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Mandate of Ministry of Power – Some ambiguities, conflicts and barriers

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By Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri

The Gazette Notification Extraordinary No. 2187/27 of 09.08.2020 stipulates the mandates of ministries, both Cabinet and State, and the institutes coming under their purview. One common requirement of these mandates is that they should align with the President’s policy document “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour (VPS)”. In assigning functions among ministries, one deviation from the past practice hitherto followed is the division of Ministry of Power and Energy into two separate ministries, Ministry of Power and Ministry of Energy. There is some sense in this decision (See also The Island of 14.08.2020). It is hoped this change is for the better and not for the worse, as usually happens.

MANDATE OF MINISTRY OF POWER AND STATE MINISTRY OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

The key mandate of the Power Ministry is given as:

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).

Supplying electricity to business enterprises in Sri Lanka enabling them to be competitive in the global market, and ensuring energy security.

Among the special priority areas identified for the Power Ministry are the following:

Expand the capacity of the Puttalam coal power plant, with additional investment.

Balance the generation mix from renewable energy plants, thermal power plants and natural gas power plants while minimizing the cost of generation and eliminating any uncertainties in generation.

Implement the long-term generation expansion plan.

Improve the efficiency of transmission and distribution systems.

Minimize the cost of electricity for manufacturing industries enabling their competitiveness in global markets.

Special priority areas identified for the State Ministry Renewable Energy, are the following:

Convert the Kelanitissa power plant to a natural gas turbine plant, and expand the Kerawalapitiya power plant.

Develop a smart network ensuring generation efficiency and optimizing its use.

Encourage the use of roof-top solar PV panels in households, commercial establishments and factories, enabling supply of electricity at low cost.

Encourage the private sector and entrepreneurs to establish renewable energy projects.

Add to the national grid the Broadlands Hydropower (HP) plant by 2020, Uma Oya HP plant by 2021, Moragolla HP plant by 2023, Thalapitigala and Seethawaka HP plants by 2024.

Add to the national grid the Mannar 100 MW wind power plant by 2021 and add 800 MW of wind and solar systems set up at Mannar, Pooneryn and Moneragala.

PROVISIONS IN “VISTAS OF PROSPERITY AND SPLENDOUR”

The VPS document has no separate section on Power Sector, but has only a section on Renewable Energy (RE), highlighting the President’s desire to give priority for renewable energy. The preamble to this section says “Renewable energy has now become a widely discussed subject and is needed as part of the overall energy mix of a country, which consists of Hydro, Thermal, Coal and alternative renewable energies. It will ensure that the country has access to low cost energy needed for rapid economic acceleration. By 2030, we expect the country’s renewable energy mix to be 40% of the total portfolio. We also anticipate that hydro and renewable energy together would account for 80% of the overall energy mix by 2030”.

The following targets on power sector development are also given in the VPS document.

According to the current plan, we will take actions to add 230MW of power to the national grid by installing the Broadland hydropower station by 2020, Uma Oya by 2021, Moragolla by 2023, Talapitigala and Seethawaka by 2024.

Immediate actions will be taken to convert the Kelanitissa plant to a natural gas turbine plant, where similar two plants will be implemented in Kerawalapitiya and Hambantota before 2023.

As part of the environmental-friendly policy, we will convert the fuel-powered plants located around the Colombo area to natural gas turbine plants within the next year.

With respect to transformation towards Renewable Energy, the VPS document says:

We will add 100 MW of wind energy in Mannar by 2021. Additionally, we expect to add 800 MW of solar energy to the national grid by executing a wind and solar power project with a public-private partnership in potential locations around the country including Mannar, Poonareyn and Monaragala.

Roof top solar systems will be encouraged so that households and small businesses wo

uld have access to low cost energy, which will be done in the course of the next five years.

We will remove all impediments and incentivize the private sector and entrepreneurs interested in setting up renewable energy projects i.e. solar and wind, and to this end, the government will provide assistance.

We will also introduce an efficient energy generation programme using industrial waste in each city.

We will introduce new policies and legislation to ensure the efficient use of energy in construction sector.

AMBIGUITY IN TARGETS GIVEN IN THE VPS DOCUMENT

The preamble to the section on Renewable Energy in the VPS document says “By 2030, we expect the country’s renewable energy mix to be 40% of the total portfolio. We also anticipate that hydro and renewable energy together would account for 80% of the overall energy mix by 2030”. There is much ambiguity in this statement. Firstly, it is not clear what is meant by “total portfolio”. Secondly, it is not clear whether the term “overall energy” means energy consumed in all sectors including power, transport, industries, commercial and households or whether it means energy consumed in the power sector only. On the face of it, overall energy would mean the former.

But the State Minister of Solar Power, Wind and Hydro Power Generation Projects Development was heard over the TV recently saying that his Ministry’s target is to generate electricity up to 80% of the total electricity generation from renewable energy sources by 2030, in compliance with the VPS document. Obviously, the author of this document has erred when he said that 80% target is in respect of overall energy, if the State Minister’s word is taken as correct.

