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How many Lawyers, Accountants does the Minister need to change an electric bulb?

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Unbundling the Ceylon Electricity Board:

by Rajan Philips

There is no question – the Ceylon Electricity Board has grown into a public sector behemoth. It has become the Leviathan of Sri Lanka’s political economy. It sucks up government cash and owes an unpayable debt of about LKR600 billion; it counts 21,988 employees on its payroll and is on the hook for their pensions and provident funds; and it charges its consumers at rates much higher than in any other South Asian country. A once exemplary union of Professional Engineers is now disrespected for collective incompetence and systemic corruption. The big sucker needs even bigger time reform. No argument about it.

But how many Lawyers, Accountants and Administrators, and how few Engineers are needed to accomplish power sector reform? That was the first question that arose in my mind while reading the Sri Lanka Electricity Bill that the government introduced in April. I am not the only one, it turns out. The Supreme Court raises the same question and answers it perceptively on page 52 of its ruling on the constitutionality of the Bill following hearings in May:

“It is certainly not a fanciful hypothesis, and it would be fully compliant with Clause 38(2) as it currently reads, for three Attorneys-at-Law with ten years experience to be appointed to the Secretariat and as the Director General. Given the absence of any provision to appoint other staff members to the Secretariat, the Secretariat would not have the benefit of any persons with experience in the field of power system planning and operation or an electrical engineer.”

Judicial Frustration

Here the Court is referring to the setting up of the Power Sector Reform Secretariat, a key one among many agencies in the complex architecture of the new law to reform the power sector, and the criteria for its composition detailed in Section 38, Part XIII of the Bill. The Court’s concerns are outlined under the heading “Expertise of those entrusted to manage the entities that are established,” and they are a response to one of the arguments on behalf of the petitioners that the law must ensure that the newly created “entities are led and managed by experts and professionals with experience in the relevant disciplines, and that the criteria for appointment be laid down to prevent friends and family of the appointing authority from being appointed.”

The Court then makes the clarion call that “the time is certainly ripe for this Court to insist that meritocracy be restored, respected and adhered to when appointments are made by a Minister, or any governmental authority and we therefore take the view that any failure to do so would result in the fundamental rights of the People guaranteed by Article 12(1) being infringed.”

Article 12 (1) enshrines the fundamental right that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.” This is quite a statement by the Supreme Court – to emphasize ‘meritocracy’ and to assert the fundamental right of citizens to have meritocracy recognized and observed in any and every instance by any government and every government.

Indeed, the Court held that the Bill as a whole and several of its provisions are inconsistent with Article 12 (1) of the Constitution and suggested a number of amendments to address the inconsistencies and avoid the need for passage by a two-thirds majority. As it has now become the legislative practice in Sri Lanka, the amendments recommended by the Supreme Court were passed during the Committee Stage of the Bill, before the Third Reading and passage on Thursday, June 6. Parliament and the country would seem to have come to take the governments’ word for incorporating mostly substantial amendments in Committee.

One senses an undertone of judicial frustration in the ruling of the Supreme Court on the Electricity Bill that the government finally introduced in April after withdrawing an earlier draft Bill that had been criticized for its significant errors. Obviously, not all the errors had been addressed in the Bill presented to parliament in April, and they became the subject of a number of fundamental rights petitions that the Court heard and seemingly agreed with in its ruling.

Before dealing with the question of meritocracy, the Court summarized the legal submissions on behalf of the petitioners into “two categories”: (1) the “unclear, vague and irrational” provisions of the Bill that the Court itself would seem to have acknowledged as “permeating” much of the Bill; and (2) the “unbridled power” assigned to the Minister by the Bill. The upshot of the two could potentially lead to “arbitrary implementation of the provisions of the Bill.” The Court identified the specific provisions that could lead to arbitrary implementation and suggested amendments to address them.

Addressing the arguments for the government by the Additional Solicitor General on the need for electricity reform and her assertions of safeguards in the Bill against arbitrary implementation, the Court noted that it is “mindful that the task of making policy is the prerogative of the Executive, and that the enactment of laws is within the domain of parliament,” and that “whether the Government wishes to shift the electricity sector from being a Government owned utility provider to a profit earning sector consisting of many players is entirely a matter of policy.”

At the same time, the Court went on, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers must constitutionally be guided by the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in Article 27, and specific to the project of unbundling the CEB, it must be carried out without vagueness but with clarity and precision. Otherwise, although the Court did not quite put in this way, the cure of unbundling the CEB might turn out to be worse than the diseased bundle.

