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Disagreement on MCC won’t undermine US-Lanka relations – Pompeo

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US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has asserted that even if Sri Lanka didn’t accept the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) agreement, it wouldn’t undermine bilateral relations between the two countries. Pompeo said so in an exclusive interview with Indeewari Amuwatte on ‘Hyde Park’, Ada Derana 24 on Wednesday (28). The interview:

Q: In terms of the MCC agreement, Sri Lanka missed the deadlines twice. The United States is still talking about it. What will happen if it is politically challenging for the Sri Lankan government to enter into the MCC agreement?

A:

It’s one of many things being proffered. If it doesn’t make sense for Sri Lanka, then Sri Lankans will choose not to accept that. The relationships, the strengths, the depths, and complexity of our relationship far exceed any one transaction and one opportunity. There will be plenty. We will work closely on them alongside the Sri Lankan government.

Q: Thank you for your time here with us Secretary Pompeo. Your visit here is termed crucial, seen as a rare one, and particularly? given the timing of the visit. What’s so important is that you had to communicate at this juncture?

A:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Thanks for giving me the chance to be with you. It’s been wonderful to be here in Colombo. I’m in this region a lot, and I planned to come here earlier but the world just got in the way, and I had to delay it a bit so I managed to get here now. I’m thrilled to be here. It’s an important time in the history of the region. Great democracies like the one that we have here in Sri Lanka, and the one we have in the United States have a shared vision on how life ought to operate, there ought to be sovereign nations and free people who get the chance to live the lives they want, and thus?? here to share that message. The United States stands ready to do all that we can to recognise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty but to make sure that the people of Sri Lanka understand that the US is a friend and a partner in a democracy with a shared vision for how the world ought to operate.

Q: How would you term future relations of Sri Lanka and the United States will be, given this crucial visit in Sri Lanka and the comment made by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry for enhanced relations with the US?

A:

There are many opportunities and many things we can do. We talked a lot on private businesses investing here. Not only those who are here today investing more, but new opportunities in agricultural or renewable energy and technology, and lots of opportunities for the Sri Lankan people. Sri Lanka has to do its part, it’s got to be welcoming, have the rule of law and transparency so that American investors will want to come and invest here. But I’m confident that we will deliver on that, and when we do it will be good for American companies that will come here but it will be really good for the Sri Lankan people. There will be jobs and opportunities, and wealth creation, and all the things that democracies and the private sector can do in a way that authoritarian regimes simply can’t.

Q: Also Mr. Secretary, recent comments by Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson urging Sri Lankan to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long term prosperity as Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. What exactly are these difficult decisions or choices that the US expects Sri Lanka to take?

A:

I know precisely the things that Sri Lanka needs to do but more importantly the Sri Lankan people know, and the Sri Lankan leadership. This isn’t about America imposing its vision on Sri Lanka, quite the opposite. It is Sri Lanka sharing with America the things we can do to make life better for the Sri Lankan people here. Those are the choices we hope Sri Lanka’s government makes, when it does there will be opportunity, there will be good partnerships, not only with the United States but with the other democracies in the region. I travelled from India, I will travel from here today to the Maldives, I’ve been in Asia and South East Asia a great deal in my time as Secretary of State, whether it be South Korea, Australia or Japan. These democracies have the opportunity to work together, so I’m confident that Sri Lanka will want to be part of that. Part of what prospectively looks like real opportunity and real sovereignty. Those are the things that will make life better for the Sri Lankan people, not a history where you have other countries show up and put huge debt on the country and impose huge burdens on the country. And when they come here they don’t show up with the private sector and don’t hire Sri Lankans. The democratic countries including the United States have a very different vision.

The meetings today give me real hope that we will be able to close together on that shared vision.

Q: Does this mean the US will respect Sri Lanka’s wishes to remain a neutral country and not be entangled in a geopolitical power play?

It’s about choices. Every country makes choices. The choices will be do you want democracy and freedom? I’m confident that the Sri Lankan government does want exactly that. When you choose those things, you end up with different kinds of partners. You end up with partners who respect Sri Lanka’s decision-making as a sovereign entity, and when there needs to be security cooperation, we provided two coast guard cutters so the two can do good work on countering narcotics, and we show up here and ensure that the terror risk is reduced inside of Sri Lanka. These are the kind of things that democracies work on together. We have a shared vision and a shared goal, and I am very confident that the Sri Lankan people will end up in a place that ends up with a very close and very dynamic, powerful partnership that benefits both of our two countries.

