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Electricity and the blunders of politicians

It is with disgust and anger that I hear political leaders and politicians of every hue lamenting over the plight of consumers who have to face a sharp increase in electricity tariff. To give vent to my feelings and for the information of readers (consumers), it is best to go back to the 1980s, so that the politicians could be reminded of what the future would be, if a lesson is not drawn from the past blunders of politicians.

It was in early 1980s that the energy generation plan of the CEB scientifically prepared to generate electricity at the lowest possible price. The plan was to have the first coal fired plant in 1996. To keep to this target, the Power and Energy Ministry, together with the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), approached the Australian Government to undertake a study on suitable sites.
Here it should be mentioned with gratitude that the late Carlo Fernando, Civil Engineer and CEB Consultant, took a personal interest and visited every possible site in the sea coast. The first was to be constructed at Trincomalee.

A thorough study was undertaken by well known consultants, Black and Veach. A high-powered professional discussion was held to ensure that there would be no adverse effects to the environment, with President J.R. Jayewardene and eminent scientists Sir Arthur C. Clark, Dr. Kulasinghe, Prof. K.K.Y.W. Perera and several others present.

All were satisfied and the green light was given to go ahead, after clearing all objections. Unfortunately, terrorism reared its ugly head and the project was abandoned due to security reasons. The next best was Mawella. Here, the Southern Development Authority objected, as it had already started construction of a fisheries harbour.

The next was Norochcholai. When all investigations, designs, etc., were completed, the Bishop of Chilaw objected to the site as he feared that the Holy Shrine at Talawila, St. Anne’s, 12 kilomatres away, would be adversely affected. After numerous pleadings over four years, the Bishop consented, provided an independent foreign consultant was appointed to go into the matter.
Accordingly, the government conceded and a foreign consultant, Ramboll of Denmark, was appointed. After a very exhaustive study, the Bishop’s fears were allayed. However, the Bishop now turned his objection to environmental pollution, which too had been studied and recommendations made to arrest any pollution.

In the meantime, the Power and Energy Ministry, with the then Minister Karu Jayasuriya, carried out a vigorous campaign to educate the consumers by having discussions, seminars, workshops, etc. Here it should be mentioned that Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, the then honorary energy advisor to the UNP government, together with the CEB, carried out a very effective campaign.

The best was by the Institute of Engineers, where the Chief Guest was the then Minister Karu Jayasuriya. This seminar was attended by all sections of the community –business, professionals, chambers of commerce, and industries and also by ordinary consumers, falling into the category of ‘domestic.’

In one voice they requested the Minister to go ahead with the project as soon as possible. It is with disgust and sorrow that it has to be mentioned that Jayasuriya, at the last moment, after giving some frivolous excuses, ended by saying that the project would be abandoned on a matter of policy. Thus, that effort ended.

The outcome of this decision was opening the door to private sector to come out with the quick fix solution, by installing diesel generating plants to guzzle diesel, for which we have to pay the penalty. Had Jayasuriya forced the cabinet to accept the proposal then, in 2000 we would have had the 300 mg coal power plant at Norochcholai functioning now. The hidden reason was that the influence of the Church would reduce votes.

With the fall of the UNP government, the CEB once again brought this scheme to the notice of Minister Susil Premajayanth, who took a keen interest, and got the approval of the newly formed UPFA govenment, with a threat that if that was not accepted, he would resign. Unfortunately, he was assigned another Ministry, and the enthusiasm dropped with the present Minister W.D.J. Seneviratne taking over 10 months to release funds to the contractors.

However, the project is now under construction, at a slow pace and one wonders whether it could be completed by 2011 or 2012. In the meantime, the Minister seems to be very interested in setting up Natural Liquid Gas (NLG) plants, which were not in the generation plan of the CEB. As a layman, I am not too sure whether this would produce cheap electricity in comparison to coal, given the escalating prices of gas and diesel.

It is here that the people of this country earnestly request the professionals in this sector of the calibre of Dr. Mohan Munasinghe, Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya, Dr. P. N. Fernando, to name a few, to come forward, voluntarily, and advise the government on whether the future generation plan should rest on NLG and not allow unqualified men to advice the Minister or allow the Minister to take his own decisions, which may be detrimental to the country. Politicians have failed us; let our professionals not fail this country.

