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Battle over proposed power tariff intensifies as PUCSL Chief rejects NC deadline



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), Janaka Ratnayake, yesterday (22) said that Parliament couldn’t, under any circumstances, settle the simmering dispute over the power tariffs, proposed by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), outside the PUCSL Act No 35 of 2002 and the Sri Lanka Electricity Act No 20 of 2009.

The outspoken official, embroiled in a running battle with the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government, said so when The Island sought his response to the all-party National Council (NC) directive to the PUCSL, and the CEB, to reach a consensus on electricity tariffs before they appeared before the NC tomorrow (24).

Emphasising the need to finalize the required calculations, before a final decision could be made, intrepid official Ratnayake said that he didn’t mince his words when the situation was explained to the National Council.The PUCSL and the CEB received specific directive, in this regard, from the National Council, on January 19, during proceedings chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

The leader of the ruling party parliamentary group, Premier Dinesh Gunawardena, sat at the head table, with the Speaker and Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake.

“Let me stress, the National Council or any other institution cannot impose a deadline on the PUCSL. We abide by the relevant parliamentary Act,” Ratnayake said.

However, the PUCSL and the CEB haven’t met so far.Asked whether he had the backing of the entire Board, the PUCSL Chairman said that having unanimously taken a stand against the Cabinet-of-Ministers backed CEB’s pricing formula, on January 12, some other members reneged on their word.

The PUCSL board consists of Janaka Ratnayake (Chairman), Udeni Wickramasingle (Deputy Chairman), Chathurika Wijesinghe and Mohan Samaranayake. Prof. Janaka B. Ekanayake (Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Peradeniya) quit the PUCSL board in early part of last year. That vacancy hasn’t been filled yet.

Ratnayake alleged that the other members had switched their allegiance to the government and were pursuing a strategy harmful to the electricity consumers.

Asked whether the majority could override him to pave the way for the second electricity increase, within months, Ratnayake answered in the affirmative. Ratnayake said that he would resort to legal action if that happened. He questioned the circumstances the other members met President Ranil Wickremesinghe, a few hours before they appeared before the NC.

Ratnayake said that he couldn’t be removed unless approved by 113 members of the parliament.

The Island raised the issues at hand with Mohan Samaranayake, who strongly denied accusations made by the PUCSL Chairman, as regards their response to the Cabinet-of-Ministers reconfirming on January 09, 2023, a decision taken in November last year, to increase electricity tariffs.

“The Cabinet of Ministers, in a note addressed to the PUCSL, advised what was expected of us,” Samaranayake said, emphasising that the PUCSL was not asked to take decisions beyond its mandate. Referring to change of policy guidelines, Samaranayake said that the Cabinet had asked for an interim revision of electricity tariffs, pending a final decision by 15 February 2023, and backdated increase with effect from January 01, 2023.

Having received the Cabinet note, the PUCSL board met on 12 January to discuss its response and it had been agreed to respond in writing, Samaranayake said. “The letter was to be shown to us before dispatching it to the Cabinet. However, the letter dated January 13 was sent on the evening of 16 January,” Samaranayake alleged.

Declaring that the Chairman didn’t have special powers at all, Samaranayake questioned the legality of Janaka Ratnayake signing the letter, on behalf of the entire PUCSL even without showing it to them.

In spite of the PUCSL Chairman repeatedly declaring that he was opposed to the CEB’s pricing formula, the letter addressed to the Cabinet-of-Ministers had not said so, Samaranayake said. What the Chairman really said was that the PUCSL was in the process of reviewing the CEB proposal, Samaranayake said, acknowledging that the interim tariff hike and backdated increase, with effect from 01 January 2023, had been rejected.

Samaranayake, one-time head of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Media Division, said that he had accepted an invitation from President Wickremesinghe. Two other members, too, had received separate invitations and, during discussions with President Wickremesinghe, in the presence of Power Minister Kanchana Wijesekera, the rapidly developing crisis had been explained.

“There was absolutely no basis for claims the President exerted pressure on us,” Samaranayake said.

Responding to another query, Samaranayake said that when Premier Gunawardena and other lawmakers raised the issues at hand, he had explained the situation to them and why they couldn’t agree with the PUCSL Chairman.

Samaranayake alleged that some persons had threatened him and Deputy Chairman Wickramasinghe on the 17th floor of the Merchant Tower Building, Kollupitiya, while they were returning from a special meeting of the PUCSL board, on 21 January.

Chathurika Wijesinghe hadn’t attended that particular meeting as she was out of Colombo, Samaranayake said, adding that several persons confronted them as they arrived at the Bank of Ceylon-owned building for the meeting. “They asked us not to betray the people for perks and privileges,” Samaranayake said. However, after the conclusion of the meeting, there was a group on the 17th floor who acted in a threatening manner and then joined Samaranayake and Wickremesinghe in the elevators, where they warned of consequences if they ‘collaborated’ with the government, Samaranayake said.

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