By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri
The Island of 29.12.2020 carried a write up by Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe in which he queried about the “very severe uncertainty of the source and the means of supplying the LNG necessary to operate the 300 MW LNG plant and the necessity for pursuing options for more LNG plants with India and Japan and now with the USA”? Though the term “LNG” appears here, it is something new to people in the country. Hence this write-up is published to apprise the readers what LNG is and highlight the progress made so far in procuring the gas, based on information available in the public domain.
GLOBAL PRODUCTION AND TRANSPORT OF NATURAL GAS
Natural gas (NG), though a new energy source yet to be introduced in Sri Lanka, has been in use world-wide since the middle of the last century. NG has been used in a variety of applications such as power generation, space heating, household cooking, thermal energy generation in industries, running motor vehicles and as a feedstock for a wide range of industries including fertilizers. Today, natural gas has a share of about 27% in the overall global energy supply and 23% in the generation of electricity.
Natural gas is the preferred fuel today for generating heat and power because of its many benefits. It does not produce any ash or particulates or smoke or toxic gases such as Sulphur Dioxide or toxic heavy metals like Mercury, Arsenic, Cobalt, Chromium or radionuclides, on combustion like in the case of coal or oil. Even the Oxides of Nitrogen produced is minimal and Carbon Dioxide produced is no more than 50% of what a similar capacity coal power plant produces. Hence many countries switch from coal to NG with the objective of reducing the emission of Carbon Dioxide which the countries have committed to under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Though nearly 100 countries have been producing NG world-wide, amounting to about 4,000 Billion cubic metres in 2019, only about 65 countries have produced more than 1 Billion cm each annually. Among the Indian Ocean rim countries, NG is produced in Qatar, Malaysia, Brunei, Tanzania, Myanmar, Indonesia and Australia. Natural gas is transported across continents in pipelines extending thousands of kilometres. For transporting across oceans, the gas is first converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG) by cooling down to -162 oC when its volume reduces to 1/600 of the original value.
Transportation of LNG across oceans is done in purposely built carriers with capacity between 150,000 and 250,000 cubic metres (cm) of LNG. Loading and unloading of LNG require special terminals having deep jetties which are costly to build. Once imported, LNG is converted into gas and stored under pressure for distribution among consumers in pipelines or as compressed natural gas (CNG) in cylinders. For distant consumers, LNG itself is transported in insulated containers by road trucks to consumer points.
PAST EFFORTS FOR IMPORTING LNG
During the past 20 years, there were several unsolicited proposals received for importing LNG, some through the Board of Investment (BOI) and others through political entities. Most of them were either rejected or withdrawn for various reasons, one being lack of transparency, but a few are still awaiting the green light from the Government. Though the Ministry of Petroleum had the authority to consider these proposals, they appeared to be rather reluctant to venture into a new area unknown hitherto, and took no action.
In the meantime, a representative of an Indian Gas Company visited Sri Lanka in mid-2016 and offered to bring LNG from their terminal in Kochin, Kerala. The terminal was being operated below capacity and the Company wanted to sell their surplus gas to Sri Lanka at the same rate they are paying for the imported gas with a slight mark up. They too did not receive any positive response.
When Sri Lanka PM met Indian PM in New Delhi in April 2017, the two heads of states entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for collaboration in several sectors including the power sector, under which importing of LNG and building a 500 MW gas power plant were included. The same Indian Company who offered to bring LNG was named as the Indian counterpart.
In 2016, Japan also had offered to build a 500 MW coal power plant which the Sri Lanka Government had accepted. However, with the government’s change of policy to shift from coal to gas for power generation, the government requested Japan to change its offer to a gas power plant of same capacity which Japan agreed to. The Cabinet of Ministers (COM) on 11.07.2017 accepted the two proposals to build gas power plants each with capacity 500 MW offered by India and Japan.
This was followed up by a decision taken by the COM on 27.02.2018 to grant approval for Sri Lanka to establish a tripartite joint venture (TJV) comprising 15% equity held by Sri Lanka, 47.5% by nominee of India and 37.5% by nominee of Japan for the purpose of implementing the project.
The COM also decided to vest authority with the newly established Sri Lanka Gas Terminal Company Ltd. (SLGTC), a fully-owned subsidiary of Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), to enter into Agreements with the Indian and Japanese parties. The SLGTC was also nominated as the Developer for the Project. It is surprising why SLPA was authorized by the Government to import LNG when it has no mandate for it.
