Citing the geographical and strategic location of Sri Lanka, a Senate committee has opposed Trump Administration’s proposal of a drastic 92 per cent cut in American aid to the island nation. “Given the geostrategic importance of the country, the Committee does not support the President’s budget request for Sri Lanka, which proposed a 92 per cent reduction in assistance from the prior fiscal year,” the Senate Appropriations Committee said in a report passing the annual State appropriations bill for the fiscal year 2018, beginning October 1. The appropriations bill, which landed on the Senate floor yesterday for consideration, seeks USD 43 million for Sri Lanka. This includes USD 35 million as economic support fund, USD 6.8 million for non-proliferation and anti-terrorism and USD 500,000 in foreign military financing and an equal amount for training of military personnel.
“The Committee recognises and supports the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka to advance democracy and the rule of law, and encourages further steps to address the underlying causes of the armed conflict by promoting justice and reconciliation,” the Senate Committee said in its report. The Senate committee on its report said that Sri Lanka is strategically positioned along key shipping lanes and emerging from decades of conflict. The House Appropriations Committee has also passed its Foreign Appropriations Bill, but defers from that of its Senate bill on Sri Lanka. Last week during a Congressional hearing, lawmakers had expressed concern over massive cut in US aid to Sri Lanka.
“In Sri Lanka, US foreign assistance will be cut by 92 per cent, mostly from accounts that have supported programs to promote the rule of law, democratic reforms, post-Civil War reconciliation and related efforts,” rued Congressman Ted Yoho, Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific. “These programs are cost-effective ways to contribute to Sri Lanka’s transformation while pursuing a partnership and strategic lead critical locations,” he said. “Even at their height in 2016, US assistance commitments to Sri Lanka were about 42.5 million, and that’s a bit less than half the cost of a single F-35 fighter jet. That seems like a reasonable investment to gain a friend in one of the world’s most critical sea lanes,” Yoho said.
“While we’re forming a large Millennium Challenge Corporation compact was Sri Lanka, the MCC will focus on economic activities. I’m concerned that by changing course so drastically, we want to make sure that we’re not throwing away the investments we’ve already made in Sri Lanka, leaving a gap in the democracy and governance programs Sri Lanka badly needs, and potentially forcing the closure of our USAID mission,” said the US lawmaker. For the fiscal year 2018, the Trump Administration has requested USD 3.4 million in foreign assistance for Sri Lanka. It focuses on strong support for security cooperation and enhanced strategic trade controls, while contributing to Sri Lanka’s progress toward becoming a mine-impact-free nation by 2020.
Additionally, the MCC is developing a compact with Sri Lanka after it successfully passed the MCC policy scorecard in 2016. In June, MCC approved an initial USD 7.4 million to study potential projects and conduct due diligence work in the transport and land sectors. MCC is working closely with the Government of Sri Lanka to bring a compact for Board approval in 2018, the State Department said.