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Sri Lanka denies it will sign MCC deal after the elections; contradicts recent reports

FILE PHOTO US Ambassador in Sri Lanka Alaina B Teplitz/lk.usembassy.gov

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is denying reports that it will sign a controversial grant agreement with the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation after the August Parliamentary General Election.

Media Minister Bandula Gunewardena said reports that have appeared in the local media are untrue.

Opposition to the agreement known as the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) was a vital plank in the political campaign the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna ran in getting its candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa elected in November 2019.

Rajapaksa’s supporters said at the time that the then United National Party government was about to sign away the sovereignty of the country and give the US a swathe of territory cutting across the North Central part of the country.

“If that happens we would have to get visas to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Sites (in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa),” they said.

That touched a nerve in the largely Sinhala Buddhist constituency that supports Rajapaksa’s party.

So the government has been quick to deny that it was considering signing the deal.

The President has appointed a three-member committee headed by Prof. Lalith Gunaruwan of the University of Colombo to examine the agreement and in an interim report, the committee has reported that the deal violates Sri Lankan Law as well as the Constitution, Gunewardena who is also the Cabinet Spokesman said.

The reports that the government was considering signing the deal emanated from an on-line discussion US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina B. Teplitz had with a group of journalists earlier this week.

The Daily Mirror and the Colombo Gazette both quoted Teplitz as saying that a “decision on the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement will be taken after the Parliamentary election in August.”

Gunewardene said that Teplitz had, in response to a question raised by a journalist at the recent interview as to whether the government would sign the agreement had replied saying “the government’s current priorities are the election and responding to the COVID 19 crisis.”

Gunewardene said, “she did not mention the MCC deal at all.”

In a separate report, News 1st reported that in response to a question posed by them US officials had said the “Government of Sri Lanka has asked for time to review the MCC agreement, and the U.S. is respecting that request.”

They had added that “the funds will not remain available for Sri Lanka indefinitely, however.”

EconomyNext tried to contact officials at the US Embassy in Colombo for clarification but no-one was available. (Colombo, June 18, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana