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Making a crisis into a golden opportunity

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Electricity instead of fossil fuel for transport vehicles

by Engineer Parakrama Jayasinghe

Far reaching proposals for the future of our Energy Sector has been published with the Presidential Press Release dated June 13, 2021. The direction indicated is congruent with the presidential policy declaration “Vision for Prosperity and Splendor “. With the Covid 19 crippling the economy, the country is becoming even more conscious that innovative thinking and decisive action has to be introduced to meet the challenges. The foreign reserves are falling resulting in the depreciation of the rupee and bringing with it a rising cost of living to levels endangering the social and economic stability of the country. Sri Lanka is fortunate enough to have the natural resources, human resource and the resilience to cope, but a determined yet humble approach and firm policies, accompanied with unstinted hard work and discipline is needed.

In the strategy for a workable holistic Energy policy, not limited to electricity, the transport sector will need the maximum attention. Please refer to the two links of the Island newspaper given below for detailed information, where this subject was dealt with earlier.

The Elephant in the Room – Transport Energy

Transport Policy and Vision for the Future

The state of finances in the CEB and the CPC

The finances in both these state owned enterprises are highlighted in the Press Release. It is evident that if left unchecked, it could very well lead to drag down the two state banks that over the years have bankrolled these two institutions.

There is no dispute that the CEB, is bleeding the national economy, but while the debate would continue as to how this can be corrected, the much more dangerous and tragic situation has got less attention. That is the tremendous drain on foreign exchange due to the complete dependence on imported fossil fuels for our transport. Sri Lanka spent some 7.5 Billion Dollars for the import of oil back in 2010. But although the import bill in dollar terms came down to Four Billion Dollars by 2020, the rupee equivalent remains at Rs 760 Billion, due to the continued depreciation of the rupee which appears to be inexorable. The trap mankind and Sri Lanka in particular has fallen into, remains just that, a trap, in which we wallow without making any attempt to escape.

Whereas, electricity which provides only 11% of our primary energy needs, fortunately has some contribution from our own indigenous sources of energy, down to 35% now from a high of 95% in the 1990s. However, the transport sector is 100 % dependent on imported oil. The faint silver lining if I may say so, of the Covid pandemic affecting the whole world, kept the oil prices low and gave some measure of relief to the beleaguered rupee up to now. But looks like the honeymoon is over with the oil prices on an upward trend already past $ 60. The highly volatile nature of the world market price of crude oil or any other fossil fuel over which Sri Lanka has absolute no control is shown below.

Isn’t it pure insanity to make plans and forecasts for transport, a most important national need, based on such a variable and uncontrollable input? This viewed along with the change in parity rate, which with minor fluctuations is on an inexorable upward trend, tells the story. Fortunately, we are now offered an alternative which was not available even a few years ago.

 

Are we ready to accept this challenge ?

I contributed an article back in March 2020, when the oil prices were quite low, down below $ 30 per barrel, suggesting not to be complacent and make plans for a paradigm shift in the Transport Policy and make use of this opportunity. It did not receive any attention from the authorities.

The whole world is moving away from the use of petrol and diesel for transport. Even General Motors which killed the first Electric Car in the early 1960s, has plans to go all electric by 2025. So have all the major automobile manufacturers and governments with firm plans to totally electrify the transport within this decade itself. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that all vehicles manufactured will be electric by the year 2035.

Does it make sense that Sri Lanka allows to set up a factory for the manufacture of petrol driven vehicles ignoring these world trends? There are also moves to spend 2.5 Billion dollars to construct a refinery in Hambantota. Also plans are underway to double the capacity of the refinery at Sapugaskanda. These decisions would have been highly appropriate and visionary moves, if taken and implemented at the right time, which was at least a decade ago.

The world has changed drastically during this past decade, particularly in the energy sector and the transport vehicle technologies.

The over-dependence on imported sources of energy in the recent decades, would definitely lead to problems of supplies, even if we have the funds to pay for them. In the meanwhile, what is important to the Sri Lankan economy and the consumers is the price per liter in Sri Lanka Rupee terms, which will continue to go up, irrespective of the world market price in US Dollars.

