Recent weeks have seen much controversy over the performance of the Mattala Airport, stemming from an interaction in Parliament between opposition MP Dr Harsha De Silva and Minister for Civil Aviation MP Priyankara Jayarathna. Linked to this, the BBC’s Sinhala service ‘Sandeshaya’ wanted to explore the success or failure of mega infrastructure projects like Mattala (and others coming up in Hambantota), and I was asked to provide some insights. Here is the link to the Sandeshaya interview in Sinhala, conducted with BBC’s Sri Lanka correspondent Azzam Ameen – http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/sri_lanka/2014/07/140726_airport_srilanka.shtml
In the interview, I argued that mega projects like this have not been undertaken by Sri Lanka for a long time now, and such projects are important – especially connective infrastructure – if the country is to make a steady progress through the middle-income transition. I added that the success or failure of such projects cannot be measures in a short time span, and so the accusations that Mattala is a failure may be slightly premature. However, I also point out in the interview that these were expensive projects, and now that they have been built we need strategies to maximise utilisation and this is where things seem to be coming unstuck. I noted that it may not be appropriate to have the Sri Lanka Ports Authority be the main investment driving force, and that we need a high powered agency that has the best of all agencies. I remarked that we can learn from examples like the Penang Export Hub in Malaysia in making this happen.
Meanwhile in the closing part of the interview (which hasn’t been included in the voice clip but is paraphrased by Ameen), I recommended that instead of chasing passenger airlines to stop at Mattala, we should attract global air cargo players like FedEx, DHL, UPS, etc., to set up there taking advantage of the huge land availability, and make Mattala a cargo hub, linking the sea port and industrial zone nearby. My overall message was that we need to think through the Hambantota hub much more strategically and fine-tune the policies of investment attraction, if these projects are to be a true success. Do listen to the interview and let me know what you think.