, although he does not know as to what those officers wrote in their report.
“According to these officers, Oluvil cannot be considered a harbour or even as a fishing harbour,” said Mahagamage. According to him, the Oluvil port project was a gift to former minister M. H. M. Ashroff in appreciation of extending his support to the then President Chandrika Kumaranatunge to form a government in 1994.
“In order to extend his support to Kumaranatunge, Ashroff demanded a port to Oluvil and the Ports Minister portfolio to which the President agreed. This was initiated in mid 1990s but the work is still going on without any progress but spending the loan money lavishly,” added Mahagamage.
He further queried as to how a port could start operational work if there are no cranes. “If a ship comes with the load of cargo how can they off load them without cranes.”
Meanwhile, Udeni Kalutantri, Secretary of the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya Ports Authority branch said that Oluvil port has been identified as an election port.

“On the request of the then Ports Minister Ashroff, President Kumaratunga gave permission to build a light house and a building said to be for a harbour. After Ashroff, the present regime promised to develop this stalled project as an international harbour to please the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leaders. Since then whenever there is an election in the east, some development work was carried out in the port. That is why this is called an ‘election port’. However still the government has failed to build necessary buildings and provide other facilities to call this place a harbour. There are only holiday bungalows, the vocational training centre and the light house. The holiday bungalows are there for our higher officials to spend their vacation. Nothing else is happening there although they are planning to open the port,” said Kalutantri.
According to him, the Oluvil port cannot be alled as an international harbour but as a fishing harbour.
“Even the SLPA management knows that this is a white elephant but they cannot make any comments about it. Meanwhile, Media Secretary to Ports and Highways Project Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Chaminda Karunaratne said that only small ships can enter the Oluvil port but not big ships.
“We are targeting small ships that bring cement and fertilizer to the country to come to Oluvil. We have already finished constructing the fisheries harbour that can anchor more than 400 trawlers. An administrative building, pilot stations, engineering building, ware house, security section and rest rooms have been now completed and the Danish contractors have handed over the port to the SLPA,” said Karunaratne.
When asked as to whether there are separate buildings for administration, pilot station, warehouse and for other sections, Karunaratne said that there are only two buildings but have to get them partitioned for separate departments.
“We do not have separate buildings as such but have to manage with these two buildings,” said Karunaratne. All attempts to contact the Port and Highways Project Minister for a comment failed.
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