As for bribery and corruption in the CEB and in general, going by news items and COPE findings for alleged misdeeds, naturally, officials too get involved when they have to support or carry out the orders or wishes of the politicians. That is the pathetic history of this vital utility sector – electricity – which is essential for social and economic development of this country. All governments since 1990 should accept their faults.
G. A. D. Sirimal


Super - charged electricity

Super charged electricity per se, may at most burn a few electric gadgets. But the proposed super charge on electricity, will certainly burn all the users, or electric gadgets in this country.

The people will surely recall the times during a previous PA regime, when the people were kept in the dark for many hours every night, to overcome an alleged C.E.B. crisis. The present government is indirectly causing the same impediment, by increasing the cost of electricity, by an unconscionable and unacceptable amount.

It will be recalled that, when the C.E.B. was formed, a very competent, honest and efficient set of officers were appointed, (sans political influence) and the Board made, considerable profits in those times. The entire system began to deteriorate, with the increase of political infiltration. The Corporation then became a fertile field for planting relations, friends and henchman, etc,. Consequently, the ministerial control became less effective. Furthermore corruption, wastage, illegal financial transactions etc, began to proliferate. Now the Corporation has become a severe burden on the people.

The fact that the Minister is entrapped, can be seen from the fact that the Minister is merely imposing the pricing structure, evolved by the moguls in the C.E.B., directly on the people.

If the Minister was genuinely concerned about the people, he should have in fact assigned the pricing scheme to an independent team of experts. The C.E.B. proposals are manifestly to squeeze money out of the people, to ensure the safeguarding of all their privileges and perks, which they enjoy, at present. The Minister is also a part of this iniquitous system. .

If the C.E.B. pricing system is forced on the people, then most people will have to remain in darkness for hours, so that they could pay for the few hours they had used electricity, for example, for the period of time, their children studied.

It is easy for the Minister to advise the people to switch off their lights to conserve electricity. But has he, for a single moment ordered that all tamashas, parties held under the patronage of Ministers be called off, to save electricity. Even the road lights keep on burning in the blazing sun light. Is it not a moral for the Government to set the example? As a first step all official functions should be held only during the day, thus saving thousands of units of electricity.

The Government is quick to blame the press for offering constructive criticism, or the trade unions for making, justifiable demands, claiming that these actions are indirectly catering to the LTTE. But does even for a moment, ponder on the billions that are being frittered away from the public, on ministerial jaunts (often with families), or millions wasted on garish advertisements, etc. The Government is in fact helping the cause of the LTTE, to even a greater extent by weakening the economy of this country, which is one of the prime objectives of the LTTE. In fact had these monies been diverted to the CEB, it may have been possible to offer almost free electricity, to a large segment of this country. But that is possibly only a ’pipe dream’.

If the Minister is genuinely concerned about the plight of the people struggling to make their ends meet, he should certainly withdraw, the suggested pricing system, and devise a more people friendly one. The following is one such proposal.

The unit rate may be reasonably increased from slab to slab. But this rate should apply only to the units consumed, above that slab. It should not apply to the usage, below that slab. There is absolutely not logical or legal justification to charge the earlier usage at the new rate, unless it is intended to be a sheer extortion or covert perversity.

There will be no one in Sri Lanka, except those in the CEB and possibly some sycophants, who will ever agree to the Minister’s original proposals. It will certainly have to be forced down the throats of the people, no amount of cajoling, pretentious speeches or soothing words will ever mitigate the people’s disgust already caused by burdens on all fronts.
Sarojini Kulasekara


Avoidable delay to up-country train service

It was reported in the newspapers that renovation work of the Kandy Railway Station is being carried out with the view to complete work in time for the SAARC Summit to be held in Kandy.

One of the most important aspects in developing the upcountry service has been neglected for far too long – which is the avoidable delay in manoeuvring long distance trains and other trains from Kandy to Matale.

Not looked into
The bottle-neck of the upcountry service is the Peradeniya Junction Station. The station is situated far away from the main running line, which runs along the loop from Kaduganawa to Gampaha withought calling over at the Peradeniya Station.
The branch trains running from Kandy to Peradeniya Junction, bringing passengers and goods from Matale line to Colombo and other stations, are brought to Peradeniya Station and transferred to main trains, causing considerable delay.
There is a level crossing at this station, which too causes delay and aggravates road traffic.

The remedy
There was a blueprint long time ago to shift the present Peradeniya Station to the site where the Panideniya School stands. Once the small hillock is levelled, the Peradeniya Junction Station could be shifted to this place. This would eliminate all these delays and ensure the smooth running of trains, especially fast express trains, mail trains and oil trains.