In an article published by the author in The Island of 19, 20, and 21 of February, 2020, he described, in detail a scheme to meet 80% of the total energy consumption from renewable energy sources by 2030 considering all sectors, including power, industries, transport, commercial and households. The scheme included operating wind power and solar power units as stand-alone systems generating direct current for electrolyzing water and producing hydrogen. There are several options available to use hydrogen to meet the energy needs in power, industries and transport sectors. Another option given in the article is to convert biomass into a liquid fuel for use in transport and households.

Energy generation and consumption data in different sectors in Sri Lanka is given in the Energy Balance Statement (EBS) prepared annually by the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA). The latest EBS is available only in respect of 2017. Table 1 gives data taken from the EBS and it shows that Sri Lanka has already achieved 45% of renewable energy share in the total energy mix in 2017. Hence, to give a target of 40% to be achieved in 2030 has no meaning.

Table 1 Overall Energy consumption given in 2017 EBSFuelQuantityUnitEnergy Content

(PJ)Share %Petroleum oil 5,375kt232.0 43.9Coal 2,156kt 56.9 10.7Sub-Total (Fossil Fuels) 54.6Major hydro 3,075GWh 30.9 5.8Biomass11,810kt192.9 36.5Other Renewables 1,650GWh 16.2 3.1Sub-Total (Renewables) 45.4Total528.9100.0 ELECTRICITY DEMAND BY 2030

The CEB prepares biennially a long-term generation expansion (LTGE) plan outlining the least cost options of generation plants that need to be added to the system annually for the next 20 years. The latest plan is in respect of the period 2020 – 2039 which is still in the draft form yet to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission, Sri Lanka (PUCSL) and scrutinized by the public. The Plan includes a Base Case that will meet the needs of average demand as well as other cases to meet the needs of high and low demand. Table 2 gives the capacity of different types of generating units that need to be added during 2020 – 2030 as given under Base Case.

Table 2. Capacity additions proposed in LTGE Plan 2020-39Type of plantCapacity to be added during 2020-2030

MWMajor hydropower plants627Solar PV plants900Wind power plants675Biomass plants55Mini-hydro plants165Diesel plants665Gas turbine plants70Combine cycle gas turbine plants1,500New Coal power plants 1,200

The LTGE Plan has also worked out the average generation from each plant type annually and the values obtained for 2030 are given in Table 3, extracted from the data given in Annex 8.4 of LTGE Plan. It is to be noted that it is not possible to forecast exact values for generation from each category in the future because it depends on many extraneous factors such as rainfall, cloud cover, wind regime, fuel prices and demand which are not known accurately in advance. Annex 8.4 gives both average values as well as high and low extreme values anticipated considering the uncertainties. Table 3 gives only the average values anticipated.

It is seen that according to CEB’s LTGE Plan for 2020-39, generation from renewable sources could reach only 35% by 2030, which is far below the 80% target given in President’s VPS Policy Document, assuming what is intended by “total energy” appearing in this document is total electricity generation. In order to align with the President’s policy, CEB will therefore have to come out with a revised plan for capacity additions reducing the thermal plant capacity and correspondingly increasing the RE systems enabling to raise the RE share in total electricity generation from 35% to 80% by 2030.

Table 3. Forecasted average generation in 2030 Plant categoryCapacity MWGeneration GWhMajor hydropower plants1,607 4,364Other renewable energy plants2,700 6,738Sub-total – RE sources4,30711,102Reciprocating plants 136 413Existing coal power plant 810 4,781Existing combined cycle plants 594 1,825New gas turbine plant 70 113NG combined cycle plants 1,500 5,783New coal power plants1,200 7,721Sub-total – Thermal4,31020,636Total31,738Share of RE generation35.0%

OPTIONS FOR MEETING THE PRESIDENT’S TARGET

The obvious choice for meeting the President’s target is to shift from coal power to solar and wind power. In an article written by the author appearing in the Island of July 31st and August 1st, 2020, he showed that by shifting from coal power to solar and wind power, CEB can save over 100 billion rupees annually. This is based on the price of LKR/kWh 10 offered in an on-going wind power project and bids received for solar power projects as divulged by CEB Chairman (Island of 24.07.2020). This is much less than the average cost of generation incurred by CEB which is LKR/kWh 23. In addition to the expenditure saved, adopting solar and wind power gives a bonus of providing pollution free generation.

Several proposals for building large scale solar power plants and wind power plants have been granted Cabinet approval in 2016 and 2017, but there have been no follow up measures taken to pursue them by the CEB. This is despite their economic and environmental advantages. With the announcement of President’s policy on promoting renewable energy, it is hoped that the officials in the Power Ministry and CEB will change their mindset and implement the proposed RE projects without delay. In order to get the private sector involved in this exercise, the present limitation of 10 MW for the development of RE projects by the private sector has to be removed.

