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Development of renewable energy projects: President’s concerns

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BY Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

Proceedings of a meeting held by the President on 15.12.2020 with the Power Minister, Renewable Energy Minister, officials of the two ministries as well as officials of institutions coming under the two ministries to discuss issues pertaining to the development of renewable energy (RE) were shown in newscasts of TV channels as well as reported in the print media recently. The purpose of this write-up is to elaborate on some issues raised by him.

 

PRESIDENT’S CONCERNS

According to a report in The Island of 16.12.2020, the President has said that “he is exploring the possibility of rapidly adding power from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to the national grid, and that many countries are turning to renewable energy sources for power generation. As per the “Saubhagyaye Dekma” Policy Statement, by 2030 the government expects to meet 70% of the total electricity demand from renewable energy sources”. He has further said that “the generation of renewable energy should be carried out expeditiously in a systematic manner with short-term as well as long-term objectives”. He was also heard saying that officials should be sincere and honest in this exercise.

 

REALIZING THE PRESIDENT’S TARGET

It may be recalled that the President first announced his target of achieving 70% of energy consumed for generation of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 at a meeting he had with the same audience on September 14th, more than three months ago. This was given in a press release issued by the President’s Media Division on the same day. See the website http://www.pmdnews.lk/70-of-electricity-demand-will-be-generated-using-renewable-energy-by-2030/.

In this press release, the President has emphasized that institutes with the authority to approve Development Projects should have feasibility reports stand by and the approval process should be expedited and that the Government has made the promotion of renewable energy a top priority. The President advised the Secretary to the President to issue a gazette calling for all the institutes to assist in this endeavour. But it appears that the President’s instructions have not been carried out.

The President would have convened the meeting on the 15th, probably because there has been no follow up on his announcement initiated during the last three months. Though he said once at a public meeting where officials were present, to take his word as a circular, things do not happen that way in the system. To give effect to the President’s target, the Secretary to the Ministry of Power, being the Cabinet Ministry, has to prepare a Cabinet paper seeking approval of the Cabinet for amending the Cabinet approved Guidelines for Electricity Industry by changing the target given in it from 50% to 70% as decided by the President.

This amended Guidelines document has to be presented to the Cabinet by the Minister and once approved, it has to be communicated to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), who will in turn direct the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to prepare its Generation Plan to conform with the amended Guidelines. The writer’s understanding is that this process has not happened to date, for which the Secretary to the Ministry of Power should take the responsibility. Incidentally, the PUCSL was a notable absentee at the President’s meeting.

After the President made this announcement in September, the writer published an article in The Island of 02.11.2020 under the heading “Will CEB make an effort to comply?” referring to the President’s target. In this article he wrote “Being a matter concerning RE share in power generation, the relevant Cabinet paper will have to be presented to the Cabinet by the Power Minister. The general practice is for the Secretary to the Ministry to draft the paper in concurrence with the Minister. The question is how long the Power Ministry will take to attend to this” (https://island.lk/will-ceb-make-an-effort-to-comply/).

It appears that the Secretary to the Ministry of Power has failed to take any action towards incorporating the President’s target into the Guidelines to the Electricity Industry during the last three months which is a pre-requisite for adding RE systems into the grid. Hence the first thing the President should do to see that “generation of renewable energy should be carried out expeditiously” is to have a more efficient and dynamic person as Secretary who can take decisions independently. If he had a Secretary like that, the PUCSL by now would have directed the CEB to revise its Generation Plan to conform to President’s target.

 

RENEWABLE ENERGY SHARE IN THE POWER SECTOR

The CEB’s Statistical Digest for 2019 reports the total electricity generation in 2019 as 15,922 GWh, of which major hydro had contributed 3,784 GWh (23.8%), coal, 5,361 (33.7%), petroleum oil, 5,061 GWh (31.5%), Mini hydro, 1,011 GWh (6.3%) and other RE sources including wind and solar adding to 750 GWh (4.7%). This gives the RE share in the power sector as 35% in 2019. The challenge is to raise this share to 70% by 2030. According to the CEB’s draft Generation Plan for 2020-39, to meet the demand in 2030, approximately 31,700 GWh of electrical energy need to be generated. This means 70% of this amount or 22,000 GWh of electricity will have to be generated from RE sources in 2030. With the 2018 RE generation standing approximately at 5,545 GWh, this has to be quadrupled by 2030 by adding 16,400 GWh units of RE. However, this is subject to output from the major hydropower plants which varies with the rainfall. For example, in 2018, this share was 45% with the major hydro contribution of 5149 GWh and the shortfall was about 15,000 GWh.

