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Long-term generation expansion plan – Legal barrier against implementing the Electricity Act

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By Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri and Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe

A retired Professor of Electrical Engineering has claimed that “the CEB’s long-term generation expansion (LTGE) plan is the best strategy for this country to follow at this time, which is revised once or twice a year” in a write up appearing in The Island of 03.09.2020. Obviously, the learned Professor does not seem to be familiar with the CEB plan because it is not revised once or twice a year but only once in two or three years. Nor has he studied the proposals made by the CEB in relation to the current developments in the energy sector worldwide. The LTGE Plan has some importance for Sri Lanka because compliance with it has been made mandatory for capacity addition both in the Act as well as in the Power Ministry mandate.

SRI LANKA ELECTRICITY (AMENDMENT) ACT NO. 31 OF 2013

This Act, which is an amendment to the Sri Lanka Electricity Act No. 20 of 2009, governs the addition of any new power plants or expansion of existing power plants in Sri Lanka. This amendment to the Act requires that such addition of generation capacity needs to comply with the CEB’s LTGE Plan which has received the prior approval of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL). There are six instances in the Act where reference has been made to the CEB’s LTGE Plan making it mandatory that any new capacity addition or expansion has to meet the requirements specified in the CEB Plan.

Some extracts of sections of the Act where reference has been made to the LTGE Plan are given below.

“A transmission licensee shall, based on the future demand forecast as specified in the Least Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan prepared by such licensee and as amended after considering the submissions of the distribution and generation licensees and approved by the Commission, submit proposals to proceed with the procuring of any new generation plant or for the expansion of the generation capacity of an existing plant, to the Commission for its written approval”.

“Upon obtaining the approval of the Commission under subsection (2), the transmission licensee shall in accordance with the conditions of its transmission licence and in compliance with any rules that may be made by the Commission relating to procurement, call for tenders by notice published in the Gazette, to develop a new generation plant or to expand the generation capacity of an existing generation plant, as the case may be, as shall be specified in the notice”

“Upon the close of the tender, the transmission licensee shall through a properly constituted tender board, recommend to the Commission for its approval, the person who is best capable of meeting the requirements of the Least Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan of the transmission licensee duly approved by the Commission”, among others.

“The Commission shall be required on receipt of any recommendations of the transmission licensee, to grant its approval at its earliest convenience, where the Commission is satisfied that the recommended price for the purchase of electrical energy or electricity generating capacity meets the principle of least cost and the requirements of the Least Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan and that the terms and conditions of such purchase is within the accepted technical and economical parameters of the transmission licensee”.

“For the purpose of this section- “Least Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan” means a plan prepared by the transmission licensee and amended and approved by the Commission on the basis of the submissions made by the licensees and published by the Commission, indicating the future electricity generating capacity requirements determined on the basis of least economic cost and meeting the technical and reliability requirements of the electricity network of Sri Lanka which is duly approved by the Commission and published in the Gazette from time to time”.

 

MINISTRY OF POWER MANDATE

The recently established Ministry of Power has stipulated as a key mandate of the Power Ministry the following:

Meeting the electricity needs of all urban and rural communities based on the long-term generation expansion (LTGE) plan prepared by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

Among the special priority areas identified for the Power Ministry is the Implementation of the long-term generation expansion plan.

LONG-TERM GENERATION

EXPANSION PLAN

Since the Electricity Act as well as the Ministry of Power mandate require that the generation capacity addition needs to be carried out meeting the requirements of the LTGE Plan, it is necessary to examine closely what this plan is. The CEB prepares a long-term generation expansion (LTGE) plan once in two or three years outlining the least cost options of generation plants that need to be added to the system annually for the next 20 years to meet the forecasted demand. The latest plan is in respect of the period 2020 – 2039 but it is still in the draft form yet to be approved by the PUCSL as required by the Sri Lanka Electricity Act No. 31 of 2013. As such the LTGP in effect is the 2018-2037 plan which has received the written approval of the PUCSL.

Being a rolling plan updated once in two or three years, the types and capacities to be added in a given period keeps changing with the plan. Hence, a potential developer is at a loss to know which plan to follow in planning a future power plant development project. This becomes clear when the capacities recommended to be added in the three recent plans covering the periods 2015-34, 2018-37 and 2020-39 (Draft) given in Table 1 are examined. For simplicity, only the additions of large thermal power plant capacities are included in the Table.

