DANGER: The MCC Compact is down, but not out
By Malinda Seneviratne
There’s an agreement on the table which could thrust Sri Lanka into an inextricable bind where knot could be tightened at will by another country through multiple means. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact.
The US Government has been working tirelessly to get it off the ground. Few if any are purchasing the rhetoric about it being a ‘Sri Lankan draft, made by Sri Lankans with Sri Lankan interests at heart.’ The ‘drafters’ were operating from Temple Trees. They were supervised (a generous term) by the MCC. There was a scandalous rush to obtain Cabinet approval.
The probable reason is that the movers and shakers felt that there was an imminent ‘danger’ of regime change. The stated reason is that Sri Lanka would miss out because new rules disqualify countries in the Upper Middle Income category.
Interesting. The MCC probably has valid reasons for such a limitation. As of now, according to the World Bank, Sri Lanka IS a ‘middle income nation’. What this means is that Sri Lanka, like any other middle income country, is not in dire need of the so-called benefits of an MCC Compact. Sri Lanka barely satisfies the criteria of being among the poorest 75 countries. In terms of per capita income Sri Lanka is ineligible. The assessment score is computed by considering several criteria, naturally a design to make it possible to approve or disapprove.
The US Embassy in Colombo and Jenner Edelman, Sri Lanka Country Director for the Millennium Challenge Corporation have pooh-poohed at concerns raised. They have not once mentioned that the MCC has terminated agreements with Niger, Yemen, the Gambia, Tanzania, Nicaragua, Honduras, Madagascar, Armenia, Mali and Malawi. Neither have they mentioned that the Nepal Parliament has been debating the MCC Compact for five months.
The MCC Compact ‘Recitals’ state that the Government has consulted with the private sector and civil society to determine priorities. This is akin to a condition for eligibility. [See Page 1 of the Agreement]. However, there has been no consultation whatsoever with the people of this country. The draft was not made public. Public views were not solicited. The Bar Association had access only to what is little more than a concept paper. The National Institute of Security Studies, which comes under the Ministry of Defense, commented extensively on the drafts of the SOFA and ACSA agreements but not on the MCC Compact, which makes us wonder whether that outfit was deliberately kept in the dark.
The Government has rushed to defend the Compact. Mangala Samaraweera not only defended the agreement but as is par for HIS course unleashed invective on Ven. Ududumbara KasyapaThera who started a fast unto death in protest. More on that later. Champika Ranawaka said ‘there’s nothing wrong’.
Well, there is much that’s wrong with the MCC Compact. Outside of general and healthy suspicion of any move by the USA (for reasons too well known to warrant enumeration) and the insane rush to push a ‘grant’ (typically it’s the beggar that begs, not the giver!), there’s much in the print and small print that should be of great concern.
The rhetoric regarding poverty alleviation is downright silly. The targeted districts named in the so-called ‘Parcel Fabric Map’ covers districts that are below the national poverty headcount index. The move is essentially to survey, document and ‘free’ parcels to what would become a volatile land market. The safeguards of various land alienation schemes to protect poor farmers would be immediately dismantled. The vulnerable will be pushed to sell. In any case, enumeration is the first step of a time-tested process of plunder. It’s like documenting the fauna of Sinharaja as a precondition for gene piracy. Markets facilitate it and markets always favor those who can demand from AND supply to them.
The most dangerous element is ‘control’. The Compact not only gives a foreign government absolute access to data that could be sensitive, but is full of clauses which in effect force Sri Lanka to submit to Washington. For those in happy-pill land, here’s some information: The MCC Board is made up of representatives. These include the MCC’s CEO, the US Secretary of State who is the chair, the Secretary of the Treasury who is the vice chair, the administrator of USAID, and the US Trade Representative.
The MCC Compact will be governed by international law. Wow! A supposedly Sri Lankan project, designed and run by Sri Lankans for the benefit of Sri Lankans and funded by a grant (not a loan) cannot be governed by Sri Lankan law! Wow, again! Naturally any disagreement by any government will be sorted out in international courts. Need we say we would be severely handicapped in this regard?
The Compact makes for ‘a Land Policy Research Group (LPRG)’ purportedly to ‘assist the government to conduct research and policy studies’ to gather information for land policy decisions. MCC will kindly help hire the staff and fund study tours for them! Ahem! Aha!
The MCC can, according to the agreement, terminate matters at will with no costs whatsoever. Sri Lanka, if wisdom kicks in at some point after the agreement is signed, can terminate at great cost.
If indeed, Sri Lanka needs to do what’s set down in the project document, it does not require MCC support. The land project costs US$62.7 million over five years. That’s a little over $12 million a year. Much larger sums are wasted every year. Why then should we agree to a design that could have serious infringements on sovereignty not to mention as serious social and political fallout?
Happily, the peaceful protest by Ven. Kassapa Thera (ridiculed by Mangala Samaraweera with acerbic comments reserved for the Maha Sangha) quickly yielded an undertaking by SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa that all agreements signed from the time the election was announced until results are released will be reviewed keeping in mind the country’s interests including sovereignty. Sajith Premadasa, happily, followed suit. Better late than never, one might say, for the gentlemen has said nothing about the MCC even though he is a member of the Cabinet that approved it! The fast was abandoned once Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gave a written undertaking not to move on the MCC Compact.
The fact that the candidates from the two main parties have given this undertaking is a good sign. What Champika Ranawaka and Mangala Samaraweera have to say now would be interesting. So too leftists, liberals and others supporting Premadasa who defended the MCC Compact tenaciously when the SLPP started criticizing it.
Compacts. There are two. It pays to be wary. We should not be lulled into complacency by the statements issued by politicians during an election campaign where anything and everything can be promised only to be forgotten and/or rubbished later.