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Electricity costing and pricing methodology not implemented since 2009

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By Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

A few years ago, when a minister tabled an amendment to the Electricity Act, most likely with ulterior motives, his colleagues shot down the amendment hours before it was to be presented in Parliament. The proposed revision would have removed the power vested with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to regulate the ‘economic’ operation of the electricity supply industry. The objective of the minister concerned may have been to remove the requirement for competitive bidding to procure power plants.

Was the PUC a good thing to have? Has it proved to be doing any ‘economic” regulation’?

Information in the table (given above) extracted from the PUC’s own publications says it all. Ever since the PUC was empowered (the Ministry or the Cabinet has no power over ‘economic’ regulation), the electricity sector has been making losses, ‘by definition’. The only exception was 2014, which was not because of PUC’s efficient regulation. Year 2014 was the first full year of operation of the coal power plant, conceived two decades earlier and relentlessly pursued by the CEB, commenced producing electricity at one third the cost of using oil.

Yes. Rs. 502 billion (or USD 2.5 billion) by end 2021 was the cumulative loss owing to the absence of proper economic regulation of the electricity industry. Before the PUC was given the job of ‘economic regulation’, certainly there had been years when the electricity supply made losses, but was never making losses continuously for 12 years.

The law and procedures published under the Electricity Act 2009 are clear on who submits the costs to invest and operate the national grid. The licensees, meaning the CEB (its transmission and distribution divisions) and LECO, must submit the costs, once in five years. For costs of fuel and purchases of renewable energy into the grid, the submissions should be done once in six months, says the PUC-approved methodology. Fair enough! Transmission and distribution costs move up slowly and therefore change once in five years. Fuel and renewable costs change rapidly, owing to dry and wet seasons and fuel price movements.

The law is also clear on who approves the costs: it is the PUC, not the government. Not ‘any’ cost, but ‘efficient costs’ should be approved after the due process. How often? Once in five years for transmission and distribution, once in six months for generation.

So, the total ‘approved’ costs will be the cost of generation + transmission + distribution. They change once every six months. Up or down.

With approved costs in hand, what does the law say the CEB and LECO should do? It says they should now submit the customer prices for PUC approval. The law is clear. If government subsidies are forthcoming, PUC considers them, and approves adjusted customer prices. Otherwise, the selling prices submitted by the CEB and LECO are approved.

In short, Price = Cost + subsidies paid by the government.

If subsidies are not forthcoming, then Price = cost.

That is what the law says!

One may say this is unfair, and that electricity supply must be subsidised. Easy to say but where does the difference between cost and price come from? Three ‘sources’ as for the CEB:

(i) stop re-paying the loans taken from the Treasury. (So, citizens, unknowingly, pay through their taxes),

(ii) stop paying suppliers including your meagre earnings from the solar rooftop. (Suppliers recently held a conference to explain their woes, but they were barking up the wrong tree.), and

(iii) borrow from state banks as short-term overdrafts. The money that should be lent by state banks to industries and small and medium enterprises to develop their businesses and create more jobs, and to renewable energy developers to accelerate development, too, is being conveniently lent at a higher interest rate to a reliable, convenient, submissive client––the CEB.

Money that does not produce any new jobs, goods or exports, but only more debts to be repaid by no one else but the electricity customers themselves.

The PUC was established to ensure fairness for all stakeholders. Industry stakeholders are not only the renewable energy developers; electricity customers and electricity suppliers, even if they are state-owned, are stakeholders whose interests and well-being should be guaranteed by the PUC by ensuring that the laws and regulations are implemented and enforced.

The table (given above) shows the performance of the PUC in its first 12 years of existence. It is up to the readers to judge whether the PUC is worth the cost incurred by electricity customers to maintain five commissioners and staff as it serves no apparent purpose. There is hardly any difference between the current situation and the one that existed before 2009, when it comes to (i) ensuring CEB’s costs are monitored and made ‘efficient’ (ii) electricity prices reflect costs so that the CEB will not be a burden on the banks and the Treasury.

Earlier, before the PUC was empowered, the Ministry of Energy was the de facto regulator. In its 50-year history, there was never a continuous period of 12 years during which CEB was forced to sell electricity below cost, and ‘report losses’. All because of the PUC?

