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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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Wide ranging rackets benefiting CEB engineers

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By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board implements most of its power transmission and distribution infrastructure development projects like the construction of new transmission lines, transmission and distribution substations, etc., using loan funds obtained from international lending agencies such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

These “concessionary” loans are guaranteed by the government, and projects funded by those loan packages are implemented through specially set up project management units (PMUs).

Engineers attached to PMUs are given special facilities and monetary incentives on the understanding that they will work outside normal working hours and weekends to complete their projects on time and within the allocated budget.CEB often justifies these projects for priority financing citing “great national importance” and the critical needs to improve the power transmission and distribution infrastructure of the country.

Almost all of these project titles carry the words like “green energy”, “clean energy”, “green power”, etc., signifying these investments are primarily aimed at using renewable energy.

However, according to a senior official of the Ministry of Power & Energy, these projects are seldom completed within the given time period or budget. Because of this reason not only the expected benefits of these investments are often lost to the country, but the government incurs heavy losses by way of commitment fees paid to lending agencies.

Once project funds are committed through a loan agreement, the government has to pay this fee to the lending agency, generally computed as a percentage of the loan amount or the “commitment amount”. It is a significant burden to the government, especially in a situation where there is a severe shortage of foreign currency.

If the loan funds are disbursed within the original term of the loan, this “front end fee” is charged at a lower percentage. Hence, when CEB does not complete projects in time, the government ends up paying a higher commitment fee, and is also forced to seek an extension to the original loan disbursement period, thus incurring further costs.

Even more disturbing than long delays in project completion is that some completed projects have turned out to be wasteful investments of foreign funds given to the country.It is understood that the former CEB Chairman M. M. C. Ferdinando had questioned why the new 132kV transmission line between Ambalangoda and Galle, which was completed in 2017 at a cost of Rs. 1,500 million, remained unserviceable to date.

The Sunday Island understands that CEB’s System Control Center is able to switch on this transmission line only when the Samanalawewa Hydropower Plant is running at full capacity.This project had been billed by CEB’s transmission planners as a high-priority investment and solution for the serious transmission bottlenecks in the southern network of the country. Southern areas had been experiencing serious transmission capacity restrictions for decades.It is understood that the CEB General Manager has responded to the Chairman’s inquiry by stating that the commissioning of several new transmission lines that are presently under construction would make the Ambalangoda-Galle transmission line operational.

The 220kV transmission line from Pannipitiya to Polpitiya via Padukka is another example of a costly planning blunder by the CEB. Construction of this long transmission line commenced in 2015 but was delayed owing to many problems, including public protests and court cases filed by some landowners.However, when this ADB-funded project was eventually completed in late 2021 (after a delay of over five years), it has been discovered the power flows in the wrong direction when the line is switched on, causing overloading of the Pannipitiya substation.Hence, this transmission line also remains idle presently. It is understood that CEB planners have explained that power would flow in the right direction once several other transmission lines (being constructed under different loan packages, and already delayed by many years) are completed.

The then CEB General Manager taking part in a national television discussion following the countrywide power outage on August 17, 2020, explained that the unavailability of this critical transmission line was a major contributing factor to CEB’s inability to restore supply for many hours.Another example of colossal waste of funds is the transmission substation at Kappalthurai in the eastern province that has cost the country over Rs. 2,500 million of ADB loan funds. Since there is no high demand for electricity or no future growth in demand in the area, this installation will be idle for the foreseeable future.

According to CEB employees, the existing Trincomalee substation, which is situated about 11 km from this new substation, has ample capacity to serve the electricity demand in the area for many years to come. In the meantime, CEB has made a large investment in increasing the capacity of the Trincomalee substation as well.It is also understood that CEB’s Projects Division has been maintaining several non-functional PMUs for years, spending large sums of money on rented project offices and large project staff, even when no funding has been secured for relevant projects.

CEB employees complain that project directors and their engineers attached to these “white elephants” are allowed to enjoy all benefits, including project allowance (an additional amount equal to one-third of monthly salary) and luxury SUVs because most of them hold important positions in the powerful CEB engineers’ union.They claim that the CEB management never holds to account any project manager responsible for long delays, but they are allowed to continue to enjoy all the perks. According to a senior engineer who works as a consultant on project-related work, this guarantee of “job security” acts as a strong incentive for the project engineers to prolong their projects.CEB employees believe another reason for this lackadaisical attitude of CEB top management is that foreign-funded projects have long been a steady source of luxury vehicles for CEB engineers.