A MOU was signed among foreign members of the TJV and the SLGTC on 09.04.2018 probably confirming the responsibilities and commitments of each partner, which are still not made public. It is not known whether India and Japan would share the cost of the project and if so, in what ratio or jointly undertake its operation and maintenance or make in-kind contribution of transferring technology.
PRE-FEASIBILITY AND EIA REPORT ON THE PROJECT
A pre-feasibility study (PFS) was undertaken in 2017 by one of the Japanese partners of the TJV, which had recommended setting up a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) moored initially in the South Port breakwater of Colombo Port. According to the PFS, the FSRU will have a draught of 12.5 m. The cost is expected to be around USD 225 Million and can be set up in 2.5 years.
A report by ADB on the proposed National Port Master Plan– Volume 2 (Part 5) released in February 2020, includes a section on FSRU to be located within the Port premises and gives details of its design and operation. (https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/project-documents/50184/50184-001-tacr-en_10.pdf). According to this study, the gas pipelines will connect the FSRU to the existing power plants at Kelanitissa and Kerawalapitiya laid part under water and part over land through the city and that the maximum send-out capacity of the of the terminal will be around 3.8 Mt LNG annually, which is on the high side.
Having found the project feasible, the TJV engaged the Environmental Resources Management (ERM) of Japan, to undertake an EIA study for the project which was completed in August 2019. The EIA Report was open for public scrutiny during December 2019. It is the general practice and a legal requirement to conduct a public hearing on the EIA report based on public comments received on it. However, there was neither a public hearing nor any announcement made as to whether the EIA Report was accepted or not, though almost one year has lapsed since closing of public comments.
The Writer responded highlighting shortcomings in many areas including discrepancies in capacity estimates, alternative supplies, exclusion zones, impact on Port operation, lack of mechanism for issuing operator licences and monitoring, issues with the site, safety aspects, lack of fire-fighting facilities, issues on routing the pipeline along city streets and issues on procurement of LNG, but received not even an acknowledgement or an invitation for a hearing.
FEASIBILITY STUDY OF THE PROJECT
In March 2019, the GoSL requested ADB for technical and financial assistance to conduct a detailed feasibility study on establishing the FSRU. The proposal named the CEB as the implementing agency and wanted the Technical Assistance Package (TAP) to include building the capacity of CEB to undertake the assignment. The ADB, in June 2009 approved an allocation of USD 225,000 as a grant to implement the feasibility study, including training of the CEB staff. The ADB study is expected to be completed by May 2020. (https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/project-documents/53193/53193-001-tam-en.pdf).
The package envisaged hiring on short-term basis experts on LNG Infrastructure Design; Marine Engineering; NG Pipeline Planning & Design and Financial & Commercial aspects to work out the optimal capacity for meeting the demand for using the gas for operating the existing and proposed new gas turbine power plants. The package also included holding training workshops to build the capacity of CEB engineers to handle the operation of the gas supply to the power plants.
Though the consultancy requires initial assessment of capacity of CEB staff to handle LNG import, being electrical engineers, one may safely assume that their capacity to undertake this assignment is almost nil. It is expected that the operation of the FSRU itself will be the responsibility of the supplier. It is surprising why ADB agreed to train a set of electrical engineers who are not qualified to work with LNG when LNG importing is outside the mandate of CEB.
CALLING PROPOSALS AND IMPLEMENTING THE PROJECT
The findings of the feasibility study are not available in the public domain yet, though supposed to have been completed more than six months ago. The ADB report is expected to include draft of request for proposals (RFP) from prospective suppliers for establishing the FSRU. This needs Cabinet approval before announcing, appointment of Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) and Cabinet appointed Negotiation Committee (CANC). Once bids are received, it is necessary to have them evaluated by the TEC and approval by the CNC and finally by the Cabinet before the award of the contract is made. All these will take a minimum of two years going by the past experience.
Once the contractor is selected, CEB will have to negotiate the financial package with the contractor and considering the country’s poor credit rating internationally, it will be difficult to raise the finances through commercial banks, unless a multi-lateral financial institute like IMF or World Bank comes to Sri Lanka’s rescue or the TJV partners will contribute and this process itself will take more than a year.
These negotiations including signing contracts and the lead time in securing a FSRU and setting it up will take a minimum of another 3 years. This means that the country cannot expect to have the benefit of LNG this side of 6 years.
