President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has given the Cabinet of Ministers two more weeks to submit their opinions on the Lalithasiri Gunaruwan report on the proposed controversial Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC) agreement with the USA, Media and Higher Education Minister Bandula Gunawardane said yesterday.
Addressing the weekly post-Cabinet Press Briefing at the Information Department, Gunawardane said that the President had extended the deadline which was to be Wednesday, by another two weeks since only some Ministers had expressed their views on the report, while others had wanted more time.
Responding to questions, the Minister stressed that the government would not behave like a child when discussing bilateral agreements but did not explain why the Gunaruwan report had to be subjected to further scrutiny by the Ministers, if as claimed by
Prof. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan it was a factual and comprehensive document highlighting the dangers the agreement could cause to the country if signed.
He said that no pact inimical to the nation would be endorsed, but failed to explain why the government continued to discuss the compact that the Podujana Peramuna while in the Opposition had said would divide the country and the charge had been repeated by the Gunaruwan report.
Meanwhile the GMOA and several Opposition political parties have accused the government of looking for excuses to sign the MCC agreement with the USA.
The GMOA said that the Gunaruwan Committee appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had failed to mention in its final report released recently, that national trade policy should be followed when finalising pacts of this nature. The loophole, it noted had been created with a view to endorsing the pact.
“We cannot discard a proposed agreement with another country just because Opposition politicians wanted to”, Minister Ginawardane noted, adding that diplomacy did not work that way.
Accusing the Gunaruwan Committee of making baseless allegations in the run up to the General Election, the UNP said that the Committee’s claim of the USA having paid the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government an advance totaling USD 10 million of the USD 480 million proposed MCC compact, was false and not substantiated by any evidence.
Even the U.S. Embassy in Colombo had denied making any such payment, it added.
The UNP has appealed to President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to stop playing politics with national issues and tell the people in clear terms whether or not it would sign the MCC agreement, without hiding behind distorted Presidential Committee reports.
Minister Gunawardane said that the Acquisition and Cross-Service Agreement (ACSA) signed in 2007 and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed in 1995 with the USA, was also being discussed by the Cabinet.
The UNP recalled that leading members of the Podujana Peramuna including Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa when in the Opposition had accused the then Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration of trying to divide the country through the MCC pact and used the allegation among others, to capture power at last November’s Presidential Election.
(Source: The Island – By Zacki Jabbar)