The huge import bill on oil itself is largely responsible for the continuing depreciation of the rupee to a very large extent, now exceeding over 6% annually. The recent price hike of the petroleum fuels is therefore not unexpected.

Although the Yahapalana government effectively scuttled the baby steps being taken for the electrification of the light vehicle fleet, the advent of the Covid -19 pandemic has at least led to the wise decision to curtail the import of vehicles, making a virtue of necessity.

It is recommended that once the import ban is lifted only electric vehicles and perhaps for some years hybrid vehicles should be permitted to be imported with strict controls to limit the imports to the bare necessity.

However, it must also be noted that the last energy policy published by the previous government in August 2019, includes a target of reaching 25% electrification of the light vehicles by 2023. A good enough starting point.

 

Why Electrify Transport?

No doubt Sri Lanka has a back to the wall battle at this point of time, due to the double whammy of increased price of oil and the depleted rupee, to try and reduce the dependence on imported oil, purely on financial considerations at present. But there are very valid scientific, environmental and commercial reasons why electrification of the transport system is the wise and obvious way for the future.

As already mentioned all the major automobile manufactures have plans for total departure from the use of Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) using petrol or diesel in their future vehicles. As such before too long Sri Lanka would have to depend on the laggards who will continue with the ICE engines and face the many problems that would ensue, such as higher costs and lack of spares supply etc.

However, the ground reality of the great efficiency of converting the energy input to useful energy to drive the vehicle forward which is as high as 85% for an electric vehicle, is the most important factor that justifies the changeover. This has to be compared to the mere 15% efficiency of conversion for a petrol or diesel engine driven vehicle. The reality of gaining from this wonderful boost of efficiency was denied until now till the cost and durability of batteries and the overall cost of the electric vehicles came down to the present values. This change has been rapid and continues on the downward trend.

We in Sri Lanka have the added advantage of being able to use solar energy, which does not cost anything other than the initial installation cost, to charge the vehicles, instead of spending valuable foreign exchange to import the fossil fuels. The author has adopted this strategy and would highly recommend this option to all EV owners.

 

The Way Forward

The starting point of course is a firm national policy, made mandatory for compliance. Even the institutions under line Ministries often ignore such policies in their day to day programs. Therefore if at this late stage, Sri Lanka takes the following steps, it will convert a Crisis to an Opportunity.

1. Review the policy statement “4.5 Enhancing Self Reliance Section 5f” in the National Energy Policy Gazette No 2135/61 of August 9, 2019, as a national target and assign responsibilities of achieving this target to the relevant agencies. And expand same, to a time bound target of 100% electrification of transport.

2. Remove the punitive duty rates imposed on the import of Electric Vehicles which came in to force on April 1, 2019. These nearly doubled the price of the EVs coming into the country destroying the small growth seen till then. Follow the example of other countries including India, in providing subsidies for purchase of/conversion to EVs for the 2 W and 3 W segments

3. Remove the punitive duties and taxes on the import of deep cycle batteries, imposed on the erroneous notion of protecting local battery industry, which does not manufacture any deep cycle batteries, suitable for EVs and r Solar Energy storage

4. Continue the ban on import of all vehicles at least for three years more. After that allow only electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles

5. Initiate an immediate program to convert existing ICE vehicles to EVs with suitable incentives

The following chart points to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if the last recommendation is acted upon. Based on a target of converting at least the existing fleet of light vehicles by year 2030 to EVs, the potential savings by reducing the petrol imports is huge.

 

The June 13, 2021 Press Release from the Presidential Office makes very interesting reading. It appears that the penny has dropped at last on the sensible actions to be taken in the future. If the Government is to walk the talk, the first action to take while implementing the recommendations above is to cancel any plans to expand the capacity of the Sapugaskanda Refinery using our funds or even loans. If any foreign investors plan to put up any new refineries using their funds without any guarantees of purchase by Sri Lanka, or any other incentives, that could be considered.