Until the mid-1990s, the CEB was profitable and at times lent money to the Treasury!

Power transmission and distribution network expansion and maintenance work are repeatedly postponed. New investments have all been postponed for years. Very soon, even if power plants can be operated with more wind turbines rotating and solar panels shining, the distribution network will be in a state of disrepair, requiring eternal ‘power cuts’.

So, the electricity regulatory system, which has been a tremendous success even in India to uplift the electricity sector and liberate it from the clutches of politicians, has become a failure in Sri Lanka. There is nothing wrong with the Electricity Act 2009, which followed the international best practices of distancing electricity suppliers and their decisions from government control. Most countries have reaped enormous benefits from such laws.

It is not the concept of regulation but the institutions implementing regulation, and individuals running those outfits that have failed the public.

By how much? USD 2,500 million and increasing. The end is very near.



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Is ‘Knowing’ everything?

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by Panduka Karunanayake

The current fluid situation in the country has brought into focus some fundamental issues, as well. Ordinarily, in the midst of pressing problems, like what we are experiencing, it is customary to push fundamental issues to the back seat. But, it is exactly because such issues have been sidelined, in the past, that we have had to arrive in this sorry state today. In addition, in an extremely fluid and uncertain situation, such as this, the only stable and reliable position that remains for us to make decisions from is, in fact, with fundamentals.

In this essay, I wish to focus on a fundamental issue: the relationship between knowledge and expertise, on the one hand, and the societal weal on the other. This relationship came into sharp focus, in my mind, when I saw a social media posting, by one of my academic colleagues. Let me first anonymise the academic (after all, it is not only he who thinks like this) and quote the Google translation of a part of his posting:

“Everyone knows everything there is to know. Everyone can express things. There are also necessary media for that. Who are we? What do we need? No one can make monopoly decisions about, etc. Therefore, there is no democracy more than this. What is needed now is to make maximum use of that democracy.”

This argument implies that because we live in the Digital Age, where knowledge is distributed very democratically, decision-making by the ordinary citizen is at a level close to, if not identical to, that of the expert. It suggests that the next step is to discover an optimum governance mechanism. At its core is the suggestion that the time has come to supplant the expert with the knowledgeable citizen.

What is fundamentally wrong in this argument?

‘Knowing’ and ‘understanding’

‘Knowing’ is not everything. When we were schoolchildren, in the 1970s, we heard this explained to us clearly by Dr E.W. Adikaram, who made a distinction between දැනුම (‘knowing’) and අවබෝධය (‘understanding’). He pointed out that the task of education should be giving us the latter, not the former. But somehow, we seem to have forgotten (or ignored) that advice. This distinction is also seen in Albert Einstein’s famous quip that education is what is left when we have forgotten what we had learnt – අවබෝධය (‘understanding’) remains while දැනුම (‘knowing’) is forgotten with time.

The crucial point is this. The wide dissemination of knowledge that is seen in today’s Digital Age, by itself, actually promotes only ‘knowing’. We can do an Internet search and find any knowledge we want, and once we have got it, we can say that we ‘know it’ – seemingly, just like the expert. But there is a significant gap between this ‘knowing’ and the ‘understanding’ that is possessed by those who have studied this same quantum of knowledge, more systematically and in depth.

Such persons study this knowledge in relation to other quanta of knowledge, so that they are aware of a more whole, interconnected and integrated existence of the discrete quantum of knowledge. For instance, they then see not only that quantum, but also its origins, applications, limitations, fallacies and fallibilities, as well as how it is connected to the broader map of knowledge.

Of course, there are nowadays also the democratic distribution of learning experiences, too, such as open-access online courses. These would certainly give someone a much better view of the subject than a discrete webpage, but I would still caution, and point out the significant journey from knowing something to fully understanding it.

One clear indication of ‘understanding’ is the ability of the person, who possesses the knowledge, to apply it in different, seemingly unrelated situations. It is, in fact, this very point that is nowadays used by prestigious universities, overseas, when selecting students for their undergraduate courses – rather than the old-fashioned measures of superficial ‘knowing’, such as what we still mostly use here.