It is seen that the 2015-34 Plan has included only coal power plants amounting to 3,200 MW up to 2034. The 2018-37 Plan, on the other hand, has included addition of 2,700 MW of coal power plants together with 1,500 MW of natural gas (NG) power plants, up to 2036. Whereas the 2020-39 Plan (Draft) has included addition of 2,100 MW of coal power plants together with 3,000 MW of NG power plants up to 2039. When the capital cost of power plants and fuel costs keep varying year to year, it is impossible to forecast accurately 20 years earlier what the cheaper option would be in 20 years hence.

 

ISSUES IN IMPLEMENTING

THE CEB PLAN

If the CEB Plan was implemented in 2016, by 2025, coal power of capacity 1,400 MW, including the proposed coal power plant at Sampur, needs to be built according to 2015-34 Plan. However, according to the 2018-37 Plan, 3×300 MW of coal power plants, together with 2×300 NG power plants, need to be built by 2025. On the other hand, according to the 2020-39 draft Plan, 3×300 MW of coal power plants together with 4×300 MW of NG power plants need to be built by 2025. When a plan keeps changing in this manner with so much divergent recommendations, it cannot be called a long-term plan. There is no unique recommendation for a given period for an investor to pursue. If the 2015-34 Plan decided that coal power plants are the cheap option up to 2025, how is that the 2018-37 Plan decided that NG power plants are the cheaper option for this period? This shows the weakness of the planning methodology.

If an investor wishes to build a power plant in 2015, he is required to follow the capacity additions as specified in the 2015-34 Plan and will decide to build a coal power plant. After spending the first two years on the preliminaries such as feasibility studies and environment impact studies, he finds that an updated 2018-37 Plan released in 2018 recommends NG power plants, instead. Is he then required to change his plans and start building a NG power plant instead? In view of environmental consideration, a NG power plant is always preferred to a coal power plant. It should be noted that a 300 MW coal plant will generate about 100,000 t of ash annually which is an environmental hazard.

There is also an ambiguity in applying the condition laid down in the Act that the capacity additions shall meet the requirements of the LTGE Plan. The Act does not specify whether the Plan to be applied is what is in force at the time of commencing the power plant project or what is in force at the time of commissioning the power plant. Within a matter of four to five years’ time taken to build a coal power plant, the requirements in the Plan could change widely during this period. Hence, it is essential that this be clearly specified or this condition removed altogether enabling implementation of the Act without leaving room for it to be questioned in a court of law.

 

DISPUTE BETWEEN THE REGULATOR AND THE LICENSEE

The Electricity Act requires that the LTGE Plan prepared by the CEB shall be approved by the regulator, PUCSL. However, the approval of the Plan for 2018-37 ran into a problem when the original draft submitted by the CEB was not approved by the PUCSL who in turn proposed an alternative Plan which was not accepted by the CEB. This dispute went dragging for over a year and settled only after the intervention of the President. Even in the case of the current draft for 2020-39, the CEB had submitted it to the PUCSL for approval last year, and is still awaiting approval. Possibly, the PUCSL may want the Plan to fall in line with the Government policy of giving priority for renewable energy sources as described in the writer’s article appearing in the The Island of 25th and 26th September.

This dispute was brought to stark reality in respect of the CEB plan 2018-2037 both by the evaluations of the PUCSL and in the submissions made during the public hearings. The blatant errors and misrepresentation sin the draft submitted by the CEB which was obviously done to force the adoption of further coal power plants ignoring the world wide rejections can be seen in the submissions made to the PUCSL during the public hearings and is available in the PUCSL web page ().

Accordingly, an amended LTGP was formally issued by the PUCSL which should be considered as the LTGP in force until such time a new plan is approved after going through the processes including the public hearings as done in the case of the 2018-2037 LTGP. The fact that the CEB refused to accept this plan and the fact that the Government decided to force the PUCSL to issue an approval for the flawed plan submitted by the CEB makes a mockery of the entire process and the role of the PUCSL as the regulator of the Electricity Sector. As such, it does not make sense to incorporate such a flawed variant plan as mandatory for capacity addition in the Act as well as in the Ministry mandate and to describe it as the best strategy. As a matter of fact, it is the worst strategy for power sector development in the country.

