Lanka mulls future of white elephants
From a multi-million dollar airport ignored by airlines to a lavish cricket stadium rejected by players, Sri Lanka’s new government is mulling the future of a string of white elephants.
Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered the state-of-the-art facilities built in his southern home town of Hambantota in extensive efforts to turn his rural constituency into a regional business hub.
Vast revenues were channelled into the vanity projects, mostly named after the former strongman who ruled the tropical island for a decade and was determined to keep the loss-making ventures open. But Rajapakse’s defeat at elections last month, partly due to corruption and cronyism charges, has saddled the new government with loans of close to a billion dollars and, as yet, no clear strategy to repay them.
“From an economist’s point of view, we have to write off the investments,” said Eran Wickramaratne, deputy minister of highways and investment promotion.
“We will have to repay the loans for a long time, but we can’t expect any tangible return from them,” he told AFP. Opened in 2013 after loans of 210 million, the Rajapakse International airport services just one airline, budget carrier flydubai.
The arrivals hall is eerily empty and the new government has ordered the terminal’s air conditioning units and decorative water fountains switched off after the carrier’s handful of daily passengers trickle through.
National carrier SriLankan Airlines, under orders by Rajapakse to land there, halted flights immediately after he was defeated by new President Sirisena.
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