Empowerment or Entrapment? The Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact and the Message of the Fasting Monk
Posted on November 10th, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala 

The Ministry of Finance published an announcement on the treasury.gov.lk website on November 1, 2019 to the effect that the ‘MCC agreement drafted with the consent of AG will be presented in parliament’. The self-explanatory first paragraph mentions what the Millennium Challenge Corporation means and what projects it is going to execute in Sri Lanka:

‘The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is a bilateral United States Foreign Aid Agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, applying a new philosophy towards foreign aid. It provides time limited grants and assistance to developing countries that meet rigorous standard (sic) for good governance, from fighting corruption to respecting democratic rights. On the request of the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), the MCC undertook a constraints to economic growth analysis” in year 2016. MCC and the GOSL subsequently decided to focus on the land and transport sectors, which were identified as binding constraints to growth. The constraints analysis concluded that traffic congestion in the Colombo Metropolitan Region, poor transport connectivity between Provinces, and weakness in land administration constrain economic growth. Accordingly, the MCC agreed to grant USD 480 million for financing the above projects.’

The short middle paragraphs explain that the final discussions were conducted in October 2018 between the MCC and some Cabinet-approved government officials from the relevant ministries, the legal aspect of the whole process being okayed by the Attorney General. The final paragraph runs: 

‘The Compact Agreement and the Program Implementation Agreement will be submitted to and enacted by Parliament of Sri Lanka once it is signed and before its entry into force and will be published in the Government Gazette before submitted to Parliament’.

This gives us the impression that discussion in Parliament will just be a formality and that the MPs and the general public are going to be presented with a fait accompli with no chance to refuse it if not acceptable. There is a strong element of unexplained hurry, secrecy, and surprise (for no date is given in this announcement for presenting the draft agreement in parliament). It is extremely intriguing why an international agreement with such grave implications as we now know for Sri Lanka’s future should be rushed by the worst and the most corrupt government Sri Lanka has ever had since independence, struggling in its deathbed for its last gasp.  

The contents of the 84 page draft agreement released on the same day (November 1, 2019) by the Ministry of Finance under the title:  ‘Millennium Challenge Compact between the United States of America acting through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka acting through the Ministry of Finance’ imply elements of an entrapment rather than features of a plan for empowerment which is its ostensible purpose and promise. For example, terms stipulated relating to Termination, Suspension, or Expiration as spelt out in Articles 5, 6 and 7/pp. 10-14 are highly unfavourable to Sri Lanka. One is left with the impression that America’s interests have received more attention from the architects of the ‘aid’ project than those of its unequal partner that supposedly needs help.

Sri Lankans have been undergoing untold suffering over the past seventy years in their legitimate struggle to stand on their own feet as an independent nation after the ravages of four and a half centuries of Western colonial domination. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the whole post-independence period has been totally wasted because of the relaxed but still strong stranglehold of colonialism, now metamorphosed as neoliberal globalization. We have made some significant  headway in terms of national independence, education, economic development, and other parameters of nation building, but it falls far short of what might have been actually achieved but for such perennial issues as racist minority politics and the lingering colonial impact on governance. From 1948 to date, undue external influence has persisted over key aspects of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and national identity including governance, economy, inter-communal unity, national security, international relations, and the country’s image abroad.This unwelcome foreign sway over local affairs has been in the form of sometimes unsolicited intervention in these matters, which today has further degenerated into brazen interference. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact is the latest and the worst instance of this neocolonial aggression from the point of view of well informed patriotic citizens including Buddhist monks and the clergy of other religions, who would never politicize vital national issues. The proposed ‘Compact’ between the mighty USA and the tiny Sri Lanka, which came within hours of being signed into law in secrecy has just been pipped at the post by a sudden surge of public awareness of and just opposition to the treacherous scheme.

Sri Lanka’s geopolitical importance for the two global superpowers America and China, and for the dominant  regional power India, has always meant trouble for the Sri Lankan people. The faintly resurrected Tamil separatist problem and the emergent threat to the traditionally existing religious harmony posed by the recent advent of a large number of small foreign funded Christian and Muslim extremist groups (outside the pale of mainstream Christian and Muslim communities) are probably being exploited by the powers that be to  destabilize the country in pursuit of their strategic geopolitical ends in the region.  

The success achieved in political, economic, and national security terms by the previous government in the years 2005 – 2014 was apparently not to the liking of Sri Lanka’s American ‘well-wishers’. The achievements of those years demonstrated that Sri Lankans, when united, can independently exploit the country’s rich natural and human resources without having to enslave themselves once again to other nations, whose ancestors plundered their country before. But foreign intervention put paid to that short spell of fast post-war recovery. Consequent to five years of Yahapalanaya, Sri Lanka’s survival as a sovereign nation is hanging in the balance.This is most unfortunate. The external forces and their local lackeys that reversed the gains of 2009 are behind the MCC, pursuing the same agenda, with even more determination. Worrisome foreign involvement in its affairs is the biggest problem that the country is facing at the moment. However, encouragingly enough, the clear frontrunner in the presidential race has already repeatedly assured the people that, if elected, he will never compromise national security or surrender the country’s independence to any other country however powerful it may be.  