Once the station is shifted, as suggested, the Peradeniya Junction could come on the main running line.
At percent, the Station Master has to walk in rain and sun to the loop line stands, to hand over the tablets to trains not calling over at the Peradeniya Station.

The Station Master having to walk up and down from the station to stands causes a delay of at least six to seven minutes. The running time from the stations on either side of Peradeniya Junction is about 17 minutes. And when trains follow one another, all the trains that follow the first one get delayed because of the station being far away from the main line.

Therefore, it is suggested that the shifting of the Peradeniya Station should be carried out on a priority basis, in order to ensure smooth running of the upcountry service.
V.K.B. Ramanayake


Food promotions

I have seen advertisements in newspapers, TV etc. by popular hotels and restaurants promoting delicious dishes, from time to time, such as: “Hopper Nights”, “Prawn & Crab Fiesta” etc.

But, most of these promotions are on Fridays. Hindus who do not consume non-vegetarian food such as, fish, meat etc. on Fridays, are deprived from enjoying such feasts. Even the hotels will have a better participation, if such promotions are held on a Saturday or Sunday, as many people prefer to eat out, on these days. Long periods of fasts observed by people of various religions, such as Ramazan, Lent, Navarathri etc. and Poya Days should also be considered, before organising such events. Further, allocating more vegetarian dishes to the meals will ensure equal-participation of people, of all faiths. People organising private parties also should consider the above facts and select suitable days to hold such functions.

I hope the public-at-large will take note of this.
It will be appreciated if hotels could consider, the above facts, and organise such events, on days, which would be suitable for people, of all faiths.
S. R. Balachandran

Colombo 6


Appoint the Constitutional Council immediately!

The Congress of Religions, Organisation of Professionals, former Justice Mark Fernando, retired Supreme Court Judge Shirley Tissera, Chairman of the Ceylon and National Chambers of Commerce, and the Chairman National Chamber of Industries have all jointly signed a petition to the President, asking him to reactivate the Constitutional Council.

The petition has clearly pointed out to the President that, he has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and his present failure to appoint the Council, is totally unfair, and could only result in anarchy. It is patently clear that the President does not want to appoint this Council, and is finding flimsy, unworthy reasons to prevent the Council, from functioning. This is a direct violation of the Constitution, which he faithfully promised, to uphold.

All the objections the President has referred to, have now been met, people of this country should ask the President, to appoint the Council. Following a petition, the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremasinghe too, met the President, urging the President, to proceed with the appointment of the long awaited Constitutional Council, but the response the Leader of the Opposition received from the President, clearly showed that, he was dodging the whole issue, and he did not want to appoint the Constitutional Council.

It must be understood that the appointment of the Constitutional Council, is the most important need of the country, and its people. All other issues, even the 13th Amendment, pale into virtual insignificance,compared to the appointment of this council. This concerns all the people. All efforts must therefore be directed towards, the immediate appointment of the Council, as it safeguards the interests and rights of all the people, of this country. The entire country is affected. The President must realise that, he can no longer play about with the appointment of the Constitutional Council, and that he can no longer deny people, their rights, by holding up the appointment, of the much needed Council.

If in spite of all the efforts, that are now being made to get the President to appoint the council still fails, then the people of this country have no other alternative, except to protest to uphold the Constitution, which he openly agreed to do, and also ask him to appoint the Commission, without delay. If he attempts to refrain from appointing the Commission, and deprive the people of this country their legitimate rights, which are safeguarded through the medium of the Council.

It is time for a concerted protest to be made by the people of this country, due to the manner in which the President of this country is handling, the urgent and much needed appointment of the long awaited Constitutional Council. A kind of ‘peoples’ protest’ should now be made through the medium of a mass rally organised by all political parties, sinking all their differences, for the greater interests towards the people, and even joined by the Congress of Religions, to demand from the President, that he must without further delay appoint the Constitutional council. We cannot allow the President to ride rough shod, over the rights of our people any longer.

It is time for all those interested in upholding their rights to get together and demand, that our rights in this country be respected, and safeguarded as determined by the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
It is ime to get together and fight for rights.
Maurice Lord
Colombo 13


SAARC – Of what use to Sri Lanka?

We understand a sum in excess of Rs. 2.5 billion will be spent in hosting the SAARC Summit in Colombo or Kandy soon. Naturally, VVIPs in this country would love to be in the limelight. Now all this money being spent is eventually yours and mine, so we ¬probably cannot be faulted for asking a few questions.

