By Shamindra Ferdinando
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had assured the Cabinet of ministers that his government wouldn’t sign the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) agreement, National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa yesterday (29) said. The Cabinet had received that assurance before US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo arrival in Colombo on Tuesday, 27, he added.
Addressing the media at the NFF party office at Pitakotte, Minister Weerawansa said the issue had been discussed at length at the Cabinet before the arrival of Secretary of State Pompeo.
Weerawansa said the NFF wouldn’t remain in the govenrment if it signed MMC agreement, which he said, was detrimential to Sri Lanka’s interests.
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, is yet to give his opinion on the MCC though the government-appointed Prof. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan’s Committee strongly recommended that Sri Lanka reject the proposed agreement in its current form.
The Attorney General’s Department refrained from giving its opinion to the Gunaruwan Committee in spite of a request made through the Prime Minister’s Office, The Island learns.
The NFF group in the SLPP parliamentary group consists of six lawmakers, including one National List MP Mohammed Muzammil, who was present at yesterday’s briefing.
Referring to India and US signed pact finalized on Tuesday (27) to share ‘geospatial intelligence’, paving the way for deeper military cooperation between the two countries, Minister Weerawansa claimed that India seemed to be under far stronger US pressure than Sri Lanka. Foreign media reported the agreement would provide India’s armed forces access to data from U.S. military satellites to facilitate targeting and navigation.
Colombo District MP appreciated President Gotabaya Rajapaksas’s declaration, in his talks with the US official that Sri Lanka wouldn’t compromise independence and sovereignty and remained neutral and non-aligned in its foreign policy.
Minister Weerawansa said that soon after the US announced Pompeo’s visit in the wake of the high profile meeting the President had with the top Chinese delegation, Sajith Premadasa’s SJB, the JVP and politically bankrupt UNP launched a campaign over Pompeo’s visit. They used both mainstream and social media to convince the public Pompeo was here to sign both MCC and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement), MP Weerawansa said. They campaigned on the premise that the signing of MCC and SOFA was to take place secretly.
The NFF leader said those who had been propagating lies were all members of the UNP-led yahapalana administration that invited the then US Secretary of State John Kerry. Lawmaker Weerawansa alleged that they didn’t utter a word. Instead, they welcomed Kerry in May 2015. None of them could remember, the yahapalana government entered into ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) in the first week of August 2017, minister Weerawansa said.
Minister Weerawansa pointed out in spite of the controversial agreement; the JVP remained strongly aligned with the UNP-led administration throughout.
In the run-up to the last presidential election, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, in response to The Island query at Temple Trees media briefing said that the MCC would be signed.
Minister Weerawansa said that if not for the change of government last November, the UNP would have certainly finalized the MCC by now. The minister pointed out that the previous government also discussed SOFA with the US and was busy making preparations for the finalization of MCC when the parliament was dissolved.
Pompeo was previously scheduled to visit Colombo in June 2019 ahead of the last presidential election.
Responding to another query, Minister Weerawansa said that the SJB, the JVP and the UNP obviously prayed for the US to pressure Sri Lanka over MCC and SOFA. The NFF leader said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strength to face international pressure and unlike the treacherous previous UNP-led government remained committed to non-aligned foreign policy.
Minister Weerawansa said that the government was pursuing transparent foreign policy. Both the President and the Foreign Minister, in no uncertain terms reiterated Sri Lanka’s stand during the US Secretary of State’s visit. The minister said that the Opposition appeared to have really believed the government was to align with the US led coalition against China.