The officials of the Power Ministry as well as of the CEB need to be reminded of the statement “We will remove all impediments and incentivize the private sector and entrepreneurs interested in setting up renewable energy projects i.e. solar and wind, and to this end, the government will provide assistance” appearing in the VPS policy document under Renewable Energy section. It is essential that they change their lackadaisical attitude towards renewable energy, if the President’s targets are to be achieved.

The mandate of the State Ministry of Renewable Energy includes building of large scale solar and wind power plants as priority areas. However, their implementation will be possible only with the concurrence of CEB, which was lacking in the past RE projects. There were also media reports of India offering a large solar park under the International Solar Alliance initiated by the Indian Prime Minister together with the French President at the Climate Change Summit Conference held in 2015. Sri Lanka should accept this offer and accelerate building up its solar power capacity.

Another option available is to increase the large hydropower capacity. The general thinking on this is that there are no more suitable sites available to build large hydropower plants in Sri Lanka. However, it is possible to build a large hydro power plant by building a new reservoir on Kotmale Oya below St. Clair’s waterfall and linking it to the existing shaft of the Upper Kotmale Power Plant. This will enable it to operate during the day increasing its plant factor rather than operate only as a peaking plant as done now. Water spilling over the Upper Kotmale Reservoir as well as water flowing down Devon’s water fall can be collected in this new reservoir.

This proposal was made by the Central Engineering Consulting Bureau (CECB) during the planning stage of Upper Kotmale project but not accepted by the Japanese Contractors. It has the potential to add about 160 MW of capacity, generating additional 520 GWh of RE annually. This is a better option than diverting water from Pundalu Oya to the shaft of the Upper Kotmale Project as proposed by CEB in its 2020-39 Plan.

The CEB’s LTGE Plan has given low priority for biomass power plants, adding only 5 MW capacity annually. This can be easily enhanced by setting up dedicated energy plantations and mixed plantations which will generate more renewable energy. It will also provide more opportunities for income generation to rural people and providing fodder to maintain a livestock industry. The colossal sum of money spent annually on importing fuel for thermal power plants presently could be retained in the country by developing biomass power plants.

It has been estimated that 1 ha of dedicated plantation of a crop such as gliricidia will yield 10 t of biomass annually. Assuming combustion of 1 t of biomass with 33% efficiency will generate 1.5 MWh of electricity, 1 ha of plantations has the capacity to generate energy equivalent to 15 MWh. Hence, to replace 1 MW of thermal power plant, about 500 ha energy plantations are required. This could be on new land or on home gardens and abandoned cropland including fallowed paddy land.

In 2019, the Cabinet declared 2022 as the year of Biomass Energy with the objective of promoting energy generation from biomass. Already, SLSEA is pursuing a project funded partly by UNDP and FAO for “Promoting Sustainable Biomass Energy Production and Modern Bio-Energy Technologies” with the specific objective of removing obstacles to the realization of sustainable biomass plantation, increase of market share of biomass energy generation and adoption of biomass- based energy technologies in Sri Lanka. Currently, a survey is planned to identify land available and suitable for energy plantations. Findings of this study will help developing more biomass power capacity at commercial scale by 2030.

CONFLICT BETWEEN THE POWER MINISTRY MANDATE AND VPS POLICY DOCUMENT

The Power Ministry mandate has the following provisions pertaining to the LTGE Plan and Puttalam Coal power plant.

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).

Expand the capacity of the Puttalam coal power plant with additional investment.

Implement the long-term generation expansion plan.

As mentioned previously, CEB’s current plan envisages building 1,200 MW of coal power plants by 2030. Though it is consistent with the above mandate of the Power Ministry, its implementation will result in achieving only 35% share for RE plants out of total generation by 2030. This is in violation of the VPS targets. Hence, either the State Ministry should pursue more RE projects disregarding what was specified in the CEB’s LTGE Plan or the CEB revise its Plan to align with the President’s VPS document.

The VPS document has the following statement:

As part of the environmental-friendly policy, we will convert the fuel-powered plants located around the Colombo area to natural gas turbine plants within the next year.

It is gratifying to note that the new Government has decided to adopt an environment-friendly policy. However, it should apply not only to Kelanitissa Complex, but also to Puttalam Power Plant as well where the pollution is much severe than at Kelanitissa, particularly arising out of million tonnes of ash accumulated over the years containing many toxic heavy metals including mercury and arsenic.

Hence, in keeping with this policy, the proposal to add another 300 MW coal power plant to Puttalam Complex should be scrapped and instead the government should build a NG operated power plant of similar capacity which will be cheaper and easier to operate and maintain. Further, it will not emit any polluting gases such as Sulphur Dioxide or any particulates or any ash at all. Even the emission of other gases such as Carbon Dioxide contributing to global warming and Oxides of Nitrogen will be very much less.