 

A: Matters pertaining to accountability; you mentioned this during your joint press briefing. How will the United States work with Sri Lanka in order for Sri Lanka to work on its accountability commitments and also about Army Chief Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva who is banned from the United States? Have these come under discussion?

We talked about all of this today. Look we have a set of legal requirements in the United States and we apply them even handedly. We try to get the facts right, and we do that in every case. I talked with the President about this, and I talked to the Foreign Minister too. I’m confident that the Sri Lankan people want accountability and justice, and that these leaders are intent on delivering. We will help where we can. Ultimately we can provide some technical assistance. We can work with them in international fora to deliver on these ideas of reconciliation and accountability. But ultimately it will be the Sri Lankan leadership and the Sri Lankan people who will have to work on this. It’s important; we hope your country gets this right. It’s the right thing to make sure that part of Sri Lanka’s history is handled in a way that is appropriate and recognises what really transpired, but with an eye towards what is ahead – all the good things that can happen in the future.

Q: One last question Secretary Pompeo. China is playing an increased role in Sri Lanka, India too, and the US offers SOFA and MCC. What else is on the table?

A:

What America offers almost always is companies and private investment, partnerships and friendship. That’s how we roll in the United States. We won’t show up with state sponsored enterprises. We won’t show up with debt packages that a country can’t possibly repay. We won’t attempt to use that debt to extort actions by the government. We want what the Sri Lankan people want – a chance to thrive, a chance to have real opportunities, a chance to travel around the world, and make a better life for each of them and for their families. Those are two very different models. One is for democracy and freedom, the other is a tyrannical authoritarian model. We’re convinced that the Sri Lankan people will make the right choices for themselves, and as that has been for a very long time. Your foreign minister reminded me of it being the oldest democracy in Asia. I’m confident that tradition will be important and powerful and will mean an increasingly good relationship between the United States and Sri Lanka.

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Mahara prison riot: four killed, 26 injured

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Condition of some inmates serious

Rioters attempt arson attack

Exact number of deaths not known

Situation under control – police

At least four inmates were killed and 26 others injured, yesterday evening, when officers opened fire during a riot in the Mahara prison. It was not clear how many had died, but four bodies were taken to the Ragama Hospital, according to sources.

The condition of some inmates was serious, a senior doctor treating the injured told The Island.

Police headquarters said law enforcement units including the Special Task Force had been deployed in support of the prisons guards.

The situation had been brought under control by yesterday evening, the police said, adding that inmates had caused disturbances over the spread of COVID-19 in their prison.

The riot erupted when inmates learnt that there was a surge in infections in the prison, and dozens of them had tested positive for COVI-19.

Most inmates wanted to be taken to treatment centres, making it difficult for the prison guards to control them.

The inmates turned aggressive and attempted an arson attack.

A fire was reported from the prison last night.

So far, over 1,000 corona positive cases have been reported from the prisons.

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SLPP constituent hands over far reaching proposals

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New Constitution making process underway

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Leader of the breakaway JVP faction-National Freedom Front (NFF) Jayantha Samaraweera, yesterday (29) told The Island that his party recently submitted 23 proposals to the nine-member expert committee appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers to draft a new Constitution.

President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva leads the expert committee, named in early September, this year.

The proposals consisted of what shouldn’t be included in the new draft Constitution under any circumstances, what should be retained from the current Constitution, sections that needed to be rectified, executive presidency and electoral reforms, the Kalutara district lawmaker said.

State Minister Samaraweera said that he had posted the NFF’s set of proposals to the committee after an attempt to hand it over personally to Room No 32 (Block 2) of the BMICH, where the committee is located, failed last Thursday (26).

Samaraweera was accompanied by General Secretary of the party S. Wijesiri, politburo member Nimal Piyatissa, MP and Uddika Premaratne, MP. A constituent of the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna), the NFF group in the 145-member government parliamentary group is represented by six members.

 Responding to a query, State Minister of Warehouse Facilities, Container Yards, Port Supply Facilities and Boats and Shipping Industry Development Samaraweera said that their proposals reflected the aspirations of those who voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP led coalition at the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, respectively.

The expert committee consists of Romesh de Silva, PC, Gamini Marapana, PC, Manohara de Silva, PC, Sanjeewa Jayawardena, PC, Samantha Ratwatte, PC, Prof. Naseema Kamurdeen, Dr. A. Sarveshwaran, Prof. Wasantha Seneviratne and Prof. G.H. Peiris.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, assured Parliament late last October that the government would present the draft of the proposed Constitution to the House within one year. The assurance was given during the debate on the second reading of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution on Oct. 22.

