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Gunaruwan: ACSA, SOFA, MCC could be part of US Indo-Pacific strategy



US leaves Lanka out of MCC

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The much-touted Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact (MCCC) would have undermined Sri Lanka’s status as a sovereign country, Prof. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan said yesterday (17).

Prof. Gunaruwan, an economist, who headed a four-member committee that examined the controversial agreement was responding to the US decision to terminate the offer of USD 480 mn (Rs 89 bn) development assistance against the backdrop of Sri Lanka declining the grant.

The Colombo University don whose four-member committee strongly objected to the agreement as it is, told The Island that the compact posed a threat to Sri Lanka.

He said that he wasn’t aware of negotiations between the two parties on the basis of their report handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 17, 2020 at the Presidential Secretariat.

The team consisted of Prof. Gunaruwan (Chairman), one-time Transport Secretary Dr. D. S. Jayaweera, Justice Nihal Jayawardena, PC, and architect Nalaka Jayaweera.

Responding to another query, Prof. Gunaruwan said his committee had recommended remedial measures following an in-depth study of the agreement. He acknowledged that the committee couldn’t ascertain the position taken by the Attorney General in that regard.

The Attorney General’s position has not been made public yet.

In response to The Island query as regards Sri Lanka being denied funding, the US embassy has sent us the following statement: “On December 15, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) board decided to discontinue the proposed Rs. 89 billion MCC development assistance grant to Sri Lanka due to lack of partner country engagement. The Rs. 89 billion approved for Sri Lanka will be made available to other eligible partner countries in need of grant funding to pursue their economic development priorities, reduce poverty, and grow their economies.

“Country ownership, transparency, and accountability for grant results are fundamental to MCC’s development model. MCC has successfully partnered with nearly 30 countries worldwide on 38 grant agreements, totaling nearly $13.5 billion. These grants have lifted millions of people from poverty by catalyzing local and domestic investment.

“The United States remains a friend and partner to Sri Lanka and will continue to assist Sri Lanka in responding to COVID and building its economy.”

Subsequently, The Island sought an explanation from the US mission with regard to the previous US embassy announcements pertaining to the funding made available to Sri Lanka to the tune of USD 10 mn on two occasions.

The US embassy spokesperson said the MCC grant monies had never been transferred to or spent by Sri Lanka in terms of the then proposed USD 480 mn funding. The official said that funds amounting to USD 10 mn for what the embassy called preparatory activities had been cancelled. The official said: “The government of Sri Lanka first submitted a proposal for MCC grant funding under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005. All activities in the most recent proposed grant were requested by Sri Lankan Government line ministries and departments, and the programme was negotiated in good faith after extensive consultations with Government officials, the private sector, and civil society. The MCC grant would have been the largest in Sri Lanka’s history and would have benefited more than 11 million Sri Lankans.”

During the previous administration, the US announced the disbursement of USD 7.4 mn (Rs. 1.1 bn) on July 27, 2017 and USD 2.6 mn (Rs.413) in June 13, 2018 grants for preparatory work namely (i) to develop a compact, including identification and analyzing of specific projects and (ii) to finalize compact development. The US embassy stated funds allocated to the tune of USD 10 mn were in addition to the total MCC compact funding amount.

Prof. Gunaruwan’s report has said that in spite of the US Compact being categorised as a development project, it could pose a threat along with ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). The UNP-led government finalised ACSA in the first week of August 2017. President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the Defence Minister authorised the signing of the agreement. The US agreements dominated both 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls. The report says the three agreements could be part of the overall US Indo-Pacific strategy.

Well-informed sources said that the four-member committee had found fault with a decision to allow all procurement and related matters to take place. That decision clashed with a specific provision in the 19th Amendment, sources said. However, the 20th Amendment enacted by the incumbent government had done away with that provision, sources said.


About 232 out of 500 escapees from K’kadu Drug Rehab Centre arrested



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Two hundred and thirty two inmates out of the 500, who escaped from the Kandakadu Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, yesterday morning, following a clash with soldiers guarding the facility, had been arrested, Maj. Gen. Darshana Hettiarachchi, Commissioner General – Rehabilitation, said.

Hettiarachchi denied allegations from certain quarters that they had allowed inmates to escape to divert public attention away from the burning economic issues, and crippling fuel shortages.

He said an impartial inquiry would be conducted into the death of an inmate.

Hettiarachchi said that they were confident that other escapees too would be arrested soon.

Police Spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said a 36-year-old inmate had died under mysterious circumstances on Tuesday. The deceased was a resident of Mutwal. The death of the inmate had been reported to the Welikanda police, he said.

The Police Spokesman added that a team of policemen from Welikanda had visited the Rehabilitation Centre. However, a large number of inmates had surrounded the body and did not allow anyone near it and that had led to a clash between inmates and the military personnel at the centre.

At around 8 am yesterday, a large group of inmates had broken the two main gates and escaped, he added.

The Police Spokesman said that the police and Army had brought the situation under control, after several hours.

They have also launched a joint operation to arrest the inmates, who are still at large.

There are around 1,000 drug addicts being rehabilitated at the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Center at any given time.