 

AMENDMENT TO THE ELECTRICITY ACT AND MINISTRY MANDATE

To get over the problem of the Act and the Ministry mandate not being able to meet the requirements of the LTGE Plan in view of the uncertainty of the technologies which the Plan recommends for different time periods, it is necessary to amend these two documents. The first reference to the LTGE Plan in the Electricity Act described previously says that procurement of generation capacity shall be based on “the future demand forecast as specified in the Least Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan”. This is in order because there is little variation in the demand for a given year between different Plans.

The rest of the references say that future capacity additions shall meet the requirements of the LTGE Plan. Since the requirements include the technology whether a coal plant or a NG plant should be installed and this changes from Plan to Plan causing the uncertainty in implementing the provisions in the Act or the Ministry mandate, it is best if these sections are amended. It is proposed that the words “meet the requirements of the LTGE Plan” appearing in the Act be amended to read “meet the demand forecasted in the LTGE Plan”, wherever the term “requirements” appear.

The Act says that “Upon obtaining the approval of the Commission the transmission licensee shall in accordance with the conditions of its transmission licence and in compliance with any rules that may be made by the Commission relating to procurement, call for tenders by notice published in the Gazette, to develop a new generation plant or to expand the generation capacity of an existing generation plant, as the case may be, as shall be specified in the notice”. Hence, it is logical to keep the fuel option open when calling tenders at the time capacity addition is required giving sufficient time for the procurement process and construction of the plant. The bids received would show which fuel option is the cheaper.

It is important to issue a set of specification with respect to performance and emissions which should be met by the plant offered. The tender should also be required to specify the levelized cost of generation including the amortized annual cost of the plant, cost of operation and maintenance and the fuel cost for generating a unit of electricity giving a formula to work out the fuel cost depending on its price in the international market. The price should also include the cost of externalties. It will be then possible to select the best and cheaper option, whether coal or gas, meeting the specifications.

It should also be noted that the Electricity Act has interpreted “least cost of generation” to mean “least economic cost of generation”. Economic cost should include the cost of damage to the environment due to emission of fly ash as well as from accumulation of about 100,000 tonnes of bottom ash annually from a 300 MW coal plant. It should also include the cost of health damage to people exposed to gaseous emissions and release of toxic substances from the plant. The current plans do not include these and if they are included, all the coal plants included in CEB’s LTGE Plans need to be changed to NG power plants as such plants do not cause emission of toxic gases or other substances.

 

CONCLUSION

Though the Electricity Act and the Ministry mandate stipulate that capacity additions be carried out to meet the requirements of the CEB’s LTGE Plan, practically it is not possible to follow this in view of the fact that the type of plants to be added keep changing with the Plan. It is therefore proposed that the Act as well as the Ministry mandate be amended suitably. It is also proposed that the type of plant be selected after calling tenders keeping the fuel option open a few years ahead when the capacity addition is required and not 20 s years beforehand.

It is important to recognize that the basic purpose of the LTGP is to ensure the long-term energy security of the country using means and technologies that enables realization of the least economic cost of generation, which should include the cost of externalities. As such, unless a firm binding feed in tariff over the life of the plant cannot be guaranteed via suitable tender procedure accepting the above premise, making any long term plans using numbers such as parity rate and price of coal or gas is a futile exercise.

Furthermore, the changes occurring in the energy sector practically every day which helps to realize the above objectives must constantly be factored in to the planning process. Thus, the CEB plans available currently certainly comprise the worst strategy to follow in developing the power sector in the country, as they completely ignore the very progressive advances made the world over which are of great benefit to Sri Lanka.

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Features

Beyond constitutional politics and polemics

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster greet one another upon Pompeo’s arrival at the airport in New Delhi on Monday. PTI

by Austin Fernando

All quandaries on constitutional amendments are now over with an impressive victory for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the country looks forward to the implementation of the 20th Amendment (20A), to serve the people more efficiently, effectively, and economically.

