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Expats in Los Angeles campaigning against controversial US contracts

By Hassina Leelarathna in Los Angeles

(Courtesy of Financial Timers)

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SL expats handing petition to  Mr. Herath Buddhadasa, CG’s office

Sri Lankan-American activists opposing the controversial US contracts say they are encouraged by the Sri Lanka Supreme Court decision on the State Lands (Special Provisions) Bill, referring the Act to the Provincial Councils, which, in turn, impacts the passage of the land provisions of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

“We welcome the Supreme Court decision, as it will put a hold on the land project of the Millennium contract, whose objective is to open the door to big global corporations. We would like to see the entire compact terminated,” said Dr. Sunil Jayasinghe, who is leading a coalition of several expatriate groups under the banner “Sri Lankans in USA / Amerikawe Api.”

“The American public is not even aware of how our Government is using our tax dollars to benefit large corporations under the guise of foreign aid to developing countries. We are calling for full transparency and debate, both in Sri Lanka and here in the US, about the impact of MCC as well as SOFA and ACSA,” Jayasinghe said.

The group convened at the Sri Lankan Consulate General in Los Angeles on 22 July and presented a petition addressed to President Sirisena, urging the creation of a Public Commission drawn from various disciplines to study the contracts, and provide impartial information to the public.

Among the concerns cited was the potential for Sri Lanka being embroiled in US military actions, even if there is no American base on the island.

“Public denials from American and Sri Lankan officials have not addressed the use of Sri Lankan territory as a ‘jumping-off point’ for US military intervention in the Indo-Pacific,” the letter said.

It also pressed for full disclosure on the privileges, exemptions, and immunities granted to American military personnel and contractors, and details of how legal disputes will be adjudicated under the terms of ACSA and SOFA.

The group is calling for the full MCC contract to be shelved, citing the troubling lack of information on its impact on the local economy, the environment, and social and cultural norms. It also warned that allowing wealthy foreign interests to purchase Sri Lankan land with few restrictions could lead to the creation of “dangerous para-military enclaves and/or extremist religious battlegrounds.”   Sri Lankans in USA / Amerikawe Api comprises long-time activists and a cross-section of the Sri Lankan political spectrum. Ananda Markalanda, a campaigner for Presidential candidate Nagananda Kodituwakku, said “endangering Sri Lankan sovereignty and security crosses party lines, and has always been a rallying point for the expatriate community.”

Dr. Jayasinghe, retired engineer, author, and frequent participant in public debates on controversial issues, said the MCC is of particular interest in the current “socialist” environment in the US, and visible signs of growing poverty, especially in large cities like Los Angeles.   He is organising community discussions, hoping to take the issues to the general American public as well.  Ajantha Sri Ramya, founding member of the non-profit Bodhi Foundation, asked: “How could Washington justify sending $480 million US tax dollars to Sri Lanka to help big corporations, when people in our neighbourhoods here are going hungry and sleeping on the streets?”

Buddhadasa Herath, who accepted the petition on behalf of the Consulate, assured it would be forwarded to the President’s Office.

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