Request for Colombo Port City Economic Commission gazette to be allowed

Your Excellency the President And Hon. Prime Minister,

three months’ time for public consultations

This is to inform you, we as a responsible trade union are seriously concerned over the cabinet decision and the gazette titled “Colombo Port City Economic Commission” dated 19 March, 2021 to establish a regulatory management Commission for the Colombo Port City Economic Zone that reveals serious deviations and exemptions from “the law of the land” negating the often promised “One Country – One Law” by this government headed by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The draft bill gazetted for the Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCEC) provides the proposed Commission the sole power to grant registrations, licences, authorisations and other approvals to carry on businesses and other activities in and from such Zone. Making it an exclusive power over the whole of the newly created Colombo Port City (CPC) geographical area, following  seven enactments have been gazetted as having no application within the CPC area.

01. Urban Development Authority Act 02. Municipal Council Ordinance (chapter 252) 03. Commercial Mediation Centre of Sri Lanka Act. 04. Town and Country Planning Ordinance (chapter 269) 05. Strategic Development Projects Act 06. Public Contracts Act and 07. Board of Investment of Sri Lanka law.

Another very intriguing factor is the main currency allowed for transactions within CPCSEZ. From all that is provided for in the draft Act, the US dollar seems the main currency with the Sri Lanka Rupee having strict conditional use.  

The Commission will also have powers to exempt businesses in part or in whole from fourteen Acts listed in Schedule II that provide for income, value added, excise, customs and debit taxes and from ports, airports and export development levies. It is also said, the Commission can make exemptions from Casino and Gaming laws and from the “Termination of Employment of Workmen Act”.

It is also said in Section 64(1), concessions and privileges for businesses exclusively decided for “within the zone” can be extended to any part of the country, within 05 years from the date the Commission is legally established.

In the context of the Commission having powers to exempt or amend labour laws, this is a serious legal provision that could definitely lead to two sets of laws in this country if granted. It could contradict Article 14A of the Constitution that guarantees fundamental rights and adversely affect the status, rights and privileges of all or most employees in the private sector given the advantage of Section 64(1) of the CPCSEZ Act if adopted as law.   

There was such an attempt almost 40 years ago when Free Trade Zones were to be established under the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) Act. Then government of President Jayawardne was restrained from enacting anti labour provisions in the GCEC Act through trade union interventions. The Supreme Court then decided there cannot be two different sets of laws in the country and the GCEC Act was accordingly amended.

All such powers in total vested with the CPC Commission allows it to be read as more powerful than a Federal governing authority within a Federal State.

We therefore call upon the government to stop all further actions on the gazetted draft bill for the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, including tabling it parliament and allow at least 03 months’ time for trade unions, other professional organisations and social organisations to discuss the draft bill in detail and make due representations to the government. A right we believe, the People should have.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Anton Marcus

Joint Secretary      

Free Trade Zones &  General Services Employees Union