Judicial Drafting

Perhaps the most glaring vagueness as some of the Counsel for the Petitioners pointed out with the Court agreeing is in the assignment of dates on which the different provisions of the law will come into operation. The Bill before the Court provided for the main body of the law to come into operation on a date appointed by the Minister or at the end of six months whichever is sooner. Four exceptions were identified. Two of them, namely, the provisions for the establishment of the National Electricity Advisory Council and the establishment of the Power Sector Reforms Secretariat will come into operation upon the enactment of the law by parliament. The other two, the operationalization of open access and the operation of the Wholesale Electricity Market, are both set to commence on dates appointed by the Minister, but the Minister is given a window of five years to determine those dates and the option to extend them one year at a time for another five years.

In other words, the Advisory Council and the Reform Secretariat could be established as soon as parliament enacts the Electricity Act, but without any of the supporting provisions of the law, including the provision stipulating the objectives of the Bill and the provision enabling the making of electricity policy and mobilizing resources, the two agencies would be constrained to function in a vacuum.

The anomaly was pointed out in challenging the constitutionality of the Bill, and the Government was ready at the hearing to submit and confirm that the Bill would be amended at the Committee Stage to include four additional provisions that would also come into operation on the day of law’s enactment, while extending the Minister’s discretion to enable the operation of all the rest of the law from six months to twelve months. Two of the amended additions would activate the objectives of the Bill and enable policy making. The Court found the Government’s addition of four provisions to be inadequate for streamlining the operationalization of the law and added further provisions to enable the establishment of the National System Operator.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that as part previewing bills for their constitutionality, the Supreme Court has been forced to undertake the task of redrafting badly drafted bills. In the case of the Electricity Act, the poor drafting of the Bill is also indicative of the level of competence that the government seems able to muster to implement the reforms of the power sector that the new law sweepingly envisages. The bigger worry should be the warning about the challenges of privatization in Sri Lanka that the late Saman Kelegama once alluded to: “in a weak regulatory and legal framework with weak institutional capacity, poorly managed and badly conceived privatization can compound the problems.” Further, “the weaker the economy and governing institutions, the more difficult it becomes for privatization to yield benefits.”

The Electricity Act is now in place, but the Minister has one year to appoint the date on which most of the provisions of the new law, save those amended by the Supreme Court, to come into operation. He could do it sooner, but the provision of such a long window would suggest that the present government is not confident about having all the pieces in place to operationalize the law. Within one year, there is the certainty of a presidential election and the distinct possibility of a parliamentary election. The obvious and passive question to ask is what will happen to the implementation of the Electricity Act if there were to be a new President after October, and a new parliament next year. The question that ought to be asked, however, is what the opposition leaders who want to be elected as President and form the next government, will do with the Electricity Act.

(To be continued).



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Pernicious, ubiquitous strikes

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Railway strike

Local news on most TV channels is almost wholly about on-going strikes and preparations plus controversy on the to-be-held presidential election come October.

Political news is centered on this election. Chief protagonist, the present Prez, has said the election will be held at the correct time this year. UNP side-kicks and a maverick have countered this by saying it need not be held since at the present juncture it is best to postpone change by two years. The present incumbent has a further one year to serve according to the Constitution said the bright spark, who filed an application in the Supreme Court was roundly dismissed by it, with an implied but unsaid upbraiding for wasting the time of the Apex Court.

People surmised filing a case was with the approval of the Prez or his Secretariat if not actual promotion, but RW dismissed that suspicion; “I firmly believe that the President’s term is five years, and I support the Election Commission’s steps to hold the Presidential Election in 2024.”  So there! Three cheers! The Prez is on the side of the people who want an election. It is correct constitutionally too.

Political platforms are raucous with praise of their chosen candidates, with photographs of VIPs who have recently changed loyalties in the forefront, some giving shocks to viewers. They seem to have turned 180 degrees or even 360, now championing a candidate they tore into with sharp barbs of ridicule and criticism. To serve themselves to continue in the most lucrative job in the island, they will turn cartwheels and leapfrog from one party to another. Such are most visible in the meetings held to promote Ranil W, as our next president.

