Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Why only PK being blamed for facilitating US projects



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, and one-time Foreign Secretary, Prasad Kariyawasam, are under heavy fire for being involved in a high profile US project. Kariyawasam was replaced by another career diplomat Ravinatha Aryasinha, in Nov 2018. Soon after retirement, Kariyawasam received a lucrative assignment, courtesy the US.

 Former President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and Joint Opposition (JO) Leader in Parliament, Dinesh Gunawardena, last week sought an explanation from Speaker Jayasuriya as to how US government employee Kariyawasam functioned as an advisor to Speaker Jayasuriya.

 The JO also sought an explanation from Speaker Jayasuriya as to why Brigadier Chula Seneviratne, Director, Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), was called in to brief a group of envoys, representing Islamic countries, as regards the post-Easter Sunday attacks situation. Speaker Jayasuriya defended his position in respect of both issues during an exchange with the JO in Parliament though no reference was made to the US company involved in the project.

Both Rajapaksa and Gunawardena strongly objected to Speaker Jayasuriya depending on a person, paid by the US.

 Kariyawasam earned the wrath of the JO/SLPP and various other interested parties. They accused him of promoting US interests, both in and outside parliament. The JO/SLPP reacted to Kariyawasam’s new role as if the US project got underway recently. They conveniently forgot the US role in the change of government, in January 2015. No less a person than the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who visited Colombo,, in May 2015, is on record as having said that the US funded restoration of democracy (read change of governments) in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, to the tune of USD 585 mn.

 The JO never really raised this issue with the ineffectual Election Commission and in Parliament.

 In response to the JO criticism in parliament, the Speaker revealed that as much as Rs. 2,000mn had been received to implement a programme to strengthen democracy. An investigation is certainly required to examine how funds, made available, were spent because four years after the change of government, the parliament is in a ‘dilapidated’ state with many members under a cloud over waste, corruption and irregularities. The President, Maithripala Sirisena ,himself, accused Parliament of deliberately delaying the debate on thePresidential Bond Commission report. Parliament received the report in January 2018.

The controversial Parliament project is implemented by Maryland headquartered Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI), to reform Sri Lanka’s public sector, in accordance with an agreement between Sri Lanka and the House Democracy Partnership of the US House of Representatives.

Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) worth Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) is first of its kind implemented in Sri Lanka. Parliament owed an explanation as to how this project benefited the country.

Speaker Jayasuriya recently declared his readiness to become their candidate at the 2019 presidential election. Therefore, the former UNP Deputy Leader should expect unrelenting attacks on him. Kariyawasam, now under a cloud over his role in expediting the controversial Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), finalized in Aug 2018, has been caught up in a heavy confrontation between the UNP and the JO, flexing their muscles in the run up tothe presidential election. Jayasuriya received the attention of the electorate, and the international community, for leading an unprecedented counter attack that reversed the UPFA project to take control of the government. Jayasuriya played a significant role in thwarting the Oct 2018 constitutional coup. The former UNP Deputy Leader’s role earned him an opportunity to come forward as the next presidential candidate. However, the party is still divided over its choice with incumbent Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa’s name, too, being increasingly mentioned as a likely candidate.

The battle over US influencing Sri Lanka’s Parliament is taking place in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election. A few weeks ago, a top Colombo based US diplomat told a selected group of journalists, representing both privately and state-owned media, the US expected Sri Lanka to remain committed to agreements between the two, regardless of the outcome of the poll. Leaders of our political parties seen unaware of this warning.