AUTHORITY FOR IMPORTING LNG AND DISTRIBUTING THE GAS
During the Yahapalana regime, the function of importing LNG and its distribution was vested in the Ministry of Petroleum through a gazette notification announced on 15.09.2015. However, during the subsequent regime, this function was entrusted to CEB by a decision of the COM. In the interim Cabinet appointed under the current regime, the function of “importing, refining, storage, distribution and marketing, coordination and implementation of petroleum-based products and natural gas” was assigned to the Ministry of Power and Energy by the Gazette Notification No. 2153/12 of 10.12.2019. Subsequently, with the appointment of the new Cabinet after the general election in August 2020, the Ministry of Energy was assigned the above functions related to natural gas.
A separate ADB publication on “Sri Lanka Energy Sector Assessment, Strategy, and Road Map” released in December 2019 says with regard to building LNG delivery infrastructure that “Since the LNG terminal may be used by many stakeholders for importation and storage, the terminal need not be under the CEB or power sector utilities and a more suitable arrangement would be a multiuser terminal facilitated by petroleum sector institutions”.
Surprisingly, the recommendation of this ADB report contradicts what is included in the ADB’s TAP referred to earlier where ADB has agreed to build capacity of CEB staff to handle operation of the proposed LNG terminal. As a matter of fact, the establishment of SLGTC has already been authorized by the COM on 27.02.2018 to handle matters related to LNG and NG matters. Further, the CEB Act does not give CEB any mandate to import fuel.
It is therefore surprising that the Government has sought assistance from the ADB to build the capacity of CEB to import LNG for power plant operation, as described in the previous section. Regrettably, the two Government institutions, SLPA and CEB are moving in different paths to achieve the same objective.
While the Government has given clear directive that matters pertaining to natural gas should be handled by the Ministry of Energy, it is not prudent to allow the CEB to handle it on grounds that it is CEB who will be consuming natural gas. If this is allowed, next time CEB will want to import petroleum oil as well for use in power plants.
REGULATORY BODY FOR THE LNG/NG INDUSTRY
With the closure of the Public Utilities Commission, it is now necessary to have a separate body under the purview of the Ministry of Energy to serve as the regulator and monitor for the gas sub-sector in the country. This body should be responsible for granting approval for all LNG/NG projects, monitor their operation and ensure all safety aspects are complied with according to international classified society standards, grant licenses for LNG/NG system operators, maintenance and installation technicians and safety officers.
It should be granted authority to determine prices levied for selling LNG/NG for different purposes; power generation, industrial heating, commercial and domestic application and as industrial feedstock, and should have powers similar to what the PUCSL was granted. In order to make this body effective, it is necessary to recruit staff with good academic background and experience working in the petroleum field and given further training enabling them to undertake the expected assignments efficiently. However, if CEB is permitted to import LNG, it is doubtful whether CEB will want another body to regulate and monitor them, as happening currently.
The Government had received several proposals for importing LNG during the past 20 years, but none were considered seriously. Interventions by foreign governments in 2017 prompted commencement of negotiations with them for importing LNG through a Tripartite Joint Venture set up three years ago. During this period, a pre-feasibility study including environment impact studies was undertaken which has recommended setting up a floating terminal within the Colombo Port premises. Subsequently, a detailed feasibility study was also undertaken findings of which are yet to be published.
There is lack of clarity as to who should import LNG and distribute the gas. Calling for proposals from prospective suppliers, their selection, signing of contracts, raising finances, getting Cabinet approvals and actual construction of the terminal will take at least another six years going by the past experience, unless the President directs the relevant officials to fast tract the process, enabling early realization of the objectives given in the Saubhagye Dekma Policy Framework.
There are however, faster ways of getting LNG into the country at least to operate the first 300 MW gas fired power plant bypassing all these procedures, but their discussion will be kept for a later article to save space here.
Full implementation of 13A – Final solution to ‘national problem’ or end of unitary state? – Part VI
by Kalyananda Tiranagama
Lawyers for Human Rights and Development
(Part V of this article appeared in The Island of 02 Oct. 2023)
Six months later, in July 1986, further talks were held between the Sri Lankan government and an Indian delegation led by P Chidambaram, Minister of State, a person from Tamil Nadu. Based on those talks, a detailed Note prepared containing observations of the Indian government on the proposals of the Sri Lanka government as the Framework was sent to the Indian Government.
