Malinda and Shenali tilt at SOFA and MCC Schemes

Editor: I have not had the time to study the SOFA and MCC proposals or the several conflicting reports on this set of topics; while I have reservations about my own deciphering capacity on economic issues. An academic with a broad span of experience across several countries indicated to me this month  that the discussions surrounding these two issues has been marked by writings that “[ignore] facts that are unfavorable to the case that is being made or willfully distorting facts or using outright lies”.

He added: : ‘Unfortunately, this kind of unacceptable commentary is now common practice the world over and that includes some people in the highest levels of US government and academia.”

To this caution I add Sam Samarasinghe’s[i] cautionary email note to me a few months back where he indicated that the USA’s governing order is complex and its various arms do not always work with one mind.[ii]

ONE: Malinda Seneviratne: The USA has made a case against SOFA, so there!”

The United States of America and her agents in Colombo which include but is not restricted to people in the diplomatic mission did their best to get a highly unpopular government clearly on its way out to sign two controversial agreements: SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) Compact. In the last days of the Yahapalana Government all manner of pressure was put on the then President, Prime Minister and Cabinet to get these matters done.
Obviously, there are no tangible benefits for Sri Lanka from the first, SOFA. The MCC Compact was pushed using two arguments. They said, ’it’s free bucks machang!’ Well, it is strange isn’t it that it is the giver and not intended receiver that is so anxious about it? They also said, sotto voce, ‘We are your main trading partner, machang. Saying without saying it, ‘sign it or else!’
It was supposed to be a Sri Lanka driven exercise. Not true. It was the US that pushed it. And the pushers they pushed operated from Temple Trees. We all know that Mangala Samaraweera, a senior minister of the Yahapalana regime, was in charge of two key subjects, foreign affairs and finance. We know also that he was and probably still is Uncle Sam’s darling.  So, yes, they could say ‘it’s a Sri Lankan baby!’ No one is being fooled though.
What was even more interesting is that Sri Lanka, by dint of achieving Upper Middle Income Status was on the brink of becoming ineligible for the ‘grant’. If it was intended to help the ‘needy’ and if the formerly ‘needy’ are no longer in want, why on earth was the USA so determined to arm-twist Sri Lanka into signing the agreement?
The President has appointed a Committee to review the draft agreement (which, by the way, was suspiciously kept under covers for a long, long time). Better to review than not, of course, but given the pernicious nature of the entire process and the absolutely untenable arguments for such an agreement given stated criteria he probably should have said ‘sorry dude, no can do.’ Maybe he was being diplomatic, having just assumed office and not wanting to rub anyone the wrong way from the beginning itself, but then again why waste time and money?
The Committee has solicited public representations regarding the MCC Compact. Many probably have done so already. Some objections are in the public domain. They include a sharp piece by former Permanent Representative to the UN, Tamara Kunanayagam and a comprehensive and damning review by the Sri Lanka Geo-Political Study Circle.
It is hard to see these arguments being countered. The pro-MCC noises made by the neoliberal nati beholden and servile to US interests are in comparison sophomoric. Anyway, the Lalith Gunaruwan Committee will soon deliver a verdict of a kind. It would be interesting to see what it will be since it might end up defining the Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, one way or another.
SOFA. That’s what this is about. Status of Forces. Military, in other words. It would essentially give immunity from prosecution to US service personnel while on Sri Lankan soil. To put it crudely, they can and will get away with murder and of course lesser crimes. That’s just one part of it. History has shown that the US has never come in peace and has never come without intention to plunder and/or control. Just the other day, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that his country had formally delivered a notice to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement to the United States. That’s the Philippine version of SOFA, by the way. It took them 22 years to reach this decision. We don’t need to wait that long. We don’t have to sign it at all. Period.
But why not?  Well, Duterte’s decision has been prompted by the US refusing visas to one of its congress members. Peeved, one supposed. Seems frivolous. Perhaps there were more compelling reasons and this refusal was a convenient excuse. Perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We don’t know.
But here in Sri Lanka we have the USA wanting to station troops (whose track record for decades has been genocidal, nothing less) even as that country rubbishes Sri Lanka’s Army Commander, refusing to grant him a visa.
So, in essence, if SOFA is signed, any US military official, from Commander to foot soldier to clerk, can step into Sri Lanka without a by-your-leave, hello brother, how machang and so on, but the most senior officer of the Sri Lankan Army cannot step on US soil.
The United States of America has made it very easy for President Gotabaya Rajapakasa. This decision is too much an insult to be withdrawn as part of a deal (e.g. ‘ok, we will give Shavendra a visa, but you better get on with SOFA and MCC, dude!). The President must decide who he stands with: the Commander of his Army or some two-bit political appointee in the US State Department.
The US has showed her ugly mug. Hard to respond with a smile, handshake, shrug of shoulders and an inking that would be an absolute act of treachery. Now the US-lovers/slaves in Colombo will no doubt talk about beggars not being able to choose. Sure, we are not rich, but neither are we destitute. Even if we were destitute, there’s pride. And if we’ve survived the wounds and scars of half a millennium of brutal colonial rule, it’s because of that very same pride. Maybe this is another opportunity to stand up rather than lay down and be walked roughshod over.
The US was wringing hands not too long ago to get the documents signed. Why? Well, they probably believed it would be tougher to get things done their way under a Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency. Maybe they even thought it would be impossible.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This is your moment, sir. The USA has killed SOFA. Do the honors: bury it. Along with the MCC.
This article was first published in the SUNDAY MORNING [February 16, 2020]
    ***  ***
TWO: Shenali Waduge:  Sri Lanka as US military logistics hub combining SOFA-ACSA-MCC & Peace Corps” ….

