Japan awaits approval of Upper Kotmale project
Japanese officials have rejected claims that the Sri Lankan government has given the go-ahead for the controversial Upper Kotmale project. "No, there is no change in the status. We are still awaiting word from the government," said Shinya Ejima, Chief Representative of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

Recent media reports quoted government officials as saying the project had been approved. Funding by the Japanese government of the long-delayed Upper Kotmale power project is in jeopardy if the project designs are changed to suit political and environmental considerations.

Ejima told The Sunday Times FT that they were not convinced that the proposed changes to the controversial project are necessary and have explained this position to the authorities.

"We are not convinced that the changes to exclude the five tributary intakes from the main dam are necessary. If that happens, the power generation will be reduced by 20 percent. I am not saying we would pull out but normally the Japanese government doesn't accept changes after a project is approved," he said.

The Upper Kotmale project has been steeped in controversy beginning from the former UNF regime where it ran into environmental concerns - coupled with dislocation of families raised by the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) - from environmentalists.

The controversy has spilled over during the current UPFA regime whose Power and Energy Minister Susil Premjayanth is keen to launch the plant as soon as possible due to an acute shortage of short and long term power. But the government is constrained by desperately needing CWC strongman Arumugam Thondaman's support - which would come only if the UPFA bows to his demands.

Ejima said, "We may accept the changes if they are reasonable or inevitable. Normally we don't accept if the changes are due to political considerations. I'm not saying that may be the case (situation) here. We don't know when a decision would be made on this. But I hope it is soon." Upper Kotmale takes four years to complete and if project work starts right now, completion would be by end-2008, he added.

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