MCC Could Well be in Line With U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy

BY GAGANI WEERAKOON | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 4 2020
Ceylon Politics MCC Could Well be in Line With U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy

Politicians are compelled to find novel ways to manage their campaign in the run-up to the General Election with less than a month left. While, they have to heavily depend on campaigns in cyber space, some old habits were evidently prevailing. One such trend that is heavily involved in election campaigning is slinging mud at opponents.

A slightest slip of the tongue may drag one candidate down the drain at this time and era of digital Media. Previous week, we witnessed Karuna Amman getting into such a mess by declaring he is more dangerous than Corona as he was instrumental in killing 2000-3000 Sinhalese soldiers overnight during war time. Karuna witnessed his own allies lining up to attack him and as a recovery measure, Karuna continued to drag the past into the campaign. He is witnessed putting his mind out about how President Ranasinghe Premadasa helped LTTE by providing them with latest weapons at that time, which were unfortunately used against Government Forces. 

Karuna Amman in an interview with a popular Tamil radio said the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa had offered 5,000 weapons, 10 million ammunition rounds and cash to the LTTE that was fighting the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). He said that during that time, the LTTE had a limited number of militants to fight the IPKF. 

He added that even the JVP killed nearly 80,000 civilians. “I did not say that I killed, but that was the history of the war which I quoted but it was taken out of context and used by the UNP for political gain during the General Election,” he added. 

Karuna also claimed that Tamil politicians of the likes of M.K. Sivajilingam, Selvam Adaikalanathan and R. Sampathan had spoken openly about Eelam as being the only solution.  “I have the video clips of what they had said at the Pongu Tamil celebrations that were held several years back.” 

Karuna also said that whatever is said on a political stage does not warrant an arrest. It is understood in war that there is death and sacrifice and we should respect those who sacrificed their lives, be it anyone, he noted. 

He also confirmed that Bhanu had led the war at the Elephant Pass and hoisted the LTTE flag at the end.

When questioned about him addressing the slain LTTE Leader as the national leader (Thesiya Thalaivar), he said he had spoken thus because he led a group and had also sacrificed his life in a war and that this should be respected. The President had allowed the Tamil people to light oil lamps on the death anniversary of war heroes, he noted. `

However, Leader of Samagi Jana Balawegaya Sajith Premadasa, son of late President Premadasa was not bothered to respond to these allegations. But, all these attacks may have taken a toll on him so much so that at a election rally he held an antique telephone and told his supporters “Cast your vote for the clock (Obalage watina chandaya Oralosuwata gahanna)” and this was immediately captured and circulated on all sorts of social and digital Media platforms. 

Meanwhile, Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Douglas Devananda urged the people of the North to give up the eye for an eye attitude and cast their votes in a sensible manner in order to brighten their future. 

Devananda was speaking at an Election campaign meeting of his party, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party which was organised at Kanakarayankulam in Kilinochchi on 3 July. 

Devananda said that living in the past and always recollecting the setbacks which had created immense hardship to the people in the North and East would not help to rebuild a country battered by a ruthless war. 

“We must think differently to rebuild our future. The eye for an eye attitude will only damage co-existence and reconciliation. Therefore, the people in the North and East must think wisely and cast their votes to build a new future under the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, “Devananda said. 

Referring to Japan which was devastated by America during World War II, Devananda pointed out that Japan instead of developing any form of enmity with America, built itself economically to challenge America. Therefore, the people in the North and the East should also develop themselves without adopting any form of enmity, and focus instead on their bright future, he noted.

Are PCoIs a threat?

Meanwhile, certain parties have expressed the view that, ongoing proceedings of two main Presidential Commissions, i.e., Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Political Victimisation and the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday Bomb Attacks pose a negative impact on the candidates of certain political parties.

It is also learnt that the Election Commission has also requested these Commissions to either halt proceedings or in a more practical manner to close the doors for the Media. 

 It is in this backdrop that former Solicitor General President’s Counsel Suhada Gamlath came before the PCoI on Political Victimisation and declared that former Parliamentarian Patali Champika Ranawaka, following a meeting, held during the tenure of the former United National Front-led Government, urged that incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Chairman of Avant Garde, Nissanka Senadhipathi should be arrested in relation to the Avant Garde case.

He also said that Ranawaka questioned him as to why Senadhipathi was granted his passport despite his having been indicted.