The total committed solar power systems as announced by the government from time to time amounts to about 1,400 MW and assuming a plant factor of 20% based on the performance of existing systems, they could generate about 2,400 GWh of energy a year. Similarly, the committed wind power systems will add up to 650 MW yielding about 2,000 GWh of energy assuming a plant factor of 35%. Dendro and waste to energy projects could add another 1,300 GWh of energy. This makes a total of 5,700 GWh of RE energy to be generated within a few years’ time beyond the existing plants. This means there will be a shortfall of about 10,000 GWh of RE energy for generating 16,400 GWh by 2030 to meet the President’s target.

One problem here is that the quantities of RE generation from such sources as hydro, wind and solar have hourly, daily, seasonal and annual variations. In particular, the hydro power contribution, both from major and mini, could vary widely depending on whether the year is a dry year or a wet year. If the 70% target is achieved in a wet year, it does not mean the target is achieved in a subsequent dry year. Hence, it is necessary to have a surplus of energy from other sources such as wind and solar to accommodate any drop in the hydro contribution due to adverse weather conditions. This could issue could become prominent in the future under climate change.

 

CEB’S RESPONSE FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY PROPOSALS

A previous regime launched in 2017 a programme named “Soorya Bala Sangramaya” (SBS) to be implemented in four phases, with a view to accelerate the utilization of solar power in the country. Under Phase I, it aimed to generate 1 GW from one million solar rooftops, each with capacity of 1 kW. Phase II of the programme relates to building 150 solar power plants each with capacity 1 MW to be built by the private sector on build, own and operate (BOO) basis in two stages of 60 and 90 plants each of 1 MW capacity. The entire cost including land acquisition and extension of the grid as well as getting clearances has to be met by the investor and tenders were called in 2017/18. However, there is no information as to how many of these projects were accepted and commenced.

In 2020, another tender was floated inviting investors to build solar power plants with capacities in the range 3-10 MW amounting to a total of 150 MW at specified locations where gid substations are available, under Phase III of SBS programme. Though in 2017 the Cabinet approved building an aggregate of 1,000 MW of large solar power plants under Phase IV of the SBS programme, comprising 800 MW solar park at Pooneryn, 100 MW solar park at Siyambalanduwa, 100 MW solar system on Maduru Oya Reservoir, no firm action has been initiated by the CEB to proceed with these proposals during the last three years. The lack of enthusiasm to develop RE projects is understandable as the fuel, that is, solar radiation and wind, are available freely for RE projects unlike for thermal power plants for which the CEB has spent in 2019 a sum of LKR 50 Billion for oil and LKR 46 Billion for coal (CEB’s SD 2019).

The CEB publishes once in two or three years a Long-Term Generation Expansion (LTGE) Plan incorporating the capacities that need to be added annually for the 20-year period to the future to meet the future demand for electricity and specifying the type of corresponding generation units including their fuels that would generate electricity at least cost. The RE capacities to be added up to 2030 as included in the CEB Plan are 165 MW of mini-hydro systems, 555 MW of wind systems, 880 MW of solar systems and 55 MW of biomass systems. These are far below the capacities already approved by the Cabinet from time to time for installation in the short term which means that the CEB’s Plan does not fall in line with the government requirements. The CEB is not even responding to requests made by PUCSL to revise its Generation Plan to conform with the Cabinet approved present Guidelines which says that minimum of 50% of electricity has to be met from RE sources. Obviously, this calls for a change in management of the CEB.

 

SRI LANKA SUSTAINABLE ENERGY AUTHORITY

Sri Lanka commenced its RE programme in early seventies, about 50 years ago, when it established an integrated RE village at Pattiyapola in the Hambantota District with the assistance from UNDP. Its objective was to provide energy requirements of the village from RE sources including wind, solar and biogas generated from cow-dung amply available in the village. However, with the extension of the grid to the village a few years later, the project was abandoned.