Although Minister of Justice Ali Sabry declared that all 20A provisions had been in the JR Jayewardene Constitution previously, there were a few differences. Considering the volume of amendments, this stance is passable, though not exact. My observation is that Presidents Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa performed effectively in comparison to attain their development objectives through the 1978 Constitution.

Governmental performance

Economic performance is an essential ingredient in political performance and management. It is because the economics of development under all regimes has been an evaluation yardstick and also publicly questioned.

Performance by Presidents, Prime Ministers and governments are not guided and determined only by Constitutions. If Constitutions could facilitate smooth performance, why didn’t it happen during tenures of all Presidents exercising power according to the 1978 Constitution? Until 2009, they had failed to defeat terrorism. Corruption increased. The economic morass continued.

The development of a country hinges on the quality of political and business leadership, national security/stability, research/ technological /educational standards, labour legislations, foreign direct investments, foreign assistance/aid, environmental soundness, diplomacy, international political behavior, and positive responses. The Constitution could boost development, but it alone is not sufficient.

Successes do not preclude criticisms that were aplenty against the aforesaid three Presidents. Some criticisms were even acceptable as regards the moral decadence due to the open economy, proliferation of dangerous drugs, or the construction of an unoptimizable port, airport and other such infrastructural projects and debt traps.

 

Human rights

One criterion for foreign assistance is a country’s respect for human rights. I may quote Rights watchdog Meenakshi Ganguly, of Human Rights Watch- South Asia, to prove this point. After the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, she said: “The Sri Lankan government needs to hear that other countries are watching and will respond to renewed abuses.” This threat has not gone away.

Such issues will be taken up when the UNHRC meets in early 2021. Britain has already decided to withdraw the LTTE ban. Additionally, anti-China attitudes could lead to the harassment of Sri Lanka even indirectly. Contrarily, the Chinese have given assurances of bailing us out.

Even after the passage of 20A, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa cannot expect to be exempted from such attitudes, rules, and standards. I will highlight some immediate reactions experienced with selected internationals. The way foreign powers have responded to the incumbents after the presidential and parliamentary elections will be a guide to observe the trends.

 

India

Immediately after the presidential election, India showed up in Colombo. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also positively responded and the traditional first destination visit was to Delhi. Former President Maithripala Sirisena also did so, followed by another for the second inauguration of PM Modi.

Such visits provide opportunities to evaluate silently how foreign powers respond. I had the privilege of participating in all three visits by Presidents Sirisena and Rajapaksa. President Sirisena’s first visit was considered by Indians as a grand opportunity for novel openings and approaches, having experienced a deterioration of diplomatic relations under President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure.

However, the agreement signed by Ministers Malik Samarawickrama and Sushma Swaraj in 2017, concerning several large-scale projects, apparently to spite Chinese political/economic interference in Sri Lanka, did not reach fruition. Indians did not forgive the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government although formal relations were maintained respectfully.

The difference in diplomatic relations is reflected in many ways. This was seen from how PM Modi responded when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited India in November 2019. Their one-on-one meeting lasted 55 minutes, and India offered US dollar 450 million to Sri Lanka in assistance. Perhaps, body chemistry of the two leaders clicked. PM Mahinda Rajapaksa once criticised Indians for having contributed to his defeat in 2015. India has proved that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies in foreign relations, and it is only the mutual interests that matter.

Indians expected the fast-tracking of projects related to the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT), the Mattala Airport, and Trinco Petroleum Tanks. But there has been no positive follow-up even eleven months after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s discussions with PM Modi. The COVID-19 pandemic could be one reason for this delay. But a fresh dialogue is necessary if India is to be kept in the development loops.

Recently, PM Modi offered a $15-million grant for the promotion of Buddhist cultural exchanges, but his officers are slow in finalizing requests for a debt moratorium and an additional $1.1-billion assistance discussed during the visits of Rajapaksa brothers in November 2019 and February 2020. Positively, the Reserve Bank of India signed a swap of $400 million. If such needs are not met, the vacuum will be filled by another.

For comparison, Indian External Affairs Minister committed a 100-million-dollar grant and a project loan of 400 million dollars to the Maldives in mid-August this year, showing assistance did not depend on demography, revenue generation, or socio-economy, but on other priorities. The swift assistance to the Maldives and the delay in responding to our request may be conveying a message that should be heard and understood by Sri Lanka.