 

The many ways that this change could benefit the Sri Lankan economy, environment and health is far too many to be included here. But even without such detailed analysis, anyone with common sense can readily understand the timeliness and the value of embarking on this change without any further delay.

 

I am pleased to end this revised article with a hope of a new dawn.

 

Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe

Council member

Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka

Solar Industries Association of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Forum for Sustainable Consumption and Production Forum

E Mail: parajayasinghe@gmail.com



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Features

The battle against KNDU: Renewing our contract with the people

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By Sivamohan Sumathy

The KNDU Bill is designed to single-handedly change the face of education in Sri Lanka. Since the ‘90s, successive governments have tried to roll back the gains of the Free Education Poliicy of 1945. The history of free education is not linear, nor is it without contradictions. It is implicated in the hierarchies of class, ethnicity, gender and the multiple vectors of violence of state and civil society. Despite and because of these very contradictions Free Education has come to represent and symbolise the often contradictory but powerful assemblage of social aspirations and social desires of the general body of citizenry, particularly the vast majority situated on the margins or near margins of society. Free education does not serve everybody equally, but over the years and across decades, it has come to represent the hope of a vast majority for a better place in society. For a populace that is increasingly disempowered, it opens up opportunities toward social mobility, limited as they are; and as or more importantly, becomes the ideological and political weapon of the vast majority in the struggle for justice, social justice and bid for a democratic pact with the state.

Privatisation, Corporatisation, Militarisation

The State university system is an integral part of the state apparatus. Successive governments, have attempted and, to some degree, succeeded in undermining its integrity from within, creating parallel systems of higher education that would be on par with it. Privatisation of higher education follows a two pronged plan; the creation of fee levying centres and bodies of education and the degradation of state universities through under funding and sub-standardization. The fortnightly Kuppi Talk column in The Island has consistently foregrounded the pressures exerted upon the state university compelling it to carry out multiple reforms that compromise on standards and force it to privatise itself. From the ‘90s onwards (if not before), spending on university education has steadily deteriorated and in the post war years spending on education has stayed under 2% of the GDP (Niyanthini Kadirgamar, “Funding Fallacies,” https://island.lk/funding-fallacies-in-education/). The Humanities and Social Sciences are the most affected as highlighted in the various contributions of the Kuppi Talk column. It is no accident that the most recent move toward privatisation from within and without takes place by fiat and through militarisation. Much has been written about the principles of militarised authority that the KNDU bill enshrines. I do not have to reinvent the wheel here, but want to note that by rolling back the gains of free education and its potential to empower people, the KNDU bill points toward a future of repressive technocratic governance and repressive exclusions of those who most desire education as the path to mobility.

While the ‘80s and ‘90s saw a few stuttering steps toward privatisation of education, at the turn of the new millennium one is witness to the onset of an aggressive campaign toward the the dismantling of the long cherished free education apparatus as we know it. I trace this historical trajectory in “SAITM: Continuities and Discontinuities” looking at the different impetuses behind the establishment of NCMC and SAITM, the ideological similarities notwithstanding (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=161915

Certain forms of privatised tertiary education have existed for a long time and have expanded in recent years, but to this day, the establishment of a fully-fledged private university has run into problems. Popular will stood in its way. But it is also a fact that the country simply does not have the infrastructural, intellectual and investment-capacity for a viable private university to take off. Private sector in fact is weak in Sri Lanka. In the post war years, the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, with S. B. Dissanayake as Minister of Higher Education spear headed a move to formalise private universities through an umbrella organization that would act as an accreditation council, bringing private and state universities on par and under the same purview and placing this purview within the ambit of corporate interests. In their eyes, Sri Lanka is to become an education hub, attracting foreign investment (“Education and its discontents,” ). The Yahapalana government is no better and blindly follows through on the privatisation plans of the previous regime with its Private Public Partnership policies, SAITM, and the degrading of Arts Education to some vague notion of soft skills development. The KNDU Bill was gazetted in April 2018 and was opposed by the academic communities and members of civil society. As with most corruption ridden neo liberal moves that render all aspects of life commodified, in this instance too, the state becomes an investor in privatised education. We hear that Bank of Ceylon and NSB have been ordered to pledge 36.54 billion rupees to KDU. (https://www.sundaytimes.lk/210725/business-times/kotelawala-uni-gets-over-rs-36-bn-from-boc-nsb-449828.html) If the rationale for privatising education is to ease the burden on the state, why does the state continue to subsidize these institutions? The logic boggles the mind.

