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FeaturesNewsUS axes Lankan voter education funding amid controversy

US axes Lankan voter education funding amid controversy

Dharisha Bastians
◾US aid agency tells prospective applicants federal grant opportunity has been ‘deleted’ ◾Gota vows to investigate those receiving funds for USAID project ◾Cabinet wants US Envoy summoned says Keheliya ◾No official summons but Minister met Ambassador Sison over issue: MEA sources
The USAID has cancelled funding for a voter education program after the Sri Lankan Government raised objections and the island’s top defence official vowed to investigate organizations receiving grants to implement the project.

In an email to prospective applicants yesterday, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said the federal grant opportunity had been “deleted”.
“The Sri Lanka USAID Colombo Office will no longer be accepting applications for this opportunity,” the email read.
 In an interview with a daily newspaper yesterday, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressed concerns about USAID announcing a funding opportunity titled ‘Election Support through Voter Education’ and called it an “attempt to undermine the Government of the host country”.
The Defence Secretary also vowed that all those receiving funds for the implementation of projects under the USAID grant program would be investigated.
 Amid a growing spat between the two countries, the issue was taken up extensively at the weekly Cabinet briefing on Thursday.
 The Ministers decided that US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Michele Sison should be summoned by the Ministry of External Affairs over the funding program, Government Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.
 The US Envoy had not been officially summoned, highly-placed sources at the Ministry of External Affairs said. However External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris had already met Ambassador Sison to discuss the issue, the sources added.  The pair had also met over dinner on Thursday night, hosted by the Minister, they said.
The US Embassy declined to comment on the summoning of its Ambassador or the cancellation of the USAID program, but said the US Government had long partnered with civil society in Sri Lanka and many other parts of the world.
“In Sri Lanka our support for civil society focuses on local organisations that support human rights social services reconciliation and women and girls,” a US Embassy Spokesperson told the Daily FT.
“As President Obama has said, the US has a ‘strong belief that the strength and success of all countries and all regions depends in part on protecting and supporting civil society,’” the Spokesperson added.
 At least two out of three leading election monitoring bodies in Sri Lanka have regularly conducted voter education programs, an official associated with one of the monitoring agencies told the Daily FT.
 The official, who wished to remain unnamed, said voter education programs had been carried out in different parts of the island since 2010. The issue had likely arisen due to bilateral tensions between the two countries and not because of the nature of the programs for which funding was available, the official noted.
 Tensions between Washington and Colombo have been running high after the US sponsored three consecutive resolutions calling for accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
 At the Council in March this year, the US-led resolution set up an international inquiry to probe alleged human rights abuses and atrocities by both sides of the conflict.


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