‘Understanding’ and ‘doing’

While there is a distinction between ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’, our intellectual growth does not stop even there.

There is a whole heap of difference between merely ‘understanding’ and ‘doing’ something with that understanding. That is because understanding occurs strictly in the cognitive domain, while applying it to actually do something requires an engagement with the real world. That requires a lot more – things that remain implicit in the real world around us, which are abstracted only to a limited extent when they are written down as ‘knowledge’.

In the past, acquiring these real-life capabilities have been given terms, like ‘skills’, ‘experience’, ‘common sense’, ‘wisdom’ and so on. A more recent practice is to categorise them also as forms of knowledge (i.e., procedural knowledge and conditional knowledge). These weave together, as a person tries to translate an idea into action, and if the person succeeds, we say that this has created ‘functioning knowledge’. Naturally, only a very limited portion of this is found in books or Internet sources, and ‘knowing’ and even ‘understanding’ are thus only a very small part of what constitutes the intellect of a person who can actually do something in real-life situations.

‘Doing’ and ‘critiquing’

Even this is not the full story. All these steps – knowing, understanding, doing – are part of generally ‘how things are’, and not necessarily ‘how things should be’. One of the most important aspects of an academic’s or intellectual’s work is evaluating this ‘things as they are’ and providing a detached, dispassionate critique of it. More conventional terms used to describe this function are ‘critical thinking’ and ‘discourse analysis’. We would expect the academic or intellectual to harness his or her extensive knowledge of the subject with regard to past events, current trends and future possibilities; to then reflect deeply, imagine alternatives and weigh their pros and cons; and to tell us how we can ‘do things better’. This is the whole process that we call (or should call) ‘research’, ‘innovation’, ‘development’, ‘creativity’, etc.

This is the full spectrum of how the human mind works as it progressively becomes more functional and efficacious: knowing, understanding, doing and critiquing. The process of education, from primary to post-doctoral, should be designed with this in mind.

Enter ‘the expert’

There are two types of expertise. The first is routine expertise, which is the ability to carry out a certain task repetitively with a minimum amount of error. It is built by systematic learning with feedback, assiduous practice and extensive experience. The second is adaptive expertise, which is the ability to face new and unprecedented situations where there are little or no known standard procedures (and thus no routine expertise) and come up with innovative solutions that provide a way out. It is built, in addition to the above, by reflective practice and experience in innovative and creative behaviours.

It is not hard to see that in recent years, we have had the need for adaptive expertise – with both the COVID-19 pandemic and the current crisis. They have called upon our doctors, businesspersons, economists, etc., with adaptive expertise, to come forward and do what they know best.

Such past unprecedented events, in our country, led to complete transformations of society, leading to better times (albeit, after decades of effort): e.g., the 1870s coffee blight and the devastating malaria epidemic of 1934-35. Those were examples of (British) adaptive expertise in action.

The ‘knowledgeable’ citizen

The citizen who now shuns expertise is a person who thinks that, because he (or she) has access to knowledge, he has already ‘jumped’ from ‘knowing’ to ‘critiquing’ and that there is no difference between him and the expert. One should avoid jumping into this bandwagon. One should also take care not to throw the expert out in a hurried attempt to throw the politician out.

We cannot build a better governing system using people who lack ‘understanding’ and expertise, notwithstanding any level of ‘knowing’ that they might possess thanks to the Digital Age. We must keep these fundamentals in mind when we explore questions, such as the place of democracy or the value of a constitution, the notion that the gap between people and experts has narrowed, that people can decide for themselves, and so on.

Our post-Independence history is a litany of how our experts failed to produce a beneficial effect in Sri Lanka while contributing to the building of other nations. The solution is to overcome the blocks to this that have existed until now – rather than shunning expertise. We need more expertise, not less.

(The writer teaches in the University of Colombo, where he is currently the Director of the Staff Development Centre. He acknowledges the mentoring of Professor Suki Ekaratne in developing many of these ideas; Professor Ekaratne founded the country’s first SDC, 25 years ago.)

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Join hands with your spiritual power to save Lanka!