Now that we have had SAARC Summits here and elsewhere in the capitals of the region at enormous costs to us. Has there been a return on this incredible expenditure? What are they? Has Sri Lanka benefited by exporting more to the non-traditional buyers in the region? Or for that matter, have we exported more to the giants, India and Pakistan?

The Free Trade Agreement between India and this country has recorded larger volumes than before but an expert comment from an EDB analyst recently seems to doubt if there has been a net gain to Sri Lanka by the Indo-Lanka Free Trade cooperation at all.

There is much talk about the need to encourage free movement of citizens of the member countries and even an Indian-sponsored rail link covering the region, all aimed “to strengthen friendship and create better understanding in the region.” But how come the Sri Lankan Government has not been able to persuade India to give us the visa courtesies we have given their citizens for years now?

All that we have from India in this regard are lame excuses about the potential danger of LTTEers and Pakistani terrorists misusing the facility of ‘visa on arrival.’ Surely India – much more resourceful than little Sri Lanka – has an army of able and sharp visa officers in all their points of entry. These men must have the professional capability of distinguishing between an ordinary Sri Lankan and a potential Pakistan terrorist.

As to the LTTErs, it is all well known that Indian authorities have files on almost all of them and certainly have a strange breed of men, called ‘trainers’ in their RAW outfit, who have knowledge of who a militant is and who a harmless citizen is, so who is fooling whom?

In spite of SAARC, the Kashmir problem is probably worse than before; India has problems with Nepal on many issues; the Indo-Bangladesh problem too has sharpened. How many disputes in member states has SAARC settled since its inception?

The very inclusion of the clause that SAARC members should not include in their agenda acrimonious issues between member countries has removed all validity in this grouping. The idea between any bilateral groups should be to use the goodwill of the membership to solve existing problems within them and not to pretend differences do not exist.

If you ask me, SAARC has been a terrible failure and should be disbanded forthwith altogether. If the hidden idea of the exercise is for politicians in the SAARC countries to dominate the TV screen, have a good time in wining and dining, this is fine with me, but for God’s sake, don’t use my money for this.
This Rs. 2.5 billion can be used to reduce the price of cooking gas, electricity or fuel, all of which are virtually killing our people.
S. Rajaratnam,
Colombo 6


Police must respond to information by public immediately

A myth has been created in recent times that the Police needs a ‘formal complaint’ to initiate action. The law is quite clear that the Police shall initiate action on ‘information.’ The information can be from any source. It could be an anonymous telephone call, a newspaper exposure or even a rumour.

Under no circumstances should the Police consider telephone calls giving information of a crime or the possibility of a crime occurring as nuisance calls. In most developed Police forces, as a rule Police respond even to trivial calls such as a cat or dog creating a nuisance or the emanation of an obnoxious smell.

Even the success rate of investigations and detections has been directly co-related to Police Response Time (PRT). In the US and the UK, it has been statistically established that the quicker the PRT, the greater chances of success in detection.

In the present day context, far more important than in conventional crime, the prompt and eager response to any information of an impending disaster has become a paramount priority for the Police.

Mahinda Abeysundara in his comments after the TNL evening news of February 25, whilst praising the public for heeding the warnings of the government on suspicious parcels in buses etc., taunted the Police for on occasion ignoring information of citizens.
The stories that were making the rounds, of information to Police by the public being ignored, particularly after the attack on the SLAF base at Anuradhapura, the Kebithigollewa bus bomb and the Nugegoda blast were indeed most distressing. The feeling that the dutiful ‘informants’ would have gone through is unimaginable.
With my years of experience in the Police, I must say that Abeysundara’s comment is fair and should receive the serious attention of the IGP.

Even if 99.9% of ‘information’ provided to the Police proves to be false, the Police has no reason to be discouraged. The Police should not shirk its responsibility of rushing to the scene. One cannot overemphasise this if the information is of a possible disaster – a claymore or parcel bomb. A bomb disaster averted in far better than solving 100 murder cases!

The usual argument trotted out by the Police is the inadequacy of vehicles to respond to all calls promptly. No auditor general will question if the OIC of any Police station hires the nearest available vehicle, car, trishaw, bus, lorry or van to rush to a scene of impending disaster, and no sane judge will find fault with the Police even if a vehicle had been forcibly obtained under such circumstances!
Edward Gunawardena












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