Plan to privatise Sri Lanka Telecom delayed over national security concerns
Updated Jun 10, 2023
The Sri Lankan government has decided to delay its plan to privatise Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) following Parliamentary Committee's warning that it could create a potential threat to national security.
The SLT, in which the government owns a majority stake, is the national information and communications technology (ICT) solutions provider and the leading broadband and backbone infrastructure services provider of Sri Lanka.
The decision was taken following the advice of the country's Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security which suggested the government not pursue any plans to privatise SLT as it could create a potential threat to national security.
"The effects of the privatisation of SLT on National Security ... (given 44.98% of SLT is already in private hands) ... would expose the country's critical communication infrastructure/sensitive information to private entities whose profit-oriented interests can compromise national security," the committee said a report submitted to the Parliament.
Committee's Chairman and government MP Sarath Weerasekara told the Parliament on Friday that "the divestment of the 49.5% stake in SLT held by the government could expose the country's strategic communication infrastructure and sensitive information to private companies that are motivated by profit, which could pose a threat to national security".
The committee went on to suggest that organisations or individuals that have been blacklisted or have helped terrorists and extremists in any form should not be allowed to buy any share and have any control over the country's national assets.
It urged the government to consider "buy(ing) back the other large shareholder of SLT as provided for in the agreement, and then divide the segments into sensitive and vulnerable, excess lands and buildings, critical infrastructure and the business."
Responding to the committee's suggestion President's Media Division (PMD) stated that the government has "focussed its attention to the committee report, which was presented to Parliament, emphasising the concerns surrounding the potential risk to national security resulting from the privatisation of SLT".
"The government has reassured that the policy decision taken will not compromise national security, contrary to what is indicated in the report," PMD stated, adding that the final decision would be taken during an upcoming cabinet meeting while considering the report along with recommendations from the information and communication sector.
Early this year, Opposition MP Wimal Weerawansa complained to the Parliament that the government was trying to sell SLT shares to Sri Lanka-born British citizen, Subashkaran Aliraja, the chairman of Lycamobile and Indian film producer who owns Chennai-based Lyca Productions. SLT trade union had also charged that India's Adani Group also has plans to acquire the state-owned shares of the SLT.