The Democracy Call

From 2011-2012 the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) launched the greatest challenge that the teachers had ever made to an incumbent government and in the post war era brought together diverse disgruntled forces under its slogan of Save State Education and the 6% GDP campaign. It brought together different groups and a wide range of actors together to formulate a response to the neo liberal forces that were riding rough shod over the needs of an anxious working and professional class. Its call for action was framed by the call to save democracy. However, in the Yahapalana years and after, the struggle for education lost its momentum. FUTA itself was riven from within, preoccupied by its members’ narrower preoccupations, diverse aspirations, and loyalties. Other disparate groups took up the mantle to fight against privatisation, some of which may not have developed in desirable directions.

Today, the bill threatens to become a dangerous reality. It is not just Universities that are threatened by the KNDU. School teachers led by their unions have jumped into the fray. Beaten by the crippling conditions of COVID 19, teachers and students are facing the dire consequences of years of underfunding in education. FUTA is joining the protest as a key player, a mighty powerful player, but not as the only player. As Shamala Kumar eloquently put it at a press conference called against the KNDU bill on 24 July, 2021, the struggle against the authoritarian bill is a struggle against the PTA, a struggle for working people’s rights, guaranteeing safety of working conditions in the informal sector, particularly women, and a struggle for democracy within the university, including raising one’s voice against ragging. University teachers, rallying forces under FUTA, are once again on the cusp of a decisive moment of the history of education in the country. Let’s defeat the KNDU bill together!

 

Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English at the Univ. of Peradeniya

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Condolences, warnings and admonition never to forget

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Two great Sri Lankans have died and we as a country are much the poorer, and mourn their deaths. Manouri de Silva Muttetuwegama has vacated her long held position as a wise, consistent, fearless combatant for women and particularly those underprivileged, discriminated against, and helpless against forces of war and ethnicity that caused them suffering. Another noteworthy trait of the woman and characteristic of her work-ethic was quiet efficiency in going about her remedying, healing work with no fanfare and never seeking of publicity and praise. She was a lovely friendly person, always with a sincere smile lighting her face. Manouri served the country well and her daughter carries the torch.

Business magnate and media moghul R Rajamahendran, who used his money, influence and power to help the country is mourned, more so as he could have served his company Capital Maharaja Organisation and Sri Lankan media longer. The appreciation of him by Rex Clementine in The Island, Monday July 26, detailed the great good he did for Sri Lankan cricket. Teaming up with Gamini Dissanayake he literally fought for test status for our country, amply justified by teams of yore, one of which won the World Cup and another nearly did.

(Note: Cass uses the verb ‘died’ and the noun ‘death’ in preference to the softer, gentler ‘passing’, ‘passing away’ et al as she prefers the more real though stark word to euphemisms. Death is death.)

 

Never forget crimes committed

This is the thought that came to mind when coincidentally Cassandra, on 22 July watched the movie 22 July, almost a documentary on the 32 year old Anders Behring Breivik, who parked his bomb-laden van outside the PM’s office in Oslo; it killed eight people and caused utter damage, and then crossed to a summer camp on an island where he shot, point blank, the manager who welcomed him as a police officer but then wanted to see his ID, and a woman in authority. He embarked on a killing spree, which left 69 Youth League workers dead and many more injured. When the police arrived he tamely surrendered. At his trial he said he wanted to save Norway and Europe itself from multiculturalism, particularly naming Muslims, and that the killing of innocents was a wakeup call. His defence attorney attempted pleading schizophrenia but on hearing the awfully heartrending testimony of some of the young campers who escaped death but were injured grievously, he was found guilty on all counts and jailed in solitary confinement for more than two decades.

