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Govt. under fire over itsdecision to abolish PUCSL

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‘Corrupt elements behind the move’

By Rathindra Kuruwita and Ifham Nizam

Consumer rights groups and opposition lawmakers yesterday alleged that the CEB and some power producers had engineered the disbanding of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), and the government’s decision to close down the PUCSL would pave the way for backdoor power project deals, which would send electricity prices through the roof. They vowed to take legal action if the government went ahead with its decision to abolish the PUCSL.

In a letter dated 10 December 2020, Dr. P. B. Jayasundara, Secretary to the President, has instructed S. R. Attygalle, Secretary to the Treasury, to take steps to close down the PUCSL and to adsorb its technical staff to the Department of National Planning, Ministry of Power and to the Treasury.

The letter says the decision was taken in line with the budget proposal referring to the PUCSL and the CEB to create an efficient work environment to implement power generation plans that have remained unimplemented for years.

The letter says, “As tariff and connected regulatory work is within the government purview, certain relevant provisions in the PUCSL Act could be incorporated in Consumer Affairs Authority and CEB act when PUCSL Act is replaced in due course.”

Commenting on the move, Ranjith Vithanage, President of the Movement for the protection of consumer rights said that the PUCSL was the only place where consumers could seek solutions to their power related problems.

Vithanage said: “Actually we wanted the scope and operations of the PUCSL expanded to regulate water and lubricants as well. But the government is trying to do away with this independent institution. Certain people didn’t like the PUCSL because the PUCSL prevented questionable power deals. There is a move to start power plants violating environmental and procurement process and to increase electricity tariffs. If anything happens to the PUCSL, we as a union will take legal action and take to the streets.”

Sanjeewa Dhammika, Convenor of the Electricity Users Association said that the current administration was attempting complete what the yahapalanaya government had started. He said that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and minister of Power Ranjith Siyambalapitiya had attempted to get rid of the PUCSL a few years back. He added that the PUCSL had attempted to stop illegal power purchases the CEB made from power plants owned by powerful businessmen and that could be the reason for the government move.

The CEB Engineers Union (CEBEU), which has been at loggerheads with the PUCSL for years, said it was not in support of scrapping the PUCSL. Saumya Kumarawadu, President of CEBEU said that a regulator was essential for the power sector.

“We don’t know if the government will really go ahead with this. We had issues with the current officials of the PUCSL, but we have always insisted that a regulator is needed. In fact, we asked for a regulator a long time ago. We had problems with this PUCSL, but what is needed is a good team. The government just haven’t appoint a competent team. We will decide what to do if the government actually goes ahead with its decision.”

SJB MP Harsha de Silva told The Island that he was shocked by the development and that the CEB and connected private energy producers had got the President to shut down the PUCSL. “This will open doors to massive corruption.”

Jayanath Herath, Director Information at PUCSL, contacted for comment, said they had not been informed of the government decision officially.

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GL sounds far-reaching educational reforms  

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Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (21) acknowledged that for want of tangible measures on the part of successive governments, there was a critical mismatch between the education provided and the availability of job opportunities.

The academic, in quarantine as a result being identified as potential Covid-19 contact, emphasised the need for far reaching changes to address the issue as part of their efforts to restructure the entire system.

Prof. Peiris said so in his short remarks at an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the University of Colombo.

The one-time External Affairs Minister said: “It is a great pleasure for me to felicitate the University of Colombo, my alma mater on this happy occasion. It is a significant milestone because we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the faculty of arts, faculty of science and the library of the University of Colombo. As we look back on that span of a full century, the characteristics of the University which comes to mind is its resilience. During that period the University has had to face and indeed overcome many challenges. The society of our country has undergone a fundamental transformation during that period.

The University had the strength to cope with rapidly changing circumstances. I would identify that as a principal accomplishment of the University of Colombo.

The University proved its capacity for development, change and refinement and adaptation in order to keep pace with dramatically changing circumstances. The University proud as its history is I am sure will have an even more magnificent future. It has an important role to play in the far reaching changes we are contemplating in the educational system of our country. It is our intention in the course of this year 2021 to restructure the entire system in order to address the fundamental problem of a rather critical mismatch between the education we provide in our Universities and other educational institutions on the one hand and the availability of employment, livelihoods on the other. There is regrettably gap in this regard and it should be our collective endeavor to address this problem. We are also revisiting the curricular. The substance of our curricular  the methods of teaching in such a way  as to serve better the public in a  better way   In all these efforts I have no doubt the expertise of the University of Colombo by any standards  will be of enormous assistance to us in achieving goals we have set ourselves (SF)

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China slaps sanctions on 28 Trump administration officials, including Pompeo

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China has imposed sanctions on 28 former Trump administration officials, including outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, agency reports said yesterday.

In a statement released just minutes after President Biden took office, China’s foreign ministry said it had decided to sanction those “who have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and who have been mainly responsible for such U.S. moves on China-related issues.”

The list of names features former Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar; former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro; former national security adviser Robert O’Brien; Kelly Craft, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Matthew Pottinger, who recently resigned as deputy national security adviser. Former national security adviser John Bolton and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon were also included.

The sanctions prohibit those individuals and their immediate family members from entering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao. They are also restricted from doing business with China, as are any companies or institutions associated with them.

“Over the past few years, some anti-China politicians in the United States, out of their selfish political interests and prejudice and hatred against China and showing no regard for the interests of the Chinese and American people, have planned, promoted and executed a series of crazy moves which have gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-U.S. relations,” the ministry said.

The move comes just one day after Pompeo issued a forceful statement accusing China of committing genocide against Muslim Uighurs and other minority groups in its Xinjiang region, for which the U.S. sanctioned several Chinese officials in July. That was one of numerous instances of sanctions, visa bans and trade restrictions imposed on Chinese politicians and Communist Party officials in the Trump administration’s final year.

Relations between the U.S. and China deteriorated considerably under the previous administration, which took an unusually confrontational approach. Pompeo and other officials referred to China as constituting America’s greatest threat, as NPR’s John Ruwitch has reported.

In fact, Bolton appeared to celebrate the sanction against him, calling it “great news” in a tweet posted Wednesday afternoon.

“I accept this prestigious recognition of my unrelenting efforts to defend American freedom,” he wrote.

It is unclear what changes Biden plans, but Ruwitch noted, “Even if the Biden team moves swiftly to put the U.S.-China relationship back on a less antagonistic track, Beijing will be wary after the dramatic changes of the past four years.”

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Expert Committee appointed to report on gold, copper and iron ore deposits

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By Ifham Nizam

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweeera yesterday appointed an expert committee to conduct a scientific study on the Seruwawila gold, copper and iron ore deposits.

With iron ore prices skyrocketing worldwide and both neighbouring giant India and China having huge demands, Sri Lanka was keen on tapping natural resources, an official said.  

The committee will be coordinated by an Additional Secretary to the Ministry and will be chaired by Prof. Athula Senaratne of the University of Peradeniya and its other members are H W. Navaratne, Dr. Stalin Fernando, Dr. Bernard Perera, Dr. C.H.K.R. Siriwardena and Dr. O.K. Dissanayake.

Amaraweera, addressing the media, at his Ministry yesterday said the mineral deposit had been explored in the 1970s with the help of technology available at that time, and it had been found that there was iron, copper as well as a certain amount of gold in the Seruwawila deposit.

As today’s excavation technology was very advanced, it was possible to dig up to 250-300 metres, the Minister said.

The Minister also said that all possible steps would be taken to increase the value of the mineral resources through value addition locally to ensure higher prices.

 

 

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