The following three paragraphs from this Note were cited in the Judgement of Wanasundara J in the 13th Amendment Case as relevant for its determination:
1. A Provincial Council shall be established in each Province. Law-making and Executive (including Financial) powers shall be devolved upon the Provincial Councils by suitable constitutional amendments, without resort to a referendum. After further discussions subjects broadly corresponding to the proposals contained in Annexe 1 to the Draft Framework of Accord and Undertaking and the entries in List ll and List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution shall be devolved upon Provincial Councils.
It is strange that this paragraph suggests to bring constitutional amendments to devolve Law-making and Executive (including Financial) powers on the Provincial Councils, without resort to a referendum. It is not clear on whose suggestion this phrase – without resort to a referendum – was included, Sri Lanka or India? But it is most likely that it was India, feeling the sentiments of the vast majority of the people in the South and knowing the most probable outcome of a referendum.
Inclusion of this phrase – without resort to a referendum – may have had some impact on the minds of the Judges in arriving at a determination on the Bills.
There can be no doubt that the phrase – the entries in List ll and List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution shall be devolved upon Provincial Councils – included on the suggestion of Indian side.
2. In the Northern Province and in the Eastern Province the Provincial Councils shall be deemed to be constituted immediately after the constitutional amendments come into force……..
What does this mean? Can they come into being even before the Provincial Councils Bill and the Provincial Councils Elections Bill are passed and the Elections held? Where is People’s sovereignty? This also appears to be an Indian demand.
3. ‘‘In a preamble to this Note, it was agreed that suitable constitutional and legal arrangements would be made for those two Provinces to act in co-ordination. In consequence of these talks a constitutional amendment took shape and form and three lists – (1) The Reserved List (List II), (2) The Provincial List (List I); and (3) The Concurrent List (List Ill) too were formulated.’’
‘Suitable constitutional and legal arrangements to be made for those two Provinces to act in co-ordination’. This is another subtle and mild formulation used to convey the idea that the Northern and Eastern Provinces would be merged into one unit.
Mr. Chidambaram may have seen to it that the aspirations of the TULF are incorporated into the agreement to a certain extent.
‘‘The Bangalore discussions held between President J. R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in November 1986 were the next stage of the discussions. At the Bangalore discussions Sri Lanka had to agree to all the Cardinal Principles of the TULF and other Tamil militant groups, which Sri Lanka had totally refused even to discuss at Thimphu talks and not included in the Draft Terms of Accord and Understanding reached in New Delhi in September 1985.
The Sri Lanka government’s observations on the Working Paper on Bangalore Discussion dated 26th November 1986 show that the following suggestions made by the Indian Government were substantially adopted:
Recognition that the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples who have at all times hitherto lived together in the territory with other ethnic groups;
Northern and Eastern Provinces should form one administrative unit for an interim period and that its continuance should depend on a Referendum;
The Governor shall have the same powers as the Governor of a State in India.
India had also proposed to the Sri Lankan government that
the Governor should only act on the advice of the Board of Ministers and should explore the possibility of further curtailing the Governor’s discretionary powers;
provision be made on the lines of Article 249 of the Indian Constitution on the question of Parliament’s power to legislate on matters in the Provincial list;
Article 254 of the Indian Constitution be adopted in regard to the Provincial Council’s power to make a law before or after a parliamentary law in respect of a matter in the Concurrent List.
To ensure that the Government of Sri Lanka would comply with these suggestions in enacting laws for the implementation of these suggestions, the two most crucial suggestions were included in the Indo Lanka Accord signed by President J. R. Jayewardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on the 29th July 1987 in Colombo.
The First part of the Indo-Lanka Accord reaffirmed what was agreed at Bangalore that (a) the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lanka Tamil Speaking people who at all times hitherto lived together in the territory with other ethnic groups. It also provided for (b) these two Provinces to form one administrative unit for an interim period and (c) for elections to the Provincial Council to be held before 31st December 1987.
From the above material, it clearly appears beyond any doubt that the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Councils are not a solution reached through consensus between two independent states following free negotiations, but something forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka by India, with a view to placating the demands of the TULF and the other Tamil groups, contrary to the wishes of the Govt of Sri Lanka.
This explains why Indian political leaders and high officials of the Indian Govt frequently visit Sri Lanka and meet our political leaders demanding the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. That is why leaders of our Tamil Political Parties frequently rush to the Indian High Commission complaining of their grievances and requesting the Indian High Commissioner to bring pressure on our Govt to grant their demands.
