When powerful nations are eager and willing to invest in your country’s development, is this because they genuinely care? When they provide huge grants to poor nations for infrastructural projects like conference centres etc, is this really being done free of cost or is this an appetizer to lure Governments into a devious trap?
The case of China and Sri Lanka really puts these questions into perspective.
Because of China’s glorious plans for Sri Lanka’s development, the nation is now buried deep in a US$8B debt trap. What do they have to show for this debt? An airport that it does not use, a deep water harbour that now belongs to the Chinese and a state-of-the-art conference centre which sits as a white elephant.
Today, Kaieteur News will examine the Chinese-built conference centre in Sri Lanka and how it mirrors a similar project in Guyana.
SRI LANKA’S CONFERENCE CENTRE
It was in November 2013 that Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa officially opened the nation’s second conference centre. It is called the Magam Ruhunupura International Conference Hall. It was built by the Chinese for US$15M.
The design of this centre is said to be impressive and even iconic. The Centre’s main hall has 1,500 seats with three additional halls, each boasting a seating capacity of 250.
The conference hall is also fully equipped with modern technical facilities and a car park for 400 vehicles. It even has a helipad.
The Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) was the first international event to be held there. That was in November 2013. Since then, this “iconic” infrastructure has hardly been used for international events. When it is not serving the purpose of a mere monument, it is a space for holding weddings, private parties and the like just to make a few pennies to repay the loan.
In the end, Sri Lanka was left to bear the unpleasant side of the bargain.
China continues to collect millions of dollars in interest from Sri Lanka’s treasury to repay the loan on this horrible scheme that was disguised as a “developmental” project.
THE GUYANA SCENARIO
Guyana also has a conference centre that was built by China.
Under the Jagdeo regime, the Arthur Chung Convention Centre was built by the Chinese in February 2006. According to its website, the Centre was established to host major deliberations for the public and private sectors and to provide quality service to organizations and entities desirous of hosting meetings, seminars, symposia, AGMs, press conferences, workshops etc.
Like Sri Lanka’s Conference Centre, Guyana’s has also hosted all manners of parties and similar events.
The Centre has a seating capacity of 372, five smaller conference rooms, a business centre and a restaurant. The structure was made possible through a generous US$8M grant by the People’s Republic of China.
But was this really for free? Or was this an appetizer; a lure for Guyana to fall hook, line and sinker into a deceitful trap?
Powerful nations like China give nothing for free. Through the investigative reporting done by this newspaper, it was exposed that China was able to recoup triple the cost of our conference centre in the forestry sector alone.
On duty free concessions, Guyana lost over $1.6B in revenue to Chinese firms. This is more than the US$8M grant to build the Centre. BaiShanLin Forest Development Inc is the company that was solely responsible for the wanton rape of Guyana’s forests. This is a company in which the state of China has a controlling interest.
In short, while China was giving a bread crumb with one hand; it was only a bait to collect Guyana’s bread and butter with its other hand.
While one cannot be certain about the quality of the conference centre in Sri Lanka, it is certain however that Guyana’s has deteriorated. The Arthur Chung conference centre has not been in use for the longest while as it is under renovation.
Fortunately, the Chinese are undertaking the repairs at no cost to the government, but when one considers that nothing is free, then one can only wonder what this ‘no cost’ renovation would actually cost the nation.
The big question is what did Guyana really gain from this “appetizer”?
The citizenry is left with a conference centre of sorts, while China has happily walked away with a big chunk of Guyana’s forests.
A few weeks ago, this newspaper exposed the glaring similarities between the China-built Sri Lanka Airport and the ongoing CJIA modernization project. Sri Lanka was told that the airport would be a hub for Asian airlines to generate much revenue to cover the loan and to make a profit.
Today, the airport is called the world’s emptiest airport and is now a liability on the people of Sri Lanka.
Guyana was fed a similar story. It was told by former President Bharrat Jagdeo that a bigger airport will serve as a hub for Africa. The same company that built Sri Lanka’s airport is doing Guyana’s upgrade. Sri Lanka’s funding for the project came as a loan from China, so did Guyana’s.
Kaieteur News also showed how Sri Lanka was tricked into developing a deep water harbour. But without an accompanying industrial zone or other local businesses to drive demand, the Port struggled to attract ships and cargo volumes. Since the nation failed to repay its debt, the Chinese took it over.
Guyana would have suffered a similar fate under the Jagdeo regime had it gone ahead with plans for a deep water harbour here. Luckily, this did not become a reality. But President David Granger is on record as expressing interest for Guyana to have a deep water harbour.
The difference is that Guyana has indicated an interest on its own rather than being tricked. The country would attract feasibility studies, but it must be wary of the source of the loan to construct this deep water harbour.
To be continued…
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