 

The availability of international funding for the development of solar-home systems and the large number of sites suitable for setting up of mini-hydro systems associated with waterways in the Central, Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces, prompted the expansion of the RE systems in the country in an ad-hoc manner.

In order to regulate and promote the RE industry, the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority Act, No. 35 was passed in 2007. Though the Board of the Authority comprises 21 members, mostly Secretaries to various Ministries, surprisingly there is no representation of the CEB in its Board. Under the following Articles in the Act, the SLSEA is required to prepare a comprehensive RE Development Plan and have it gazetted after receiving comments from the public and stakeholders.

7. (1) The Director-General shall within six months of the appointed date, cause a survey and a resource assessment to be commenced of all renewable energy resources in the country and prepare a renewable energy resources inventory and a renewable energy resource map in respect of each Development Area.

8. (1) The Director-General shall not later than three years after the appointed date, submit to the Board a comprehensive Renewable Energy Resource Development Plan (hereinafter referred to as “the Plan”) based on the results of the survey and the renewable resource assessment carried out under section 7.

(5) Upon approval of the Plan by the Cabinet of Ministers, the Minister shall cause such Plan to be published in the Gazette and it shall come into operation on the date of such publication or on such later date as may be specified therein.

It is interesting to find out whether such a Plan has indeed been prepared by the SLSEA and gazetted, and if so, the President should be aware of it. Otherwise, it is time its management too is changed if the President wishes to see that “generation of renewable energy should be carried out expeditiously”.

 

SRI LANKA’S POTENTIAL FOR RE SYSTEMS

Sri Lanka has a large number of reservoirs both ancient and recently built. Those in the North, North Central and Eastern Provinces where the solar insolation is high with area more than 1000 ha add up to more than 50,000 ha. Since solar PV panels require about 1 ha for every 1 MW of installed capacity, installation of solar panels covering at least 10 % of the area of the reservoirs has the potential to install 5,000 MW of capacity generating about 8,800 GWh of electricity annually.

An all-island Wind Energy Resource Atlas of Sri Lanka developed by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of USA in 2003, indicates that nearly 5,000 km2 of windy areas with good-to-excellent wind resource potential exist in Sri Lanka. Using a conservative assumption of 5 MW per km2, this windy land could support almost 20,000 MW of potential installed capacity (SLSEA Website). Even if 10% of this amount or 2,000 MW capacity is utilized, it will generate about 5,200 GWh of energy annually.

It is clear therefore that Sri Lanka has the resources to develop more than 14,000 GWh of energy from RE projects, solar and wind alone above what has been already committed. In addition, it is possible to develop modern technologies to utilize biomass energy more efficiently in industries reducing the demand for oil. With these RE resources, the amount required to meet the 70% share in total electricity generation by 2030 could be achieved comfortably. Coordination and cooperation among stakeholder institutes such as the CEB, SLSEA, PUCSL, Irrigation Department and land authorities are prerequisites for realizing this target.

 

FUNDING FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECTS

The CEB has not shown any interest in utilizing funding for the development of RE systems offered by foreign sources. Under the International Solar Alliance, India has offered a USD 100 million credit line for the development of solar projects and has assigned a company in India to help Sri Lanka to build a solar park. This is a good opportunity to get one of the two planned solar parks built. Apparently, the CEB has not expressed any willingness to accept this offer.

Under the Paris Agreement, funding is available to developing countries for building RE projects that will save Carbon emissions. However, it is necessary for the host institution to prepare a suitable project proposal and submit it to the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) through the Ministry of Environment, which is the National Focal Point of UNFCCC, to seek the funding. The Writer’s understanding that neither the CEB nor the SLSEA has taken any initiative to prepare a proposal to seek funding for this purpose. The Environment Ministry’s Climate Change Secretariat is partly responsible for this lapse.

