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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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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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