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

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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.

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GL sounds far-reaching educational reforms  

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Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (21) acknowledged that for want of tangible measures on the part of successive governments, there was a critical mismatch between the education provided and the availability of job opportunities.

The academic, in quarantine as a result being identified as potential Covid-19 contact, emphasised the need for far reaching changes to address the issue as part of their efforts to restructure the entire system.

Prof. Peiris said so in his short remarks at an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the University of Colombo.

The one-time External Affairs Minister said: “It is a great pleasure for me to felicitate the University of Colombo, my alma mater on this happy occasion. It is a significant milestone because we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the faculty of arts, faculty of science and the library of the University of Colombo. As we look back on that span of a full century, the characteristics of the University which comes to mind is its resilience. During that period the University has had to face and indeed overcome many challenges. The society of our country has undergone a fundamental transformation during that period.

The University had the strength to cope with rapidly changing circumstances. I would identify that as a principal accomplishment of the University of Colombo.

The University proved its capacity for development, change and refinement and adaptation in order to keep pace with dramatically changing circumstances. The University proud as its history is I am sure will have an even more magnificent future. It has an important role to play in the far reaching changes we are contemplating in the educational system of our country. It is our intention in the course of this year 2021 to restructure the entire system in order to address the fundamental problem of a rather critical mismatch between the education we provide in our Universities and other educational institutions on the one hand and the availability of employment, livelihoods on the other. There is regrettably gap in this regard and it should be our collective endeavor to address this problem. We are also revisiting the curricular. The substance of our curricular  the methods of teaching in such a way  as to serve better the public in a  better way   In all these efforts I have no doubt the expertise of the University of Colombo by any standards  will be of enormous assistance to us in achieving goals we have set ourselves (SF)

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China slaps sanctions on 28 Trump administration officials, including Pompeo

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China has imposed sanctions on 28 former Trump administration officials, including outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, agency reports said yesterday.

In a statement released just minutes after President Biden took office, China’s foreign ministry said it had decided to sanction those “who have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and who have been mainly responsible for such U.S. moves on China-related issues.”

The list of names features former Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar; former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro; former national security adviser Robert O’Brien; Kelly Craft, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Matthew Pottinger, who recently resigned as deputy national security adviser. Former national security adviser John Bolton and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon were also included.

The sanctions prohibit those individuals and their immediate family members from entering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao. They are also restricted from doing business with China, as are any companies or institutions associated with them.

“Over the past few years, some anti-China politicians in the United States, out of their selfish political interests and prejudice and hatred against China and showing no regard for the interests of the Chinese and American people, have planned, promoted and executed a series of crazy moves which have gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-U.S. relations,” the ministry said.

The move comes just one day after Pompeo issued a forceful statement accusing China of committing genocide against Muslim Uighurs and other minority groups in its Xinjiang region, for which the U.S. sanctioned several Chinese officials in July. That was one of numerous instances of sanctions, visa bans and trade restrictions imposed on Chinese politicians and Communist Party officials in the Trump administration’s final year.

Relations between the U.S. and China deteriorated considerably under the previous administration, which took an unusually confrontational approach. Pompeo and other officials referred to China as constituting America’s greatest threat, as NPR’s John Ruwitch has reported.

In fact, Bolton appeared to celebrate the sanction against him, calling it “great news” in a tweet posted Wednesday afternoon.

“I accept this prestigious recognition of my unrelenting efforts to defend American freedom,” he wrote.

It is unclear what changes Biden plans, but Ruwitch noted, “Even if the Biden team moves swiftly to put the U.S.-China relationship back on a less antagonistic track, Beijing will be wary after the dramatic changes of the past four years.”

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Expert Committee appointed to report on gold, copper and iron ore deposits

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By Ifham Nizam

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweeera yesterday appointed an expert committee to conduct a scientific study on the Seruwawila gold, copper and iron ore deposits.

With iron ore prices skyrocketing worldwide and both neighbouring giant India and China having huge demands, Sri Lanka was keen on tapping natural resources, an official said.  

The committee will be coordinated by an Additional Secretary to the Ministry and will be chaired by Prof. Athula Senaratne of the University of Peradeniya and its other members are H W. Navaratne, Dr. Stalin Fernando, Dr. Bernard Perera, Dr. C.H.K.R. Siriwardena and Dr. O.K. Dissanayake.

Amaraweera, addressing the media, at his Ministry yesterday said the mineral deposit had been explored in the 1970s with the help of technology available at that time, and it had been found that there was iron, copper as well as a certain amount of gold in the Seruwawila deposit.

As today’s excavation technology was very advanced, it was possible to dig up to 250-300 metres, the Minister said.

The Minister also said that all possible steps would be taken to increase the value of the mineral resources through value addition locally to ensure higher prices.

 

 

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