Also, the LTGE Plan is highly flawed. It is supposed to determine which power technology will be the cheapest in 20 years hence based on current prices. With the cost of generation depending on plant capital cost and fuel prices both of which could vary widely within a span of 20 years, it is futile to make forecasts now as to which technology is the cheapest in 20 years hence and to adopt it. The technology should be selected after calling for bids for different technologies and selecting the most economic plant that meets detailed performance specifications as well as specifications on emission limits. This should be done at the time of building the plant and not based on flawed forecasts. Hence, stipulating a mandate to follow a flawed plan does not make sense.

BARRIERS AGAINST THE STATE MINISTRY AND VPS MANDATE

The State Ministry mandate has the following requirement:

Convert the Kelanitissa power plant to a natural gas turbine plant, and expand the Kerawalapitiya power plant.

The VPS document has the following requirements:

Immediate actions will be taken to convert the Kelanitissa plant to a natural gas turbine plant, where similar two plants will be implemented in Kerawalapitiya and Hambantota before 2023.

As part of the environmental-friendly policy, we will convert the fuel-powered plants located around the Colombo area to natural gas turbine plants within the next year.

Conversion to natural gas operation is possible with gas turbine power plants, both open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) and combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT). The latter comprises of two generating units, a gas turbine and a steam turbine which operates with hot exhaust gas released by the gas turbine without consuming additional fuel. Hence, a CCGT plant has a high efficiency exceeding 50%.

At Kelanitissa Complex, there are two OCGT plants with capacities 80 MW and 115 MW commissioned in 1981/82 and 1997, respectively, and two CCGT plants with capacities 165 MW and 163 MW commissioned in 2001/03 and 2003, respectively. All these power plants currently operate with auto diesel, except that the CEB owned 165 MW plant operates partly with diesel and partly with naphtha produced as a surplus in the refinery. All these plants can be converted to operate with NG after modifying their fuel injection systems, if it is found economical to do so considering their age. However, the non-availability of NG is a barrier to convert them within the specified time targets given in the mandates.

In order to convert these gas turbine plants to operate on NG, first NG will have to be imported in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for which special unloading jetties on land or floating units need to be built which takes several years. Though negotiations were held with India and Japan for several years after signing memoranda of understanding with them for building a terminal and importing LNG, no progress has been made public on this project. It was also reported in the media that CEB is seeking assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to establish a terminal for importing LNG.

Originally, the Ministry of Petroleum had the mandate for importing LNG, but because of the ministry’s inaction, the CEB obtained Cabinet approval for them to import LNG directly. However, under the new government, all matters relating to petroleum including NG comes under the purview of the Ministry of Energy. It is to be seen how the two ministries will coordinate to supply NG for operating not only these existing gas turbine power plants but also the proposed new gas turbine power plants. Importing of LNG needs to follow international protocols and has to be handled by competent operators after having in place the necessary regulatory framework on safety aspects and issuing licenses for operators.

CONCLUSION

The mandate given to the Ministry of Power recommends the establishment of coal power plants in keeping with the long-term generation expansion plan of CEB. On the other hand, the mandates given to the State Ministry for Renewable Energy recommends conversion of existing thermal power plants to operate on natural gas in keeping with the environment-friendly policy of the government. Therefore, to be consistent in applying this policy, the proposed 300 MW coal power plant to be built at Puttalam should also be converted into a gas power plant.

This could be best done by expediting the building of the 300 MW gas power plant at Kerawalapitiya for which the Cabinet approval has already been granted after a procurement process which got dragged for nearly 4 years. This plant, which could be built much faster than the coal power plant, will be able to meet any power deficit anticipated in a few years’ time. It appears that the Ministry is holding back this project for reasons best known to them and the new Minister should use his good office to expedite the project without listening to officials who were responsible for delaying it. The most practicable way of achieving these targets is to appoint a new set of young honest officers not allergic to renewable energy and gas power to take decisions on these matters.

 

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Features

Constitutions and amendments

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By Neville Ladduwahetty

The 20th Amendment (20A) to the Constitution has become a topic of spirited debate and discussion. Much of it is generated by misunderstanding the true intent of 20A. It should not be a durable amendment to the Constitution. Instead, it should be temporary, until a comprehensive new Constitution is developed and presented to the nation.

Until then, 20A should serve as a stop gap for the Executive President to address the unprecedented challenges the country has to face following the COVID-19 pandemic. With this in mind, the intent of 20A should be to either repeal those provisions that had been introduced by the 19th Amendment to seriously dilute executive powers as admitted by the framers of 19A or to repeal 19A altogether and restore the executive powers the President had under the 1978 Constitution. It is only by removing the constraints that exist under 19A that the President would be in a position to address the daunting challenges that lie ahead. Without strengthening the hand of the Executive, the formidable task of social and economic recovery that the country is compelled to face because of the global pandemic would be a near impossibility.

