Sri Lanka is the only country in the SAARC grouping that provides electricity round the clock. Hence the recent upward revision of tariffs is a necessity, says Ceylon Electricity Board Chairman W.B. Ganegala. “People pay more for mobile phones,” he told the Sunday Times in an interview. He also claimed half of Sri Lanka’s population has [...]


The price for round the clock power is high: CEB chairman


Sri Lanka is the only country in the SAARC grouping that provides electricity round the clock. Hence the recent upward revision of tariffs is a necessity, says Ceylon Electricity Board Chairman W.B. Ganegala. “People pay more for mobile phones,” he told the Sunday Times in an interview. He also claimed half of Sri Lanka’s population has been given relief following President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s May Day directive to reduce tariffs to the poorer sections.

CEB Chairman: Price hike appears to lie heavily on his head. Pic by Hasitha Kulasekera

Here are edited excerpts of the interview:

There are allegations that due to the concessions given to low electricity consumers a heavy burden has been imposed on the other users – particularly the middle class.

Over the years it has been the practice to give concessions to low electricity consumers. Following our request the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka came up with the proposal. However thereafter President Mahinda Rajapaksa offered such a concession in his May Day speech. The President has given a directive not to increase the electricity rates of those using less than 60 units. Accordingly his offer of relief has been fully implemented by this new tariff.

What would be the impact of this reduction?

The bills of a person who used up to 30 units and paid Rs. 142.50 a month and a person who used between 31- 60 units and paid Rs 371.85 would remain unchanged. About half of the country’s population would benefit by this move. The concession given to those using 1-30 units will cost the government Rs. 4.2 billion annually while for those using 31- 60 units it’s Rs. 13.5 billion a year. This is a huge cost.

What about the offer by the President that concessions would be given to those using upto 180 units ? 

Those using 61 to 180 units have been given a 10 per cent reduction compared to the rates that were proposed. It is only when the usage is beyond 243 units would the CEB be making a profit.

However, people argue that it is a considerable increase 

There were previous increases that went up to about 43 per cent. However, this time the average increase has been about 20 per cent when you consider all sectors including the industrial sector. There are 1.2 million consumers using 61 to 90 units and their concession amounts to Rs. 12.4 million.

Has the middle class been burdened as a result?

No, this is not correct. This has been adjusted with the new billing system.

Isn’t the percentage of the increase high?

What you should take into account is the real value and not the per centage. For some consumers the increase will be Rs. 75. But they should think how much they spend on mobile phones and other items. The person who would be paying Rs. 142.50 for 30 units actually does not realise that Rs 699 has been spent to produce that amount of electricity.

How do you defend the increase?

Sri Lanka is the only country among the SAARC countries that provides electricity throughout the day. If we were able to cut electricity supplies for four hours a day we would not have affected an increase. There is a certain price one has to pay for the availability of electricity. We do not impose power cuts.

Despite the increase of prices some of the consumers still face power-cuts as experienced recently. Are these ‘unofficial’ power cuts?

In April we had to shutdown a power station that affected power supplies. But the recent power failures were due to the tripping that occurred at Sapugaskanda due to adverse weather conditions.

One of the arguments is that domestic consumers will be paying more compared to those living in apartments as apartments are provided electricity under a different category. 

We have adjusted that situation.

But further concessions have been given to industrialists?

The concession for industrialists has increased from Rs. 23 billion to Rs. 25 billion. This is partly because of the recent hike in fuel prices.

The country is showing gradual progress. Industries should not be affected because there are foreign investors in the country. We have given more concessions because of the fuel price increase. Even the hotel sector has been given some concessions. Our average cost is 23.30 but we sell for Rs 15.65. But we have gained success by providing these concessions.

Your comments on the proposed strike on May 21?

If the strike takes place it will not have an impact. We have 52 CEB related trade unions. Only one of them had said it would strike. We met about 20 of the unions and met with the engineers union as well. The Minister also held discussions with them. This is an unreasonable strike.

Nobody likes to increase electricity prices, but we have to maintain the institution. There are different teams involved in the proposed strike. No standby arrangements have been made because they are not necessary.

One of the allegations is that corruption and wastage in the CEB is high. Your comment?

The CEB has 16,000 employees. Of them about 800 are engineers and about 80 are auditors. This institution comes under the scrutiny of the Auditor General. There are internal auditors while there is a bribery Commission to whom any body can take their complaints to.

FR petition filed against CEB for discriminatory tariff applications

Domestic consumers in luxury apartments will pay less than what the ordinary domestic consumer will have to pay under the revised electricity tariffs, a human rights group claimed in a Fundamental Rights petition filed in the Supreme Court. Petitioner J.K.R. Dayangani of the Lawyers for Human Rights and Development, cites the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka as respondents.

Petitioner claims that, as luxury apartments are charged a different rate, the ordinary domestic consumer will be compelled to pay a higher rate.  Imposition of extremely high fuel adjustment charges on lower-end users, while imposing much lower charges on higher-end users and on commercial and industrial sectors has also been raised in the petition.

Selling back electricity to the producer, at the rate of less than one-third of the purchase price, and providing electricity below cost price, to warehouses and business concerns, causing a heavy loss to the CEB, are among other issues raised.

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