Ven. Ududumbara Kashyapa Thera, an educated young monk staged a  fast-unto-death against the signing of the MCC agreement in a hurried hush-hush illegitimate manner with only two weeks to go before the presidential election. Ven. Kashyapa is the Chief Incumbent of the Vipassana Meditation Centre, Colombo. He is not an aged Mahanayake Thera, but among ordinary Buddhists, he is venerated as a virtuous monk; he is not a politician or a supporter of any presidential candidate. He was only trying to apply pressure on the powers that be stop the great harm that he believed was about to befall the Country, the Nation, that is, all Sri Lankans, and the nonviolent, non-sectarian, inclusive and generously accommodating traditional Buddhist cultural foundation, which is the lynchpin of the peaceful coexistence of diverse communities and religions in the beautiful Island of Sri Lanka. 

Both the principal presidential contenders sent messengers to him each assuring him that the matter would be resolved in a manner not detrimental to the country after the election is over, and appealed to him to give up the fast. But he refused to do so, repeating his original demand that either the president or the prime minister give him a written pledge that the MCC Agreement would not be pushed through and made irrevocable before November 16, the day of the presidential election. The monk gave up his fast on the prime minister meeting this demand. In his letter, prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe assured the monk that the MCC compact will not be signed before the presidential election, and that the matter will be pursued only after consulting all stakeholders and after parliamentary discussion of the draft bill. Ven. Kashyapa ended the fast because, he said, he achieved his purpose (i.e. preventing the compact from being rushed through before November 16). But he expressed scepticism of the pm’s words: ‘I don’t believe any of this’, and he warned that if any program is attempted that is harmful to the nation, the monks will come forward against it in a larger and more organized scale.

 Finance minister Mangala Samaraweera scoffed at the fasting Ven. Kashyapa, in a Twitter post, calling him a stooge of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who ate Lemon Puff  (biscuits) in secret during his fast. The monk commented that he did not care for people who responded to his hunger-strike in perverted ways. However, the finance ministry sent the monk a copy of the MCC document after he had ended the fast. The monk said that pages 12 to 14 had been deleted (the same mentioned above in this article containing controversial clauses – rrw), but he said  he had already studied the MCC Compact draft in full before he sat down for the fast. Ven. Kashyapa describes the MCC agreement as a tragedy, but a tragedy that it is avoidable. To keep these menacing meddling powers the Sinhalese Buddhist majority and the minorities living with them in peace and equality must unite in brotherhood, the monk admonishes. 

The clearest, the most prompt, and the most credible response to the monk’s fasting came from the leading candidate Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. During a massive rally at Harispattuwa near Kandy on November 5, the day the monk started his fast-unto-death, having got news about the fasting monk, GR assured that he will not allow any agreement with a foreign country that was inimical to Sri Lanka. This was before he sent the fasting monk a letter begging him to end the fast. In the letter, he promised that all agreements entered into by the current government after the declaration of the presidential election will be reviewed subject to the demands of national security, sovereignty, independence, and the broad national interest. 

 Ven. Kashyapa points out that it has become clearly evident over the past years, particularly in the past five years, that Buddhism that empowers the people morally and intellectually is being obstructed in various ways. The land in the designated economic corridor is going to be sold, in his opinion, at the ridiculously low price of 180 rupees per perch. Sri Lankans need not succumb to the enslaving schemes of foreign powers. The country has the necessary natural resources and quality human resources.  The outspoken monk finally said he performed his historical obligation of helping the country out in adversity through his moral power as a Buddhist monk, and that his work ended there for the moment; he will offer the same assistance in the future if need be. 

The cabinet of ministers approved the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact, but it may be assumed that not even the MPs had seen the original draft, and if they had, they might not have been shown the authentic version in Sinhala or Tamil. It looks like that not all of them know enough English to understand the document in terms of its real implications for the Nation. This sort of thing should not be allowed to happen to the most peaceful, nonviolent, kindhearted ordinary people of Sri Lanka, cultured and humanized under the influence of the compassionate teachings of the Buddha. It is the responsibility of the civilized world to look into why there is so much public opposition across the country, irrespective of distinctions of ethnicity, religion, language, etc., among the communities, to this so-called Compact that was said to be on the verge of being signed without the knowledge and approval of the Sovereign People of Sri Lanka.

One Response to “Empowerment or Entrapment? The Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact and the Message of the Fasting Monk”

  1. aloy Says:

    Nice explanation of the chronological order of events and who hijacked the original idea of the developments using a flawed Megapolis concept. We already have a good idea about Uncle Sam and how our Prez at one time had to run to Anuradhapura to ask for divine help when our forces were cornered.

    All sorts of trouble start coming on our way if we start thinking that we are inferior to these so called westerners. The Israelis are only 7 million all over the world. But they never think that they are of a lessor power. We saw how MR stood against the westerners. We are 15 millions and must use the knowledge skills we have to survive without entirely depending on others. And for that we need a reliable leader.

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