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Government leaders disavow Yugadanavi scandal as dollar reserves drop to $ 1 billion

12 Dec 2021

  • Prez, PM signal possibility of backing out of New Fortress Energy deal
  • Cabinet divided on controversial deal; three ministers file objections before SC
  • Anura tables agreement in Parliament, exposes US company and secrecy clause
  • Govt. safely passes Budget 2022 without clarity on how to stabilise dollar reserves
  • Indian financial assistance not immediate; Cabraal to lobby Qatar, the UAE, Saudi
  • US sanctions two more Sri Lankan military officers for human rights violations
The 2022 Budget, presented by Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa in November, was passed with a two-thirds majority in Parliament last Friday (10), with 157 MPs voting in favour. The celebrations, however, did not last long, with members of the Government realising that they were yet to pass the real test – the foreign reserves crisis that has now snowballed into a series of economic crises. While President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa are focused on holding the governing alliance together, they seem to have left the issue of addressing the economic crisis to Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa who, less than six months ago, claimed that he would resolve the crisis within a matter of weeks. When the Energy Ministry announced an increase in fuel prices – an announcement that even resulted in the Energy Minister facing a no confidence motion in Parliament – Basil was not prepared to admit that the fuel price hike was essential at the time in order to minimise the pressure on the country’s dwindling foreign reserves. The Finance Minister told the governing parliamentary group at the time that the foreign reserves crisis was the fault of several government officials. Nevertheless, almost six months down the line, the country is in an even worse situation, with its foreign reserves depleting to less than the country’s import bill for one month. The monthly import bill stands at $ 1.4 billion. The usually accepted norm is for a country’s foreign reserves to hold a minimum amount equivalent to three months’ import bills. The Government also had to temporarily shut down the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery due to the foreign reserves crisis. The refinery resumed operations last Tuesday (7) after its temporary closure on 15 November. While the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MPs continuously claimed that the country’s foreign reserves had dipped to around $ 1.5 billion, including the gold reserves in November, the Government refrained from responding to the claim, stating that measures had been taken to improve the reserves. The country’s official reserves had dropped 40% between October and November. The remaining foreign currency reserves amounted to only $ 1 billion, which is sufficient to cover only around three weeks of imports, according to Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) data. However, Samurdhi, Household Economy, Microfinance, Self Employment, and Business Development State Minister Shehan Semasinghe finally admitted in Parliament last Thursday (9) that foreign reserves had indeed fallen to $ 1.5 billion in November. “Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves stood at $ 8.6 billion by end-2014, while they had dropped down to $ 7.6 billion by the end of 2019, thus resulting in an increase of foreign debt services,” he told Parliament in response to a question posed by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. According to Semasinghe, steps taken to remedy the situation included a $ 1 billion swap facility with the Central Bank of Qatar, a $ 400 million swap facility with the Reserve Bank of India through the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), and $ 300 million from the Consolidated Loan Facility. The State Minister added that the Government was also looking at securing a $ 500 million credit line from India for fuel and a $ 1 billion credit line for food and medicine, also from India, following Finance Minister Rajapaksa’s recent visit to India. The Finance Ministry maintains that Sri Lanka will receive some financial assistance from India around January 2022; Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle said the Indian assistance would most likely reach Sri Lanka in January. However, it is learnt that the Indian financial assistance might not materialise by January 2022 since the country was yet to finalise the $ 500 million Indian credit line which was requested on 20 August this year. It was The Sunday Morning that exclusively reported on 28 November that Finance Minister Rajapaksa would seek financial assistance amounting to $ 1.5 billion from India during his New Delhi visit. The Government is undoubtedly feeling the pressure on the country’s foreign reserves while also working to prevent a scenario where it would have to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to address the current economic crisis. Meanwhile, a delegation from the IMF is currently in Sri Lanka for key talks. Finance Minister Rajapaksa had said in Parliament that the delegation is having talks with the Government and is also keen to meet the Opposition. IMF Mission Chief for Sri Lanka Masahiro Nozaki had said earlier the delegation will be in Colombo to conduct 2021 Article IV consultations with Sri Lanka. Moreover, CBSL Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal was scheduled to travel to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia this weekend in search of a lifeline in the form of a financial facility.  