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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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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP

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By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms

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Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations

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… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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