 

CONCLUSION

The President has clearly given his targets for achieving RE share by 2030 as 70% in the power sector. In order to achieve this target, the country has to generate 22,000 GWh from RE sources in 2030. Regrettably, the CEB or the SLSEA has taken only a lackadaisical attitude towards developing RE projects rather than an aggressive approach necessary to meet the President’s target. However, the country has enough RE potential to meet this shortfall comfortably, provided necessary regulatory system is in place and the responsible professionals are enthusiastic in developing them.



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Rev Fr. Eugene Herbert’s loss should result in breaking down societal imbalances

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The river we step in is not the river we stand on

By B Nimal Veerasingham

Years ago, when visiting New Orleans, Louisiana, I found myself wandering through the sprawling campuses of Loyola University. It is not far from the mighty Mississippi river flowing almost 6,000 km and economically powering significant parts of US Upper Midwest. In an unassuming quite corner under a well branched shady tree I noticed a memorial structure commemorating the killing of eight people in El Salvador, including six Jesuit priests in 1989. The six priests were also professors at the university of Central America in El Salvador at that time.

Peace memorial

This May, as per Loyola’s ‘Maroon’, at the memorial event held at the Peace Quad at Loyola university New Orleans, now dedicated as a memorial to this tragedy, Prof Alvaro Alcazar addressed the gathering. ‘The colonial power that is still very much in place in Latin America has created a ‘faith’ that is blind to or silent about injustice. It was this faith that inspired the Jesuit’s activism, but it cost them their lives’.The involvement of US in this tragedy was also addressed by Prof. Susan Weisher something the United States has never taken accountability for.

US Foreign Policy

The many contradictions and positivity of US foreign policy and its vast turns and switches in reaching many parts of the world is like the mighty Mississippi that prowls almost through or parts of 32 US States. The depth and power of this vast river cannot be estimated by mere width and length. Hurricane Catarina breaching the dikes nearly destroyed the entire city of New Orleans.

Fr Eugene Herbert memorial

Early this year a memorial statue of Rev Fr. Eugene Herbert SJ was declared opened by Rt Reverend Ponniah Joseph, Bishop of Batticaloa in the outskirts of Batticaloa town right by the shores of Batticaloa lagoon. The statue was placed midway between the Batticaloa town, where he lived and taught, and the town of Eravur, where he ‘disappeared’ along with one of his students at the Eastern Technical Institute, where he was a Director. He was on his way on the scooter to arrange a safe way for the nuns trapped in a convent in the nearby town of Valaichchenai engulfed by ethnic riots.

Rev Fr Eugene Herbert was born in Jennings Louisiana. He joined the Jesuits on 14 Aug. 1941, while still in his late teens. He volunteered to join the ‘Ceylon Mission’ and arrived in Sri Lanka in 1948. As in the traditions of Jesuits as providers of high-quality education from their founding of their first school in 1548, Rev Fr Herbert served particularly in two schools in the East, St. Josephs College Trincomalee and St. Michael’s College Batticaloa. It is well known that Education in the Jesuit tradition is a call to human excellence. It develops the whole person from intellect and imagination to emotions and conscience. It approaches academic subjects holistically, exploring the connections among facts, questions. Insights, conclusions, problems and solutions. It has succeeded in a variety of cultures because it adapts to the context of the learner.

Multi-talented

Rev Fr. Herbert was a multi-talented genius excelling in music, science, technical studies, vocational studies and to be outdone of it all, in the basketball courts. In all disciplines, he brought a stricter structure that is besides excelling in the fundamentals, incorporating situational strategies encompassing critical thinking and adaptation. This was greatly visible none other than in the basketball courts where he injected exuberance and counter strategies to conventional wisdom. Saint Michael’s College Batticaloa up until his arrival in 1974 just was crawling in all Island Championships more so maintaining the status-quo. But Rev Fr Herbert revolutionised the outcome when Saint Michael’s started winning All Island Championships almost in all age groups against much more resourced Colombo schools.

Excellence in Basketball

Human excellence as we all know is not rocket science but striving to be the best with practice, discipline and endurance. But Rev Fr. Herbert’s presence provided the boys from the East who often lacked a concentrated leadership with clear and precise roadmap. The structural imbalance whether it be not so well built or barefooted at matches, didn’t determine the outcome. Rev Fr, Herbert provided energy and leadership both morally and corporally to the boys of the East who faced systemic roadblocks by not getting the direction and leadership. This was further evidenced by Rev Fr. Herbert’s active and emotional coaching that led the College teams to ignore opponent’s big city environments and large support base, but to keep concentrated on the final execution, the championship.