The economic crisis will further exacerbate over the next two months due to the scheduled repayment of foreign currency loans, securities, and deposits amounting to $ 1.3 billion. These predetermined outflows include the International Sovereign Bond (ISB) repayments of $ 500 million due in January 2022. Spotlight on Yugadanavi While the country is in search of dollars, a key development project mooted by the Finance Minister continued to gather flack. The controversial deal regarding the Yugadanavi Power Plant in Kerawalapitiya, signed by the Treasury and US-based New Fortress Energy Inc. (NFE), last week, created quite a stir, even in Parliament. Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) engineers, together with the trade unions at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), had been continuously agitating against the Yugadanavi deal, claiming that it does not serve the best interest of the country. It is in this backdrop that Prime Minister Rajapaksa met with the CEB engineers on 4 December. Power Minister Gamini Lokuge and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila were also invited to attend the meeting. During the meeting, the engineers had, in detail, explained to the Prime Minister about the Yugadanavi deal and what it entailed. After listening to the engineers, the Premier had noted that he had always stood with the nationalists in the country and against anything that was detrimental to the country’s interests. He had then stated that he would not support the agreement if it paved the way for a monopoly on the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the country. The next meeting the engineers had was with President Rajapaksa last Monday (6) at 3 p.m. at the Presidential Secretariat. The President returned to the country that afternoon (Monday) after attending the Indian Ocean Conference in Abu Dhabi. The meeting with the engineers was one of the first meetings he had at his office upon his return. Said meeting had lasted nearly three hours. After hearing what the CEB engineers had to say, President Rajapaksa had said that he was not too eager to support the agreement. He had explained that his target was to ensure that 70% of the country’s power demand is met by renewable energy by 2030, and that the Yugadanavi deal resulted in the promotion of non-renewable energy generation. The President had then requested Treasury Secretary Attygalle to hold a discussion with the CEB engineers about the concerns raised by them, and with the company, to look at resolving the problems in the agreement. Afterwards, it was time for the weekly Cabinet meeting. The President, however, had requested the Prime Minister to chair the meeting, since he was exhausted after the long meetings at his office soon after he had returned from overseas. The Cabinet meeting last Monday commenced at 6 p.m. under the patronage of Prime Minister Rajapaksa. The previous week, the Cabinet decided to summon the Treasury Secretary, Power Ministry Secretary, and the CEB Chairman to explain the Yugadanavi agreement to the Cabinet. These officials were seated outside the hall where the Cabinet meeting was taking place. However, the Cabinet meeting had taken over three hours to consider the cabinet papers in the agenda, as Finance Minister Rajapaksa had taken time to explain, in detail, the difficulties faced by the Treasury and the work entailed by each cabinet paper taken up for discussion that day. A senior government minister said that it seemed the Finance Minister wanted to take a lot of time with the cabinet papers to ensure there was no time left for the presentation on the Yugadanavi agreement. When the discussion on cabinet papers concluded, the Cabinet Secretary had said that power sector officials and the Treasury Secretary were outside waiting to meet the Cabinet. Prime Minister Rajapaksa, noticing that it was past 9 p.m., had said he was also feeling tired, as the meeting had lasted over three hours, and did not think the Cabinet could spend more time listening to a presentation and discussing the agreement in detail. The Cabinet Secretary was asked to schedule another meeting with the officials. However, three ministers – Wimal Weerawansa, Gammanpila, and Vasudeva Nanayakkara – had already submitted their observations on the Yugadanavi agreement to be taken up for discussion with the officials. Several other cabinet ministers had already made public statements, saying they would not support any agreement that was not beneficial to the country. It is learnt that with the President, Prime Minister, and senior cabinet ministers expressing concerns over the Yugadanavi deal, Treasury Secretary Attygalle and CEB Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando were now feeling the pressure of becoming the ultimate scapegoats in this sordid drama. The following day, Cabinet Co-Spokesman and Plantation Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana told the media that news reports which state that details about the agreement between NFE and the Treasury Department cannot be revealed for two years, were false. “It is untrue that details of the deal with New Fortress Energy Inc. cannot be revealed until two years elapse. Details and concerns about this have also been discussed in recent discussions between the CEB engineers and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. In the future, further discussions will be done regarding this with CEB employees,” Dr. Pathirana added at the cabinet press briefing. Agreement tabled Nevertheless, JVP Leader Dissanayake, last Friday (10), took everyone by surprise when he showed up at Parliament brandishing a copy of the controversial Yugadanavi agreement that the Government had tried hard to keep under wraps. Dissanayake claimed that he had in his possession a copy of the agreement that had not been presented to Parliament despite many requests by