China’s gradual reach of influence into nations that borders the Indian Ocean cannot be considered as a sudden occurrence. Many of the construction projects over the years carried out in the surrounding countries are part of the Chinese grand design referred to as “The Belts and Roads Initiative”. Sri Lanka can be considered as a rather significant piece in China’s attempt to recreate the ancient maritime silk route in the modern day.
The Indian Ocean hosts up to 80% of the world’s sea borne trade connected to Europe and the Middle East through the Suez Canal and South East Asia connected through the Strait of Malacca. The maritime choke point referred to as the Strait of Malacca is of particular importance to the Chinese as 70% of the nation’s oil imports pass through the strait. Any blockade of this position can have catastrophic repercussions on the Chinese Economy. As a means of protecting its trade routes and securing interest China has continued to expand its influence into the Indian Ocean, the more recent of these projects is referred to as the Colombo Port City
Colombo Port City is a Sri Lanka China joint venture which sits on 269 hectares of reclaimed land which is now officially designated as a part of Sri Lanka. 116 hectares out of the total belongs to the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) on a 99 year lease while the remained portion belongs to the Sri Lankan Government. The Government recently presented the “Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill” which if passed allowed for the establishment of a special Economic Commission which would be responsible for all financial activities within the Port City region. The bill if passed would allow the proposed commission a multitude of discretionary powers such as approving financial investments without approval from the Board of Investment.
The bill now included in the gazette has been piling up petitions from various individuals such as the United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, Janata Vimukthi Peramuna Minister Wasantha Samarasinghe, and Engineer G Kapila Renuka Perera along with institutions such as Transparency International Sri Lanka, Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has appointed a 5 member panel headed by Chief Justice Jayanath Jayasuriya and its members include Justice P.B. Aluwihare, Priyantha Jayawardena, Murdu N.B. Fernando and Janak de Silva.
Many of the petitions hold the general premise that the passing of this bill would facilitate illicit financial activities, money laundering and would negatively affect the administration of justice and has called on the Supreme Court to intervene and determine the bill to be unconstitutional.
The petition presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) seeks to challenge the bill under Article 120 of the Constitution. The petition went on to highlight that the bill greatly lacked consultation and transparency which would in turn impugned on the administration of justice as the provisions of the bill would be in violation of article 1,2,3,4, 75 and 76 of the Sri Lankan Constitution. The petitioners noted that the provisions of the proposed bill inter alia is in violation or contrary to the separation of powers, the rule of law, independence
of the judiciary, effective operation of the constitution and creates a body with legislative powers other than parliament.
Along with the petitions regarding the unconstitutional nature of the proposed bill concerns have been raised on how the bill would facilitate the Port City to be considered as a Chinese Colony rather than Sri Lankan sovereign territory. According to SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapkshe the proposed framework would facilitate the prerequisites of a state namely population, territory, sovereignty. As the proposed bill indicates the formation of the commission in which parliament will have no controlling authority over. Dr. Wijeyadasa commented on Sri Lanka’s less than perfect track records of Chinese projects by citing that such a decision would be worse off than selling Hambantota Port. According to Dr. Wijeyadasa his remarks have gained the attention of the president who according to the lawmaker has gone on to threaten him regarding the sentiments expressed.
No.820, Mount Cresent,Malabe,Sri Lanka