As shown above, due to India’s pressure, Sri Lanka had to adopt the three main proposals made by India at the Bangalore discussions. If Sri Lanka had adopted all the proposals as suggested by India and implemented them it would have been the end of the Unitary State of Sri Lanka and created a fully Federal State. However, President Jayewardene, as a shrewd and far-sighting politician, has taken care not to give effect to some of the proposals at the implementation stage.
President Jayewardene has not adopted the Indian proposal that ‘the Governor should only act on the advice of the Board of Ministers and should explore the possibility of further curtailing the Governor’s discretionary powers’. Under the 13th Amendment the Governor, as the representative of the President, is vested with undiminished power of exercising his discretion, not on the advice of the Board of Ministers of the Provincial Council, but as directed by the President. It is this Governor’s unfettered discretion that has prevented Sri Lanka from becoming a full Federal State, with Provincial Councils as federal units.
The majority Judgement in the 13th Amendment case explains how this Governor’s discretion has prevented Sri Lanka from becoming a fully federal state, thus:
‘‘With respect to executive powers an examination of the relevant provisions of the Bill underscores the fact that in exercising their executive power, the Provincial Councils are subject to the control of the Centre and are not sovereign bodies.
‘‘Article 154C provides that the executive power extending to the matters with respect to which a Provincial Council has power to make statutes shall be exercised by the Governor of the Province either directly or through Ministers of the Board of Ministers or through officers subordinate to him, in accordance with Article 154F.
‘‘Article 154F states that the Governor shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice, except in so far as he is by or under the Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion.
‘‘The Governor is appointed by the President and holds office in accordance with Article 4(b) which provides that the executive power of the People shall be exercised by the President of the Republic, during the pleasure of the President (Article 154B (2)). The Governor derived his authority from the President and exercises the executive power vested in him as a delegate of the President. It is open to the President therefore by virtue of Article 4(b) of the Constitution to give directions and monitor the Governor’s exercise of this executive power vested in him.
‘‘ Although he is required by Article 154F(1) to exercise his functions in accordance with the advice of the Board of Ministers, this is subject to the qualification “except in so far as he is by or under the Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion.” Under the Constitution the Governor as a representative of the President is required to act in his discretion in accordance with the instructions and directions of the President.
‘‘ Article 154F(2) mandates that the Governor’s discretion shall be on the President’s directions and that the decision of the Governor as to what is in his discretion shall be final and not be called in question in any court on the ground that he ought or ought not to have acted on his discretion.
‘‘ So long as the President retains, the power to give directions to the Governor regarding the exercise of his executive functions, and the Governor is bound by such directions superseding the advice of the Board of Ministers and where the failure of the Governor or Provincial Council to comply with or give effect to any directions given to the Governor or such Council by the President under Chapter XVII of the Constitution will entitle the President to hold that a situation has arisen in which the administration of the Province cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and take over the functions and powers of the Provincial Council (Article 154K and 154L), there can be no gainsaying the fact that the President remains supreme or sovereign in the executive field and the Provincial Council is only a body subordinate to him.’’ (Pp. 322 – 323)
That is why the Tamil political parties stand for the abolition of Executive Presidency.
(To be continued)
Judiciary necessary to protect democracy
By Jehan Perera
The government has allocated Rs 11 billion in the provisional budget for next year for the presidential elections due in September. This is a positive indication that the government intends to hold those elections. Free and fair elections being held when due is a core concept of a functioning democracy. This was called into question earlier in the year when local government elections were postponed. They were due in March but were postponed on multiple occasions and now have been cancelled. There is no indication when they might be held. The government justified its refusal to hold those elections on the grounds that the country was facing an economic crisis and the money could be better spent elsewhere.
The government’s refusal to hold the local government elections was challenged in the courts. The Supreme Court decided that the money allocated in the budget for elections should not be blocked by the government and needed to be released for the purpose of conducting those elections. Without respecting this judicial ruling, government members threatened to summon the judges who made the ruling to Parliament on the grounds that the judiciary could not decide on money matters that were the preserve of Parliament. They argued that the powers and privileges of Parliament had been violated by the order issued by the Supreme Court instructing the government to refrain from withholding funds for the polls. There was an outcry nationally and internationally and the government members did not proceed with their dubious plan to summon the judges before Parliament.