 

THE NEED for 20A

The two most formidable issues that should engage the full attention of the government and the nation are:

(1) The need to continue with the very effective measures adopted to contain COVID-19 in order to prevent the possibility of a resurgance.

(2) The absolute urgency to revive the seriously depressed economy, brought about nationally and globally by the pandemic.

As far as the first issue is concerned, the government has demonstrated very effectively that it has the capabilities and organizing abilities to implement procedures and practices to maintain the health of the nation to such a degree that the President and the Sri Lankan nation have received international acclaim. An equally encouraging aspect is the support extended by the public to the call of the government to practice the health safeguards recommended by the government. What the government and the nation have collectively achieved is a shining example to the world for which we as a nation could be proud of.

The elephant in the room is how to revive the depressed economy. While the measures that need to be adopted are bound to test the skills and ingenuities of the entire nation, an equally important factor that would have a direct bearing is the freedom for the government, in particular the President and the executive branch, to act without being constrained by the fetters introduced by 19A.

There is no denying the fact that 19A was introduced with the deliberate intent of diluting executive powers of the President. In fact, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne P.C., (Dr. JW) referring to 19A, has admitted that the initial attempt was “to completely abolish the Presidential system of government”. This attempt failed because the Supreme Court ruled that the intended attempt would require a referendum. The end result was the compromised version of 19A. According to Dr. JW, “The experience under 19A clearly showed the need to completely abolish the Presidential form of government and move towards a Parliamentary form…” (The Island, September 8, 2020).

The approach should not be to analyze which Article should be amended and to what degree, since such an exercise would not only be time consuming but also would add to the confusion that already exists in 19A. Instead, the approach should be to undo the entirety of 19A, and for the executive power of the President that had existed under the 1978 Constitution to be restored, for the simple reason that tough measures are needed to overcome the economic black hole Sri Lanka is in, the likes of which the nation as a whole has never seen.

The argument that such an approach would restore what is often described as draconian executive power amounting to a Presidential dictatorship that had existed under the 1978 Constitution, is unfounded if one realizes the full impact of the economic catastrophe the nation is currently facing. The situation is so dire that the bulk of the nation is more concerned with the basics of existence and survival rather than about niceties of Democracy and Good Governance that only the fortunate few could afford to be concerned about.

 

THE NEED for a NEW CONSTITUTION

Having addressed the short term issues, the next is the long term issue of a new Constitution. The genesis for 19A and 20A is the 1978 Constitution. Therefore, any anomalies and contradictions that exist in amendments invariably are a result of anomalies and contradictions in the 1978 Constitution. Describing the system of government under the 1978 Constitution, Dr. JW quotes Dr. Colvin R. De Silva as having described the 1978 Constitution “as a constitutional presidential dictatorship dressed in the raiment of a parliamentary democracy’ (Ibid). The comment is justified because the 1978 Constitution has features of Presidential and Parliamentary systems, notwithstanding that each represents one of the two ideologically completely different systems of government by which practically all democracies are governed. If such contrasting systems are incorporated in a single constitution confusion is inevitable, as evident from the 1978 Constitution and its related amendments. Therefore, the framers of a new constitution should endeavour to base it on either one or the other, a Presidential or a Parliamentary system, but certainly not a mix of both.

 

PARLIAMENTARY and PRESIDENTIAL

FORMS of GOVERNMENT

Under a Parliamentary system, Parliament is supreme and as described in the 1972 Constitution is the “supreme instrument of State Power”. This means that Parliament is responsible for Legislative and Executive functions. A few members of Parliament are selected by the Prime Minister to form the Cabinet of Ministers to exercise the executive functions of the government. Consequently, the Cabinet of Ministers is responsible and answerable to Parliament.

On the other hand, under a Presidential system, the cardinal principle is the separation of Legislative and Executive power. This separation is underscored by the fact that each branch is separately elected by the people and responsible for the exercise of separate powers, namely Legislative and Executive. This separation is clearly outlined in Articles 4 (a) and 4 (b) respectively, of the 1978 Constitution.

Article 4 (a) states: “the legislative power of the People shall be exercised by parliament…”.

Article 4 (b) states: “the executive power of the People, including the defence of Sri Lanka, shall be exercised by the President…”.

Commenting on the executive power of the people, the Supreme Court in S.D. No. 04/2015 stated: “It is in this background that the Court in the Nineteenth Amendment Determination came to a conclusion that the transfer, relinquishment or removal of the power attributed to one organ of government to another organ or body would be inconsistent with Article 3 read with Article 4 of the Constitution. Though Article 4 provides the form and manner of the sovereignty of the people, the ultimate act or decision of the executive functions must be retained by the President. So long as the President remains the Head of the Executive, the exercise of his powers remain supreme or sovereign in the executive field and to others to whom such power is given must derive the authority from the President or exercise the Executive power vested in the President as a delegate of the President”.