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By Ven. Matthumagala ChandanandaThero
Ehipassiko Meditation Center
Calgary -Canada

When Sri Lanka was hit by the catastrophic tsunami waves in 2004, almost all citizens strived in unison to stand up as one because they perceived the calamity as a natural disaster. Without distinction of class, creed or race, people volunteered to help the victims. Monks of all sectors were prompted for action—therapeutic pirith chanting was started all over the country. Blessed water was sprinkled, especially over the coastal areas with the help of Sri Lanka Air Force helicopters. Some coastal areas had become ghastly graveyards within minutes of disaster, with thousands of dead bodies scattering in every direction. World Health Organization immediately warned of another impending threat: a wave of epidemics due to decomposing bodies of humans and animals.

However, Sri Lankans could surprise even the developed nations by recovering from this trauma so fast. The predicted epidemics could never raise their heads. So was with the Covid-19 pandemic, which was also generally perceived as a natural disaster—and people fought it with the team spirit. So far Sri Lanka has lost a relatively smaller number of lives to Covid-19 when compared to those of affluent nations, and it is certainly not just a coincidence.

However, when it comes to the unprecedented economic downfall currently taking place in Sri Lanka, rather than seeing it as yet another crisis, they have to overcome with team spirit. People have viewed it through the lens of ‘personality view’ (sakkāya ditti), and have attributed the responsibility to certain politicians, vehemently accusing and cursing the culprits. The whole effort was seething with anger, jealousy and vengeance—this is an absolute deviation from the path of Dhamma. Under such circumstances, no wonder that people could not recover as efficiently as they should in this crisis. Of course, if those politicians are guilty, suitable action have to be taken, but in a democratic way, and under no circumstances the destructive emotions like anger could be justified to come to play in a big way as has unfortunately happened (Kakacupama sutta). To be angry is like eating poison, expecting your enemy to die! If you think that you are concerned of being with crooked politicians, we should learn to be saner but not crazier.

Famous Sri Lankan poet, Mahagama Sekera, has said something pithy in his book, Prabuddha, and could be rendered into English thus: “If we could motivate people to be violent against injustice, cannot we persuade them to refrain from inequity”? This sensible question echoes in my mind every time I see a violent protest. Buddha who utters only meaningful words, had said: “Overcome the wicked by goodness” (Dhammapada). True, as ordinary people, we might not have political strength, financial power and the inheritance of an aristocratic lineage, as possessed by some politicians in this country. But we have a somnolent giant within us—the power of mind! We just have to train our mind to release this giant. Remember, through struggle comes strength—especially when we set ourself on the right path!

Once upon a time in ancient India, a seven-year-old monk was going on his rounds for collecting alms following a great master called Arhath Sariputta. This novice having observed some people were engaged in woodwork, curiously inquired from the senior monk: “What are they doing?” “They are carpenters; they bring wood from the forest—after cleaning, cutting and treating the wood, they make items like cartwheels”, explained Venerable Sariputta. Then the novice asked: “Do woods have a mind?” “No, woods do not have a mind, but humans who do have minds, creatively change wood according to their needs and make various items”, said the elderly monk. This explanation was a great eye-opener for the reflective novice. He thought, if people can change things using their minds, isn’t it possible to tame the mind using that power of mind itself? Spurred on by this incident, before long, the junior monk escaped from the King of Death (Mara)—the most difficult one to defeat!

On seeing amazing modern equipment like computers, smart phones, air planes, etc., it really makes sense if we also reflect on the fact that: “Such inventions are created by human mind; therefore, my mind is more powerful than those products.” In fact, Buddha pointed out that he does not see anything in this universe so powerful and versatile like the mind, which could become amazingly powerful and versatile upon development. Buddha also taught us how to progressively develop our mind but for the good. Even great meditators who wielded psychic power had only started their journey from the humble state we are in—so please be positive.

Now the human race is getting closer to the brink of extinction due to the dangers like adverse effects of the climate change and possible nuclear warfare. To the dismay of world-renowned scientists, some politicians have openly stated that the climate change to be a hoax— a former US President is also among them! We cannot expect political leaders, national or international, to protect the future generation’s opportunity to inhabit this precious planet. As I have argued in the previous articles, a SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION is the need of the hour.However, our immediate concern is to protect Sri Lanka from the internal and external threats, she has faced with.