Opposition members, and that he was tabling the agreement in Parliament. Dissanayake’s actions resulted in the “secret” deal becoming a public document. While tabling the purported agreement to Parliament, Dissanayake alleged that the controversial agreement was in violation of the approval received by the Cabinet. He explained that the Cabinet had granted approval to the Treasury to sign an agreement with NFE, but that the agreement had been signed with one NFE Sri Lanka Power Holdings LLC, whose registered office is at 1209 Orange Street, Wilmington, DE 19801, US. “This is in violation of the approval received by the Cabinet,” Dissanayake charged. When inquired about this issue, a senior government minister agreed with the point raised by Dissanayake, and noted that the agreement should be considered null and void. Dissanayake also noted that NFE Sri Lanka Power Holdings LLC was incorporated in the state of Delaware in the US, and was therefore not a local business entity that had partnered with the US company. Another cause for concern was the confidentiality clause in the agreement. According to Clause 13(1), the agreement cannot be publicised for a period of two years, and it could only be publicised with the consent of all parties concerned. Clause 13(1) stated: “For a period commencing on the date hereof and expiring two years thereafter, each party undertakes to the other party that, subject to Clause 13.2, it shall not, and shall procure that its affiliates shall not, except with the prior written consent of the other party, disclose to any person any information (whether written, visual, or oral) relating to the terms of this agreement and any other transaction documents or the subject matter thereof.” Earlier in the week, he told Parliament that Power Minister Lokuge was delaying and now evading tabling the agreement, claiming that six weeks had passed since requesting Lokuge to table the agreement that was signed between the Government of Sri Lanka and NFE in regards to the Yugadanavi Power Plant. “I requested that the agreement that was signed between the Sri Lankan Government and New Fortress Energy company be tabled in Parliament. We have the right to know the details in the agreement. Also, public finances should be discussed in Parliament. This deal includes public finances, so it is right for the public to know the truth. Ever since I asked for this agreement to be tabled in Parliament, Gamini Lokuge had not turned up in Parliament, and I have a feeling he is evading this,” Dissanayake said. Dissanayake then stated that there were rumours that the agreement stated that it would not be disclosed to the public until two years had passed. “We want to know if this was true or not. Lokuge spoke openly to the media as well saying that he would table the agreement, yet now he seems to have gone missing,” he said. Additionally, Dissanayake stated that it was vital that the Government understands that the public should be kept informed on financial dealings which pertain to public funds. “Gamini Lokuge must remember that although he is the Minister of Power and he has a portfolio, he is dealing with public finances, and there should be some accountability. He must remember that these dealings cannot be hidden from the public. I was informed that the agreement would be presented at the Cabinet meeting, whereas, to date, nothing has been done,” Dissanayake stated. United National Party (UNP) Leader MP Ranil Wickremesinghe also called on Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to issue a directive to Finance Ministry Secretary Attygalle to hand over copies of the signed Yugadanavi deal agreement to Parliament. Wickremesinghe pointed out that it was futile to raise the matter with Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who he said “doesn’t even attend budget debates”, and suggested to the Speaker that Attygalle, who signed the deal, present copies of it in Parliament. “If the directive can be issued by the Speaker, the Finance Ministry Secretary can hand over a copy as early as tomorrow,” he had added. SC case this week Meanwhile, a five-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, is to hear the fundamental rights (FR) petitions filed against the Yugadanavi deal on Thursday (16) and Friday (17). The petitions have further divided the Government, with three senior Cabinet Ministers – Gammanpila, Weerawansa, and Nanayakkara – making a 58-page observation against the agreement signed by the Government, while the rest of the cabinet ministers had presented affidavits through the Attorney General (AG) that the controversial agreement was properly approved by the Cabinet of Ministers. The three Ministers, in their objections, had pointed out that the Finance Minister had not presented a cabinet paper on the matter during the Cabinet meeting. Stating that the tender process had already been announced for the project, they said attempts that were underway to give the contract to a company that had not applied through the usual process, was a violation of the law. The Ministers further pointed out that said company had been established in 2018, and had no knowledge of LNG. They had also stressed the risks of handing over the country’s gas production to a foreign entity. The petitions against the deal were filed by Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the SJB, and several trade unions. Meanwhile, trade unions representing the CEB, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), and the CPC held a massive protest in Colombo last Wednesday (8) against what they claimed were plans by the Government to sell national resources, and the agreement executed with US-based New Fortress Energy Inc. on the Yugadanavi Power Plant. The main demonstration of the protest was held in front of the