On the other hand, Article 43 (1) states: “There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers charged with the direction and control of the Government of the Republic which shall be collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament”.

Commenting on Article 43 (1) the Supreme Court in the same case, S.D. No. 04/2015 stated: “This important Article underscores that the Cabinet collectively is charged with the exercise of Executive power, which is expressed as the direction and control of the Government of the Republic and the collective responsibility of Cabinet of which the President is the Head. It establishes conclusively that the President is not the sole repository of Executive power under the Constitution. It is the Cabinet of Ministers collectively, and not the President alone, which is charged with the direction and control of the Government.

 

This Cabinet is answerable to Parliament. Therefore, the Constitution itself recognizes that Executive power is exercised by the President and by the Cabinet of Ministers, and that the President shall be responsible to Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers, collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament with regard to the exercise of such powers…”.

It is evident from the opinions cited above that the powers of the President depend on whether he acts under provisions of Article 4 (b) or Article 43 (1). For instance, under provisions of 4 (b) the “President as the Head of the Executive is sovereign in the executive field”. However, if the President acts under provisions of Article 43 (1) the Court stated that “the Constitution itself recognizes that Executive power is exercised by the President and by the Cabinet of Ministers”. The potential for such contrasting interpretations that exist in the 1978 Constitution have been blindly repeated in 19A without regard for their relevance or irrelevance.

Another serious contradiction often overlooked is that a President elected by the People should be recognized as being co-equal with Parliament under provisions of separation of power. Therefore, the President cannot be responsible to another organ of government– the Parliament. Furthermore, if the Cabinet of Ministers derive their authority from the President as interpreted by the Supreme Court, the Cabinet cannot be responsible and answerable to Parliament either. Under the circumstances, Article 33A that calls for the President to be responsible to Parliament “for the due exercise performance and discharge of his powers, duties and functions” is a violation of the principle of separation of power.

The few examples cited above amply demonstrate that while the framework of the 1978 Constitution is essentially Presidential, it has sufficient elements of a Parliamentary Democracy to warrant the Judiciary from giving contrasting opinions depending on which Article it interprets. This ambiguity requires Sri Lanka to adopt either a Presidential or a Parliamentary system, but not a mix of both systems. Despite the fact that such contradictions have been brought to the attention of the public, confusion has reigned uninterrupted. Therefore, the need is for Parliament to vote on which system of government is best suited to govern Sri Lanka. Furthermore, when formulating a new constitution, it is also recommended that a fresh approach be incorporated to devolve power to the smallest practical workable unit in order to strengthen operations in the periphery.

 

CONCLUSION

According to media reports the intention of the government is to introduce the 20th Amendment. Indications are that each Article would be reviewed and amended where necessary. Such an exercise is bound to repeat the contradictions in 19A because the framers mechanically copied provisions from the 1978 Constitution without understanding what separation of power is all about in a Presidential system. Therefore, it is best to repeal 19A completely, and go back to the powers exercised by the President under the 1978 Constitution as a stop gap measure until a new constitution is formulated. Such an interim measure is vital in order to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 and to equip the executive with necessary powers to revive the depressed economy.

Critics to such an approach may consider it to be the death knell to Parliamentary democracy. What such critics forget is that the country is in such dire straits economically, that drastic measures need to be introduced if the country is to get back to some degree of normalcy. Proof of the merits of such an approach is evident from the uncompromising measures successfully adopted by the government to contain COVID-19; a fact acknowledged internationally. The reversal to the past is intended to be only until such time that a new constitution is tabled and adopted by Parliament and the People at a referendum.

In summary, the essence of the recommendation is for the 20A to define a clear two-step approach. Step One is to repeal all of 19A and strengthen the hand of the President and the executive with necessary powers to address all issues relating to COVID-19, and to also adopt all necessary measures to revive the economy. Step Two is for Parliament to vote and give clear direction as to whether the new constitution should be based on a Presidential or Parliamentary system to address all issues relating to good governance in all respects. Adopting such a clear cut approach without ambiguities would enable Sri Lanka to be free of the current fog of confusion, and embark on a fresh Chapter in her history.

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The Downfall of Democracy

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All this unwanted fuss about the author or drafter of the 20A has led to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa making it clear he is the leader of the Government and the Pohottuva. Let’s have no doubts about it anymore. Let’s stop asking about any role that the Justice Minister Ali Sabry or Law Pundit and Education Minister G. L. Peiris had in this.  

The five-member Cabinet Committee appointed by PM Mahinda Rajapaksa has also been pushed aside. This clearly shows the declining power-position of Rajavasala Mahinda himself. We are in the reality of a rising authoritarian rule, with a path to what the Pohottuva champions consider to be a “Democratic Dictatorship”.

