The Sunday Times Editorial

31 March 1996

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Let there be light

The Ceylon Electricity Board said this week, that consumers were circum-venting the four-hour power cuts. Then followed it up with a threat to cut supplies without notice amounting to adding insult to injury. Do the CEB pundits think that the supply of electricity is a big favour they do to the people rather than an essential service?

We would like to ask on behalf of the people what the CEB has been doing all these years besides its operations in the dark. We are referring to instances such as the tender for the coal power project which was cancelled by the Cabinet last year amid questions. The project had been approved at an earlier date where the President or Prime Minister was not present.

The President later cancelled it but no alternative arrangements were made. In May last year the Chairman of the CEB told an investment seminar in Malaysia not to worry about electricity 'there's plenty of it here.' This week the President of the Malaysian Chamber of Commerce was here to see the truth of that lie for himself.

That at the turn of the 20th century and in this high-tech era Sri Lanka must rely on the weather gods, is a damning indictment on our planners. We have been blessed with an abundance of natural resources surrounded by the sea and rivers running all over the country. But in recent years we have been unconcerned with nature and upset the balance. So now nature is reacting and we are facing the natural consequences. Thousands of trees were and are felled and forests destroyed under political patronage or protection. Going to dangerous extremes, we have allowed a vehicle explosion with absolutely no check on the carbon monoxide emissions. It is this emission from vehicles and uncaring factories that is the principal cause of the depletion in our ozone layer.

Millions of people these days are experiencing heat to the extent they have seldom or never done before. There are warnings that the attack on the ozone layer goes on unabated. People will notice with each passing year, it's getting hotter and hotter.

The current power cuts go beyond the incompetence of the Ministry of Power and Energy, and the CEB. It goes beyond the mere switching off of lights, fans and other appliances. It is a warning of destruction slowly but surely unless immediate steps are taken to reduce environmental pollution while we explore other sources of energy rather than depending so much on hydro-power. More than any privatisation what we need in this sector is modernisation. And with clean hands, please.

No rights for citizens

While fully understanding the need for tight security in times such as these, recent incidents compel us to ask whether some members of the security forces for some reason are getting into a tendency of shooting first and then asking questions.

In Mabole recently security men at a checkpoint opened fire at a transport board bus filled with office workers. The guards claimed the driver did not stop at their signal but the driver claims he did not see any such signal. Whatever may have happened they could have given chase and stopped the bus or alerted a patrol ahead to do so rather than shooting indiscriminately and injuring innocent people.

Then there were the recent incidents involving VIP's security. We wish to make a sober appraisal of whether and to what extent VIP security, essential though it may be, is compatible with the right of ordinary citizens to get about their day-to-day work.

PA security has been less obtrusive except for road closures and chronic traffic jams in contrast to the indecent display by strong men of the UNP. We also know that Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte and others such as Air Force Chief Oliver Ranasinghe are on top of the LTTE hit list. Their security must be first class, clear-headed, cool and intelligent. Otherwise in a shoot-out the security men might endanger the very persons they are expected to protect.

What are a citizen's rights in such cases? In one case a life has been all but lost and we have a bland statement that his vehicle was moving in a suspicious manner.

In the other case, this Wednesday overtaking the Air Force Commander's car seems to have provoked a flagrant denial of normal courtesy.

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