MCC cannot erase the rights of Sri Lanka’s future generations
When late Justice Amarasinghe delivered the landmark verdict in the Eppawela phosphate case in the 1990s which ironically was associated with a US & Japanese tie-up with a rail track from Anuradhapura to Trincomalee, he cited that a government was only custodians and the land and all of its resources could not be harmed and made unavailable to future generations. This judgment has set a precedence for the giving away of lands & resources and should be a solid foundation to any decision vis a vis MCC land and road project proposals. State land cannot belong to anyone outright be it Sri Lankan or Foreigners. All state land/resources that holds the inalienable sovereignty of the people must be held with the State functioning only as custodian and caretaker on behalf of future generations.
The MCC agreement must be taken as part of the regime change that took place in January 2015 after which scores of US tie-ups and deals took place while weakening Sri Lanka via co-sponsorship of UNHRC Resolution and carrying out a campaign to vilify the 2 historical pillars that defend the nation – the armed forces & the Maha Sangha.
Another key aspect seen in the numerous aid/grants that the former government was entering with external parties was the manner that aid/grants demanded changes to legislation BEFORE grants/aid was given. This was a highly dangerous scenario – a government or international body offers to give some money in exchange for changing Sri Lanka’s laws. Has the Government or officials thought of the repercussions of changing land laws and its impacts simply to get some money for which we will not only end up paying colossal interest but leave Sri Lanka all the weaker & without land to call our own!
A closer look at the pre-conditions of the MCC as shown in the PowerPoint presentation by MCC in Temple Trees highlights major changes to Sri Lanka’s land laws and honoring its commitment, the Ranil Wickremasinghe Govt removed not only the barriers preventing foreigners to purchase land but also enabled foreigners to buy any amount of land in Sri Lanka. So imagine the damage this decision can do to any foreigner or foreign company handing big chunks of money and buying our land? What explanation can we give to the future generations who will be born into a country where land belongs to foreigners?
Another closer look at the MCC ‘gift horse’ amount of $480 ruse also highlights that under various pre-conditions money has already been disbursed to American firms tasked to survey Sri Lanka’s land, digitalize Sri Lanka’s land deeds, cadastral map all state land and resources – so while US claims to give us a gift from one hand it is taking back that money from the other hand and that too we have to take a loan and the loan is topped off by having to pay interest.
The MCC agreement clearly states that Sri Lanka will have to bear costs in addition to the $480m if costs increase. So do we know how much of this $480m has been spent already or will get reduced from the money we have had to give US firms to do the pre-conditions set in the agreement? No, we don’t – what the new Govt should immediately do is to find out how many items have been outsourced to foreign or local firms, for how much and for how long, which are all related to this MCC project.
Already the company tasked to digitalize Sri Lanka’s deeds having taken an X amount of $ and simply dumped some computers in the Land Ministry, are asking more millions to carry out the rest of the task. This whole agreement seems to be part of a well-planned under cover set up to enable a group of people to ground themselves in Sri Lanka, carry out some tasks for showpiece and share the money between the outsourced foreign and local companies and a small group of locals handling the project and for that we have a few lobby groups like those finding the path and those verifying the research to present that Sri Lankans are refusing some super gift horse!
Everyone is taking decisions related to Sri Lanka’s land completely ignoring the experts knowledgeable enough to look at the MCC agreement not only from what is presented as a rich gateau but considering the repercussions, the national security dangers, the demographic dangers, the resource issues once resources fall into foreign hands and a plethora of other issues that need to be looked too in greater detail. Of course, we are all forgetting that the National Economic Council gave a detailed report addressing all above issues and recommended that Sri Lanka does not enter the MCC agreement in view of many a danger they outlined. This report must be distributed amongst all MPs and Secretaries so they can read and understand before they go making silly statements to the public.
What must worry Sri Lanka’s policy makers
- How many are aware that land statutes have NOT been revised by post-independence governments and some of these statutes data back to 1863 – without proper planned revision how can Sri Lanka consider handing these to MCC?
- MCC, USAID, AUSAID, FAO foreign lawyers and their research teams are more knowledgeable about Sri Lanka’s land statutes than any of Sri Lanka’s lawyers. The Sri Lankan experts are knowledgeable but their advice are not heard or taken.
- Why have we commenced to digitalize state land registry when the state of the building and the books has not been looked into to be on par with developed nations who are digitalizing their records. Here we have some very primitive set of records commenced in 1863 and we are suddenly declaring to digitalize simply because we are forced to achieve a higher status in the Ding Business index .
- Yes, digitalization commenced but how feasible is the current set up when it falls into foreign hands – what if funders stop funding? What if private contractors stop work and demand more funding – presently the foreign company tasked has suddenly raised their fee from $2m to $7million with nothing done to show for the $2m given. Who is going to monitor these? Why cannot it be done by trained people – why give to foreigners clueless about our systems. If our people lack expertise or training – why not spend money & train them. No land registries should be digitalized WITHOUT laws to manage and maintain them being implemented first.
- Even without the Land Bank Act being passed land details are getting converted to the land bank – who knows about this and is this happening to a plan or simply because funding has come, land registries are being digitalized as per foreign law not even according to Sri Lanka’s law. http://www.ft.lk/columns/Sri-Lanka-s-Land-Registry-will-operate-electronically-with-new-law-Bim-Saviya/4-690407
- Of the 10million blocks of lands only 200,000 lands have been entered into the land registry since 2007. It is estimated that the process will take some 50 years!
- Then the MCC comes along, knows the weak areas, knows the weaknesses of the political system and says it will give a large chunk of money and demands 11 separate land registries to digitalise – have we even done proper study before agreeing to these demands or is it simply because the funds come and anything is ok knowing funding are all opportunities for a handful to split the money!
Justice A R B Amarasinghe in his book ‘Title Insurance’ pointed the need to amend age-old colonial laws which must be changed not to suit western laws but to conform with our own history & heritage.
Why are we not learning lessons?
In 1815 the colonial British took over our land claiming we did not have documents (Waste Land Ordinance) lands were held by the King and locals were using them as grants – there was no written documents. The British used this drawback.
2020 – Do we have documents preserved in land registries as required by law for the next generation to claim the land? Any state land given for a term exceeding prescribed period has to have a copy in the Registrar of lands for Public inspection – this is primary evidence as given in section 62 of Evidence Ordinance. Was this done when former President Sirisena gave some 1million title deeds to farmers along the MCC marked map areas?
Digitalisation is so far being done without proper leadership, without proper expertise, without proper planning, without looking at the dangers and repercussions and without taking adequate legal measures to protect the interests of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, uphold Sri Lanka’s land rights. Sri Lankans utilizing state land on lease etc..
It is therefore suggested that the President should FIRST appoint a Land Council of eminent experts in land laws to look into the influx of land statutes and to revise the colonial land statutes to suit modern times.
This must be done by lawyers knowledgeable in both, natural resources experts, environmental experts etc and all land related projects, have to go through them before being approved by any Minister. Land council should be a statutory body and all land statutes should be made not for keeping up with the Joneses and for the false pursuits of capitalism and industrialisation as required by funding organisations at the expense of agriculture and the customs of our people.
There is MUCH to do before AGREEING to MCC and these steps must be followed first and this is good enough reason to explain to MCC as to why Sri Lanka will withhold signing of agreement.
Shenali D Waduge