He added that the said meeting was held under the patronage of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe together with former politicians and other officials and the proceedings of certain cases, including that of the Avant Garde case, were questioned.

Gamlath added that Deputy Solicitor General Wasantha Navaratne Bandara, during the meeting, had listed out the names of six suspects, including that of Rajapaksa and Senadhipathi and requested that action be taken against them but he (Gamlath) opposed it, stating that the nature of the case was not one in which action could be taken.

He added that due to controversial opinions given by him and Bandara, Wickremesinghe stated that this issue should be addressed to former Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya, following which on 17 June 2015, Jayasuriya wrote to the IGP stating that there was no possibility of filing charges.

‘’Questioning a public official in the presence of politicians and other officials in connection with case proceedings is unethical,’’ he added, stating that he is not obliged to give away information at such meetings.

On the other hand, a former senior official of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) giving evidence before the Easter Sunday Presidential Commission said although they, on several occasions, had warned about National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim’s extremist activities to the National Security Council attended by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, proper actions were not taken in that connection.

The official had, on nine occasions, informed the need to take legal action against Zahran to Defence Secretaries who served between December 2017 and March 2019. 

Had the State Intelligence Service (SIS) shared information they had about the 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday Attacks with the DMI, the attacks could have been prevented, the former senior DMI official asserted.  

President on election campaign 

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered candidates contesting the forthcoming General Election not to use his photographs in their propaganda campaigns.

No public official serving in the Security Forces, the State Service, Corporations, Boards and statutory bodies should engage in political activities, he further instructed.

Secretary to the President, Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, in a letter sent on 1 July to all Governors, Ministry Secretaries, District and Divisional Secretaries, Heads of Corporations, Boards and Statutory Bodies and other Heads of Divisions stated that, information has been received to the effect that candidates contesting the Poll are using the photographs of the President in their campaign to secure the service of Army Officers and public officials, and to promise job appointments.

The President has instructed his Secretary to strictly advise relevant parties not to use the photograph of the President in Election campaigns and the public officials to refrain from engaging in political activities.

The Secretary in his letter, with a copy to the Chairman of the Election Commission, has instructed to ensure that all Government officials strictly follow these orders.   

This gave lead to speculations whether President Rajapaksa is going to distance himself from the election campaign. 

These speculations were also fuelled by what Prime Minister Rajapaksa recently said in Kurunegala while addressing a rally. The Prime Minister said: “I will be doing the politics. You know how hard the President works; from early in the morning until mid-night he is at work.

“He told me, aiya (elder brother) I will do the work, you do the politics and I am happy with that.” 

Nevertheless, President Rajapaksa met candidates and the public in the Anuradhapura District on Friday (3), to ensure the victory of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the upcoming election.

No to MCC

President Rajapaksa has instructed the Cabinet Ministers to present their views on the recommendations on the final report of the review committee on the proposed Millennium Challenges Corporation (MCC) at the next Cabinet meeting. Accordingly, the Cabinet Ministers are expected to submit individual reports after studying the Final Report of the Review Committee.

President Rajapaksa said this following Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa informing the Cabinet that the expert review committee that did a deep-dive into the conditions stipulated in the proposed Millennium Challenges Corporation (MCC), have clearly recommended that the present Compact Agreement with the conditions and the project framework contained in it should be rejected.

Presenting a note to Cabinet, the Premier elaborated that the Committee has also concluded that the projects ear-marked for implementation using MCC grants have components that could potentially harm Sri Lanka’s national, social and economic well-being. 

He also said the review committee has concluded that the Compact Agreement, Project Implementation Agreement, as well as draft Articles of Association of the company to be established thereto, contain clauses and provisions which could be inconsistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the legal system of the country.

The other conditions which have the potential of bearing negative implications on  national interest, sovereignty and national security, PM Rajapaksa has stated quoting the final report of the Review Committee. 

“Moreover, the Committee has specifically mentioned that, although the MCC proposal appears to be a development grant on the surface, it could well be a project proposal developed in line with the US Indo-Pacific strategy; and therefore, the possibility could not be excluded that this programme, if implemented, could become complementary to ACSA and SOFA agreements, thereby making Sri Lanka a part of the United States military strategy,” the PM has stated in the note to Cabinet. 

Meanwhile, Cabinet Ministers have also been asked to come up with their opinion, suggestions or reviews on the final report of the review committee report when they come to the next Cabinet.