Kariyawasam cannot be faulted for pursuing UNP policy, since January 2015, for obvious reasons. Kariyawasam’s role in ACSA ,as well as taking up appointment as Speaker’s advisor, should be examined against the backdrop of the yahapalana foreign policy. President Maithripala Sirisena, cannot absolve himself of culpability, for the current crisis, as his UPFA remained in government till Oct 2018. Even after the UPFA (read as SLFP lawmakers loyal to President Sirisena) quit the government, President Sirisena, in his capacity as the President, remains the head of the cabinet. Therefore, there cannot be any dispute as regards the responsibility/culpability of the UNP and the UPFA. Failure on the part of the government to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks is a case in point. Instead of trying to blame each other, President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe should accept responsibility for the government failure to thwart theEaster attacks. Let us get back to the US project meant to influence Sri Lanka’s Parliament.

 The writer dealt the US project on several occasions and also discussed the issue at hand with Faraz Shauketaly both on ‘Hot Seat’ and ‘News Line.’ The JO/SLPP never felt the need to take up the US ,or any other project, involving foreign governments. The JO owed the public an explanation as to why the grouping never took up thehigh profile US project until now. Better late than never.

The following front-page story, headlined ‘Private US company chosen for public sector reform here,’ with strap line ‘USD 13 mn project in collaboration with Parliament’ published on January 02, 2017 dealt with the US project: The US has chosen Maryland headquartered Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI), to implement a mega project meant to reform Sri Lanka’s public sector, in accordance with an agreement between Sri Lanka and the House Democracy Partnership of the US House of Representatives.

Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) worth Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) is first of its kind implemented in Sri Lanka.

The US embassy in Colombo confirmed that DAI would work closely with the Parliament, Independent Commissions and related ministries.

DAI operates in Asia, the Pacific, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, West Asia, North Africa, as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.

The project has been finalized by a parliamentary delegation, led by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya during a visit to Washington in September 2016. The delegation comprised Ajith P. Perera, Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Karunaratne Paranavithane, Deputy Minister of Parliament Reform and Mass Media, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, State Minister of City Planning and Water Supply, and Dhammika Dassanayake, Secretary General of Parliament. The delegation was joined by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States of America, Prasad Kariyawasam.

According to the US embassy, the House Democracy Partnership of the U.S. House of Representatives was currently implementing projects in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Colombia, Georgia, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Macedonia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Timo-Leste and Ukraine.

The US embassy said that SDGAP was subject to the laws and regulations of the United States, with oversight from USAID’s Office of Inspector General. "The project is also subject to the bilateral agreement between the United States and Sri Lanka," the embassy said.

 The Island sought explanation from the US embassy as regards the USAID project.

 The Island: When will you be releasing the first tranche of Rs. 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) allocated for three year Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) here?

 US embassy: USAID allocated the initial USD 3 million for the USD 13.7 million Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) in September of 2016 and the programme was launched in November of 2016. The project will help the Government of Sri Lanka to increase transparency and accountability, advance good governance reforms, and strengthen systems and processes for public accountability, financial management, policy development and implementation. The project also supports the government to strengthen communication with citizens, include the public in policy-making, and increase the participation of women in political processes.

 The Island: On behalf of GoSL who will receive the funds and be responsible for the utilization of funds?

 US embassy: SDGAP will be implemented by Development Alternatives, Inc., in close collaboration with the Sri Lanka Parliament, Independent Commissions, and other related Ministries.

The Island: Can you please name the other countries accommodated in United States’ House Democracy Partnership programme?

The US embassy: Sri Lanka is the 18th country to become a member of the House Democracy Partnership.  The Sri Lanka Parliament and the House Democracy Partnership of the U.S. House of Representatives launched a Collaboration Agreement to strengthen partnership between the two legislatures on September 14th, in Washington D.C.

The Island: Will the SDGAP project be subjected to Sri Lanka’s Auditor General’s purview?

US embassy: Since funding for SDGAP is provided from the United States Government, it is subject to the laws and regulations of the United States, with oversight from USAID’s Office of Inspector General. It is also subject to the bilateral agreement between the United States and Sri Lanka. Notably, USAID also has projects that work directly with the Auditor General’s Office on procurement reform, the Parliamentary Committees on Public Accounts and Public Enterprises, the National Procurement Commission, and others to support transparency, accountability, and capacity development.

