Hambantota : will it pay off?

 

Recently a minister stated that Hambantota would be made one of the capital cities of Sri Lanka. There is most certainly no harm in wanting to have more than one capital city in a country, for instance Australia has three capital cities, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra and all three of them operate as commercial and governance hubs. However we must consider how successful such an endeavour will be in a small country like Sri Lanka. At one time the SLFP government wanted to make Anuradhapura the capital city and subsequently the UNP government wanted to make Sri Jayawardenepura the capital city. Today, under ‘the age of the Rajapaksas’, all plans are in place to make Hambantota a capital city. 

The government has taken steps to construct the Hambantota Port, Airport, an international cricket stadium, Asia’s largest administrative building, Asia’s largest theatre , a cinema city with Ranmihithanna as a backdrop, the 1000 room Shangri-la hotel complex, the Galle-Hambantota expressway and the Matara-Hambantota railway, all with the use of foreign loans and the taxpayer’s money. When development is happening and an area of the country is being uplifted, I don’t want to look at the process with lenses that are coloured by party differences, however let’s taken an objective look at the practicality and payoff of each of these projects.

The Hambantota port is to be constructed in four stages and the first stage began on November 18, last year. The cost of the first stage is said to be Rs. 50 Billion and the interest on the loan obtained is 6.3 per-cent. Sri Lanka was given a grace period of one year before the interest is calculated and the loan repayment must begin. This repayment is calculated at 450 million a month and payment must begin by next December. Therefore the government must pay the Chinese EXIN bank 5 Billion a year. However how much revenue has the port generated in the past one year, the answer is nothing. Instead of generating revenue it has managed to create an even greater expense, an additional 15 Billion is necessary to destroy the rock that has halted construction at the moment. The end result is that this project that has cost about Rs. 65 Billion has failed to generate, within the spans of a year, even 65 cents.

A colossal sum was spent on the Suriyaweva Mahinda Rajapaksa international cricket stadium; however it was used for only one World Cup match and is now host to an occasional cricket match. Sports Minister Mahindananada Aluthgamage said in Parliament that 52 tonnes of nails were needed for the roof alone. Despite the present redundancy of the stadium it has been earmarked as a place for further development.

The Ranmihithanna cinema village is set to be a location for local and international films to be filmed. However the truth is that, this location has been used only for one international production. Similarly for small budget teledrama, brining a huge cast such a distance and providing them with room and board is not feasible, they would prefer locations closer to Colombo, which provide a similar backdrop. Therefore the cinema village is also likely to be a redundant investment.

There is a doubt as to when and for how long the Hambantota airport will be available for civilian air traffic. According to sources the government’s plan is to close the Katunayake airport for a short while for construction and use the Hambantota airport as an alternative, in order to make sure the Hambantota airport is made a popular air traffic hub. Furthermore no one is yet to account for how much it will cost to construct and maintain an administrative building in such a remote location. The theatre that is planned for the area; what type of performances and screenings are they going to bring there? And who is going to come and see these performances? If they are international performances, do the people in the area have the finances to see these screenings or performances? And will those from Colombo travel such a distance to see these performances?

The intention behind investing in the 1000 room Shangri-la hotel complex is to attract tourists. However the question is what will these tourists do in Hambantota? The only tourist destination of value near Hambantota is the Yala National park, where about 250 jeeps a day carry tourists. If the number of jeeps or tourists increases the only result will be that the national park’s wildlife will suffer and there will be nothing left for the tourists to see.

The other areas of development are also similarly flawed and therefore there is no logical argument that justifies this massive investment in the area. By these shortsighted actions the Rajapaksa government has made the future generations of this country debtors. To me it is a riddle as to who will benefit from this so called development. There are four lane expressways, where no containers travel, a port where no ships dock and a huge administration building from which there is no one to govern. I have no grouse against development in a rural area, however by this untimely and shortsighted development the only ones that suffer are the people of this country.

 

 

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