Due to the government’s prioritization of the economy over elections, the prospects for elections continue to be challenging. The economic crisis is in full swing with further price increases in fuel costs taking place and electricity costs about to be hiked. The economy continues to shrink though at a slower rate than before. The government’s failure to obtain the second tranche of IMF support is a warning regarding the precarious condition of the economy. The IMF has said that Sri Lanka’s economic recovery is still not assured. It has also said that the government has not met the economic targets set for it, particularly with regard to reducing the budget deficit due to a potential shortfall in government revenue generation. The IMF has said the second tranche under its lending programme would only be released after it reaches a staff-level agreement, and there was no fixed timeline on when that would take place
Unfortunately, the willingness of government members to challenge judicial decisions with regard to the electoral process is having its repercussions elsewhere. Parliamentarians have made use of parliamentary privilege to criticize the judiciary, including by naming them individually. The purpose of parliamentary privilege is to enable the elected representatives of the people to disclose the truth in the national interest. But this is a power that needs to be used with care and caution, especially if it is used to malign or insult individuals. Those who have the protection of parliamentary privilege need to understand it is a very powerful privilege, and they should exercise the privilege with restraint. It is the abuse of privilege that brings it into disrepute and undermines the wider perception of the central role that privilege plays.
The conduct of some parliamentarians has now reached a point where a judge who was deciding on controversial cases involving ethnic and religious conflict has chosen to resign and even leave the country. Successive rulings made by the judiciary in those cases appear to have been ignored by government authorities. The judicial decisions and rulings made have been subjected to disparaging and insulting remarks in Parliament and outside. Mullaitivu District Judge Saravanarajah, who ruled on the controversial Kurunthurmalai (Kurundi Viharaya) case, resigned and fled Sri Lanka due to alleged threats and pressure. In a letter shared on social media, the judge told the Judicial Services Commission that he was facing threats to his life. Such pressures placed on the judiciary are clearly unacceptable in a democratic country, especially in situations where the judiciary is being called on to defend the rights of the people who are being threatened by government overreach.
At the present time, democratic freedoms and space for protest that exist in the country are being endangered by the government’s efforts to silence public protest and criticism by means of the proposed Anti-Terrorist Act (ATA) and the Online Safety Act which are to be placed before Parliament this week. The draft ATA gives the government the power to arrest persons who are engaging in public protest or trade union action who can be charged for “intimidating the public or a section of the public”. The Online Safety Act seeks, among others, to “protect persons against damage caused by false statements or threatening, alarming, or distressing statements.” It will establish a five-member commission appointed by the President which will be able to proscribe or suspend any social media account or online publication, and also recommend jail time for alleged offenses which can be highly subjective.
The judiciary is being called upon to defend fundamental rights and freedoms in the face of the government’s bid to take restrictive actions. The draft ATA has been opposed by opposition political parties and by human rights organisations since it appeared about six months ago. The ATA was drafted as an improvement to the Prevention of Terrorism Act which had been highlighted by the EU as objectionable on human rights grounds for the purposes of obtaining the GSP Plus tax benefit for Sri Lankan exports. Additionally, it has brought in the Online Safety Act as a surprise instrument to stymie the dissemination of information that people need regarding the non-transparent conduct of the government. With the political and economic crisis in the country getting worse, it appears that the government is determined to go ahead with these laws.
The failure of the government to fulfil many of the IMF’s transparency requirements, such as posting its contracts and procurements on the website, and explain its rationale for tax holidays and those who benefit, have contributed to the loss of confidence in the government’s commitment to the economic reform process. There is a widespread belief that corruption is rampant and that the inability to get new foreign investment is partly due to this difficulty of doing business in Sri Lanka, quite apart from the leakage of government revenues. The government needs to address these issues if it is to win the trust and confidence of the people and cushion the difficulties faced by people in coping with their dire economic circumstances. In particular, it needs to hold elections that can bring in new leaders that the country needs and cleanse the Augean Stables.