The Island: Did US provide funds for a similar project to any previous GoSL?

 US embassy: Since 1956, the United States has provided over $2 billion in assistance in a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, small business development, environment, health, education, infrastructure, transportation, humanitarian assistance, civil society development, electoral reform, and good governance. Following the January 2015 elections, new programmes like SDGAP reflect the U.S. government’s promises to support the vision of the Sri Lankan people of a peaceful, democratic, and inclusive country. SDGAP follows on the successes of a previous programme that provided short-term technical assistance to the Sri Lanka Parliament.

 The Island: Is continuation of funding subjected to implementation of SDGAP as scheduled?

 US embassy: SDGAP has a total estimated cost of USD 13.7 million. Future obligations to the project will be done subject to the availability of funding and in accordance with the contract documents with Development Alternatives, Inc.

Kariyawasam received appointment as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador, in Washington, in July 2014. The posting was cleared by the Parliamentary High Post Committee, chaired by the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. There couldn’t have been a better person for Washington. The experienced career diplomat succeeded political appointee Jaliya Wickremasuriya (2008-2014), close relative of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now held in the US over alleged financial crimes. Wickremasuriya should never have been given such a long stint there under any circumstances. Kariyawasam took over the mission during an extremely delicate time with the US undermining the then government. President Rajapaksa’s relationship with China antagonized both the US and India. They worked overtime to bring an end to the Rajapaksa administration. They succeeded in 2015, though 2010 project failed. The US was desperate to get rid of Rajapaksa, and it thew its full weight behind General Sarath Fonseka, at the presidential poll, in spite of its own Ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, naming the war-winning Army Chief as a war criminal. They went to the extent of forcing the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to campaign for Fonseka, in spite of having accused his army of killings thousands of civilians and battlefield executions of surrendered LTTE cadres.

With the change of government in Sri Lanka in 2015, foreign policy underwent a drastic change. Kariyawasam, though receiving appointment from the previous administration, had no option but to follow the treacherous yahapalana foreign policy. Having withheld support for the successful war effort that culminated with the eradication of the LTTE, in May 2009, the UNP fully cooperated with Western efforts to blame Sri Lanka for war crimes. The Foreign Service officers are duty bound to follow political directives or face the consequences. Kariyawasam followed directives from Colombo. All missions did the same. Those who head missions now do the same whatever they say in individual capacity.

During Kariyawasam’s tenure in Washington (July 2014-July 2017), Sri Lanka reached a controversial tripartite agreement with the US and the TNA on an accountability mechanism. The cabinet and the Parliament were never briefed of the proposed accountability mechanism. The accord remained secret until TNA heavyweight, Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, revealed it. The revelation was made in June 2016, in Washington, at the ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka.’

Sumanthiran told the Washington gathering that the Geneva Resolution was adopted on Oct 01, 2015, following an understanding that the participation of foreigners, in an accountability mechanism, wouldn’t be contrary to Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Declaring that he had been personally involved in the negotiations with the US and also participated in that particular process, Sumanthiran said: "There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can."

To Sumanthiran’s credit, he never contradicted his own statement like many other politicians. It is certainly a commendable trait.

Sumanthiran told the Congressional Caucus that the resolution accepted at Geneva had been negotiated by them (US, Sri Lanka and the TNA). Both Sumanthiran and UK-based spokesperson for the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Suren Surendin, have said they settled for a hybrid model though they originally asked for an international inquiry.

In his brief remarks at the Washington event, Ambassador Kariyawasam provided an overview of the measures taken by Sri Lanka to promote its two-pronged policy of reconciliation and development, since the January 2015 election of the current government, and reiterated, in detail, measures taken by the government to vindicate its commitment to these processes and explained the several challenges that militate against government efforts. A statement issued by the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington regarding the event didn’t make any reference to Sumanthiran’s shocking disclosure.