The referees in matches, where Saint Michael’s played paid greater attention to their decisions something that became standard when dealing with someone who knew the rulebook top to bottom. Rev Fr. Herbert quite often, if not in all matches, where St. Michaels College played could be seen challenging the referees for their inaccurate or missed calls. He always carried a basketball rulebook and could be seen feverishly waving the exact page of the rule and exclaims at top pitch when the referees failed to observe especially when the game was heated, and the difference between was swinging by one or two points.

Reaching the stars

I can remember that Rev Fr. Herbert once refused to participate in a Consolation Finals of a tournament. The team wanted at least to bring home a Consolation Finals Trophy, having failed to reach the finals. Rev Fr, Herbert looked at it differently. ‘We came here for nothing else but for the Championship trophy. Now that we couldn’t, we are catching the 8.00 PM night train tonight back to Batticaloa – and by the way, the practice for the next tournament will begin tomorrow evening, be on time’.

Rev Fr. Herbert’s humanity was visible in practically everything he exemplified, calculating the speed of the travelling train to explaining the mechanism of automobiles and the melodies from his clarinet. Between the matches and practices in Colombo he said mass at the Jesuit residence at Bambalapitiya. As teenagers with expectations we got confused sometimes with his message from the pulpit. ‘We strive to become the best and win. But at times that is not possible, and we have to accept defeat gracefully. But we have to rise again learning from our mistakes’.On another occasion, the security person refused to allow us to sleep on the floor of an enclosed classroom.

The train was late, and it was late in the evening; there was no one to instruct the security to open the classroom. He was ready to allow only the priest to the reserved quarter upstairs. ‘I will stay with the team and do not need any special arrangement,’ said Rev Fr without blinking, sleeping the entire night with us on the ground of an open but roofed half basketball-court, using his cassock as the bedsheet.

Rev Fr. Herbert exemplified through his life the true meaning of his calling and forging a future full of hope to a population that was at the receiving end of things for a longest while.

Last letter

In one of his last letters to his fellow Jesuit in New Orleans he wrote,’ Enough for our trials. The Lord continues to take care of us. I had really planned to write to USAID for another grant. We are running rehabilitation courses for ex-militants and other youth. Every four months we train 20 boys in welding, 20 in refrigeration repairs and 25 in house wiring. Every six months we train 15 in radio and TV repair. This is in addition to our regular three -year course in general mechanical trades’.

‘Pray for us. God willing the current instability and disturbances will be changed by the time I write again. We are used to vast fluctuations in fortune’.

Rev Fr. Herbert’s letter foretells several aspects of humanity that he was called upon to uphold.

The US continues to provide resources to ensure economic wellbeing, stability and peaceful existence across the Globe. The rule of law cannot be simply behavioral codes or identifying the cause or the culprit but ensuring resources and direction for the citizenry in general to break the cycle and rise above injustice. The rule of law cannot be applied differently to different set of people or on a best effort basis.

Breaking down societal imbalances

El Salvador and Sri Lanka were victims of a vicious violent cycle, where Jesuits lost their lives in obeying to their calls from above in their attempt to remake what it ideally should be. Many lost their lives in these cycles of hatred and violence both ordinary and clergy, including my well-liked and ever smiling classmate Rev Fr Savarimuthu Selvarajah. Fr Herbert’s disappearance galvanizes the distrust in our own destiny; many thousands were killed by fellow citizens than in the nearly 500 years of combined occupation by the foreign colonial powers.

The mighty Mississippi River, which travels almost 6,000 km is hardly comparable to a mere 56 km-long Batticaloa lagoon. Yet the son who was born on the shores of Mississippi became the true son by the shores of the Batticaloa lagoon.