Karadara kara strikes

Strikes of varied nature and kinds are rampant so much so that half the time news is telecast we see crowds marching or standing around with police facing them. These strikers are three quarter responsible for the chaos the country is in at this juncture when all should be contributing their might to pull the country out of the morass it was pushed into by its leaders. Cass has so many epithets to express her revulsion at these spectacles that are a shame to the country at large. Don’t those sick note presenters, continuously striking non academics, utterly disgraceful and unethical, nay immoral, teachers know the country is still in the economic doldrums and unless everyone pulls his/her weight we will remain down in the sludge of bankruptcy, notwithstanding IMF assistance and nations having shown leniency in our debt restricting process.

The trade unions demand monthly increases of Rs 25,000 and even more. Don’t they have an iota of sensibility in them to know this is no time for strikes whose demands cannot be met and the strikes making worse the parlous state of the country with lost man hours? Many a striker deliberately loses man hours of work when  supposedly working in their jobs: teachers sit chatting in staff rooms, tea breaks are more than an hour long; leave is taken at their whim and fancy, never mind completion of syllabuses or school exams; least of all consideration of the students in their hands.

Cass heard of students who had completed their university degrees not being able to get their certificates due to the prolonged strike of non-academic staff. Thus, employment and even accepting scholarships from overseas universities have been thwarted.

Train strikes came unannounced. Wednesday morning Cass received a call from weekly domestic help: “No trains running and so I cannot come.” She was expecting very urgent financial help. She wakes up on these days of work at 4.00 am; cooks for her family; walks a mile; boards the train and is in my flat at 7.30 am sharp. Now she is never sure whether she will have to turn back with no trains running. When health sector workers strike, and even doctors of the recent past have resorted to this deplorable ruse, it is a matter of life or death to some. A person called Mudalige was seen smilingly distributing leaflets while protest marching, the cause of which Cass could not catch nor fathom. He thinks himself a saviour; he is a destroyer.

A silver lining appeared. Cass watched on TV news Prez Ranil chairing a meeting with financial secretaries. They expressed their opinion strongly and clearly that salary increases were impossible to give and money printing was now taboo with the IMF overseeing matters financially. And the Prez concluded that it was not possible to give in to strikers. That gladdened the heart immensely. We hope he will be of the same opinion regarding MPs’ demand for tax free luxury limos and life-long insurance for them and theirs in addition to the pensions they now receive after just five years of warming comfortable chairs in the Chamber.

The Editor of The Island of Wednesday July 10, has in his style of sharp and spot-on comment, criticism, blame laying and solutions to be taken dealt with this common bane of Sri Lankan existence. (We don’t ‘live’ now, the word connoting security, justified happiness and fairness to all; rather do we merely exist). He writes under the title Strikes, demand and harsh reality and points out the fact that there are about 1.5 million public employees, working out to about one state worker for every 14 citizens. Preposterous! Only possible in SL, a land like no other where politicians and their chits are to be mostly blamed for this imbalance. Culling or weaning of public servants should be started. Then strikers will not go by instigators of strikes who plan to destabilize the country, but cling to their paying jobs.

How the Iron Lady broke the back of strikes

Cass recollected how newly appointed Conservative PM, Margaret Thatcher, manoeuvered to stop strikes of coal miners and earned the hypocoristic of ‘Iron Lady’.

Cass surfed the Internet to refresh her memory. In 1884 –85, UK coal miners’ strike was a major industrial action in an attempt to stop closure of pits that the government deemed uneconomic; the coal industry having been nationalised in 1947. Arthur Scargill was a name remembered as instigator and leader of strike action. Some minors worked and so, starting in Yorkshire and Midland, the back of the year long strike was shaken and the Conservative government went to work and allowed closure of most British collieries.  Margaret Thatcher was credited with breaking up the ‘most bitter industrial dispute in British history.’ The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) strategy was to cause a severe energy shortage that had won victory in the 1972 strike. Thatcher’s strategy was to build ample stocks of coal; to retain as many minors as possible; and to get the police to break up strikes, which were ruled illegal in September 1984; they ended a year later. Miners suffered but the country gained.

It was heartening to hear that the railway has been made an essential service. Station masters said they would go on striking. Drastic measures have to be adopted to stop such anti-national activities.

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Why human capital development is essential for Sri Lanka

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by S. D. Gamini Jayasooriya
Wayamba University
gaminij2025@gmail.com


The development of human capital is of immense importance for the economic development of Sri Lanka. Thus, investing in education and skills training raises the overall productivity and effectiveness of personnel, spurring innovation and economic growth. Analysing the current situation in Sri Lanka, human capital development can be seen to be of particular importance for creating a competitive economy.