Post 2010 & 2015 prez polls


The JO never took up this issue either though The Island repeatedly raised Sumanthiran’s revelation. The JO and the JVP neglected their responsibilities. They conveniently refrained from taking up the tripartite agreement. They never did.

The writer raised Sumanthiran’s Washington declaration with Tilak Marapana after the President’s Counsel addressed the media at the Foreign Ministry after succeeding Ravi Karunanayake. The UNP brought back Marapana to the cabinet, in Aug 2017, at the expense of UNP Assistant Leader in the wake of the treasury bond scam controversy. Standing next to Marapana was the then Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam, who had been Sri Lanka’s previous Ambassador in Washington. Kariyawasam sat next to Sumanthiran when the latter revealed the existence of a secret tripartite agreement on foreign participation in the accountability process.

In response to the writer’s query, Marapana declared that the 1978 Constitution wouldn’t permit the inclusion of foreign judges in the proposed domestic Judicial Mechanism under any circumstances.

A confident Marapana strongly disputed the writer’s assertion in respect of the inclusion of foreign judges in the proposed accountability mechanism in accordance with the Geneva Resolution 30/1.

 Marapana quite conveniently had forgotten that a government appointed body, in January, 2017, endorsed the Geneva Resolution. The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) called for full participation of foreign judges, and other personnel, including defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators, in transitional justice mechanism to address accountability issues.

The CTFRM released the controversial report on the eve of the third anniversary of President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory over his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa.

 The government faithfully followed the US strategy. It still follows.

 In accordance with US strategy, Sri Lanka entered into a ‘Comprehensive Partnership Agreement’ (CPA) with Japan soon after co-sponsoring the Geneva Resolution. The CPA was signed in Tokyo on Oct 06, 2015. Premier Wickremesinghe signed the CPA, on behalf of Sri Lanka, with his counterpart Abe. Japan, home for powerful US forces based there, since the end of World War II, is in a military alliance with the US and India meant to counter growing Chinese influence. Australia, too, is part of this US-led operation. The recent tripartite agreement among Sri Lanka, India and Japan on Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port should be examined taking into consideration Western powers seeking to dominate Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representatives, in Geneva, in 2015 (Ravinatha Aryasinha), and incumbent Ambassador, A.L. A Azeez, accepted Resolutions 30/1 and 40/1, respectively, though they were inimical to Sri Lanka. They followed government policy. Don’t forget Sri Lanka co-sponsored the despicable Resolution about 10 days after rejecting it at the first informal talks with those countries moving it. The government directed the Permanent Representative to go ahead soon after the US complained about Colombo’s stand. Ambassador Azeez did the same on instructions received from Mano Tittawella. Tittawella issued instructions in his capacity as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) – a cabinet appointed body answerable to Premier Wickremeisnghe’s Office.

 Sri Lanka remains in the US-initiated Geneva process though the global power quit the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in June 2018, after accusing it of being ‘a cesspool of political bias.’

 Kariyawasam functions as an DAI (Development Alternatives Inc) employee. There are other beneficiaries. Thanks to US project and other related ‘operations’ our lawmakers received opportunity to visit India, China, US, UK, Germany, Nrway, EU, Iran, Canada, Oman and Switzerland. Groups of journalists covering parliament as well as the staff, too, received foreign trips at the expense of various countries. Parliament reached agreements with UNDP, USAID/DAI, International Republican Institure,Westminister Fondation, National Democratic Institute and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for basically improving standards of lawmakers. The entire country knows the status of parliament where lawmakers conduct is under scrutiny.

 Yahapalana foreign policy ensured the continuation of the Geneva process even after Lord Naseby provided the much discussed wherewithal to reverse the US-led project. Kariyawasam played a significant role in continuation of the process as Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The continuing project to influenceParliament is all part of the overall strategy to bring Sri Lanka under permanent US domination. Can such a vast operation be blamed on Kariyawasam? The operation seems on track.