I quote another Indian investment in Bangladesh for comparison. The Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority was ready (mid-2020) to start site development for an Indian Special Economic Zone, where billions of dollars in investment were expected from India. Sri Lanka was not so fortunate even though such potential was in the 2017 agreement. The government must learn from Bangladesh experience.

China

Quite the opposite response was shown by the Chinese who have already handed over 500 million dollars (March 2020). When the Chinese Minister Wang Yi met Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, the latter thanked China for its consistent contribution to Sri Lanka’s development process as well as their support at numerous regional and international fora, like the UNHRC. China and Russia have been helpful throughout.

Chinese involvement in infrastructure development has drawn severe criticism. This is something common throughout the world as regards the Chinese investment through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Another Chinese intervention took place recently when Senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who reportedly said: “Sri Lanka will firmly commit itself to deepening friendship with China, and is willing to make every effort to press forward the key BRI cooperation projects such as the Colombo Port City and the comprehensive development of the Hambantota Harbour.” This would not have pleased the Indians and Americans, and even the Japanese, who recently lost a light rail investment project here.

When Yang met PM Mahinda Rajapaksa, just after the latter’s discussion with PM Modi, the PM thanked China’s support for combating COVID-19, adding that China’s strong support in various fields had helped Sri Lanka strengthen its capacity to resume work and production amid the pandemic.

Finally, it was revealed that China would also help mitigate the financial crisis faced by Sri Lanka.

The Framework of the Strategic Cooperative Partnership between China and Sri Lanka embarked on, in 2013, gave hope of advantages through development but achievements have been slow in coming. The recent high-level Chinese visit here points to a desire to accelerate it. It must be noted that such interventions with other countries (e. g. India) were slow. The delay between bureaucratic decision-making and politicized decision-making could be the reason.

 

USA, Quad, and influences

 

The incredibly positive relations build-up by Yang Jiechi is followed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Colombo. While arrangements were being made for Pompeo’s visit, the US announced that it would urge Sri Lanka “to make ‘difficult but necessary choices’ on its economic relations”. The reference to difficult economic relations invariably meant the partnering with China. The MCC is another project the US is interested in.

The US spokesperson made it abundantly clear, saying “We encourage Sri Lanka to review the options we offer for transparent and sustainable economic development in contrast to discriminatory and opaque practices.” Media reports show that this message was partially conveyed to several Ministers by the American Ambassador Toeplitz when she met them.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the comments as a manifestation of the “Cold War mentality.” Its spokesman Zhao Lijian responded, “Attempts to use coercion to obstruct normal cooperation between countries will not succeed.”

Concurrently, Mike Pompeo has recently suggested (after the Tokyo Quad meeting) that the Quad should be institutionalized: “We [Quad members] can begin to build out a true security framework” for the Indo-Pacific. He also described the Quad as the “fabric” that could “counter the challenge that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) presents to all of us.” It is clear Pompeo is gathering support against China.

In this context, meeting Pompeo after Yang Jiechi will be an embarrassment for Rajapaksas. In fact, a few months ago CCP was considered as a guide for their political party. Yet, the US will see whether Sri Lanka is prepared to counter the CCP challenges and to what extent. This is not surprising especially after India agreeing to sign a military agreement with the USfor sharing of sensitive satellite data and conducting a dialogue to counter China’s growing power in the region. It may be appropriate for Sri Lanka to remain cautious.

As commentators say, Chinese behaviour and attempts to re-order the region have caused concern among the Quad members. They believe that Quad may have to discuss a rule-based big picture of the Indo-Pacific Region, especially how to reshape China’s behaviour, and under what conditions they would reassess China as a responsible stakeholder. Pompeo is here after the Quad Foreign Ministers Meeting in Tokyo. Given this situation, how Sri Lanka should deal with him is a challenge.

 

Diplomatic conflicts and us

Countries like Sri Lanka sometimes become playing fields for powerful countries. US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz recently said that the US goal “in responding to this request (MCC) is to alleviate poverty and to boost inclusive economic growth” and identifying Sri Lanka as “a sovereign leader in maritime security”, which are indisputably favourable recognition of Sri Lanka.