Colombo Fort Railway Station, after which they marched towards the Presidential Secretariat at Galle Face Green. There, several trade union representatives had the opportunity to hold discussions with officials of the Presidential Secretariat. Speaking to the media after the discussion, CEB Joint Trade Union Alliance (CEBJTUA) Convenor Ranjan Jayalal said that a petition signed by employees of the CEB, SLPA, and CPC, against the sale of national resources, was handed over to the Presidential Secretariat officials. “Senior Assistant Secretary to the President Malkanthi Rajapaksa and a group of officials had a lengthy discussion with us. They listened to us very attentively. In particular, the CPC trade union leaders informed them about the massive deal going on at the CPC, and the SLPA trade union representatives informed the officials of the plans to sell the 13-acre land owned by the SLPA,” he said. He further said that the officials of the Presidential Secretariat had promised to give them an opportunity to hold discussions with President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Rajapaksa within one week. Taking a step back Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rajapaksa had managed to keep the governing alliance intact, at least for the time being. Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) National Organiser and Finance Minister Rajapaksa had told the SLPP parliamentary group that the support of coalition partners, including the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), was important to ensure the smooth functioning of the Government. Basil had made this observation during a meeting for SLPP members in Parliament, presided by Prime Minister Rajapaksa at Temple Trees on 4 December. Only SLPP members were invited for the meeting. It is learnt that Basil had addressed the gathering for about 40 minutes. He had pointed out that he would not respond to criticisms levelled against him, as it was important to keep the peace. Basil had further noted that despite the bitter memories of the past, which resulted in him still facing criminal trials, he was focused on moving forward. According to Basil, development programmes alone would not ensure electoral victories. “If that was the case, then Mahinda Rajapaksa would have won the 2015 presidential election,” he had said. The meeting that had commenced around 6 p.m. had concluded past 10 p.m. and the Prime Minister had hosted all those who attended the meeting for a dinner. The Finance Minister was earlier of the belief that the SLPP needed to build itself as the single most powerful party in the country without depending on any coalition partners. The Government’s key coalition partner, the SLFP, last week stated that decisions cannot be made in a rush, and that foresight is needed if the party is to leave the Government. The statement was made by SLFP General Secretary State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara. “Many members of the party are asking us to leave the coalition. We haven’t thought of leaving the coalition yet. Let’s see how it goes. The SLFP must become stronger and rebuild the lower ranks and structures. Then we can decide on the next step,” Jayasekara told the media last week. He further added that the party foundation needs to be strong if the SLFP is to leave the coalition and move forward independently. “This Government was formed in 2020, and there is a total of five years to remain in Parliament. During this period, there might be various disagreements and opinions, so the future is still not predictable,” he said. Jayasekara also said that if the Government is considering pushing the SLFP out of the coalition, it might not be easy. “It is not only the 14 SLFP members that are within the coalition that will be kicked out; there are 12 other parties within the coalition. We also have people who are not in Parliament but are ardent supporters. They are also very unhappy about the biased treatment. So, when the time comes, we will have to see how it goes,” Jayasekara concluded. Meanwhile, SLFP Leader and former President Maithripala Sirisena, last week, hinted at extending support to a new united front. He had noted that such a front must be formed to address the critical issues in the country. Sirisena had told the media that instead of pointing fingers and blaming anyone, a new front must be formed to face the issues faced by the country. He had further stated that the new front should be formed by politicians and others who love the country and are not corrupt. According to Sirisena, the time has come for such a force to be formed for the future of the country. He added that the SLFP was currently undergoing extensive reforms, and had appointed new electoral organisers to build the party’s grassroots level activities. Agitations all over Over 600,000 state-sector employees attached to the Sri Lanka Government Officers’ Trade Union Association (SLGOTUA) engaged in a one-day strike last Wednesday, claiming that the Government had failed to respond to their request to increase the salaries of public servants in line with the rising cost of living. SLGOTUA National Organiser B.A.P. Basnayake had told the media: “The cost of living has risen to an unbearable level at present. We have, therefore, repeatedly called on the Government to increase the salaries of public servants by at least Rs. 18,000, but so far, the Government has failed to find a solution. At the very least, the Government has not even given us an opportunity to discuss our demands with the authorities. In addition, the retirement age for public servants has been extended to 65 years. In protest over all these matters, more than 600,000 public servants did not report for duty and were on sick leave.” Basnayake said that the SLGOTUA had