Despite the allocation of Rs 11 billion for presidential elections in the provisional budget for 2024, there remain questions regarding the government’s plans for the future. The Chairman of the UNP, Wajira Abeywardena, is reported to have said that the presidential election may have to be postponed as it could undermine ongoing economic recovery measures. The provisional budget for 2024 is Rs 3860 billion, of which Rs 11 billion would seem to be a small fraction. However, the budget for 2023 was Rs 3657 billion, and the Rs 10 billion that was needed for the local government elections was likewise only a small fraction of that budget. But those elections were not held and the government argued that this money was better spent on development than on elections. The issue of postponement of elections due to the ongoing economic crisis may have to be faced once again when the presidential elections are due. The courts would be the better option for undemocratic actions to be contested than the streets. The courts and the judiciary need to be kept strong and respected. The judiciary contributes to the trust of civilians in good governance and sustains social peace which should not be compromised.
‘Lunu Dehi’…in a different form
The Gypsies, with the late Sunil Perera at the helm, came up with several appealing and memorable songs, including ‘Lunu Dehi.’ And this title is again in the spotlight…but in a different form.
Dushan Jayathilake, who was with the Gypsies for 19 years, playing keyboards, is now operating his own band…under the banner of LunuDehi.
Says Dushan: “I was really devastated when Sunil Perera left this world. However, I was fortunate enough to meet Nalin Samath, who stepped in to play guitar for the band. During Nalin’s one year stint with the Gypsies, we discussed my dream of starting my own band. Sunil had always urged us to work on our original compositions and follow our own unique path.”
With Sunil’s words in mind, Dushan and Nalin decided to leave the Gypsies and strike out on their own and that’s how LunuDehi became a reality…a year ago.
“We were pondering over several names as we wanted to have a name that would reflect the distinctive sound and style of our music. Ultimately, it was my wife who came up with the name LunuDehi.”
Both Dushan and Nalin agreed that this name is perfect, adding that “Since lunu dehi is a side dish used in Sri Lankan cuisine to make food have a bit of a kick to it, our music, too, gives listeners that much-needed kick.”
Elaborating further, Dushan said: “As a musician with 26 years of experience in the industry, 19 of which were spent playing keyboards with the Gypsies, I can say starting my own band was a dream come true. And when I met Nalin Samath, who has 35 years of experience in the music industry and was the original guitarist for Bathiya and Santhush, I knew that we had the talent and skill to co-lead a band.”
As the lead composer and arranger for LunuDehi, Dushan says he is constantly in awe of the incredible individual talents that each of the members brings to the table, and this is what he has to say about the lineup:
, in addition to being an accomplished guitarist and vocalist, is a true entertainer, always keeping the crowd engaged, and on their feet.
son of bassist Joe Lappen, has a gift for composing and arranging pop hits. His work includes ‘Mal Madahasa’ by Randhir and ‘Dias’ by Freeze.
former guitarist of NaadhaGama, who has played for prestigious concerts, is our current rhythm guitarist and vocalist. He is also an amazing composer.
, our drummer, has played for a number of bands and is always eager to learn more about music.
TJ,our vocalist, has an incredible voice that leans toward the deeper side and she can sing in over 10 languages. She participated in the first season of The Voice Sri Lanka in 2021 and is also a talented songwriter and composer.
Dushan himself has composed and arranged music for some of the big names in the local music scene, including The Gypsies, BnS, Lakshman Hilmi, and Chamara Weerasinghe.
Dushan went on to say that as a policy, they have always been selective about the venues they perform at.
“While we enjoy playing music for all types of audiences, we have always prioritized concerts, weddings, dinner dances, and corporate events over hotel lobbies, nightclubs, and pubs.
LunuDehi’s musical journey began at a BnS show held in Polonnaruwa. Since then, they have collaborated with BnS at concerts and have become known for their unique sound and energetic performances.
They will be backing BnS on their North America and UK tour in 2024.
“This is a huge milestone for our band, and we cannot wait to share our music with new audiences around the world,” says Dushan.
Whatsmore, next month, they are off to Indonesia to perform at ‘Sri Lanka Night 2023’ to be held at Hotel Le Meridien, Jakarta, on 25th November.
Dushan says he is grateful to those who have supported them and given them the encouragement to break into the scene.
“I would also like to extend my appreciation to Sunil Perera, who, unfortunately, is no longer with us. He was like a second father to me, and never failed to push me to be my best self, also Piyal Perera, who has been supporting us from the start, as well as Bathiya Jayakody and Santhush Weeraman, who have given us numerous opportunities to shine as a group.
“Our ultimate goal is to establish ourselves as a household name, with a repertoire of memorable songs that will secure numerous concert bookings and tours, hopefully worldwide.”
Their debut original is called ‘Rice and Curry.’
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