Responding to another query, the State Minister said the proposed new Constitution should ensure the country’s stability, protect the unitary status, thwart the separatist agenda, protect Buddhism, guarantee human rights of all, protect archeological heritage, food security and non-aligned foreign policy.

SLPP Chairman who is also the Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday told The Island that the party was ready to swiftly respond to the expert committee if it sought to ascertain their views on any matter in respect of the draft constitution. Prof. Peiris emphasized that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP received two massive mandates at the presidential and parliamentary polls to bring in a new Constitution. Well informed sources told The Island that the committee was trying to meet the original deadline to finish the assignment within six months. Therefore, the committee was planning to finalize the document ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Recently the Justice Ministry extended the time to accept proposals till Dec 31, 2020. Sources said that the committee so far hadn’t received proposals from any major political party. Perhaps, NFF proposals had been delayed in the post, sources said, adding that attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku too had sent his proposals. The committee has sought views from interested parties on the (1) nature of the state (2) fundamental rights (3) language (4) directive principles of State Policy (5) the executive, cabinet of ministers, the public service (6) the legislature (7) franchise and elections, including referendum (8) decentralization/devolution of power/power sharing (9)the judiciary (10) public finance (11) public security and any other matter not specifically referred to by the Justice Ministry. In spite of the eruption of the second devastating covid outbreak in early Oct that hindered the expert committee, it could make progress thanks to Zoom technology, sources said. Progress had been made, sources said adding that recently face to face meetings resumed.

The NFF Deputy Leader said that they suggested to the expert committee that the authority to introduce laws should be the prerogative of parliament and under no circumstances should such powers be granted to administrative structures at provincial or district level. The NFF also proposed that special laws should be formulated to cater to the needs of any community, constitutional guarantee that administrative structures shouldn’t be named, changed or amalgamated in terms of particular ethnicity and an elected government should function as caretaker not as the owner and the right of the public should be held over the right of an individual as well as constitutional guarantee to protect the national wealth for future generations.

Lawmaker Samaraweera said that the NFF also proposed that the country shouldn’t enter into agreements contrary to non-aligned foreign policy and not allow any foreign power to use Sri Lanka territory for military purposes, transparency in foreign trade agreements, constitutional measures to prevent dual citizens from contesting the Presidency, entering parliament, commanding armed forces, IGP, Attorney General, Governor Central Bank, diplomatic posts and serve as Court of Appeal or Supreme Court judges.

The MP said altogether 23 proposals were made and the NFF expected the expert committee to give them due consideration. Samagi Jana Balavegaya Leader Sajith Premadasa couldn’t be contacted for his party’s position on the new Constitution making process. Fifteen political parties represent the current parliament. Nine of them have just one MP in parliament.

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Final decision on GCE O/L exam, this week – Prof. GL

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Education Minister Prof GL Peiris told Parliament, on Saturday, that the final decision on whether the GCE O/L examination would be held as scheduled would be made public within one week.

Responding to a question raised by Kurunegala District SLPP MP Shantha Bandara, Minister Prof Peiris said that schools in Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara districts, and the areas under lockdown in other districts had been closed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The reopening of these schools depends on the advice of health authorities. The most important thing is saving the children from the pandemic. If this situation lasts more than one week or two we may not be able to hold the examination as scheduled from Jan 18 to 27 next year.”

Prof. Peiris said the situation would be reviewed this week and a decision taken thereafter. “It will be unfair by some students to make them sit the examination while their schools are closed,” the Minister said.

Minister Prof Peiris said that of the 10,165 schools countrywide only 5,100 remained open at present.

MP Bandara said that many talented children missed their opportunity to compete in national school games owing to the school closure and asked whether they would get that opportunity.

Prof. Peiris said that the matter had been discussed with the relevant authorities, who held that it was not still safe to conduct sports events in the country due to the health emergency.

The Minister said that the government was thankful to the principals and teachers who had helped conduct the GCE Advanced Level examination and the Grade Five Scholarship examination successfully. Within 33 days of the Grade Five scholarship examination, the results could be released in record time for the first time. The teachers had rendered a dedicated service. Currently, between 90 to 95 percent of teachers reported to work in schools in areas that were not under lockdown. They render a remarkable service amidst great difficulties.”

Prof Peiris said the government spent Rs 137,340.3 million on teachers’ salaries, and admitted that there were salary anomalies, which had to be rectified. “We have referred the matter to the National Salaries and Cadre Commission and decided to pay an interim allowance to the teachers until that matter is solved. The Cabinet has approved this, and the Treasury Secretary has informed us that the payments could be made. Teachers will get that allowance very soon.”

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