No end to shocks

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There seems to be no end in sight to the plethora of shocks the hapless public receives from the government almost on a daily basis. Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera has said another electricity tariff hike will be effected early next year. Bakery and eatery owners are already up in arms; they have threatened a countrywide strike to register their protest. The vast majority of electricity consumers, however, will be left with no alternative but to stand and deliver, so to speak. The reason given for the latest tariff hikes is that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) is running at a loss.

Minister Wijesekera makes statements ex cathedra, without furnishing credible information to support his argument for tariff increases. He ought to be specific, and give breakdown figures anent alleged losses of the CEB, and support his case for power price increases, with facts and figures. The nonpayment of electricity bills by some state institutions is one of the main causes of the CEB’s pecuniary woes, but there are other factors.

Power tariff hikes are bound to have a domino effect across all sectors. They will lead to huge increases in the costs of all goods and services, and thereby send the general prices level up, again. Inflation is already in the stratosphere, and many people are struggling to make ends meet. The public must not be made to keep pouring money into a bottomless pit in the hope that the CEB will begin to break even, one day.

Is the CEB incurring losses due to any power purchase agreements loaded in favour of private electricity suppliers, as alleged in some quarters? If so, isn’t it unfair to pass such losses on to the electricity consumers? What is the total loss the CEB suffers due to the non-implementation of the proposed renewable energy projects? Who is responsible for throwing a spanner in the works? The CEB has also been accused of discouraging the solar power producers by various means. What have been the resultant losses? What action has been taken to increase power generation from cost-effective renewable sources?

Allegations of corruption against the CEB abound. All state institutions are corrupt, albeit in varying degrees, and therefore one may argue that it is not fair to single out the CEB for criticism, but given the huge socio-economic cost of power tariff hikes, the government must ascertain how much corruption has cost the CEB, and who is responsible for questionable deals. It is alleged that the country’s hydro power generation capacity is underutilised thanks to intense wheeling and dealing by the so-called thermal power lobby, which benefits when power is purchased from the private sector. Some power sector experts have sought to pooh-pooh this contention, but in June, Minister Wijesekera himself told the media that the CEB had not utilised a huge amount of water released from two reservoirs to generate electricity. He claimed that the Mahaweli Authority and the Irrigation Department had informed the CEB that water would be released from the Rantambe and Randenigala reservoirs, but the CEB had taken no action to utilise it to generate hydropower. He said in Parliament that there was a sinister attempt to increase the country’s dependence on thermal power generation, and information was available of attempts to halt hydropower generation and open the sluice gates of some reservoirs. An investigation had been launched into the allegations at issue, he said.

The CEB is currently incurring heavy losses due to an avoidable delay in procuring coal for the Norochcholai power plant complex, according to the power sector trade unionists. One unit of the power plant has been shut down purportedly for repairs, but the CEB engineers insist that it is the coal shortage that has led to the shutdown. Who is responsible for the losses due to delays in the procurement of coal? Why should people be made to pay for others’ sins by way of tariff hikes?

It is incumbent upon the government, especially Minister Wijesekera, to provide the public with specific information about the CEB’s losses as well as the causes thereof, and name those who are responsible for them.

Courtesy The Island

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