We, most fortunately have had no single mass murderer like Breivik and American school killers but murder most foul continues and may surface any time.

Cass’ thought was never forget terrible crimes committed on persons who were innocent or who were doing their duty. Yes, we as a nation must never forget these grievous crimes. The death of Richard de Zoysa stands out stark, but the police person who took him away from his home and his mother ‘for questioning’, tortured and killed him and dropped him far out at sea died gruesomely along with Prez Premadasa on May 1. Richard’s body washed ashore though weighted and dropped far out at sea. The person who probably ordered his demise too was killed by the same LTTE bomb. Thus, they paid for their heinous crime.

Others who murdered or ordered murders seem to live on powerfully and mightily. The gruesome murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge is kept alive by his daughter, but to no avail. Never to be forgotten or forgiven is the killing of the young, harmless ruggerite whose only ‘crime’ was cocking a snook at those who thought they were superior. What the telling vine conveyed was that the rugger captaincy almost going to him had him tortured and killed. Again a coincidence or overconfidence brought to light the crime: Thajudeen’s body was placed next to the driving seat and his car pushed against a wall to fake an accident. It was all covered up. But people remember this murder, though no one shouts for justice for Thajudeen’s grieving parents.

When you question how come murderers and torturers seem to thrive, the answer is karma, Cass supposes. Maybe, the perpetrators suffer in the midst of utter luxury and in power. Maybe, even slightly, they are overcome with shivers of fright, but never remorse, we surmise.

Unanimously, we are all triumphant that the 15 year old Tamil girl’s death by immolation after prolonged rape in an ex-Minister’s home is being investigated. We hope it will move to correct, just conclusion.

 

Notes on news items

Highly commended is the article ‘Whither the Sangha and Buddha Sasana?’ by S M Sumanadasa in The Island of July 26. If you have not read it, and are a Buddhist, please retrieve the article and read it. It is spot on though gently written, very timely with so many protests going on, most headed by yellow robes. He starts by saying “As a keen observer …, I feel confident and justified in what I say…” Perfectly justified and every point made is valid. The majority of our Sangha strictly follow the 200 odd vinaya rules and render invaluable service to Buddhist lay people, to Buddhism, and the country, but the yellow robed bad eggs are truly rotten. The Sangha may only advise leaders and from a back seat. Sumanadasa queries why the Buddha Sasana Ministry and the Nayaka Theros do not stem the growing tide of indiscipline and reprehensible behaviour of men in Sangha robes. We ask the same. He states a truth that the death of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is really caused by the Buddhists themselves and some members of the Sangha.

An agreeing opinion by Piyasena Athukorale is in The Island, Wednesday July 29.

Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits by Dr L M K Tillekeratne appears in the same newspaper. Cassandra retorts: Oh goodness! Enough universities! What benefit when sane advice by university dons and experts in agriculture and related subjects have been completely ignored by the President, the PM, the Cabinet and others in power. They have still not rescinded or withdrawn the overnight ban on import and use of inorganic fertilisers. When famine stares us in the face after the demise of the farmer (the country’s so called backbone) through suicide or utter disgusted exasperation and loss of livelihood, we Ordinaries will have to suffer hunger pangs and malnourishment while those who ordered the very ill-advised and too sudden ban, will live on happily. Maybe, exotic food from around the world will be helicoptered to them!

Professor Channa Jayasumana, I was told, has said that the long awaited and longed for Astra Zeneca vaccine was delayed in transport to our land by the Olympic Games. Cass really did not know that these Games blocked air routes or interfered with air travel. Maybe, the Prof meant that the vaccine gifted (we seem never able to buy this absolute requisite) by Japan was stymied by the Games in Tokyo. He should know as he is a professor.

Why Cass mentioned this tale is because thanks to Professor Jayasumana, she increased her life span by ten years, rolling around choking with laughter (bitter though) at the explanation of why the A-Z Vaccine is so delayed.

