Financial Times

SLPA engineers concerned over ‘clause’ issue in port

Engineers of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) are up in arms over efforts they claim are being made to remove a clause about the eligibility of bidders in the Request For Proposals (RFP) issued for the Colombo South Terminal project in February 2007.

In the need to 'safeguard the national interest', the engineers have written to the Minister of Ports and Aviation Chamal Rajapakse as well as the Chairman of the Cabinet Appointed Negotiating Committee (CANC) for the project, S. Amarasekera, stating the clause is to secure and safeguard the interest of a particular country/port to prevent port operators adhering to corrupt business practices forming 'cartels.' The clause in question states 'a bidder or where the bidder is the consortium, all members must not have been found conclusive by any court of law to have engaged in anti competition practice.' The letter to Mr. Amarasekera dated August 19, 2008 said there is 'a sinister move mooted by some bidders to exclude or modify the above clause in order to manipulate the bidding procedure.

There is a strong rumour that some bidders are forming cartels to submit low bids than the previous tender. The removal of this clause will immensely help their cause and they are relentlessly lobbying to manipulate the RFP.'

The letter adds that there was a case filed in the Court of Appeal regarding this clause and notice issued on concerned parties but subsequently withdrawn due to cancellation of the tender. Therefore, there is speculation that certain bidders are preparing to seek court action in the event this clause is removed or tampered with, the engineers said adding that they feel any possible court case (if this clause is removed) is detrimental for the project as it will further delay the whole South Port Expansion Project.

The letter cites the recent 'landmark judgment of the Supreme Court on the privatization of Lanka Marine Services' as having set a precedent as to why public officials should practice good governance and business ethics and act impartially to safeguard their personal interest.

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