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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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SJB alleges Prez under SLPP pressure to give up power to dissolve Parliament

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmaker Nalin Bandara Jayamaha yesterday alleged that President Ranil Wickremesinghe was under tremendous pressure from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to give up power to dissolve Parliament, two and a half years after the parliamentary election.

Kurunegala District MP Jayamaha said that the SLPP wanted the provision, pertaining to dissolution of Parliament in the 19A, included in the 22nd Amendment, at the committee stage.

In terms of the 19th Amendment enacted in 2015, the President couldn’t dissolve Parliament until the completion of four and a half years of the term of a government. The last parliamentary poll was conducted in August 2020.

Having overwhelmingly voted for UNP leader Wickremesinghe at the Presidential contest on July 20 to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term, the SLPP was now seeking full control, lawmaker Bandara asserted.

The SJB official, however, acknowledged that their party, too, had been divided on the issue, with those who backed Dullas Alahapperuma, at the Presidential contest, opposing the move.

Wickremesinghe received 133 votes. Of the 145 SLPP votes, except for its rebel group, the rest voted for Wickremesinghe.

Responding to another question, the former UNPer said that some interested parties thwarted SLPP founder Basil Rajapaksa from leaving the country, soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa abandoned the President’s House. That appeared to have backfired, MP Bandara said, alleging Basil Rajapaksa seemed to be running the show.

Asked whether more members of the SJB would soon switch their allegiance to President Wickremesinghe, MP Bandara said that he couldn’t predict what the individual members were likely to do. However, the SJB, the second largest group in Parliament wouldn’t join the government, MP Bandara said.

Of the 54 elected and appointed SJB members, so far two – Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando – have accepted ministerial portfolios. SJB National List MP Diana Gamage, earlier pledged her support to the SLPP.

Lawmaker Bandara said that the SLPP seemed to be quite confident of regaining full political authority, regardless of the recent setbacks suffered. The former Law and Order Deputy Minister said that the SLPP was bent on pursuing its strategy, though the President, elected by the party, fled the country.

The SJB MP said that the move to create an environment, conducive for crossovers for the personal benefit of lawmakers, should be condemned. The provisions, pertaining to the appointment of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, under the proposed 22 Amendment, in case the party with the largest block of seats reached a consensus with other parties, were meant to appoint a jumbo sized Cabinet, the MP said. The SJB official questioned the rationale in giving Parliament the authority to decide on the number of Cabinet ministers and non-Cabinet members, in case of a National Government.

Lawmaker Bandara said that President Wickremesinghe and the SLPP were yet to come up with tangible action plan to address political or economic issues. The MP warned, what he called the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government, that the public here, and the international community, couldn’t be deceived by calling itself a National Government.

The SJB spokesperson said that they wouldn’t contribute, or facilitate, the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa ploy by accepting ministerial portfolios. “We won’t legitimize the government project. How can the SLPP still be acceptable, after the public rejected Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected by them,” MP Bandara said, adding the SLPP seemed to have conveniently forgotten that the public rejected the ministers, along with their highly overrated President.

The outspoken MP said that it would be a grave mistake, on the SLPP’s part, if its leadership believed the unprecedented crisis, caused by them, could be resolved by getting rid of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

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22 A: Karu J, too, makes some suggestions

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Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice, Karu Jayasuriya, said that fears expressed by members of Parliament, and others, over the provisions, pertaining to the appointment of Cabinet of Ministers, were not unfounded.

The former Speaker said that he was also concerned about allegations that the proposed 22 A could be abused and exploited to appoint a jumbo Cabinet.

Jayasuriya suggested that political parties, represented in Parliament, and other interested parties should address whatever concerns raised as regards the 22 Amendment.

The yahapalana Speaker said that the success of the whole process would depend on the readiness of all those involved in the new constitution making endeavor to address issues at hand. The accusation that a particular provision (47 [4]) could be used to violate the restriction of cabinet ministers to 30 and no-cabinet members to 40 couldn’t be ignored, Jayasuriya said.

Jayasuriya said that those who represented the parliament should inquire into criticism over the Speaker receiving an opportunity to nominate three civil society members to the 10-member Constitutional Council in consultation with the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. The former Gampaha District MP recalled that in terms of the 19 Amendment, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader used to nominate the civil society members. Jayasuriya said that whatever knotty issues could be tackled at the committee stage (SF)

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“Govt workers, too, were involved in fuel hoarding”

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It had become obvious that some government workers, too, were involved in hoarding fuel and selling it in the black market, D.V Shantha Silva, joint Secretary the Sri Lanka Petroleum Private Tanker Owners’ Association (SLPPTOA) said yesterday, addressing the media.

He said that the introduction of the national fuel pass system is successful and the majority of fuel stations followed the system.

“Some gas stations still try to manipulate the system but it won’t be easy,” he said.

There is no congestion in gas stations and SLPPTOA members are happy with the process, he said.

“However, there is a drop in orders from gas stations. In the last few months, before the QR system, one tanker load was only enough for a few hours. But now gas stations pump fuel for days with one shipment,” he said.

Silva said that many people tried to blame three-wheeler drivers for hoarding fuel. However, there were other actors involved in the racket, among them were government officials.

“Before the QR system we saw a large number of people at gas stations each morning accessing fuel using various passes. Now that doesn’t happen and there is no congestion,” he said. (RK)

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