Department of Labor, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), National Security Advisor, and Director of the Peace Corps. These agencies will work with partner countries, other donors, multilateral organizations, the private sector, non-government organizations (NGOs), and faith-based institutions around the world. The READ document features 3 players operating in Sri Lanka – US State Dept, MCC & US Peace Corps.

How US is influencing Sri Lanka

  • LAW ENFORCEMENT: US training & assisting Sri Lankan officials in counter-narcotics, counterterrorism
  • JUDICIARY: USAID assisting rule of law & improve management of legal system & policy formulation in partnership with Sri Lanka Bar Association & US Legal Aid Commission
  • TREASURY: US Treasury assisting fiscal & debt challenges
  • AGRICULTURE: US has given $21m to increase dairy sector
  • EDUCATION: US Peace Corps to teach ‘AMERICAN’ English
  • MEDIA: US embassy Colombo training journalists on access to information, types of stories covered and improving English
  • PARLIAMENT/MPs: 2016, collaboration between Sri Lanka Parliament & US House Democracy Partnership training MPs and Parliament staff
  • LOCAL GOVERNMENT: USAID training local government institutes in Eastern Province & reintegration and stabilization in North & East
  • GENERAL PUBLIC: USAID training democratic governance, women and minorities

“Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018 specifically calls for “expanding cooperation with democratic partners in South Asia, including Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.”

US influence increasing since 2015 Regime Change

  • 2018 – US ‘brilliantly succeeded’ in deploying the US Indo-Pacific Command within days of Easter Sunday attack on pretext of assisting Sri Lanka fight ISIS.
  • Aug 2018 USS Anchorage and a unit of US Marines visited Trinco port.
  • Dec 2018 – US set up ‘logistics hub’ to ‘receive support, supplies & services’ for US Navy ships operating in the Indian Ocean.
  • Jan 2019 – US Navy’s 7th Fleet for 2nd time carried out ‘temporary cargo transfer’ using Bandaranaiake International Commercial Airport to move supplies to US aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis located in Trinco (Colombo-Trinco connecting by air) US Military craft did not come under Sri Lanka Civil Aviation Authority but was landing on Sri Lankan soil & over Sri Lankan airspace & were levies paid or waivered – if an accident/crime happened who would adjudicate?
  • 23 Jan 2019 US Embassy Colombo stated that “The United States Navy is doing a cargo transfer operation at Sri Lanka’s main international airport under a plan to use the island’s location to make it a MILITARY LOGISTICS HUB”
  • Jan2019 Commenting on the cargo transfer operation – 7th Fleet’s Logistics Readiness Cell Chief Lt. Austin Gage says “We are generating standard operating procedures to optimize our supply chain to be more agile and mobile and utilize strategic locations in the Indian Ocean.”
  • USS John C. Stennis Leverages Logistics Hub in Sri Lanka – (US Navy website) September 2019 “Taking advantage of a growing naval partnership with Sri Lanka, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) established a logistics hub in Sri Lanka to receive support, supplies and services at sea”
  • Dec 2019 – USS John C Stennis visits Trinco Port as part of Pentagon’s plans to establish a logistics hub for US Navy. A Mass Communication Specialist on board USS John C. Stennis in a dispatch to the US Navy official web portal wrote: “The primary purpose of the operation is to provide mission-critical supplies and services to U.S. Navy ships transiting through and operating in the Indian Ocean. The secondary purpose is to demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s ability to establish a temporary logistic hum ashore where no enduring U.S. Navy logistic footprint exists.”
  • “The primary purpose of the operation is to provide mission-critical supplies and services to U.S. Navy ships transiting through and operating in the Indian Ocean,” said Lt. Bryan Ortiz, John C. Stennis’ stock control division officer. “The secondary purpose is to demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s ability to establish a temporary logistics hub ashore where no enduring U.S. Navy logistics footprint exists.”

SOFA allows US personnel rights & privilege in a host country

Status of Forces Agreement includes access to facilities free of charge, right to own and operate telecommunication systems and use of radio spectrum, waiver of claims for damages and losses including death, disputes to be settled by consultation and not through any national or international court.

SOFA establishes the rights and privileges of US personnel present in a country in support of the larger security arrangement.

