The JVP has called upon electricity consumers not to pay their bills and to get on to the streets to protest against the Government’s decision this week to sharply raise tariffs. Many consumers will have to pay as much as 60 per cent more than their present bills. One might argue that it was the [...]


Consumers’ bills topped up for mismanagement


The JVP has called upon electricity consumers not to pay their bills and to get on to the streets to protest against the Government’s decision this week to sharply raise tariffs. Many consumers will have to pay as much as 60 per cent more than their present bills.

One might argue that it was the Government that recently ignored a Supreme Court ruling showing disregard for the law, but the JVP’s call is for civil disobedience; a serious call. 

No doubt, the JVP has seen its popularity plunge in recent years. Mortally wounded by splits and internal strife on which it is trying to put a lid, the Government’s almost inhuman tariff revision has given the party a shot in the arm to revive its mass appeal.

How much a call for a civil disobedience campaign will have currency with the public though, is another matter. Last year, there were similar price increases in fuel, electricity and food. But there was hardly a whimper. Even now, whether the public will want to get on to the streets and trust the Opposition to provide deliverance is very much in doubt.

Others too are calling for protest campaigns. The main Opposition UNP is also making a hardly audible murmur in protest through its ‘press conference opposition’. Some are threatening court action which is a wonderful certificate for the Judiciary that people still have faith and trust in it.

By and large, the Opposition has been missing opportunity after opportunity to take this Government to task and win the support of the long-suffering people. This sharp increase in electricity prices is partly the fault of the Opposition as much as it is that of the Government. Their (Opposition) reliance on the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to halt the increase in one’s light bill ought to have been a pipedream. To rely on the PUC to be an independent, autonomous, regulatory body that has the final word on whether electricity prices should, or should not be increased was expecting far too much in modern-day Sri Lanka where every aspect of administration is centrally controlled.

Protests against the Government for its actions are not only a legitimate, democratic right of every citizen, but in this case, also justifiable.

On the Government side it argues that subsidies must end. That is the voice of Esau (Government), but the hand of Jacob (IMF). The Government hasn’t explained itself properly in executing this new billing system that is going to hit the already overburdened citizenry, barely managing to pay their other bills relating to the cost of living, in the solar-plexus. 
The problem with the Government is that its own track record in proper governance is wanting and its leadership is not exemplary, to justify asking the people to tighten their belts further.

Several Government institutions, particularly the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), have been accused by parliamentary oversight committees and the Auditor General of mismanagement and corruption on a wide scale. The consumer’s bill is topped up with this malady. It is therefore misleading to place the blame on the mounting losses- running into billions of rupees, on subsidies alone. That is simply not true.

That is one major reason why the people are naturally angry with this Government. Coming as it does in the wake of five fuel price increases (from April 2011 to April 2013), this massive hike in electricity prices is a cruel blow.

Coping with these price increases is only one side of the story. The usual side-effects are bound to continue. This comes in the form of increased crime rates, increased corruption in the Government sector, and thefts in the public and private sector. 
On a related matter, it is also a concern to see the US embassy officials requesting direct talks with the CEB officials bypassing the Ministry of External Affairs. It was only earlier this month that we highlighted how Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has been ‘outsourced’ by the Central Bank and the Ambassador in Washington to some public relations firms in the US capital – without the knowledge of the Ministry. Now it seems it is outsourced even at home!

The Government might want to say that this is ‘out of the box’ strategy; but that is logic few can comprehend. Which country in the world allows a foreign embassy to hold direct talks with Government agencies bypassing the usual protocol? It looks more like sheer ineptness on the part of the Government to govern if a foreign embassy even contemplates making such requests.

Despite all the anti-Western rhetoric, it seems that the economy can come to a point when the Government has no option but to woo the US, the West and the World Bank. And follow their dictates.

Lady Thatcher

The death last week of one-time British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would have little impact in this part of the world, if not for the fact that she was responsible for the gift of the Victoria Dam worth a 100 million British Pounds then, on behalf of the British people to the people of Sri Lanka, and especially so, at a time when her own country was in economic turmoil.

Together with her Overseas Development Minister Judith Hart, and a nudge from long-time friend of Sri Lanka, Lord Naseby and President J.R. Jayewardene and his Mahaweli Development Minister Gamini Dissanayake, the negotiations were deftly handled. Victoria today provides 140 megawatts of electricity to the national grid (hydro-power is 40% of the country’s power generation) — a relevant factor in the context of today’s electricity price increases — apart from stored water released for cultivation to Sri Lankan farmers.

Ms. Thatcher was part of a new world order created in the 1980s alongside with US President Ronald Reagan that saw the collapse of world socialism and the emergence of free market forces. It also saw the end of welfare states and creation of workable states. In this neck of the woods, President Jayewardene was part of what has now become irreversible politics.

Like the young Blairs in the UK, the young Rajapaksas in Sri Lanka were forced to discard outdated socialist policies they grew up embracing and accept free market economic policies. Ms. Thatcher set about neutralising the trade unions’ grip on the British economy and setting in motion the privatisation of British giants like BT (British Telecom). This example was followed in Sri Lanka and today SLT provides a far better service to the consumer together with the private sector than when it was a state-run monopoly. The same could well be true for the CEB if it is genuinely privatised in the SLT model.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.