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Women parliamentarians’ Caucus calls for greater accountability and transparency



International Day of Parliamentarism

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle says accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system have become vital issues as the country makrs the International Day of Parliamentarism today (30).

In a statement issued to the media by the Caucus, Dr Fernandopulle said: International Day of Parliamentarism, which recognises the role of parliaments in national plans and strategies and in ensuring greater transparency and accountability at national and global levels. This Day was first established by the UN General Assembly through a resolution adopted in 2018 which also marked the 129th anniversary of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU, which was first established on the same day in the year 1889, is a global organization that works to promote ‘democratic governance, human representation, democratic values, and the civil aspirations of a society’.

This Day further solidifies the unique and enduring system of parliamentary democracy as the standard for political representation. Last year, in 2021, the Day focused on “Youth Empowerment” in Parliament whereas the theme for the International Day of Parliamentarism 2022 is “Public Engagement”. Conspicuously, the word ‘parliament’ originates from the French word ‘parler,’ which means ‘to talk.’ Thus, public discourse and engagement lay the very foundation of the parliamentary system of governance.

At a juncture where public engagement in the democratic process is at an all-time high, the theme for International Day of Parliamentarism aptly suits the current democratic and economic discourse taking place in society.

The Parliament is a cornerstone of any democracy as it must fulfill its fundamental role of providing a voice to the voiceless. The main responsibilities of a Parliament include the formulation, enactment and overseeing of the implementation of laws and policies that are sustainable and crucial for the progression and stability of the country. The Parliament also has a duty to hold the Executive or Government of the country accountable. Accordingly, representing the interests of the public, it must also fulfill the role of acting as a “check” to “balance” the power that the executive holds.

The Parliament must also perform “checks” and “balances” on Government expenditure as it has the responsibility of approving budgets for Government expenditure. Thus, during this economic crisis, the Parliament of Sri Lanka has a crucial role to play and effectively realize such roles and responsibilities. To do so meaningfully, public engagement is a necessity.

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said: “I believe we should make this Day an occasion to remember the importance of accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system. The Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus recognizes that it has a role to play in initiating a conversation towards realizing a process by which the Parliament can conduct self-evaluation utilising the feedback received by the public discourse. This would be vital in order to gauge the progress the Parliament has made and identify challenges and devise strategies and mechanisms to overcome such challenges to be more representative of the voices of people.”

MP Thalatha Atukorale said: “In the face of crisis, if our parliamentary system fails to realize its purpose, then we must re-evaluate the practices of our Parliament. Therefore, I believe that this Day should be used as an opportunity to formulate an effective strategy to improve transparency and accountability of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.”

MP Diana Gamage said: “On this Day, I pledge to be a voice to the people of Sri Lanka, particularly the more vulnerable, and play my role in initiating mechanisms and formulating laws that reflect the current needs of the people of Sri Lanka whom we are representing in Parliament”.

Parliament is the bedrock of a functioning democracy. In Sri Lanka, let us realise this goal for all Sri Lankans, leaving no stone unturned to ensure quality of political representation, which means gender equality and social inclusion too.

MP Manjula Dissanayake said: “To be effective and successful, the Parliamentary system must encourage public engagement and must also be based on principles of equality and inclusivity in order to better comprehend and prioritise the needs of the public”.

Vice-Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, MP Rohini Kumari Wijeratne said: “The parliamentary system is founded upon the sovereignty of people. Therefore, the success of the parliamentary system depends on public engagement in the democratic process and how well the parliamentary system responds to such public engagement.”

MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya said: “We as Parliamentarians must not be oblivious to the fact that the public has lost confidence in the Sri Lankan Parliament and by extension, the Parliamentarians. A strong contention can be and is being made that the Parliament of Sri Lanka falls short of effectively realizing one of its main purposes: to formulate and implement policies and laws that benefits ALL people, particularly the more vulnerable. To meet that end, we must harness public discourse and engagement.”

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Proposals to revive agriculture sector unveiled



By Ifham Nizam

The Department of Agriculture has handed over proposals with an action plan for the revival of the agriculture sector to the Minister of Agriculture, Wildlife and Wildlife Conservation, Mahinda Amaraweera.

Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture Rohana Pushpakumara, Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Ajantha de Silva, and its Directors, representing respective divisions, were also present.

The focus of the proposals is on the importation of chemical fertilisers and organic farming, increasing rice production in the country, promoting the cultivation of indigenous crops for export, taking measures to meet the national vegetable and fruit demand, prioritizing agricultural research and development, and other agricultural Inputs.

The proposals also deal with a number of other issues such as the misuse of pesticides and fertilisers.

The proposals consist of 11 short-term plans to uplift agriculture.

Speaking at the event, the Minister of Agriculture, Mahinda Amaraweera, requested that the proposals, aimed at increasing the income of the farming community, be implemented without delay and that everyone be committed to make the Yala season, and the forthcoming Maha season, a success. “We must make the current Yala and the next Maha season a success. The country’s economy depends on the stability of the agriculture sector.

The Director General of the Department of Agriculture handed over the relevant proposal to the Minister.

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