Draft text of SOFA leaked via Sunday Times. Provisions in the SOFA include, the wearing of uniforms, taxes and fees, carrying of weapons, use of radio frequencies, licences, and customs regulations.

Washington was ‘pushing hard’ to sign SOFA which Pentagon traditionally demanded as pre-requisite to establishing military bases in foreign countries (M K Bhadrakumar Jul2019)

ACSA allows US logistics & supplies usage in a host country

Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) are agreements integral to US national security and self-defense strategies

ACSA provides for joint military cooperation between Sri Lanka and the US and includes logistic support, supplies, services and the use of airports and ports during „unforeseen circumstances‟. ACSAs also allows visiting military forces to receive logistic support in the form of supplies; petroleum; transportation; base operations support; use of repair and maintenance facilities; and access to airfields and ports.

The 2007 ACSA required renewal but the 2017 ACSA signed by Ranil Govt & contents not disclosed to the Public or Parliament does not require renewal.

This would be the FIRST TIME foreign US/Allied troops would be permitted to freely roam the country in uniform, carrying weapons and communications equipment. Note IPKF was confined ONLY to war torn areas of North/East.

Sri Lanka has no authority to take any legal action against US troops in Sri Lanka for any crime or abuse committed by them.

While China’s presence in Sri Lanka and Hambantota Port, the US ACSA and SOFA are purely military for servicing US personnel (uniformed and civil) as well as contractors.

US PEACE CORPS (please read the exemptions and immunities given to the Peace Corps and what is Sri Lanka getting in return? Americanized English and ‘American values’?

 Article 1 (4) “The Government of Sri Lanka shall bear such share of the costs of the Peace Corps program incurred in Sri Lanka” HOW MUCH ?

MCC: AID as part of US National Security Strategy

ACSA Sri Lanka was signed on August 4, 2017

MCC is a US Government entity. Its Board is headed by the US Secretary of State and includes Secretary of the Treasury, USAID, US Trade Representative and private sector officials. MCC Grants are funded by US Congress.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is requesting $800 million for fiscal year (FY) 2019, to support compacts in Tunisia, Burkina Faso, and Sri Lanka……… This request will advance U.S. values and interests overseas”

“Sri Lanka’s compact will focus on modernizing the country’s transportation and land management sectors. These interventions are aimed at reducing transport bottlenecks and congestion in the Western Province and between the Western Province and other regions; and optimizing the use of state lands for commercial purposes.”

“We have explained that the Indo-Pacific Strategy is the name we give to US policy. It describes what we Americans strive to do to protect and advance a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific Region,” US Ambassador Randy Berry to Nepal on MCC.

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia David J Ranz, said that the Millennium Challenge Corporation(MCC) where the US has put $500 million in grant to Nepal is part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy

MCC part of US National Security Strategy –

Foreign Aid component is a key component of a comprehensive US national security strategy and every bit important as investment in military power (Is the Millennium Challenge Corporation Overstating Its Impact by United States. Congress. House. Committee on Foreign Affairs. Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment)

Republican lawmakers (Paul Ryan’s FY2015 budget) and, more recently, by the Heritage Foundation—calls for scaling back or phasing out the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and elevating the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) as the lead foreign assistance agency. (Congress should shift USAID funds to MCC proposal by Heritage Foundation)

ACSA signing was mooted by Prasad Kariyawasam who unknown to all was employed by the US federal government backed Agency for International Development (USAID) but working inside Sri Lanka’s Parliament.

M K Bhadrakumar says that US interference is ‘destabilizing’ Sri Lanka and that it is happening only because of ‘India’s passivity bordering acquiescence’ – it is unfortunate that India is going to be held accountable by Asia for destabilizing the entire Asian continent.

WHAT IF family members end up working for MCC-PEACE CORPS in Sri Lanka & all are entitled to IMMUNITIES and TAX EXEMPTIONS?



[i] SWR de Samarasinghe of the economics department was a colleague in Peradeniya University and has been teachingat Tulane University in Washington for over 30 years –so he is far more familiar with the complex structures of US policy making than most commenators in sri Lanka.


[ii] Indeed, one example of this dissonance is the activity and leanings of the Pentagon towards Sri Lanka during the last stages of Eelam War IV – as indicated in Colonel Lawrence Smith’s reactions at a Defence Seminar in 2011(?) and military assistance to the SL Navy during the war. Whether the later example was one of a deliberate policy of running with the hares as well as the hounds or ‘everyday’ dissonance in the US political/administrative I cannot day.


[ii] Indeed, one example of this dissonance is the activity and leanings of the Pentgon towards Sri Lanka during the last stages of Eelam War IV – as indicated in Colonel Lawrence Smith’s reactions at a Defence Seminar in 2011(?) and military assistance to the sL Navy during the war. Whether the later example was one of a deliberate policy of running with the hares as well as the hounds or ‘everyday’ dissonance  in the US political/administrative I cannot day.

With this cautionary note in minds I present two slashing

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