This August 15th marks the 32nd anniversary of Rev Fr. Eugene Herbert’s ‘disappearance’. Ironically, at the time of his disappearance he was a year less a day from celebrating his Golden Jubilee in joining the Jesuits (14th August 1941). No one has been brought to date to justice or rather under the clauses of the ‘rule of law’. The one who held the rulebook up above his head is still denied justice.Batticaloa and the entire Sri Lanka lost one of its true sons, and he just happened to be born in the United States of America.

 

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Vijaya Nandasiri : Losing it in laughs

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By Uditha Devapriya

Vijaya Nandasiri left us six years ago. The epitome of mass market comedy in Sri Lanka, Nandasiri belonged to a group of humourists, which included Rodney Warnapura and Giriraj Kaushalya, who redefined satire in the country. Nandasiri’s aesthetic was not profound, nor was it subtle. It was not aimed at a particular segment. Indeed, there was nothing elitist or pretentious about it; if you could take to it, you took to it. It was hard not to laugh at him, it was hard not to like him. Indeed, it was hard not to sympathise with him.

In the movies, Sri Lanka’s first great humourist was Eddie Jayamanne. Typically cast as the servant or bumpkin, Jayamanne could never let go of his theatrical roots. More often than not his laughs targeted a particular segment, so much so that when Lester Peries cast him as the father of the hero’s lover in Sandesaya, he still seemed stuck in those movies he had made and starred in with Rukmani Devi. Many years later he was cast as a close friend of the protagonist in Kolamba Sanniya, in many ways Sri Lanka’s equivalent of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Even there, he could not quite escape his origins.

In Kolamba Sanniya, Jayamanne played opposite Joe Abeywickrema. Hailing from a different background, more rural than suburban, Abeywickrema had by then become our greatest character actor. Dabbling in comedy for so long, he found a different niche after Mahagama Sekara cast him in Thunman Handiya and D. B. Nihalsinghe featured him as Goring Mudalali in Welikathara. Yet he could never let go of his comic garb. Cast for the most as an outsider in the cities and the suburbs – of whom the epitome has to be the protagonist of Kolamba Sanniya – Abeywickrema discovered his élan in the role of the man who falls into a series of absurd situations, but remains unflappably calm no matter what.

There is nothing profoundly or intellectually funny in Kolamba Sanniya. Like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the humour emerges from the characters’ imperfections and foibles: their way of looking at the world, their accents, their lack of polish and elegance. The dialogues are not convincing, and some of the situations – like the hero’s family discovering a bidet for the very first time – are downright silly, if not condescending. What strengthens the story is Joe Abeywickrema’s performance; specifically, his ability to convince us that, despite the situations he is being put through, he can stand on his own. Like the protagonist of Punchi Baba, left to take care of an abandoned baby, he is helpless but not lacking control. He often makes us think he’s losing it, but then gets back on track.

Vijaya Nandasiri was cut from a different cloth. In many respects he was Abeywickrema’s descendant, yet in many others he differed from him. Whereas Abeywickrema discovered his niche playing characters who could conceal the absurdity of the situations they were in, Nandasiri’s characters could only fail miserably. Abeywickrema convinced us that he was in control; Nandasiri could not. As Rajamanthri, the politician who for most of us epitomised the silliness and stupidity of our brand of lawmakers, he frequently parrots out that he’s an honest man. Abeywickrema could say the same thing and get away with it. Nandasiri could not: when he says he’s honest, you knew at once that he was anything but.

Nandasiri revelled in having no self-respect even when we ascribed to him some sense of honour and dignity. In Nonawarune Mahathwarune the ubiquitous Premachandra flirts with the woman next door (Sanoja Bibile), though we don’t get why the latter never returns his affections. As Senarath Dunusinghe in Yes Boss, the situation is reversed: he has to suffer another man flirting with his wife, the issue being that the man happens to be his employer who doesn’t know that they are married. The whole plot pivots on two things: the fact that his boss doesn’t like him, and the fact that he has to disguise himself as an older husband of his own wife to conceal their marriage from his boss.

In his own special way, Nandasiri went on to represent our contempt for womanisers, cuckolds, and politicians, by turning them into easily recognisable and easily mockable stereotypes. In Nonawarune Mahathwarune he was the womaniser, in Yes Boss he was the cuckold – though his wife only pretends to give in to their employer’s advances – and as Rajamanthri, easily the most recognisable comic figure here during the past 20 years, he was the politician. It was as Rajamanthri that he prospered, even when playing characters who only vaguely reminded us of him, such as the antihero of Sikuru Hathe.

