Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday laid the foundation stone for a nearly $4-billion oil refinery in the southern, strategically located port town of Hambantota. The project will come up at the investment zone next to a port that Sri Lanka has leased out to a Chinese state-run firm for 99 years.
The mega project has drawn much interest in the past week, after Sri Lanka’s Board of Investment (BOI) announced that a Singapore-registered firm, along with Oman, was bringing in the investment. Soon after, Reuters quoted an Omani official as saying the country had no role in the project.
On Sunday however, Oman’s Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhy, who was in Sri Lanka to participate in the ground-breaking ceremony, said he was excited to be part of the refinery project, signalling a possible change in stance.
Meanwhile, The Hindu had reported last week that the Singapore-registered firm, Silver Park International, said to be bringing in 70% of the share capital, was linked to an Indian business. Three out of four directors of the firm were from the family of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) politician and businessman S. Jagathrakshakan. The BOI, in its media conference last week, had made no mention of the Indian connection to the massive investment, sparking curiosity over where the huge investment originated, and whether the company was experienced in the sector.
Further, Sri Lankan weekend newspaper The Sunday Times reported that a new company named Silver Park Petroleum (Pvt) Ltd had been incorporated in Sri Lanka on February 21, six days after Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama submitted the latest Cabinet paper on the project.
Speaking at Sunday’s ceremony, Mr. Wickremesinghe said he welcomed the investment. “Traders from both Tamil Nadu and Oman have long experience of dealing with Sri Lanka. There is nothing new in this,” he said, apparently acknowledging the Indian role in the project. With investments from India, China coming in, and the “interest shown by Omani govt and many other investors, Hambantota is set to become a multinational investment zone”, he said. Further, Mr. Wickremesinghe said that within three months, he also hoped to finalise the agreement with Indian airport authorities, to revive the nearby Mattala airport.