The expert committee that reviewed the MCC agreement was headed by Prof. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan and had D.S. Jayaweera, Nihal Jayawardena and Nalaka Jayaweera as other members.

Meanwhile, the expert committee appointed to review the proposed MCC agreement by the President on Friday (3) held a Media conference to brief about the recommendations and concerns highlighted in the report. 

Chairman of the Committee Prof. Gunaruwan noted that the Media conference was called on the President’s request to educate the public about cons of the controversial agreement because many misconceptions about the matter are circulating in the society. 

He said that the committee recommended not signing the Millennium Challenges Corporation (MCC) compact in its current state without applying major revisions and pointed out there is no hurdle for the Government to refrain from signing the agreement.

“Some persons had told that Sri Lanka has signed two parts of the MCC agreement, so it is not easy to cancel it. That is a misconception. Those two agreements have been signed to facilitate the MCC Compact agreement. They were not parts of the agreement. Therefore, the Government can refrain from signing the agreement because no agreement has been signed thus far,” he noted. 

Those two agreements have been signed in 2017 and 2018 securing grants amounting to USD 7.4 million and USD 2.6 million, respectively. At this juncture, a reporter noted that both the Government and the US Embassy in Sri Lanka clarified that no funds were transferred. 

Prof. Gunaruwan responded: “We are not saying funds were received. We’re saying a grant was secured through an agreement, as preparatory activities. When we queried External Resources Department regarding the matter, they had failed to account for the USD 7.4 million. They failed to produce a single document to show whether the grant came or went or how it was spent. The problem here is how come they asked for another USD 2.4 million when they failed to report as to how the 1st grant was used.”

After carefully studying the proposed MCC compact agreement, the committee decided to recommend rejecting it unconditionally. The Government should not sign the agreement under its current statutes. But if the Government wants to sign it they should consider it thoroughly. We recommend that it is amended to reflect the concerns highlighted, upon obtaining a wider consensus, he added. 

Furthermore, he said that during the study, the Committee found out that there had been no significant contribution from any State body to the constraints analysis carried out for the compact in the selection of land and transport sectors for investment.

The analysis was carried out in 2016 and a report based on it was released in 2017. According to the report, six sectors had been studied and land and transport sectors were selected for investment. 

“However, we could not find evidence of any cross-sector analysis on the part of State institutions or whether they had studied the possible impact on other sectors. Although the report states that it was prepared by “the Government of Sri Lanka and the Millennium Challenges Corporation of the United States of America, in partnership with Harvard University’s Centre for International Development, for the Development of a Millennium Challenges Compact, no Sri Lankan State body was involved in preparing the report.

Speaking about other concerns, Prof. Gunaruwan noted that there is a condition to have a company limited by guarantee known as MCA to manage the funds awarded.  The presence of State officials on the MCA’s board of directors does not guarantee that it will be in the best interest of the country. One of the conditions of the MCC Compact Agreement is that no other State body has any authority over the handling of this company. Not only that, every decision made by the MCA must be with the approval of the MCC. However, in the event of any damage, the State must bear the full responsibility and the MCC will not be held liable for it,” he added, stressing that if the funds were channelled via the Treasury to the relevant Ministry – either Transport or Lands – there would be no issue.

Moreover, some stipulations of the MCC Compact Agreement would violate the Constitution of Sri Lanka as well. According to the conditions, the procurement process followed by the Sri Lankan State does not apply for MCC. The National Procurement Commission (NPC) has the authority to regulate all State procurements in the country, issue guidelines, etc. Keeping the NPC away is a grave violation of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Also, there is one line in the agreement that stipulates all the conditions met must be passed in Parliament as legislation through an act, which would require a two-thirds majority. 

Prof. Gunaruwan said that intellectual property rights for products and outputs such as transport management systems, software, etc will be held by the MCC. The MCC says that it would be implemented under the International Law but failed to define which International Laws would be applied. It is unclear as to how to resolve disputes between two parties either. 

The Committee recommended keeping the transparency regarding international agreements with the general public. 

“People should know about how these agreements operate. It is their right to know about them. So, we recommended making this report public and continuing that practice for all the international agreements. The President accepted our recommendation. The Sinhala version of our report has been already published online. It was reported that the Tamil translation would be available soon too. So, we invite the people to read them,” he requested.

BY GAGANI WEERAKOON | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 4 2020

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