July 20, Colombo: Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had rejected claims made by members of the Bar Association (BASL) that the SOFA agreement, MCC and Land Bill were all interconnected.
A delegation of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) met with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 17 at Temple Trees to discuss the concerns the BASL had regarding these agreements.
During the meeting the PM assured the delegation that the Government has not signed a SOFA agreement with the United States.
The Premier said he had a successful meeting with the Bar Association of Sri Lanka delegation. "They sought clarification on SOFA, MCC and the Land Bill. I explained to them that there is no SOFA agreement that we have signed and that the SOFA agreement was signed in 1995.
The Daily News Director (Development Communications) at the Prime Minister's Office Sudarshana Gunawardana has said that the Bar Association had concerns regarding these agreements and they had met with the Opposition Leader regarding this matter as well.
"They had requested a meeting with the President and the Prime Minister to clarify certain concerns they had regarding these agreements. With regard to the SOFA agreement, the Prime Minister explained to them that the current government had not signed the agreement but it had been signed in 1995," Gunawardana said.
The BASL, during a TV programme claimed that all three agreements were linked. However, the Prime Minister explained to them that these three agreements were not linked.
The Premier has explained that the agreement between the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the government was signed with the objective of strengthening transport infrastructure and land administration
The Prime Minister has explained to the BASL members that the only connection is that the Survey Department had insisted on a condition that the Land Act needed to be reformed as it discriminates against female children.
Under the MCC agreement Sri Lanka will obtain a grant of US $ 480 million under the biggest ever grant to be received by Sri Lanka to be disbursed over a five-year implementation time frame. The project will look into two projects; a land administration project and a transport development project.
Gunawardena said that the Prime Minister had insisted that under this project no land would be given to foreigners. "Under the agreement, the project has to be completed in five years and $ 50 million is allocated for transport infrastructure development and the rest is for the upgrading of the land registry. However, no land will be given to any foreign party."
However, the BASL had requested the Prime Minister to take measures to include this clause into the agreement, to which the Prime Minister had agreed to look into the matter.
The BASL had also raised concerns regarding the terms of terminating the contract if required and what the arbitration process would be. The Prime Minister had also acknowledged their concerns and agreed to look into it closely. However, the Prime Minister assured that there would not be a fragmentation of land.
"Some of them were concerned that once the government grants land to the farmers, these lands could be sold to foreigners at a higher price and these lands could be used for other purposes. However, the Prime Minister assured the BASL that there are other laws in place to prevent that from happening.
"The PM also said that the current laws do not permit foreigners to own lands in Sri Lanka. However, as the BASL also requested that this clause be included in the agreement, the Prime Minister agreed to their request," Gunawardena said.
He added that the SOFA agreement was only to formalize the process of foreign ships entering our country, which has been happening all this time. There was no permission required. But, with the BASL raising concerns over this matter, the Prime Minister said that he was willing to consider their concerns regarding the sovereignty of the country.
President of the Bar Association Kalinga Indatissa PC, Deputy President Shavindra Fernando PC, Secretary Kaushalya Navarathne AAL and other members of the Executive Committee of the BASL were present at the meeting.
Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana PC, Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala, the Prime Minister's Secretary Saman Ekanayake and Director (Development Communications) at the Prime Minister's Office Sudarshana Gunawardana were also present.