According to what Buddha taught, we could employ our spiritual power to mitigate the catastrophes befall the human society. Spiritual Act of Truth (sathyakriya) is one way to achieve this noble goal. Jathaka stories reveal how Bodhisatwa (would-be Buddhas) performed Acts of Truth to ensure his own safety and of others as well. According to Mahawansa (the Great Chronicle), King Siri Sanghabo used this powerful influence to save his countrymen from a dangerous epidemic called Rakthakshi.

With the noble guidance of Most Venerable Kukulpané Sudassee Thero, the Spiritual Studies and Research Wing of Sathjana Social Development Foundation in Horana has been conducting Acts of Truth since 2008, in which hundreds and thousands of compassionate humans around the world unleash their spiritual power at one particular time, with the singular intention of mitigating the catastrophes of human society. Now a cynic might ask: of what use is your spiritual attempts, if the country is plunged into an economic crisis of this magnitude? Sri Lanka is located in an epic place in this planet—epic in many known and unknown ways, and Sri Lankans enjoy great benefits of the legacy. Together with these privileges, some additional responsibilities are also assigned to us—that is the way it is! Again and again, clouds bring us rain; again and again farmers sow seeds; again and again people eat (never tired)— therefore, why not flexing the spiritual muscles also similarly– again and again, and aggressively repeat our wholesome interventions? Because, it seems that conspiracies too are attempted again and again to unsettle the island! In fact, Dalai Lama deserves praise for saying: “Peace is not simply the absence of war. It is not a passive state of being. We must wage peace, as vehemently as we wage war.”

For the fulfilment of this lofty goal, we should find the correct method of performing it. In an Act of Truth, we have to vividly reflect on a wholesome deed we have performed, and we determine thus… ‘By the power of this truth, may the disasters heading towards the country be averted! May Buddha-sāsana and human lives be protected’!

For the success of an Act of Truth or Sathyakriya, three important conditions should have to be fulfilled:

1. The deed you reflect upon should be TRUE

2. It should have been performed by YOU

3. You have to arouse the same state of mind or pitch which has been there at the time you performed this act (e.g., If you think of an instance in which you donated something wholeheartedly, you have to recall and establish that particular mental state vividly at the time of performing Sathyakriya.

Complying with the invitation of many devotees, Ven. Dr. Kukulpané Sudassee Thero has decided to organise yet another Act of Truth on Thursday (the full moon day), 11th of August 2022, at 8:07 a.m. Sri Lanka time. In the evening also we will repeat it at the same time. If you live outside Sri-Lanka, please calculate your own local time, equivalent to the above. Ven. Sudassee Thero kindly requests the participants not to use this particular instance for achieving their personal intentions but to leave them for some other day, if necessary. We stress this point, because on some earlier occasions, some narrow-minded people were seen to ‘highjack’ such a moment, in an attempt to solve their own personal problems. Spiritual power is not for the selfish, for sure.

When hundreds and thousands of people release their compassionate mental power to the universe at a single moment in one single stream, we can generate a sort of spiritual power of tremendous strength capable of mitigating various woes currently plaguing the country.

We kindly invite all of you to participate in this great meritorious deed, with much-needed team spirit, irrespective of race, cast or creed, from wherever you are in the world, and perform the above-mentioned Act of Truth.When we set ourselves in a more humane path, instead of seething with negative emotions, and impulses, the guarding angels of the country will be kinder towards the society, extending their providence for the safety of our motherland.

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‘Slow Food’, the growing concept taking over ‘Fast Food’ rage

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Slow Food is everything opposite to the concept of fast food. While fast food involves highly processed food ingredients, ‘assembled’ together quickly, to form a meal, Slow Food refers to the inclusion of unprocessed food ingredients, cooked in an authentic manner to create a wholesome meal.

SNS:When In Rome, Do as Romans Do’ the saying literally proven right in the late 80s, in the city of Rome when a unique food movement, ‘slow food’ was born against another food frenzy, ‘Fast food’ which started from the US and has hooked the world since the 1920s.

