The Government’s Avurudu gift to the people is all wrapped up and only to be delivered; but it is not a welcome one. The new tariffs on electricity, insiders say, is based on IMF advice just this February on a pricing formula, and is one that is bound to give a shock to an already hard-pressed [...]


Power: People pay for absolute corruption


The Government’s Avurudu gift to the people is all wrapped up and only to be delivered; but it is not a welcome one. The new tariffs on electricity, insiders say, is based on IMF advice just this February on a pricing formula, and is one that is bound to give a shock to an already hard-pressed population reeling as they are from the mounting cost of living.

The state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) is running at massive losses. It owes the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation amounts that it can never hope to repay. Back in 2006, the ADB (Asian Development Bank) pressed for reforms, but the UPFA-JVP Government backed out from changing the laws in the face of JVP opposition. The next year, the World Bank called for a reconsideration of the power subsidies. In the midst of this there are wastage, corruption and mismanagement. COPE, the parliamentary oversight committee on public enterprises, has also made adverse comments on the CEB’s administration, and the Auditor General on its accounting practices.

Added to this is the piracy that takes place regularly, even the authorities who permit, or turn a Nelsonian eye to the many instances of illicit tapping of electricity for public functions, religious festivals and the like. The people – and the authorities are made to believe that electricity is a public utility that comes without a bill, or is entitled to be consumed for the public benefit irrespective of the cost.
The founders of Marxism said that electricity was power; almost in a literal sense.

It lit up homes, townships. It opened up industries and generated jobs. Today, electricity is used to power trains, even cars. That Sri Lankans have enjoyed an uninterrupted supply of electricity in the past decade unlike even in the recent past when power cuts were the order of the day, and night, is a vast stride in the economic development of the country. No doubt there were the instances when engineers at the CEB were unavailable at designated hours (unofficial power cuts), but these are nowhere close to the 10 hour power cuts one finds in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, or the constant power breakdowns in the Indian capital, or in most other South Asian countries.

Electricity has not penetrated all the hamlets of this country, and in some rural parts, getting a power line or a high tension wire to carry a supply of electricity is still an arduous chore and a case of running behind a local politician. Around 40 per cent of those in Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces do not have electricity. The kerosene lamp burns bright in many villages.

To those who have the benefit of electricity though, the current tariffs come with a revised plan of calculating bills on the basis of the rate of consumption. On the face of it, the plan seems reasonable but the end user, the consumers will not be impressed when the bill is higher, nor when their bills are topped up for wastage, corruption and mismanagement as well.

The new Minister of Power and Energy seems a little lost in all this. The problem, however, is larger than her. The long-term plan by the Government to reduce thermal power generation (using imported oil) has to be matched with the Government’s increasing dependence on coal power generation. Coal power, they argue, is cheaper but its long-term environmental hazards have been well documented worldwide. How much is the Government prepared to compromise the long-term health ramifications of a nation for short-term economic benefits?

The case of the Norochcholai coal power plant is a textbook example of a Government’s misadventure. It overcame protests around the proposed Chinese built plant by locals who were concerned about the environmental impact. The plant has been more shut than open and now, the Government wants the Chinese to buy it back – but at the inflated price that includes all the money spent on commissions and the ‘gravy’ that was passed around – which the Chinese don’t want to accept.

So, there’s more than what meets the eye in these electricity tariff revisions. Ultimately, it is the citizen who has to pay.

Lanka must now sign mine-ban treaty

While the West keeps mounting pressure on Sri Lanka for ‘post-war’ reconciliation, resettlement and recovery, a band of men and women, day in and day out are painstakingly making regions once ravaged by battle safe to set foot on once again.

This area covering mainly the Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Jaffna districts is littered with mines placed by the LTTE — partly with funds given by the pro-Eelam Diaspora — and the Army. The United Nations declared April 3 (last Wednesday) as International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, given the gravity of this issue around the conflict ridden world, including Sri Lanka.

Egypt has thousands of land mines still buried in the desert sands around Al Alamein since Britain and Germany made it a theatre of war in World War II. The US scattered Indochina countries like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with mines and aerial bombardments in the 1970s, some of which remain un-exploded. These are the legacies left behind in other countries. Africa is mine-infested due to the prolonged wars in the continent.

The largest manufacturer of these mines is the US, where it is a multi- million dollar industry. There’s no concerted UN Action Plan to stop the proliferation of land mines that kill a dozen people around the world each day; the US has not ratified the Mine Ban Treaty signed by 161 other countries.

These mines remain a constant and serious threat to the safety of humans and animals alike and a hindrance to economic development as the people of Northern Sri Lanka best know. Australia this week announced it was donating US$ 20 million (Rs. 2.6 billion) over the next five years to the Sri Lanka project to clear these mines. The target to make Sri Lanka mine-free is 2020 – seven years down the road.

These workers are doing silent, yeoman service, amidst the thunder of alleged human rights violations, risking their life and limb to enable people displaced by the 30-year conflict to resettle in their homesteads and for children to go to school.

The Australian mission in Colombo in a statement says, “Sri Lanka’s mine action programme is viewed as global best practice owing to its rate of clearance, quality and very low number of casualties over the years.” That is a great compliment for the nine different organisations involved.

Sri Lanka is, however, still unready to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. There were reasons for not doing so, because the LTTE terrorists were using land mines. Now that the conflict is over, it is timely that Sri Lanka join the world community in ridding this world of such a dangerous weapon of mass destruction.

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