But her statement “Sri Lanka should engage with China in ways that protect its sovereignty” angered China, which responded directly. The Chinese Embassy in Colombo stated that “with great shock and strong discontent, the embassy learned about the US Ambassador’s interview with a local newspaper, in which a foreign envoy from a third country openly played off China-Sri Lanka relations and severely violated the diplomatic protocol.” The Chinese are extraordinarily concerned with the US violating Sri Lanka’s diplomatic protocols. Having been a High Commissioner myself, I await such bold statements from our Ambassadors in the US or China, even violating diplomatic protocols, when a situation arises with these two governments! Am I waiting for Godot!

Further, the Chinese statement said: “Both China and Sri Lanka as independent countries have full right to develop relations with foreign countries according to our own need and will.” This reminds me of a past Chinese intervention in Bhutan. It is an example where the Chinese while seeking to mend relations with Bhutan, to make India lose ground, dropped Chinese tourist arrivals after the Doklam standoff, because Bhutan did not stand with China. It was a warning to Bhutan about the country’s vulnerability. At that point, the “full right to develop relations” with India was tabooed by China for Bhutan!

Bhutan’s obligations to act according to the Treaty of Friendship between India and Bhutan (8-8-1949) calling for peace between them and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and the additional agreement by Bhutan to let India “guide” its foreign policy and consultative action on foreign and defense affairs were not considered by the Chinese, as the legal “need and will” of Bhutan.

Similarly, India’s wrath was unleashed (2012) when the then Bhutanese PM Jigme Thinley met the Chinese PM, Wen Jiabao, on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Summit. India retaliated by withdrawing fuel subsidies to Bhutan. New Delhi’s heavy-handed response was deeply resented by Bhutan.

We complain of powerful countries using the proverbial stick, but these examples show that anyone could be the perpetrator to satisfy his needs. Let us be realistic without resorting to rhetoric, which emanate from boisterous politicians mostly- even ministers.

The Chinese strongly suggested “the US quit the addiction of preaching others and applying double standards” and named four areas of misdeeds, i. e. slandering, pretending as the guardian of free trade while violating the WTO rulings, holding high the banner of transparency, and smearing others’ normal cooperation against sovereignty, while militarily misbehaving and imposing unilateral sanctions. Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines or Taiwanese in China Sea or Indians in Ladakh may blame the Chinese for not adhering to some of these principled behaviours and preaching to the US. Can Sri Lanka challenge President Xi on the same lines?

 

Conclusion

I quoted the aforesaid references to point out the difficulties faced by Sri Lanka in the big diplomatic picture. They are thrust on us. Sri Lanka must take informed positions due to practicalities.

With the Indians, the proximity, centuries old relationships, strategic location in the Indian Ocean region, which became a focused area due to Indo-Pacific Regional bias, India and Japan, etc., must be valued. The busines alliances between India and Japan on ECT and Liquified Natural Gas projects send another message. The potential/ possible Indian influence on other countries, some parliamentarians, demographic and political groups must be considered for internal political stability purposes.

The Chinese factor must be considered in the light of past transactions and potential investments that could be received faster than from borrowing agencies or formal lenders. Sri Lanka’s economic problems need immediate solutions. How far could the government wait for external interventions satisfying all criteria?

The above quoted financial requirements and responses received from India may help understand the reality of financing, for which China responds faster than any other country. Any political intervention should address this problem and adapt to systemic assistance. Of course, the disadvantages of Chinese interventions, even highlighted by the World Bank study, about procurement procedures could push countries like Sri Lanka into difficulties. What alternatives could evolve is an issue.

Immediate response to the statement by Dean Thompson was experienced with Sri Lanka’s government bonds falling heavily last week. This is the danger that could be created by big brothers. The African proverb, ‘When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’, is always valid.

It is time for those who yelled last week that restrictions on stability/development could be remedied by constitutional amendments to keep quiet because it is not the absolute truth. The 20A had other objectives as is obvious. They should look afresh realistically and consider whether ignoring the international developments is possible. Let saner counsel prevail.