Tradition-loving Romans who did not like the American concept of ‘Fast Food’ protested and pitted against the launch of a popular American fast food giant in the city of Bra, resulting in the birth of Arcigola, the movement against the concept of ‘fast food’ and delved into a registered nonprofit organisation known as ‘Slow Food International’.

Slow Food: The intriguing concept and why it’s becoming a global rave

The fast-paced life of the world over the decades has changed the traditional concepts regarding food. Fast food may ease our life and the choices of food but has proven ill effects on health if consumed on a regular basis. The concept of ‘Slow food’ is pitching for nothing new but promoting to go back to our roots for the food choices for better and healthier lives.

Nutritionists have traditionally vouched for the food which is locally grown and eaten the way our forefathers have consumed, and that is exactly what ‘Slow food movement is promoting’.

The natural food that grows in the region where we live is the most suitable for our body, because the same natural forces impact our body and the locally grown food. Our fore-fathers depended majorly on the local food, which is a major reason for their healthy life and longevity.

What is Slow Food?

Slow Food is everything opposite to the concept of fast food. While fast food involves highly processed food ingredients, ‘assembled’ together quickly, to form a meal, Slow Food refers to the inclusion of unprocessed food ingredients, cooked in an authentic manner to create a wholesome meal.

Where fast food offers ‘on the go’ food that can be hand-held and eaten on the go, Slow Food promotes the idea of sitting down, relaxing and spending some time chatting with family and friends, while savouring the food.

Slow Food Movement

The Slow Food movement began from people’s natural emotion associated with food. Some people opposed the rise of fast-food culture and the disappearance of local traditions and food cultures.
Slow Food movement history
The inception of the Slow Food Movement is traced back to 1986 in the town of Bra and it began as ArciGola, by journalist Carlo Petrini. In 1989, ArciGola began to be known as Slow Food, when a protest broke out against the opening of McDonald’s at “Piazza di Spagna” in Rome. Protestors opposed the American fast-food giant, for opening its outlet in Rome. The ArciGola protest delved into a registered nonprofit organisation known as Slow Food internationally.
What is the Slow Food Movement and How Do We Adhere to it?
According to Perceptions of the slow food cultural trend among the youth by Lelia Voinea and Anca Atanase, “Slow Food has become an international movement that advocates for satisfying culinary pleasure, protects biological and cultural diversity, spreads taste education, links “green” producers to consumers and believes that gastronomy intersects with politics, agriculture and ecology. Slow Food proposes a holistic approach to food problems, where the economic, socio-cultural and environmental aspects are interlinked, being pursued as part of an overall strategy.”

Slow Food, a global movement of local traditions

With due course of time, Slow Food has become a global movement, with more food reformers joining hands together to join the cause. The movement has also involved several smaller international bodies under its fold. These organisations are carrying out various initiatives within their local ecosystem and creating awareness of eating healthy and locally grown food.

Benefit of ‘Slow food’

The concept of fast food was meant to cater to the needs of those individuals, who were short of time and had a busy lifestyle. Number of such people grew over the years and fast food eventually became mainstream and an inseparable part of our lives.
Slowly, people also began to understand the importance of healthy eating instead of industrial processed food, which lacks basic nutrients. The Slow Food Movement addresses two major concerns related to fast-paced lifestyle, one is the inclusion of healthy, wholesome and locally grown ingredients, cooked by using orthodox methods. The second is to eat the meal and the food slowly, while enjoying every bit of it, as opposed to fast food.

Slow Food movement in India

The Slow Food movement has involved several organisations in India under its fold. All these independent organisations are working towards promoting positive food practices, from organic farming to eating the local food produce. Ajam Emba Adivasi of Jharkhand,
Food education for Satvik Jeevan in Gujarat, Mumbai Earth Market, Nagaland for Biodiversity & Heritage Preservation, Nilgirs Coffee Coalition and Banyan Roots, in Udaipur, Rajasthan are all working in close conjunction with the Slow Food International

Slow Food movement in Europe

The Slow Food movement is fast picking up in Europe as an industry. Working for the rights of small-scale traditional food producers and raising awareness among consumers at the very basic level. It is dedicated towards creating a better and more responsible food system.

Objectives of Slow Food movement

It is globally working on a number of issues including common food policy, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity, climate change, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and responsible consumption and food labeling.

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