It has all to do with the two-thirds majority in parliament. We are moving to the total sovereignty of the people-elected President … the stuff  of a monarchy of the past that is being revived more than 70 years after independence from British colonial rule.

The assurance of Democracy in the role of the 20A comes from our acting Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Dayani Mendis, who told the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council that 20A would be discussed and debated in Parliament, following a complete democratic process, where all the stakeholders would have the opportunity to present their views.

What she did not say was that the final decision lay with the ruling majority of the Rajavasala Power Holders. She also said that the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s comments on the 20A were unwarranted and pre-judgmental, based on presumption. What a wonderful diplomatic analysis of a rising threat to Democracy in this island. 

The democracy that we are telling the world today is about the great Hand Raisers or “Ath Ussanno” in our parliamentary politics. Many of them in today’s parliament raised their hands for the 17A. All of them cheerfully raised their hands for the 18A. All but one of them raised their hands for the 19A, with amendments to it too. And now they are waiting with impatience and restlessness to raise both hands, if necessary, for the 20A. You can’t stop this Ath Usssana promoters of a rising Family Power or Pavul Balaya.

This is a muddled collection of one-time Samasamajists, Communists, UNP players, SLFP  Bandaranaike shakers, MEP – Gunawardena performers, JVP culprits, Central Bank felons, EPF fraudsters, Royal Pavilion destroyers, and current rapists of the ever shrinking forest cover of Sri Lanka.

To think that any of these Hand Raisers have any understanding or belief in democracy is contempt for the entire democratic process. These are political hoodlums and delinquents who have moved far away from the callers and supporters of Democracy, in the fight against colonial rule. 

We are caught in the crooked politics of the Rajavasala Kelikarayas – Royal Family Players – to whom Democracy is the very threat to survival. The 20A is the core and cover of the rising Rajapaksa dictatorship, and nothing else. It is the trampling and burying of everything democratic of the 19A (certainly with its shortcomings) that all of these hoodlums raised their hands for, except one.

A country that obtained its democratic background, moving away from a local and foreign monarchic thinking and attitudes, from the British, we now seem to be moving back to the reality of current British or UK politics. This is the stuff of the Boris Johnson politics that is having its say in the UK today. They are proudly moving to the violation of international agreements and the very substance of the parliamentary process. 

If the UK can violate international agreements, what is wrong in Sri Lanka violating the very substance and reality of democracy, through the play of majority power in Parliament, which was the stuff of those who violated peace and the people through Nazism, and the Idi Amin realities of power?

The opposition to the 20A has to take on a process of public understanding of the crises that lie ahead, as we see the rising power of authoritarian dominance. There is much more than the SJB and Sajith Premadasa’s call for a revived 19A. The need is for the revival of the very substance of democracy. It has to be done throughout the country, moving away from ethnic, religious, caste and other divisions that are the reality of Sri Lankan society and politics. 

Just take a look at the politics of the wholly defeated UNP today. With Ruwan Wijewardene elected as Deputy Leader of the party, it has gone back to the Uncle-Nephew-Party it was known for in its early years in power. This is the stuff in local politics that can give a good playing hand to the Pohottuva activists.  

The Gotabhaya Rajapaksa leadership of the Government and the Pohottuva is the very substance of ruling politics and governance today! The Opposition seems to be playing a Joker with its moves to strengthen Mahinda Rajapaksa power. Mahinda will remain where he is and Gotabaya will be the ruler of the Rajavasala and the Lankadveepa.

Fighting the 20A is the beginning of a new call for a rescued and revived Democracy, whatever we tell the UN Human Rights bodies and the rest of the world about us.

It is the reality of the Downfall of Democracy, and the Rajavasala Rise!

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Social Inequalities and People’s Movements in New Normal South Asia: Emerging Trends

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By Shavini De Silva,

Programme Officer, Regional Centre for Strategic Studies

South Asia is home to 40% of the world poor, even though it is considered one of the fastest growing regions in the world. In the last 15 years, South Asia has also experienced the highest number of terrorist activity in the world. The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on multifaceted inequalities in South Asia is profound and it affects vulnerable and marginalized groups disproportionately. It tends to widen inequalities and deepen insecurities in society, particularly among marginalized sections. The paradox of the COVID 19 pandemic, on the one hand, has increased the amount of existing social inequalities and on the other hand it has subdued the vibrant social movements in the region. One of the defining features in social and political landscape in South Asia is the existence of a variety of social movements through history. During the pandemic period, the world also witnessed the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the United States and the West. It was in this context Regional Centre for Strategic Studies held a webinar on the theme “Social Inequalities and Emerging Trends in People’s Movements in Post- COVID South Asia. The purpose of the webinar was to generate a discourse to identify trends in people and movements in post-COVID South Asia.