made requests to President Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Rajapaksa, and Finance Minister Rajapaksa on five separate occasions to increase the salaries of all public servants as a solution to the rising cost of living. “Nearly a month has passed since the first request was made, but the Government has so far failed to find a solution or discuss the matter with public servants. We, therefore, decided to apply for leave and not report to work on the 8th. In addition, we had planned to hold a protest near the Parliament roundabout with the participation of a large number of public servants,” he had said. According to Basnayake, grama niladharis, development officers, agricultural research officers, and other field officers representing several state institutions will be engaged in these trade union actions while the trade unions operating within the Sri Lanka Postal Department and the SLPA had also expressed their support. However, Treasury Secretary Attygalle had said there was no possibility of raising public sector salaries under the present circumstances and had called on the public servants who are demanding a salary increase to suggest how to obtain the necessary monies to make such a hike. SJB boycott Last week was also an action-packed week in Parliament, with Opposition MPs boycotting proceedings till last Wednesday. SJB MPs boycotted parliamentary sessions last Monday and Tuesday in protest over an attempt by a governing party MP to assault an SJB MP on 4 December and calling on the Speaker to ensure the safety of Opposition legislators in the House. SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara stated that the SJB MPs had engaged in the protest, refusing to enter Parliament until their safety was assured. The SJB MPs returned to Parliament on Wednesday after a discussion with the Speaker the previous day. The SJB, last week, also wrote to the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), calling on the two organisations to intervene and take measures to safeguard parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka by preventing the alleged undemocratic actions by the Government of Sri Lanka. In the letters dated 6 December and signed by SJB MP and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, the SJB had called on the IPU and CPA Secretary Generals to “intervene to take all the measures required to prevent any further undemocratic actions by the Government and to safeguard parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka”. Kiriella also alleged that the government MP’s conduct was a serious threat to parliamentary democracy and the traditions of Sri Lanka, and in turn posed a grave danger to the Opposition MP’s safety. SJB MPs were absent in Parliament last week after the party’s MPs staged a walkout on 4 December over the alleged attempt by State Minister Kanchana Wijesekera to assault SJB MP Manusha Nanayakkara regarding a statement made by the latter about an alleged act of corruption by Wijesekera. Speaker Abeywardena last Monday announced that a committee comprising senior members from the Government and the Opposition would be appointed to investigate the alleged unruly behavior of MPs in the House on 3 and 4 December. The committee is chaired by Deputy Speaker Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, and the other members are Ministers Chamal Rajapaksa, Dr. Bandula Gunawardana, and Vasudeva Nanayakkara; State Minister Susil Premajayantha; Government MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa; and Opposition MPs Madduma Bandara, Gayantha Karunatilleka, Rauff Hakeem, Vijitha Herath, and M.A. Sumanthiran PC. Meanwhile, JVP Leader Dissanayake stated that the appointment of the said committee would serve no purpose, as several such committees had been appointed in the past to look into certain incidents but had failed to take any action against those involved in such. “Through the appointment of this type of committee, these issues will be overshadowed by time. That is what we have experienced over the past. Therefore, what you (Speaker) have to do is not appoint committees. You are the competent authority in Parliament. So, instead of passing the issue here and there, watch the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage related to the events on 3 and 4 December and resolve the issue,” he told the Speaker. Meanwhile, the SJB, which attended the parliamentary session on Wednesday after a three-day boycott over the incidents in question, warned that they would go before the Supreme Court if the Speaker did not issue an order on the incidents in addition to the aforesaid committee’s appointment. Prime Minister Rajapaksa, who had arrived in Parliament, was also seen talking to the protesting SJB parliamentarians. The Prime Minister is reported to have reminded MP Dr. Rajitha Senaratne that the issue which the SJB MPs were currently protesting over was the same issue that he had protested over years ago.  The Premier had later revealed that he had informed the MPs that they needed more parliamentarians than were present in order to stage a successful protest. He had added that he had reminisced with the parliamentarians he had worked with on similar protests. The boycott took place after Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella called on Speaker Abeywardena on 4 December to ensure the safety of Opposition MPs in the House and claimed the SJB would not attend sessions until the Speaker could ensure the safety of Opposition MPs.   Earlier on the same day, Kiriella had raised objections to the manner in which the Speaker had ordered the disconnection of the mic when Nanayakkara was speaking in the Chamber the previous day. Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando claimed that MP Nanayakkara ran to the Chair, threatening the Speaker on Friday (3), after the latter imposed a time limit for the debate in the House. Speaking in Parliament on the 4th, Fernando said: “The CCTV footage of the incident would provide evidence and prove the aggressive behaviour of MP Nanayakkara and how he turned violent after the Speaker ruled against additional time. MP Nanayakkara ran to the Chair menacingly and it is our duty to protect the Speaker. I went there to defend the Speaker. An MP has no right to threaten the Speaker or a presiding member. Some of those in the Opposition seem to think that they are the governing party in this Parliament when they make threats and demands to the Speaker.” However, the alleged assault attempt that Saturday evening resulted in the walkout. Meanwhile, the ruling party MPs, in response, accused Nanayakkara of making false allegations in Parliament and called for an inquiry against him. US cracks the whip Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs had written to US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, urging the State Department to focus on a “durable political solution” which provides “meaningful devolution of power in an undivided Sri Lanka”. “We strongly urge the State Department to refocus its efforts in Sri Lanka to emphasise the importance of a substantive and durable political solution. The US has rightly championed justice and human rights in Sri Lanka. Advancing these values will require solutions to political questions that remain unanswered years after the end of the civil war, including the meaningful devolution of power in an undivided Sri Lanka,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory W. Meeks had said in his letter to Blinken. During their recent visit to the US, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians M.A. Sumanthiran PC and Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, along with representatives of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), met with a number of senior US political figures, including members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. “The particular focus of the current engagement was to call for a proactive US Government role in promoting a holistic approach to reconciliation, which would include addressing the root cause of conflict and human rights violations, and the denial of political rights to the Tamil people. The delegation emphasised that addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, dignity, and meaningful power devolution is critical in guaranteeing non-recurrence of history,” the GTF said in a statement at the time. In what is unlikely to have been a coincidence, last Friday, Blinken announced targeted sanctions against two Sri Lankan military officers for “gross violations of human rights”. The two are Navy Lieutenant Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, who is on trial for abducting 11 youths for ransom in Colombo and murdering the children after the ransom was paid, and former Army Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, whose unanimous conviction by a three-judge Trial-at-Bar for murdering several Tamil civilians in cold blood, including an infant, was upheld unanimously by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court before he was granted a full pardon by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last year.  The State Department, announcing the sanctions, referred to Hettiarachchi as “a Sri Lankan naval intelligence officer, for his involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely, the flagrant denial of the right to liberty of at least eight ‘Trincomalee 11’ victims, from 2008 to 2009”, and to Ratnayake as “a former Staff Sergeant in the Sri Lanka Army, for his involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely the extrajudicial killings of at least eight Tamil villagers in December 2000”. In an ominous signal of more similar measures to come, the release vaguely stated: “The designation of these two Sri Lankan individuals is not the only action we are taking in support of accountability for gross violations of human rights in Sri Lanka.”  Meanwhile, the TNA had continued to complement its campaign of international activism with domestic advocacy on the floor of Parliament.  Speaking in Parliament on 4 December, Sumanthiran raised concerns that the Government was promising devolution of power internationally, whilst promoting the concept of “one country, one law” domestically. Sumanthiran had said: “While to the world you say that you will enhance devolution and settle this matter once and for all, something else is being said domestically. A slogan titled ‘one country, one law’ is being projected. If ‘one country, one law’ is to become reality, then there cannot be any legislative power in the provinces. How can provinces exercise legislative powers if there is going to be ‘one country, one law’? As it is in our Constitution, there is legislative power devolved to the provinces; on some matters exclusively to the provinces, and therefore, there cannot be one law for the entire country. “The promise to India and to the world has been that you will enhance that power of devolution. That there will be more devolution. That the 13th Amendment would be implemented in full, but it doesn’t stop there. It says ‘and building upon it, so as to achieve meaningful devolutions, conceding thereby that even the 13th Amendment to the Constitution does not confer a meaningful scheme of devolution, that it must go beyond that’.” Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris said last month that a draft of a new constitution, as formulated by a nine-member expert committee, will be presented in Parliament in early January 2022.


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