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Allegation that US Envoy intervened unethically in Yugadanavi deal

16 Dec 2021

  • Cites June letter to Presidential Secretariat
  • Elle Gunawansa Thera/Cardinal raise transparency concerns
  • AG calls for petitions to be thrown out
  BY Pamodi Waravita President’s Counsel (PC) Manohara de Silva, appearing on behalf of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) unions at the hearing of the petitions against the Kerawalapitiya Yugadanavi Power Plant-related agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and a US-based energy company, has claimed that the US Ambassador made an unethical intervention regarding the said agreement last year. De Silva PC said that the cabinet memorandum regarding the matter was first presented on 14 June 2020. He added that on 22 June 2020, the US Ambassador had written a letter about it to the Presidential Secretariat. Presenting his argument in the Supreme Court (SC), de Silva PC has pointed out that this is an unethical intervention.  The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka from 2018 to October 2021 was Alaina B. Teplitz. De Silva PC has further pointed out that the agreement gives New Fortress Energy Inc. the power to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the sea closest to Colombo and the President’s house, thus affecting the country’s national security and sovereignty, as the said company could allow foreign war ships to enter the terminal as well. Moreover, de Silva PC has pointed out that New Fortress Energy Inc. has no experience in the LNG business and had deliberately misled the Cabinet of Ministers about their experience and expertise in the sector. He had further accused that the sale of shares had occurred without proper knowledge of the value of the shares, as the agreement was signed on 7 July 2021, whereas the value assessment report done by a Chief Government Assessor had only been submitted on 14 July 2021. Saliya Pieris PC, appearing on behalf of petitioners Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera and Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, has raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the agreement. He has also stressed that the agreement cannot be limited to a business agreement and that a tender procurement process not being followed is an issue. The petitions challenging the deal were called in front of a five-judge bench in the SC yesterday (16) which included Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya PC and Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare PC, Priyantha Jayawardena PC, Vijith Kumara Malalgoda PC, and L.T.B. Dehideniya. Presenting his initial arguments on behalf of the respondents, Attorney General (AG) Sanjay Rajaratnam PC has stated that the SC should reject the petitions at the outset as the New Fortress Energy Inc. Board Directors had not been made respondents in the petitions. The AG has further said that the petitions were filed after the time period for filing fundamental rights (FR) petitions have lapsed (doctrine of laches). He has further said that in matters related to the energy sector, a procurement process need not be followed. The AG has also said that the decision about the sale of shares at the Yugadanavi Power Plant is a commercial matter. Romesh De Silva PC, appearing on behalf of some of the respondents, had stated that a proper value assessment had been done prior to the sale. Gunawansa Thera, Cardinal Ranjith, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, and some office bearers of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), and other parties have filed petitions against the Government’s decision to hand over 40% of the shares of the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy Inc., along with a monopoly over supplying LNG. The Cabinet of Ministers, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, New Fortress Energy Inc., and others have been named as respondents. Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa, and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila have retained the private counsel of Uditha Egalahewa PC for the matter, as they oppose the agreement. The three ministers have already submitted a 58-page observation to the SC against the agreement. The JVP tabled a copy of the agreement in the Parliament recently where the agreement has been signed not with New Fortress Energy Inc. but the New Fortress Energy Sri Lanka Power Holdings Limited Liability Company (LLC), which is registered in the US. Further examination of the petitions has been put forward to today (17).

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