Simply stated, it is time to ditch camouflaged rhetoric heard in the House last week and look incisively, realistically, logically, and face the international challenges caused by the financial crisis, COVID 19, political conflicts, etc. Being a small nation, we need everyone’s support.

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Features

Soon…a celebrity Doctor!

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Dr. Nilanka is a name to be reckoned with in the local showbiz scene – not as a doctor, but as a vocalist/entertainer.

Although she has not been in the vocal spotlight, on stage, in a big way, this awesome singer has been churning out some beautiful music, in the studio, and uploading them on social media – her Facebook page – and, especially, on YouTube.

When ‘Arise Sri Lanka’ was taking shape, in August, I came across a video clip of Dr. Nilanka singing the Roberta Flack hit ‘Killing Me Softly.’

Obviously, there are several versions of ‘Killing Me Softly’ (Frank Sinatra, Fugees, Lauryn Hill), but Dr. Nilanka’s version just blew me away.

Since I was in the ‘Arise Sri Lanka’ committee, I thought we should have this singer on our show and immediately sent her video clip to those concerned. And, they were all unanimous in their decision.

And…Dr. Nilanka was there, on stage, on the night of Saturday, August, 29th, 2020, impressing everyone with her version of ‘Killing Me Softly.’

Those who heard her sing, that particular night, had only superlatives to describe her performance.

Yes, and a star was born – Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe.

Her latest contribution, via a video clip, is The Bangles hit song, ‘Eternal Flame.’

Sohan Weerasinghe describes her as a singer with a marvelous voice and he did mention that he would feature her as a guest star, with The X-Periments, as often as possible.

He went on to say that she is in a class of her own. “A very talented singer with an absolutely seductive voice. Awesome talent, indeed.”

And, that means, we are going to see, and hear, a lot of Dr. Nilanka in the near future….

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Women in Power

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The Revolutionary Lives and Careers of Siva,Doreen,Vivi and Srima

By Kusum Wijetilleke (kusumw@gmail.com) and
Rienzie Wijetilleke (rienzietwij@gmail.com)

(Continued from yesterday)

US President John F. Kennedy modified a policy on the release of US rubber stockpiles after Ms. Bandaranaike wrote to him explaining the consequences of the policy on Sri Lanka’s rubber export earnings. She exchanged further letters with JFK on the most critical issue of the period, nuclear proliferation, expressing her dismay at nuclear tests undertaken by the US. Citing her speech at the 1961 Non-Aligned conference, JFK wrote back stating “…although there may be some differences between us as to what constitutes ‘effective’ inspection and control, I am heartened that we seem not to differ over the need for it.”

The 1962 Sino-Indian War led to some 6,000 deaths and Ms. Bandaranaike, realizing how devastating war between the super powers would be for Ceylon’s economic aspirations, travelled between China and India seeking compromises. Her efforts were some time before the term “shuttle diplomacy” entered the lexicon of international relations. A team of six non-aligned nations led by Ms. Bandaranaike and Sri Lanka led to a dramatic de-escalation in hostilities and earned her further recognition on the international stage. Her close relationship with Indira Gandhi led to a negotiation between PM J.R. Jayawardena and Indian Diplomat J.N. Dixit, on the restoration of her civil rights and parliamentary membership, after she had been convicted of abuses of power in 1977.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s political career was full of peaks and valleys, but her ascension to power was not merely a twist of fate caused by the assassination of her husband. At the age of 19, she took up social work in rural areas of the country, distributing food and medicine to villages and joined the Lankan Women’s Association, the largest voluntary women’s organization and served as its Treasurer, Vice-President and President. It might be unfortunate that her performance as a leader is defined by the decline of the Sri Lankan economy during her stewardship. It diluted a ground breaking career as a woman of formidable intellect with unrivalled power in a new political frontier.

A similar fate would befall another pioneering woman of Sri Lankan politics, its first female cabinet minister; Ms Wimala Wijewardene, whose political career was inextricably linked to the SWRD Bandaranaike assassination.

