There are lessons to be learned for Britain from Sri Lanka’s infrastructure problems, says Roger Bisby after a recent trip to the South Asian island.
Bandaranaike International airport was having a few problems. According to the official Sri Lankan Tourist Board statement it is closed during the day for runway resurfacing. Our taxi driver laughed; he had a slightly different version. “There are cracks you could get your foot stuck in, it is sinking. It was built by the Chinese. They could use the other runway but that is worse.”
Later, en route to our hotel we passed a large public hospital that was also closed for urgent repairs. “Chinese” our driver said again. I felt a pattern was beginning to emerge.
“Are there any other Chinese buildings that are in trouble?” I asked. He told us that the main toll road that runs North to South is always sinking and being repaired. “The Chinese built it and are taking the tolls until it has been paid for but nobody uses it so it will be a long, long time before they get their money back and by that time it will need rebuilding. ”
I asked him if he thought it was a bad thing to rely on foreign companies to build the essential services for the country. “No, no the British built railways, British built tea factories, very strong, running one hundred years, still good. British good, Chinese bad, everything Chinese break.”
He may well be biased, maybe his Chinese passengers don’t tip as well as the British, but it was ringing alarm bells in my head. Britain has recently signed a deal with the Chinese for them to build nuclear power stations in the UK. We must hope and pray that they will put all kinds of safeguards in place but given the performance of those charged with regulating the activities of the railways and our, now Chinese owned, utility companies you wouldn’t put a lot of faith in them, particularly as this new proposed nuclear technology is, as yet, untried.