The Sri Lankan Government expressed concern over the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the US embassy in Colombo and the Trincomalee Urban Council on May 22 to jointly establish a public information and activity centre known as the American Corner. The MoU was signed without notifying the Government of Sri Lanka.
Government sources said that foreign missions based in Colombo should obtain prior approval or inform to the External Affairs Ministry of Sri Lanka whenever they need to engage with local authorities – which is the international norm. The External Affairs Ministry had no knowledge of this and did not authorise the MoU they said. According to External Affairs Ministry Secretary Dr. Karunathilake Amunugama, foreign missions should either inform or get prior approval to implement any project in agreement with the local government authorities.
The Exteranal Affairs Ministry Secretary said that he would call in the mission officials in order to obtain the details of the agreement and the plan to set up such an information centre in the country. He said that he will raise this issue with the mission officials and ask for ‘show cause’ as to why they failed inform the Ministry before the establishment of such a centre.
Currently there are two American Corners – in Kandy and Jaffna.
The signatories to the MoU for establishing and American Corner were Christopher Teal, Director, Press, Cultural and Educational Affairs of the US embassy in Colombo and the chairman of the Trincomalee Urban Council, K. Selvarajah.
The MoU between the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy of the United States of America and the Trincomalee Urban Council was signed on May 22, 2013 at the Public Library of Trincomalee. The Embassy and the Trincomalee Urban Council intend to jointly establish a public information and activity center known as the American Corner for a period of at least five years.
The fact sheet of the US embassy stated: “The host institution, the Urban Council, plans to provide support for the maintenance and operation of the Corner. The American Corner will provide access to current and reliable information about the United States via book collections, the internet and through of variety of events such as public readings, films, speaker programs, workshops, meetings and exhibits. Products and services will include books and multimedia collections, periodicals and databases, hi-speed internet access, and cultural and educational programs.”
US embassy spokesman and Director Press Cultural and Educational Affairs Christopher Teal had told a local daily said that the embassy has put up these information centres in Kandy and Jaffna without any prior approval from the External Affairs Ministry.,
He said that the same process was adopted for the establishment of the American Corner at the Trincomalee Public library.
“The purpose of setting up of these information centres are to provide vital information to the people particularly the student population in the East”, he said.
Teal added that the mission is contemplating setting up such a Centre in the south soon.