Ms. Wimala Wijewardene contested the seat for Kelaniya in 1952, at the 2nd Parliamentary election, but was defeated by her nephew J.R. Jayewardene. She would enter parliament and become a Cabinet Minister in 1956, but her career would be overshadowed by her close association with the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara and its Chief Priest, “Ven.” Mapitigama Buddharakkita Thera. The Chief Priest had long been suspected of racketeering and other not so venerable business dealings. He was also the founder of the Eksath Bhikku Peramuna (United Bhikku Front) which represented the politicized section of the clergy. Pamphlets, anonymously distributed, implied an affair between Buddharakkita and Sri Lanka’s first female Cabinet Minister. When Ms. Wimala urged SWRD to take action, he disregarded the request and allegedly retorted “Wimala, after all, aren’t some of these things true”. Investigations following the assassination of the Prime Minister revealed that Buddharakkita had convinced a fanatic nationalist monk to murder the PM and reportedly even provided the weapon. Further investigations revealed SWRD Bandaranaike’s wavering patronage to Buddharakkita and his business interests; the refusal of a shipping contract and a sugar manufacturing license, as prime motives for his assassination.

Ms Wijewardene was arrested along with Buddharakkita as a suspect in the murder assassination, but was later released. She did not return to politics but the dramatic events should not dilute a crucial political career which peaked with her appointment as the Minister of Health in 1956. Twenty years later, another equally skilled administrator would be appointed as the Minister of Health.

Sivagami Verina “Siva” Dassanaike and her husband James Obeysekere lll, were early supporters of the breakaway faction led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the 1950s. Thus, “Siva” became politically active in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) at the age of 22 and contested the Mirigama seat in 1965 at the age of 36. Her victory as a first time candidate was even more impressive considering that she was an Anglican contesting a majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist district.

As Health Minister, Siva formulated a National Health Programme that would be adopted by the United Nations as an international model, earning her a special award of appreciation from the United States Senator for Massachusetts: Edward Kennedy. However Ms Obeysekere’s career was characterized by more than an award from a Kennedy. Despite, or may be because of a privileged upbringing, she was ahead of her time in realizing that the poorest in Ceylon had no meaningful income through employment and what work they did do was often exploitative, both in deed and remuneration. During her visits to far flung villages around the island she noticed that local artists in rural towns and villages, many of them women, would lovingly create handicrafts and handlooms but received very low prices for their labour. That was until Ms Obeysekere created ‘Laksala’ to earn better prices for handicrafts, an income generator to this day. Ms Obeysekere’s work towards uplifting the poor earned her the title of “Deshamanya” (Pride of the Island); the first female recipient of the award.

Sri Lanka’s independence heroes are rightly revered, with monuments, institutes and street signs bearing their names. D.S. Senenayake, Henry Pedris, C.W.W. Kannangara, Leslie Gunawardena, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Colvin R. De Silva and the like are cemented in history, but there are others who deserve recognition. Sri Lanka’s independence movement was partly the result of the agitation of a broad coalition of leftist political parties, thus Sri Lanka’s original socialists deserve more than an honourable mention.

The country’s first political party was the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), formed in 1935 by Colvin R De Silva and Philip Gunawardena on an anti-imperialist platform. The party aimed to dismantle the colonial government from within by fielding popular candidates to positions in the State Council. Yet the first leftist to be elected to the State Council was Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe (1931), who later founded the Communist Party of Ceylon, and had met the aforementioned Colvin R.de Silva and Philip Gunawardena many years earlier in the UK. Whilst socializing amongst the radicals in London, Dr. Wickramasinghe would also meet his future wife, Doreen Young, whose parents were ardent British socialists and ingrained in her a revolutionary streak that would serve Ceylon well in later years.

Ms. Young would relocate to Ceylon as Principal of Sujatha Vidyalaya in Matara and made her mark almost immediately by launching a campaign of formal training for Ceylon’s predominantly female teachers, so they may obtain qualifications and improve their bargaining positions in the labour market. Her career as a revolutionary and radical in Ceylon had begun. She learnt Sinhala and proceeded to update the local curriculum to replace British history with Sri Lankan and world history. Her marriage to the leader of the Communist Party and their anti-imperialist campaigns led to the revocation of an employment offer from Vishaka Vidyalaya. She was later also removed as the Principal of Ananda Balika Vidyalaya in 1936, accused of spreading anti-British propaganda.

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