A deal with a Washington DC “lobbying” firm by Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema “to increase economic ties” with the United States has now been abandoned. This is after more than US$ 150,000 or Rs. 22. 5 million of Sri Lankan taxpayer’s money has been paid out to this firm. It is [...]


Millions wasted on abortive deal with US lobby firm


A deal with a Washington DC “lobbying” firm by Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema “to increase economic ties” with the United States has now been abandoned.

Minister Malik Samarawickrema

This is after more than US$ 150,000 or Rs. 22. 5 million of Sri Lankan taxpayer’s money has been paid out to this firm. It is not immediately clear whether the firm ST&R (Sandler, Travis & Rosenburg) was able to deliver tangible results for the money already paid to them.
It is now claimed that one of the aims for hurriedly hiring the firm, when a presidential election campaign was under way in the United States, was to determine whether Sri Lanka could make an entrée into the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a massive trade deal agreed to in 2015 by the US, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and other countries to “deepen economic co-operation and boost growth” by reducing tariffs.

However, during the election campaign and even after his victory, President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly pledged to scrap the TPP.
The Sunday Times reported the controversial deal exclusively in its front page lead story on August 21 last year. The story revealed how promoting a non-existent “peace process” was also made one of the tasks given to the “lobbying” firm. The total cost of the Agreement with ST& R was then placed at US$ 630,000. The report revealed that even the Foreign Affairs Ministry was unaware of the deal. The US firm, it was revealed, has been picked without a competitive bidding process or a tender.

Minister Samarawickrama defended this move with a statement saying the Sunday Times was writing “baseless” stories and pointed out to the scope of the agreement which was approved by the Attorney General and the Cabinet of Ministers and how the funds would come from the national budget etc.

In response, the Sunday Times asked him why he picked this firm without a bidding process and why he was doing so during an election campaign in the US, and reminded the Minister of the on-going investigation into money laundering by the previous Government which also hired US lobbying firms.

A senior Government official, who did not wish to be named, pointed out the folly of signing this agreement when the US presidential election campaign was under way. “If they had waited until the polls were over, and seen how best to lobby the new US Administration, the public money which was squandered could have been saved. This is how careless people can get with public funds when they do these things without consultation,” said the official.

Bureaucrat says his heart is with the Opposition
When bureaucrats run into Opposition politicians, the conversation these days is about the Government and governance.
One such official assigned to a key ministry to which every rupee and cent matters could not help but give a hint when an Opposition politico told him “we will soon be in power.”

“Although I cannot say it publicly, my heart is very much with you all,” confessed the bureaucrat prompting a handshake between the two. The parting remark by the politico was; “let us meet soon under better circumstances.”

President scraps Iran visit, no reasons given
President Maithripala Sirisena has cancelled a planned visit to Iran beginning on January 21.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry has told Iranian authorities that President Sirisena will not be able to attend on the dates agreed due to other urgent commitments. However, no formal reasons have been given.
The dispute over a huge unpaid oil bill due to Iran by Sri Lanka remains unresolved.However, President Sirisena’s visit to Russia, the first ever by a Sri Lankan President, will take place as scheduled on March 21.
After the four-day visit, President Sirisena will fly from Moscow direct to the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka. The Sri Lankan President has been invited to be the chief guest at the Independence Day celebrations of Bangladesh on March 26.

President Sirisena also informally explored the possibility of travelling to Washington DC for the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. However, his foreign policy advisers have told him that no foreign dignitaries are expected in the US capital during the inauguration. He had thereafter dropped the idea. President-elect Trump is to be sworn in as the 45th US President on January 20.

Questions over who is coming to Hambantota
Despite claims that 50 companies, most of them Chinese have come forward to invest in the proposed Hambantota Industrial Zone, the comprehensive details are not available so far, International Trade State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe said.

“We are expecting them to invest in various sectors including infrastructure, manufacturing water tanks in the industrial zone, but as of now we are not sure of the comprehensive details of their investment plans,” Mr. Senasinghe told the Sunday Times.He pointed out that Chinese Ambassador Yi Xianliang last week at the launch of “Sri Lanka-China Logistics and Industrial Zone’ in Hambantota said that more than 50 Chinese companies were present at the event.

Mr. Senasinghe at a media conference held earlier this week said that more than 50 investors were set to come to Sri Lanka.
However, Mr. Yi in his speech in Hambantota said: “Today more than 50 Chinese business people joined for this great moment, some of them have been living in this country for more than 20 years and have become potential investors.”

Wigneswaran seeks sister cities in Canada
Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, now on a visit to Canada, was at the centre of a controversy.
He wanted to sign a “sister city” agreement between Vavuniya and the City of Brampton in Ontario. However, the members of the Brampton Council were opposed to the move and alleged that it was only the Mayor who had consented to it.

According to The Brampton Guardian, a local Canada daily, the councillors debated a request that would link Brampton and Vavuniya via a ‘friendship relationship agreement at the Economic Development Committee meeting on December 7, but no decision was taken.
“The agreement would strengthen existing economic and cultural ties while encouraging commerce and the exchange of goods and services between Brampton, the Greater Toronto Area and Vavuniya,” a media release from the Brampton Mayor’s office said.

Apart from this, on the same day, the Chief Minister was also scheduled to sign another “Friendship Agreement” between the city of Markham, Ontario and Mullaitivu, the former war torn area in the North. Addressing the media in Ontario, Chief Minister Wigneswaran said these agreements are not for any economic assistance or regional co-operation but “to coordinate the Tamil identity globally.” The city of Markham is home for 30,000 Tamils of Sri Lankan origin while the Brampton’s Tamil community numbers around 20,000.

Back home, the NPC broke the record of passing resolutions. At least 321 resolutions in 81 Council sittings have been approved since it began work in 2013.


Speak in one voice: Sirisena tells ministers
Trying to attack a stage where the Prime Minister was seated is wrong, President Maithripala Sirisena observed during last Wednesday’s weekly ministerial meeting.

He was commenting on the incidents where the Police fired tear gas and water cannon on crowds protesting against the inauguration of an industrial zone in Hambantota. Some of the protestors had made an attempt to move towards the stage where the Premier was seated. Police have already filed court action against 53 persons.

President Sirisena, however, noted that different persons in the Government were speaking in different voices about the incident. This, he said, was a sad thing and declared that Government politicians should speak in one voice.

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