Levels of Human Capital Development

Human capital development in Sri Lanka can be categorised into three main levels: school-leaving level, higher education, and tertiary levels.

School Level: The primary and secondary level of education are indispensable at the basic level. Promoting quality education for children creates a pool of educated human capital in society. Special attention should be paid to raising the level of education, revising curricula, and integrating the use of new technologies in education processes.

Higher Education: In particular, specific skills and knowledge are cultivated at universities and colleges. Improving funding, research and industry linkages in higher education institutions help to produce ready-made graduates to suit the global market demand.

Tertiary Level: Vocational training and technical education are crucial in preparation of people for the job market with relevant skills. Thus, increasing and enhancing vocational training centers would provide solutions for skill deficiencies in different sectors, making the population fit for the actual needs of the economy.

Sri Lankan Labor Market Overview 2023

The Sri Lankan labor market in 2023 has strengths and weaknesses as discussed below. Currently, unemployment trends are still elevated, especially within the youth bracket, while skills supply does not match the skills demand in the market. There is a lack of qualified workers in a number of fields including the IT, healthcare, and manufacturing industries.

A major part of the population is engaged in the informal economy and most of them may be in the low wage employment. This state of affairs requires proper human capital development policies and the enhancement of skill and formalization of the labor market.

Importance of a Skilled Workforce in Economic Development

Skilled workforce is one of the prerequisites for developing the economy of a particular country. Employment of specialized personnel leads to increased output, creativity, and effectiveness in many sectors. They can respond better to innovations in technology and fluctuations in the market thus promoting more economic growth and competition.

Human capital is also an element that enriches the stream of foreign investment. They are likely to be established in places where human capital is readily available to them in terms of skills. This can lead to the generation of employment, technology distribution and enhancement of the economy on a whole.

Recommendations

To enhance human capital development in Sri Lanka, several strategies should be implemented:

1. Improve Educational Infrastructure: Make sure that there is infrastructure development in schools, adequate provision for the needy student, and teachers are in a position to teach.

2. Strengthen Higher Education: Encourage partnerships between universities and industries to ensure the delivered curricula align with the market needs. Contribute towards the improvement of research and development.

3. Expand Vocational Training: Increase the number of vocational training centers and adjust the offered programs to suit the current employment market. Promote the actualization of vocational education as a worthwhile career.

4. Promote Lifelong Learning: Encourage continued learning through offered adult education and online classes.

5. Government and Private Sector Collaboration: Encourage government and private sector to work together and identify the areas that require skills and come up with relevant training needs.

Conclusion

That is why human capital investment must become a priority in Sri Lanka. Investing in education and skills training of the people at all levels will enable the development of a competent and versatile human resource pool. This will help spur economic development, encourage foreign direct investment, and build a stronger and more competitive economy. It is for this reason that the management of human capital should be done strategically to foster the future growth and stability of Sri Lanka.

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Sixty-five years after entry to university of Ceylon, Peradeniya

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University of Peradeniya

by HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

It was sixty five years ago, and that is very long time ago, on 29 June 1959 that a batch of 378 students from all parts of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) entered the portals of the most beautiful university at that time, the University of Ceylon, situated in the salubrious surroundings in Peradeniya, just four miles from the historic city of Kandy, after having successfully passed the then University Entrance examination conducted by the university itself, to read for our varied degrees in Arts, Oriental Languages, Law, etc.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement and sometimes with dismal and gloomy feelings, varied feelings produced from a sense of uncertainty and new-found freedom. The drive through the campus from the Galaha Road junction through the picturesque setting, well maintained lawns and well-laid out flower beds (Sir Ivor Jennings and Mr. Shirley De Alwis together had done the selection of the trees and shrubs very meticulously to bring out the blending of colours), the imposing architectural marvels of Jayathilaka and Arunachalam Halls, the Arts Theatre, the Senate building, and Hilda Obeysekera Hall and the tree sheltered kissing bend and up the winding road to Marcus Fernando Hall( Mr. Shirley De Alwis had planned out the general scheme, landscaping which was his favourite and all other details), brought thoughts to one’s mind which were mixed with perplexity, bewilderment and abandonment. One was entering a make-believe land, very artificial but, at the same time, very fascinating.

