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Cabinet approved USD 480 mn US Compact  ignoring President Sirisena’s objections

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The yahapalana Cabinet approved the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) USD 480 mn Compact in the run-up to 2019 presidential election amidst strong objections by then President Maithrilpala Sirisena, according to highly placed sources..

The Cabinet decision followed the Board of Directors of the MCC endorsing the compact with the government of Sri Lanka on April 25, 2019. 

Sources told The Island that there had been five cabinet papers submitted by President Sirisena in that regard, beginning March 10, 2017. Having underscored the requirement to study the USD 480 mn compact in his first Cabinet paper on the matter, President Sirisena submitted four subsequent Cabinet papers on April 1, 2019, July 17, 2019, July 29, 2019 and August 23, 2019, sources said.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Cabinet had given the go ahead disregarding President Sirisena’s call to put off the finalisation of the agreement by six months pending a comprehensive study. Sirisena cited legal complications as the reason for his request.

President Sirisena’s Cabinet papers came to light following an inquiry conducted by a four member committee comprising Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan, Architect Nalaka Jayaweera, former Secretary to the Transport Ministry D S Jayaweera and President’s Counsel Nihal Jayawardhana. Prof. Gunaruwan led the committee which was appointed in the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory at the November 2019 presidential election.

The yahapalana government went ahead with the project on the basis of approval from the Attorney General’s department. Asked whether the Committee had obtained the opinion of the Attorney General, in writing in that regard, sources said that several attempts had been made to get the AG’s Department opinion before the finalization of the interim report as well as the final report. The Committee requested the Attorney General’s opinion through the Office of the Prime Minister. Having failed in their attempt, the Committee requested that the Attorney General’s Department be represented at meetings. Subsequently, the Attorney General was represented initially by an officer, relatively junior before they upgraded representation.

The Gunaruwan Committee handed over its interim report in Feb 2020 and the final report on June 23, 2020. Sources said that President Sirisena’s cabinet papers had been submitted along with the final report though they weren’t made public.

The Attorney General’s Department is now in the process of studying the report before making its position on the agreement, according to sources.

President Sirisena, in his April 1, 2019 cabinet paper objected to approving the agreement pending parliamentary endorsement later.

In addition to a letter dated Oct 10, 2018 on Attorney General’s Department letter head now in the public domain, there were several opinions expressed by the same institution in respect of the USD 480 mn Compact. Sources said that as the draft agreement finally approved by the cabinet had been amended subsequent to that letter dated Oct 10, 2018, all available written documents had to be taken into consideration.

Finance Ministry is on record as having said that the Attorney General didn’t find fault with USD 480 mn Compact. It issued the statement at the behest of the then Minister Mangala Samaraweera immediately after Prime Minister Wickremesinghe confirmed the decision to finalise the agreement before Nov 16, 2019 presidential election.

Gunaruwan Committee in its report suggests that perhaps the government should seek the Attorney General’s opinion on USD 480 mn Compact. The suggestion as Attorney General Department did not respond to issues raised by the Gunaruwan Committee.

The Attorney General’s Department recently said that in addition to the Gunaruwan Committee report, several others, including the Land Commissioner, the Survey General and Director General of the External Resources Department were to be called.

Controversy surrounds a claim that Sri Lanka received USD 10 mn in advance on two separate occasions during the previous administration, but both the donor and recipient have denied the transactions. Perhaps, Director General of External Resources could set the record straight, sources said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government is yet to announce its stand on the agreement.

The US embassy during the previous administration said that the US expected Sri Lanka parliament to decide on the USD 480 mn Compact.

 

 



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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