Many years ago, I watched a mini series on Rupavahini revolving around a politician and his driver. Vijaya Nandasiri played the politician, Vasantha Kumarasiri’s driver. Early on I sensed something odd about them. Their voices were different. The dubbing team had synced one actor’s voice with the other, a trick that survived the first 10 minutes of the first episode, after which these two meet a horrible accident that (inexplicably) leaves onlookers and relatives confused as to whose body belongs to whom.

Both are near dying. A quick surgery is hence followed by a quick plastic surgery, in which the wrong face is placed on the wrong body. The voices now revert to the correct actor. In hindsight this was an unnecessary gimmick, but also a useful trick, since for the rest of the story the driver becomes the believer in authority and the politician the believer in Marxist politics. Crude, and rather one-dimensional, but fun. And it wasn’t just a change of voice: it was also a change of spirit, of two contradictory personalities transplanted to each other. That was Nandasiri’s charm. You could never anticipate anyone other than him when he was there. For the mini series to work, hence, he had to be himself.

If Joe was redeemable because he was at the receiving end of some confusing dilemma (like the baby he raises in Punchi Baba, or the lifestyle in Colombo he gets used to in Kolamba Sanniya, Vijaya was unredeemable because he was at the other end, always provoking if not unleashing some havoc. It’s not a coincidence that, in this respect, his characters were always middle class, consumerist, very often in professions that called for security, stability, and status: as a Junior Visualiser in an ad agency in Yes Boss, as the chief in a security firm in Sir Last Chance, and as a police sergeant in Magodi Godayi. These symbolised a lifestyle that Nandasiri’s antiheroes sought to subvert and to defy.

Where he was his own man – the magul kapuwa in Sikuru Hathe or Rajamanthri in so many movies and serials – he wasn’t a provocateur, but a lovable antihero. And like all antiheroes, he conceals goodness because he despises it: in Sikuru Hathe, for instance, he commits one deception after another for his family’s sake, especially his daughter’s.

Where he was paired with another actor, I think, Nandasiri failed. He was his man, so when in Methuma he and Sriyantha Mendis are mistaken for two lunatics by a veda mahaththaya in a village, he could not really shine the way he had in Ethuma. Even in Magodi Godayi, he was less than he usually was whenever he was opposite Gamini Susiriwardana. Yes Boss and Nonawarune Mahathwarune had him among a plethora of other actors, to be sure, but then he was on his own there. There are moments in Yes Boss when Lucky Dias nearly outshines him. But Nandasiri gets back on track; he exerts his dominance again.

In other words, Nandasiri could give his best only if his co-star was alive to his range, or if his character was of a lesser pedigree than his co-star. That is what happens in King Hunther, where he could be himself opposite Mahendra Perera for two reasons: because Mahendra was a fairly good comic actor himself, and because Nandasiri’s character, Hunther, hails from such a different world that the present (in which Mahendra is an escaped convict) appears outlandish to him. Hunther to get used to this world, and that means getting used to the first two people he befriends: Mahendra and Anarkali Akarsha.

Vijaya Nandasiri’s ultimate triumph was his gift at getting us to feel for unfeeling antiheroes. Sometimes he could trump us, as Abeywickrema often did, like in King Hunther, when he hears that the politician who befriends him to further his career has decided to kill him off, and surreptitiously escapes. You never thought he was capable of upping the antagonist, but he does just that, providing us with the final twist in the story.

He couldn’t behave this way as Rajamanthri because he was not reflecting our contempt for figures of authority, but downright embodying it. When, towards the end of Suhada Koka, he is killed off by an assassin acting on the orders of the second-in-command to the Prime Minister (the latter played by W. Jayasiri), the film preaches to us a homily on the corrupting influence of power, a warning for all politicians. But then, just as you come to terms with this conclusion, he wakes up; the whole scene, it turns out, was a nightmare.

