(Text of Editorial appearing in “The Morning”of December 13th 2021 under the Heading The Yugadanavi exposé and a Government exposed’)
The controversial Yugadanavi agreement, to which only select members of the Government were privy, is no longer a secret.
Last week, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP) Leader and Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake revealed the agreement, which the Government has shown a reluctance to publicise despite mounting demands and criticism. Following the stunning exposé, the implications of certain clauses of the agreement and the party with which it has been signed, have intensified the criticism against the Government and the agreement.
The Government’s response to this criticism has been muddled. While some backbenchers have claimed that they had not read the agreement and were not aware of the contents of the agreement, Minister Wimal Weerawansa claimed that not only was the agreement presented to the Cabinet two weeks ago, but that it was also reviewed and discussed, which led to the identification of detrimental and questionable clauses about which Weerawansa said that he had raised concerns about in writing. However, Minister Johnston Fernando said that he had not seen the agreement and that there is no particular need for him to read it as he has absolute confidence in the Government.
These statements come in a context where three members of the Government and of the Cabinet, namely Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Udaya Gammanpila, have filed objections in the Supreme Court (SC) in support of the Fundamental Rights (FR) petitions that have been filed with regard to the agreement through their personal lawyers.
One of the major revelations made by Dissanayake when tabling the Yugadanavi agreement in Parliament was that it has been signed with a company by the name of New Fortress Energy Sri Lanka Power Holding based in Delaware, USA, when Cabinet approval was granted for an agreement to be entered into with New Fortress Energy Inc.
Furthermore, confirming speculation that the agreement could not be made public for a period of two years, Dissanayake revealed that the agreement contains a non-disclosure clause which prevents either Sri Lanka, or New Fortress Energy Sri Lanka Power Holding, from revealing anything pertaining to the agreement for a period of two years without the consent of both the parties.
All this begs the question as to where transparency and accountability is on the part of the Government regarding an agreement of this magnitude, which is crucial not only as an agreement that can have a direct and irreversible impact on the country’s power sector, but also as a move, which, according to Gammanpila, can jeopardise the country’s sovereignty in the near future.
Essentially, the exposure of the agreement changed the discourse on whether the Government can sign an agreement without a consultative process with the participation of all the relevant parties, to a controversy surrounding as to why the Government would suggest, or agree to, a non-disclosure clause which prevents the citizens of the country and other lawmakers from learning what the Government has actually agreed to.
The common question many who criticise the Government’s intentions ask is, how public representatives can enter into agreements on behalf of the Government if the public is not made aware of the contents and the implications of such.
Furthermore, the aforementioned contradictory statements demonstrate the Government’s unwillingness to admit the fact that its actions with regard to the agreement have shown a disregard for accountability and transparency.
Thus far, the Government has not challenged or denied the allegations that the agreement contains clauses which can be detrimental to the country, nor has it rejected the existence of the non-disclosure clause the agreement tabled by Dissanayake contained. However, almost all members of the Government seem to be defending the Government, and evading their responsibility to answer the questions raised by the people, the civil society and the Opposition parties, by saying that they were not aware of the questionable clauses.
If this is how the Government deals with the public furore resulting from the agreement, and justifies its lack of accountability and transparency, it paints an incorrect picture about the Government’s role. The least it can do is respond to the people’s questions responsibly and honestly.
The matter has been taken to the SC, and the outcome, or the SC’s verdict, would be a landmark decision in the history of public private partnerships (PPP) and energy sector contracts in Sri Lanka, as this matter pertains to a number of aspects regarding public representatives accountability, the country’s sovereignty, and also, the public’s power in a democratic governing system.
Courtesy: The Morning