Sri Lanka passes a controversial bill on Chinese-supported Colombo Port City

4 mins read  Sealuminati TeamMay 26, 2021

The Sri Lankan Parliament passes the controversial bill on legislation governing the Chinese-supported Colombo Port City on May 20, officially designating 269 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea and annexed to the city of Colombo as the country's first special economic zone (SEZ) for service-oriented enterprises. Colombo Port City was built on the reclaimed ground adjacent to the Port of Colombo, which is still managed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

A commission designated by the President will be constituted to manage the SEZ under the Act. The commission will let firms in Colombo Port City operate in any recognized foreign currency.

Following the introduction of the Port City bill in Parliament on April 8, 19 petitions were filed with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

The Supreme Court's decision was sent to Parliament on Tuesday, and it said that the law may be enacted with a simple majority provided key clauses were altered to adhere to the country's constitution.

During the two-day discussion in the house, Government MPs backed the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, ending in Thursday's vote, citing possible foreign direct investments which could go up to as much as $15 billion creating more job opportunities. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told Parliament on Wednesday that the Port City project will produce 200,000 employment in the first five years, with the vast majority going to Sri Lankans.

Following deliberations in Parliament on Wednesday and Thursday, a majority of parliamentarians decided to accept the measure as revised in accordance with Supreme Court recommendations.

Why controversy?

Opposition party legislators such as Samagi Jana Balawayaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) questioned its provisions, claiming they were infringing the sovereignty of the nation, giving broad power and immunity from Sri Lankan legislation to the ruling committee, and threatening to create a "Chinese enclave."

M.A. Sumanthiran, a Tamil National Alliance MP and senior lawyer, said the Supreme Court made only “cosmetic changes” to the Bill, leaving its fundamental character unchanged.

The Jaffna legislator, accusing the government of giving China part of his land, said, "You say a lot about [Tamil] Eelam but it's about Cheelam, [the name Sri Lanka's Tamil name refers to China and Eelam].... and it is Cheelam that you enact in your own laws when you have no jurisdiction over it."

The passing of the Port City Bill is viewed as a major diplomatic and strategic concern for India, as China's footprint in neighbouring Subcontinental countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Tibet expands.