Speaking to reporters at the Finance Ministry, he explained that the MCC agreement would be presented to Parliament to be debated and voted on after the Presidential Elections. He claimed no agreement would be signed without it being passed by Parliament first. Samaraweera defended Cabinet’s approval of the MCC agreement, attributing it as a necessity before the upcoming meeting of MCC executives on 2 December, which would enable the Government to secure the funding for early next year. His comments came in the wake of protests against the MCC in front of the US Embassy yesterday.
Ududumbara Kashyapa Thero, who commenced a fast unto death campaign against the signing of the MCC at Independence Square on Tuesday, discontinued his fast that evening. The UNP on Wednesday released a letter sent to the Thero by NDF candidate Sajith Premadasa, where he pledged not to sign the agreement before 16 November, and assured that it will only be signed after it is submitted for debate within and outside Parliament.
Samaraweera also charged that the SLPP and some leftist parties were trying to sabotage the good opportunity presented to Sri Lanka in the form of the MCC grant. He called the wave of anti-MCC sentiment “anti-American rhetoric, which political parties keep in their toolbox to be employed when they are politically weak.” “The leftist parties and the Rajapaksas have time and again created fear and controversies to support their agenda,” he observed, pointing out that similar anti-American sentiments were raised when the Voice of America (VOA) station was established in 1988. “Some educated individuals, including religious leaders, were misled and protested against the VOA station, claiming that CIA and US military will set up camp there. No such thing happened, they handed over the land and left in 2011,” he added.
Samaraweera observed that similar allegations were made when the ‘Suwasariya’ Ambulance Service was proposed and established. “Some doctors and politicians said that the drivers of the ambulances will be from India, and claimed that the program will enable the Indian RAW intelligence agencies to infiltrate the country, but today, none of that happened and the service is well received,” he said.
The Minister urged media outlets to study the agreement, and enlighten the public on its contents, rather than contributing to the spread of misinformation. He also emphasised that the United States had been a friend to Sri Lanka, recalling that they were the first to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, and observed that 24.2% of Sri Lankan exports were to US markets, which is led by apparel.
He claimed that much of the misinformation being shared on social media platforms on the MCC was false, and claimed that there is no plan to allow US military forces to encamp in Sri Lanka, nor plans to sell land to Americans. The Finance Minister challenged anyone to find a provision to that effect in the agreement, and claimed that he will quit politics if such terms were to be found. The Minister charged that parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa was behind the social media campaign.
The $ 480 million grant will be used for road infrastructure development, to establish a new traffic management system for Colombo and suburbs, and to map and digitise and catalogue lands in eight districts earmarked for development, he explained. “The funds will be used for projects based on our Government’s prioritisation, which we have indicated to them,” he added. The Minister pointed out that according to a survey done by the University of Colombo, the estimated cost of congestion on the Sri Lankan economy is likely to climb to over a trillion rupees in the coming years. “This is why we prioritised a traffic management system,” he said.
Responding to a question, Samaraweera said that the agreement had an exit clause, where both parties can give 30 days’ notice and exit the agreement, if they should desire to do so.
US looking forward to $ 480 m MCC approval
The United States yesterday said it was looking forward to the implementation of the $ 480 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact with the Sri Lankan Government following the 16 November Presidential Election and due parliamentary approval.
“With Presidential Elections approaching, the United States anticipates working toward grant signing and parliamentary approval with the Government of Sri Lanka after 16 November,” the US Embassy said in a statement, outlining the next steps towards the MCC program.
“Per our policy – applied in all 29 partner countries – the Sri Lankan Parliament will have the opportunity to review and approve the grant. The United States looks forward to continuing our partnership with Sri Lanka and to supporting its efforts to reduce poverty through economic growth,” it added.
The statement reiterated that the US welcomed the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers to approve the $ 480 million MCC development assistance grant. Sri Lanka requested this support, which is expected to benefit at least 11 million Sri Lankans through the funding of government- and private sector- identified needs.
“The programs supported by this grant will reduce traffic congestion, improve public transportation in Colombo, upgrade provincial roads, and expand existing Government of Sri Lanka initiatives to improve land administration and strengthen the land rights of Sri Lankans. The Government of Sri Lanka has posted the draft of the grant agreement on the Ministry of Finance website, where it is available for the people of Sri Lanka to review. The United States will not own or lease any land under this development assistance grant. Sri Lanka will oversee and manage all grant-funded projects throughout the implementation of the five-year grant assistance agreement,” the US Embassy statement added.
SC to consider fuller bench for MCC, SOFA, ACSA petitions on 13 Nov.
By S.S. Selvanayagam
The Supreme Court yesterday determined that it would reconvene on 13 November to deliberate whether it should nominate a fuller bench to hear petitions challenging the signing of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact (MCC), Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA).
The bench comprised Justices Buwaneka Aluvihara and S. Thurairaja.
One Petition was filed by Dr. P.S.M Anuruddha Bandara Padeniya, Dr. Haritha Punu Aluthge, Dr. A. K.A. Samantha Kumarasiri Ananda, Dr. H.N. Deshika Soysa and the Government Medical Officers’ Association.
Another Petition was filed by Angulugalle Siri Jinanda Thero, Bengamuwe Nalaka Anunayake Thero and Madegoda Abhayathissa Thero.
A third Petition was filed by Attorney-at-law Dharshana Weraduwage citing the Attorney General, President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana, and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera as respondents.
Sanjeeva Jayawardena PC with Ravindranath Dabare, Lakmini Warushawitharana, Rukshan Senadhera, Charitha Rupasinghe, Milhan Mohamed, Ranmalee Meepagala, and Niranjan Arulpragasam, instructed by Miwunhella, appeared for the petitioners.
Additional Solicitor General Farzana Jameel appeared for the Attorney General.
The Petitioners allege that the contents of the purported agreements are shrouded in secrecy.
They are petitioning Court to request for the MCC and SOFA agreements or their final drafts that are set to be signed as well as the ACSA Agreement which has purportedly been executed.
They state that the issues highlighted in their petition erode the territorial integrity of the country and thus impinges on the people’s sovereignty
They assert that the agreements deliver overwhelming benefits to the US and its military personnel, which hurts Sri Lanka’s national interest along with the rights of all citizens and future generations.
Citing the US’s history of expansive and highly penetrative investment campaigns in Third World countries, they say there is a serious danger of Sri Lankan interests being denied in favour of those of the US.
They claim that the US will exert power in order to secure its own interests, weakening Sri Lanka in the process.
The petitioners list the agreement as an instance of State sovereignty being bartered for a superpower’s alleged development project.
They say that the US Government and other nations such as Japan, Iraq, Iran, Germany and South Korea have entered into SOFA agreements and have faced many sovereign conflicts. These agreements have periodically earned the ire of each nation’s citizens.
They asked Court to declare that the MCC, SOFA and ACSA gain mandatory parliamentary approval, as required by Article 157 of the Constitution, if they are to be pursued.
They are also seeking a declaration that the purported agreements have no legal power until they are presented before and approved by Parliament.
Furthermore, the Petitioners are seeking an interim order staying or suspending these agreements until the final hearing and determination of their application.