Pact trap – II
Posted on July 11th, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The Prime Minister’s Office has taken the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce to task over the latter’s comments on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared, in Parliament, that the government will never enter into agreements that are detrimental to Sri Lanka’s interests. He has torn into those who erroneously claim that the SOFA was signed a couple of years ago. It has not been inked. In fact, the government has baulked at signing it due to protests.

All agreements disadvantageous or harmful to this country, save one or two, have already been signed, and they are now faits accomplis. The government invited trouble by making the colossal blunder of leasing the Hambantota Port to the Chinese amidst protests. Other world powers hostile to China were prompted to demand their share of the Sri Lankan cake, as it were. Two of US allies—India and Japan—have entered into an agreement to develop the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port. India is said to be eyeing the Mattala Airport.

The US, for its part, is all out to carve out an economic corridor with the help of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement. One of the main criticisms of the MCC compact is that it is aimed at facilitating the sale of land to foreigners. Parcels of land distributed among the poor who are engaged in subsistence agriculture will be sold to multinationals backed by foreign powers, and plans are underway to prepare the grounds for such deals through amendments to the existing land laws, according to the Opposition. The poor can easily be enticed into disposing of their freehold land as they are fed up with agriculture, which has ceased to be rewarding.

The Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), heavily loaded in favour of the US, was signed in 2017. It allows the US to use ports, airports, etc. here for military purposes. It is said to be reciprocal but how can Sri Lanka use such facilities in the US? It was with the greatest difficulty that the Sri Lankan naval vessels reached LTTE ships on the high seas to sink them during the war. The US ports and airports are of no use to the security forces of this country.

The UNP never misses an opportunity to rake President Maithripla Sirisena over the coals. But, strangely, it does not blame him for the ACSA, which he got approved by the Cabinet. The President is known to think only after leaping, and his loyalists insist that he was hoodwinked into intervening to get that agreement approved. Either this claim is true or the UNP does not want to dissociate itself from the pact lest it should antagonise the US.

The Sri Lanka Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA), which is highly disadvantageous to this country, has been signed, and the UNF government, under pressure, is trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. Having plunged feet first into signing that agreement, the government has undertaken to discuss some of its provisions which have perturbed Sri Lankan professionals and environmentalists. The government is determined to sign ETCA (Economic and Technological Corporation Agreement) with India though Sri Lankan professionals are against it.

If the government really has no intention of signing the SOFA, will it explain why on earth Minister of External Affairs Tilak Marapana had talks on it in Washington in May? He briefed US officials on difficulties Sri Lanka found in agreeing to some of its provisions including the one that seeks to grant legal immunity to the US forces to be deployed in the host country. If the government has decided to reject the SOFA wholesale why should it discuss parts thereof?

Now that the government has declared that it will not enter into any agreements that are inimical to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country, will it give a cast-iron guarantee that the SOFA will never be inked under a UNP-led administration?

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