There were two significant things in respect of our batch of 1959. Ours was the last all- English medium batch to enter the university. The second important thing is our batch was the first batch where all the students were admitted directly without a viva voce, as up to the previous batch the students were selected both directly and some after facing a viva voce.

Though sixty-five years have gone by, we have not forgotten the best experience we had during the three or four years we spent in the beautiful campus. It is sad that many of our batch mates are not with us now having left us and moved into another world and not being with us to reminisce the glorious time we spent as residential undergraduates.

To all those who entered the Peradeniya campus before us and to our batch, that university will remain in our minds as the one and only university in then Ceylon as the University of Ceylon, which had been established by the Ordinance No. 20 of 1942 and situated in Colombo. It was in the early nineteen fifties that the campus of the University of Ceylon was established in Peradeniya.

The single university continued until 1959. It was only in 1959 that two other universities were created, namely the Vidyodaya University (now known as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura) and the Vidyalankara University (now known as the University of Kelaniya) which were established by the Vidyodaya University and Vidyalankara University Act No. 45 of 1958.These two universities were created by upgrading the two famous Pirivenas (Vidyodaya and Vidyalanakara) that were functioning at that time.

That period we spent at Peradeniya was one of the most unforgettable periods of our lives. The friendships that we cultivated while in Peradeniya remain and will not be erased from our minds.

It would be of interest to those who followed us much later to read for their degrees how the undergraduates were selected in our time. We sat the University Entrance examination conducted by the University of Ceylon in four centres, namely, Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Galle with the Department of Examinations having nothing to do with it. Thank God! However, if any candidate wanted to obtain the Higher School Certificate (HSC) such candidate had to sit the extra paper at the same examination and if successful received the HSC certificate from the Department of Education.

The results of the examination were not sent either to the schools or the candidates’ homes. The results were published in the daily newspapers. As such, the results of our batch were published in the The Ceylon Daily News of Wednesday March 11, 1959. Thereafter, after a lapse of a certain period of time, the successful candidates received letters from the university informing of the date of commencement of sessions of the academic year, the Hall of residence allotted and the date to report at the allotted Hall.

There was also a document indicating what we had to take, such as a raincoat and cape, etc. and the things that should not be done in which there was one item which stated that ceiling walking was prohibited. This was a little puzzling to us, but we understood what it meant later when we were on the campus. All undergraduates who were privileged to be in Peradeniya at the commencement of the campus and may be about four batches after ours had the best of time in a university in Sri Lanka.

During that time all undergraduates resided in the halls of residence throughout their undergraduate carrier, even if a person’s residence was abutting the campus premises. All those who entered from schools in and around Kandy could have easily travelled from home. But the university rules and regulations did not permit us to do so. Anyway, when reminiscing, we think that it was good that all had to be resident within the campus as we would never have got that experience otherwise.

On the occasion of the EFC Ludowyke Centenary at Peradeniya in 2006, Prof. Yasmin Gooneratne, a distinguished alumnus stated thus:

“Of the terms most frequently heard in connection with the life that we experienced there, one is “A Golden Age”’ another is “Arcadia”. 2It was a magical time” says one classmate.” It was idyllic” says another. Our companions-some of them husbands, wives, or children who did not share the Peradeniya experience, and who now have to hear us talk about it ad infinitum, look skeptical. They don’t believe us.”

“Peradeniya? Three years in Paradise” a classmate said once. “And at the end of it, they even gave us a degree”

“It was as if all the intellectual brilliance in our country had been concentrated in one spot. If the university had been a stage, we students would have been witnesses to the performances of a stellar cast”

During our time in Peradeniya the halls of residence for males were Arunachalam, Jayathilaka, Marrs, Ramanathan and Marcus Fernando. The female undergraduates had as their halls, James Peiris, Sangamitta and Hilda Obeysekera (with Mrs. Cooke, Dr. (Mrs.) Ram Aluvihare and Miss Mathiaparanam as the respective Wardens). During our final year in 1961-62(third year in the case of those who had opted to do a special degree course), a new hall was opened, which had been named after D.R. Wijewardena close to the Kandy-Colombo railway line. With this building being opened, there was a change in respect of occupants of some halls. Ramanathan was converted into a women’s hall and James Peris was made a hall for male undergraduates. The newly opened Wijewardena Hall became a men’s hall. With this change, the male undergraduates who were in Ramanathan Hall were transferred to James Peiris and Wijewardena Halls. (To be continued)

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