Most vehicles used by top CEB engineers including the General Manager have been provided under different foreign-funded projects, as the existing government guidelines will not allow the purchase of such high-end SUVs having large engine capacity including premium European makes like Audi and Mercedes Benz for government officials.CEB employees complain that the Ministry of Power & Energy generally turns a blind eye to these irregularities mainly because the majority of project managers and their project engineers are top officials of the powerful engineers’ union.

They allege that even the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL,) which has the legal obligation to ensure CEB will not make unnecessary or wasteful investments in its transmission infrastructure, has never questioned CEB regarding assets that are idling for many years after spending billions of rupees of public money.

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Gota leaves Singapore after fleeing protesters at home

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(AFP) Former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday left Singapore where he had taken refuge following his escape from protesters at home, after he was given a visa only for about a month in the city-state.Rajapaksa flew into Singapore from the Maldives on July 14 after fleeing a deepening economic crisis and widespread protests in Sri Lanka. He tendered his resignation shortly after his arrival.Sri Lankans arriving in Singapore normally receive a 30-day visa, but authorities said they had initially given Rajapaksa only two weeks and later extended the visa by another two weeks.

“The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) confirms that Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa left Singapore on 11 August,” Singapore’s immigration office said in reply to an AFP query.

It did not say where the former leader was headed but the Thai foreign ministry, as well as a source in Colombo, said Wednesday he was seeking a new safe haven in Thailand.Rajapaksa fled his nation after tens of thousands of protesters overran his official residence last month angry about acute shortages of food, fuel and medicine endured by Sri Lanka’s 22 million people since late last year.An international human rights group last month formally asked Singapore to indict Rajapaksa for crimes against humanity during his country’s decades-long civil war that ended in 2009.

The South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project said it had urged Singapore to exercise universal jurisdiction to arrest the former president for grave breaches of international humanitarian law.Rajapaksa helmed Sri Lanka’s defence ministry while his brother Mahinda was president when the country’s brutal Tamil separatist conflict came to a bloody end.Singapore’s Attorney-General’s Chambers confirmed it had received a complaint from the rights group without giving details.

“His Singapore visa runs out on Thursday,” a close associate of Rajapaksa told AFP in Colombo on Wednesday.

“He had applied for an extension, but it had not come through as of Wednesday morning.”

The source said Rajapaksa now planned to go to Thailand for a short stay but return to Singapore.The Thai foreign ministry confirmed it had received a request from Colombo for the 73-year-old deposed leader to visit and an assurance that he would not seek political asylum.

“The Thai side received a request for the former president to enter Thailand from the current government of Sri Lanka,” ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said in a statement.

“The stay is temporary in nature with the aim of onward travel. No political asylum has been sought.”

The Rajapaksa confidant told AFP that the former leader was keen to return home as protests against his administration had fizzled out, but his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe had advised him against an early return.Singapore officials had said he was on a private visit to the city-state and the foreign minister stressed that he was not given any special privileges.

“In general, the Singapore government does not accord privileges, immunity and hospitality to former heads of state or heads of government,” Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a written reply to a question in parliament last week.

“Consequently, former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was not accorded any privileges, immunity or hospitality.”

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Harsha won’t join cabinet, but urges All Party Govt. to implement his economic recovery plan

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Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha de Silva Friday (12) requested for the support of all political parties represented in Parliament for what he called a short-term programme meant to revive the national economy.The MP said so after submitting his set of proposals to the Parliament. The former non-cabinet ranker who served the previous UNP government said that he prepared the proposals in consultations with academics, specialists, professionals, politicians and ordinary people.

Declaring that he wouldn’t join the government under any circumstances, the economist assured his support to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government through Parliament.Expressing confidence his proposals could secure the backing of external powers, the Colombo District lawmaker said that he received the blessings of Opposition political parties in this regard.

Lawmaker de Silva said that once the government took measures required to remedy the national economy the country could go for general election.The top SJB spokesperson said that Wickremesinghe’s all-party-government could adopt his proposals. Urging leaders of all political parties to support his initiative, the former UNPer said that depending on their support the administration could with the support of the public here and foreign governments overcome the daunting economic challenges. MP de Silva said that there was no point in his accepting a cabinet portfolio. The current crisis couldn’t be addressed by dispensing ministerial portfolios (SF)

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