 

Enough is absolutely enough

Please, whoever the authority is, stop that telephone message that comes in the three languages exhorting us to act with care during this period. I have forgotten the terms used in

Sinhala and English as I don’t listen when the message comes through, but they are synonyms of urgencies, calamities, crises; which last short spells of time, not months and months as the telephone message has been. This is parallel to the Sri Lankan habit of hanging bunting, posting posters but never bothering to remove them.

It is better the government just calls up protesters for meetings (even though it intends doing nothing) so that spreader of the C19 will cease or at least decrease. We stay home – telephoners – so why have we to suffer a double whammy – eternal message and risk contracting C19. We completely disapprove of teachers protesting en masse all over the country for salary hikes. Not done, not done at all during a country’s economic crisis.

Will we ever learn to put the country’s good and people’s wellbeing before our acts of self-seeking and selfishness?

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Organic fertiliser

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Doing the right thing the wrong way

By Jayasri Priyalal

Nurturing nature is the right thing to do when mother nature is struggling to adjust to the manufactured damages taking their toll and challenging the mutual cohabitation of all living beings on earth. Feeding seven billion people with depleted natural resources and a degraded environment is a mammoth task for humanity. During the past ten millennia, homo sapiens have evolved to adjust and move ahead with their advanced cognitive abilities. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is ample evidence and warning signs to suggest that human beings have crossed the line in harming nature. Maintaining balanced biodiversity is advised by experts to mitigate natural disasters triggered by climate change.

Research in 2020 by the World Economic Forum found that $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – was moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and is therefore exposed to ‘nature loss’, including tropical forests.

This article was prompted by the presentation delivered by Senior Professor Buddhi Marambe, Department of the Crop Science, University of Peradeniya, yesterday (24 July 2021). My special thanks go to the Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Alumni Association [PEFAA] for organising the timely event.

The learned Professor presented his arguments with facts and figures from authentic sources and clarified many myths about synthetic fertiliser and pesticides use in Sri Lanka. All Sri Lankans are truly indebted to all these professionals dedicated to improving our agricultural productivity in a scientifically sound manner, causing minimum impact on biodiversity. Sri Lanka’s ranking in the use of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides, and emergence above our competitors in the region on maintaining food security was an alarming highlight of the lecture.

The discussion heightened the public awareness of the proposed move by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to ban the import of synthetic fertiliser and agrochemicals and switch to organic fertiliser. Professor Marambe dealt with points and forewarned the dangers of these short sighted policy directives that appear to have been formulated without sufficient consultations with experts dealing with agriculture, instead relying on ill-advised opinion makers, based on assumptions instead of scientific facts.

Recent developments in the country, mainly various draft bills, attempting to militarise higher education, attempting to dispose of the country’s iconic properties to attract investment, indicate the quality of advisors to the President. Those who teamed up with him as Viyath Maga experts appear to have misled President Rajapaksa.

At the webinar, Prof. Marambe revealed that he and other agricultural experts had been appealing for an audience with the President to explain the dangers of this policy directive, which entails long-term adverse repercussions to an agricultural economy. President Rajapaksa has come out with strong convictions on the benefits of using organic fertiliser and sadly lacks scientific evidence to back the perceived benefits and advantages of the proposed policy directive.

I am making a humble appeal to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his team of advisors to seek expertise from the experts and decide on the policy directives instead of counting on assumptions.

Fareed Zakaria devotes a chapter on why people should listen to experts and experts should listen to people, in his book ‘Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World’. He refers to President Donald Trump being questioned about experts he consults, during the 2016 Republican nomination campaign. Trump responded, “I am speaking with myself, number one because I have an excellent brain; my primary consultant is myself.” His idea to inject a cleaning solution to treat COVID-19 patients could have surfaced through this process of self-consultation. Trump ridiculed the experts in 2016 thus: “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” The rest is history; the mess he created during his tenure as the US President. These are useful lessons for many other political leaders.

 

 

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