Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera - Pic by Sameera Wijesinghe
Finance Minister says MCC will be presented to Parliament for vote before signing
Requests media to enlighten public on agreement, now in public domain
Faults SLPP, leftist parties for spreading misinformation, fearmongering
Says he will quit politics if anyone can point out provision to sell land to foreigners in MCC agreement
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday said the signing of the $ 480 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement would be postponed until after the Presidential Election, and pledged to present the agreement to Parliament shortly after 16 November.
Speaking to reporters at the Finance Ministry, he explained that the MCC agreement would be presented to Parliament to be debated and voted on after the Presidential Elections. He claimed no agreement would be signed without it being passed by Parliament first. Samaraweera defended Cabinet’s approval of the MCC agreement, attributing it as a necessity before the upcoming meeting of MCC executives on 2 December, which would enable the Government to secure the funding for early next year. His comments came in the wake of protests against the MCC in front of the US Embassy yesterday.
Ududumbara Kashyapa Thero, who commenced a fast unto death campaign against the signing of the MCC at Independence Square on Tuesday, discontinued his fast that evening. The UNP on Wednesday released a letter sent to the Thero by NDF candidate Sajith Premadasa, where he pledged not to sign the agreement before 16 November, and assured that it will only be signed after it is submitted for debate within and outside Parliament.
Samaraweera also charged that the SLPP and some leftist parties were trying to sabotage the good opportunity presented to Sri Lanka in the form of the MCC grant. He called the wave of anti-MCC sentiment “anti-American rhetoric, which political parties keep in their toolbox to be employed when they are politically weak.” “The leftist parties and the Rajapaksas have time and again created fear and controversies to support their agenda,” he observed, pointing out that similar anti-American sentiments were raised when the Voice of America (VOA) station was established in 1988. “Some educated individuals, including religious leaders, were misled and protested against the VOA station, claiming that CIA and US military will set up camp there. No such thing happened, they handed over the land and left in 2011,” he added.
Samaraweera observed that similar allegations were made when the ‘Suwasariya’ Ambulance Service was proposed and established. “Some doctors and politicians said that the drivers of the ambulances will be from India, and claimed that the program will enable the Indian RAW intelligence agencies to infiltrate the country, but today, none of that happened and the service is well received,” he said.
The Minister urged media outlets to study the agreement, and enlighten the public on its contents, rather than contributing to the spread of misinformation. He also emphasised that the United States had been a friend to Sri Lanka, recalling that they were the first to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, and observed that 24.2% of Sri Lankan exports were to US markets, which is led by apparel.
He claimed that much of the misinformation being shared on social media platforms on the MCC was false, and claimed that there is no plan to allow US military forces to encamp in Sri Lanka, nor plans to sell land to Americans. The Finance Minister challenged anyone to find a provision to that effect in the agreement, and claimed that he will quit politics if such terms were to be found. The Minister charged that parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa was behind the social media campaign.
The $ 480 million grant will be used for road infrastructure development, to establish a new traffic management system for Colombo and suburbs, and to map and digitise and catalogue lands in eight districts earmarked for development, he explained. “The funds will be used for projects based on our Government’s prioritisation, which we have indicated to them,” he added. The Minister pointed out that according to a survey done by the University of Colombo, the estimated cost of congestion on the Sri Lankan economy is likely to climb to over a trillion rupees in the coming years. “This is why we prioritised a traffic management system,” he said.
Responding to a question, Samaraweera said that the agreement had an exit clause, where both parties can give 30 days’ notice and exit the agreement, if they should desire to do so.