Ordinarily, you’d think he would learn from such a nightmare. But he doesn’t. Even after that harrowing fantasy, he is soon back to being the pompous figure he always was. Yet in that brief sequence he told us everything that needed to be told about how the corrupt remain corrupt, and how irredeemable they are. Was it a cruel coincidence, then, that the only time Rajamanthri was killed off like that marked the last time Vijaya Nandasiri played Rajamanthri? We may never know, but perhaps it was more than a coincidence. Perhaps it was the only fitting end to such a career that could be filmed.The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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22A: Composition of CC problematic; ensures government domination

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By Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne
President’s Counsel

The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government’s new Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution Bill was presented to Parliament on 10 August 2022. The earlier Bill, which was published in the Gazette in June 2022, lapsed as it was not presented before the recent prorogation of Parliament.

The August Bill is an improvement on the June Bill from a Nineteenth Amendment perspective. Under 19A, Ministers and Deputy Ministers were appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. This was done away with by the Twentieth Amendment. The June Bill sought to bring back the requirement of the Prime Minister’s advice, but that provision would not apply during the present Parliament. The August Bill does not have such an exception.

According to the June Bill, where the President is of the opinion that the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of the present Parliament, the Prime Minister can be removed. Such a provision is not found in the August Bill.

Under 19A, the Speaker, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition were ex officio members of the Constitutional Council (CC), while the President would nominate one MP. Five persons were nominated jointly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, two of them being MPs. In making such nominations, they were required to consult the leaders of political parties and independent groups represented in Parliament to ensure that the CC reflects the pluralistic character of Sri Lankan society, including professional and social diversity. One MP was nominated by the MPs belonging to parties other than those to which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition belonged. The three persons from outside Parliament shall be persons of eminence and integrity who have distinguished themselves in public or professional life and who are not members of any political party. Parliament shall approve their nomination. In practice, such approval was a mere formality as they were nominated jointly and after a consultative process.

The August Bill, like the June Bill, proposes the re-establishment of the CC but makes a crucial change. The five persons referred to are not appointed pursuant to the joint nomination of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. One MP is nominated by the Government Parliamentary Group, and the other MP is nominated by the party to which the Leader of the Opposition belongs. The three persons from outside are nominated not jointly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition but by the Speaker in consultation with them. The smaller parties are not consulted.

This deviation from 19A gives rise to several issues. If the Speaker is partisan (and there have been several such Speakers), the Government could ensure that all three CC members from outside are their own nominees. The Government, by virtue of its majority, would have no difficulty getting Parliamentary approval. The smaller parties would have no say in the nomination of these three persons. Thus, in the current Parliament, parties such as the TNA, NPP, EPDP, TNPF etc., who together account for twenty-five MPs, would not be consulted.

The 22A Bill says that in nominating the two MPs and the three persons from outside Parliament, Members of Parliament shall ensure that the CC reflects the pluralist character of Sri Lankan society. This would be most difficult as they would be nominated by separate processes. Under 19A, on the other hand, that was ensured as the nomination was jointly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition after consulting the leaders of all parties in Parliament.

The composition of the CC is of crucial importance for the achievement of a national consensus on high-level appointments. The approval of the CC is a pre-requisite for the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal and appointments to high positions such as the Attorney-General and the Inspector-General of Police. Appointments to independent Commissions are made on the recommendation of the CC. As the other seven members of the CC are all Members of Parliament and may be swayed by political considerations, the three members who are appointed from outside have a vital role to play. They should be persons acceptable to all and who can have a moderating influence on the politicians.

An argument that has been adduced by the Government is that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition may not agree on the to be nominated jointly. No such issue arose both under the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Amendments. Members of Parliament nominated jointly acted with responsibility. Distinguished personalities appointed by joint nomination included Justice Dr A.R.B. Amarasinghe, Professor Colvin Gunaratne, Dr Jayantha Dhanapala, A.T. Ariyaratne, Shibley Aziz, and Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy, Javid Yusuf and Professor N. Selvakkumaran.

That the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition may not agree is no reason to give the power of appointment to the Speaker. The writer proposes that the 19A provisions be re-enacted with the addition that if the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition do not agree on the nominees within a stipulated period, the Speaker will make the nominations in consultation with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the smaller parties.

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