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Monday, May 20, 2024

Sri Lanka to hand over management of China-built airport to Indian, Russian firms

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Sri Lanka has decided to hand over the management of its Chinese-built Mattala international airport, located near Hambantota port, to an Indian and a Russian firm on a 30-year lease.

According to news reports, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers gave the go-ahead to hand over the management of Mattala Rajapaksha International Airport to firms, M/s Shaurya Aeronautics (Pvt.) Ltd of India and the Airports of Regions Management Company of Russia or its affiliated company for a period of 30 years, in keeping with the recommendations of a negotiations committee appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers.

The airport, built in 2013 at a cost of $209 million, with $190 coming in the form of loans from China, hardly sees any passengers or traffic despite having a 12,000 sq meter terminal building, 12 check-in counters, two gates, and a runway long enough to handle the largest commercial jets, and capacity to handle one million passengers per year.

The airport was built during the tenure of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and is located in his home town.

The decision by Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers follows a Cabinet meeting held on January 9, 2023, during which it was agreed to invite expressions of intertest from interested parties for utilizing the facilities of the Mattala Airport.

Accordingly, EOIs were called in, and five firms had submitted offers for managing the airport. The final go-ahead was given by the Consensus Negotiating Committee appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers into the project.

In December 2017, Sri Lanka handed over Hambantota port to China after being unable to repay its debt. The port of Hambantota is a joint venture led by China Merchants Port (CMPort), which holds a controversial lease of 99 years to operate the site.

The deal over Hambantota port has been criticized as an example of Chinese “debt-trap diplomacy”. CMPort committed to invest $1.1 billion in the port to transform it to a world class facility.

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