Four world-renowned scholars/social activists in South Asia spoke at the webinar. The distinguished panelists consisted of Prof. Kalinga Tudor Silva, former Professor of Sociology and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya, Dr. Umakant, a well-known social activists in New Delhi, Prof. Rasul Bakhsh Rais a Professor of Political Science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and Mr. Hari Sharma, the Executive Director of Alliance for Social Dialogue/Social Science Baha, Kathmandu. Professor Karori Singh the Emeritus Fellow/Professor of South Asian Studies and Former Director, South Asia Studies Centre, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, INDIA, and Professor Keerawela, Executive Director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies. moderated the panel discussion.

In bringing Sri Lankan experience to the discussion, Prof. Kalinga Tudor Silva stated that Sri Lanka could be seen as an outstanding success in terms of control of COVID-19 during the past six months. The well-developed health infrastructure in the country also reflected in earlier success in malaria eradication and various other public health achievements including reduction in infant mortality and progressive increase in life expectancy and coordinated effort at COVID-19 control by a new political regime committed to the task of containing the disease at points of origin are among the factors contributing to the crisis management.

There are, however, some important concerns about the social inequality connected with the pattern of infection. During the early phase, the community infections were reported disproportionately in urban low income neighborhoods, typically with a notable minority presence. The worker returnees from other countries and the substance users and their contacts have been two groups of civilians most affected by the COVID-19 infections. The decision by the state to impose mandatory cremation on all deaths attributed to COVID-19 has been heavily criticized by the Muslim community, who believe in maintaining religious rituals of burying the dead. The National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 established by the president in response to the pandemic chaired by the military commander is conspicuous by the absence of any civil society representation or any persons with professional skills in understanding and responding to social and cultural issues related to handling the multifaceted social crisis inevitably resulting from the pandemic.

Discrimination and exclusion during COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdown in India was the focus of Dr. Umakant’s presentation. He stated that as the number of reported COVID-19 cases has surpassed 3 million in India. It is now high time to not only address the ways and means for ending the pandemic but also to highlight the caste based discrimination and exclusion faced by Dalits, Adivasis and Other Backward Caste (OBC) people in different parts of India during pandemic. Any disaster is not caste/race neutral, it affects the disadvantaged people quite adversely leading government officials along with society at large to maintaining colossal amounts of socio-economic inequality. The case of sanitation workers stands as a dehumanizing experience can be cited as a case in point. Having to eradicate dirt and filth along with the inhumane fact that society at large practices have remained an issue of great concern. Despite being the frontline warrior against Covid-19, they have not been provided with enough safety equipment and even parity with health personnel’s. The fact that migrant workers are been labeled as nowhere people stands at a critical issue. Within a four-hour notice, the national lockdown was announced by the government which led millions of migrant workers to a state of vulnerability. This in turn resulted them to walk thousands of kilometers back to their villages facing great hardships and misery. In recent research findings, it was also noted that the most marginalized sections of society namely, Dalits, Adivasis and LGBT had to endeavor extreme levels of suffering during the nationwide lockdown Furthermore the response of State has been completely dissatisfying as levels of inequality have risen which may take a long time to overcome. The question still lies at the necessary precautions that need to be exercised during the discourse of a pandemic. Social distancing within the South Asian context has its own connotations of discrimination and exclusion relating to cast which makes it more challenging to combat. More than anything else a sense of solidarity, empathy, generosity, warmth, compassion, share and care is needed, not only in helping the humanity but also to inculcate values in the younger generation. This could be distinguished as Ubuntu, a term popularized by Bishop Desmond Tutu during Anti-Apartheid struggle days. A society without Ubuntu is a dead society.

Traditional caste system, tribal identities and ethnic biases along with minority religion and economic class are the contributing factors that play a role in marginalization and discrimination against certain groups, Prof. Rasul Rais said. The issue of economic and social inequality spans to the vast portion of the countrysides as minority of big landlords own much of the agricultural lands, the rest of the remaining majorities work as peasants. The landowning class dominating the political parties and the electoral system have not allowed land reforms to take place. The urban areas that are growing rapidly, with the migration of landless and the rising middle classes show the same trend in housing, allocation of geographical spaces, access to educational facilities and categories of jobs, or joblessness. As an elite-dominated society, Pakistan runs an “elitist economy” and a hierarchical social order. The decades of economic growth and modernisation have not altered much the social structural reasons that continue to reproduce inequality in different forms. The poor have larger families, mostly illiterate and live in congested places and live on daily wages. By their economic circumstances, they have been exposed to the pandemic disproportionally more than the affluent sections of the society that have better education, living conditions and economic means.

The social movements in Pakistan against class discrimination, land reforms, social equality and equal right are weak or non-existent whereas the liberal sections of the civil society are more focused on political, gender and ideological issues replicating the agenda of political parties. The religious groups that have proliferated and have more means and street powers have greater interest in identity construction, Islamization and conservative social ethos while weak, fragmented and divided social movements, equality, rights, health and justice remain marginalized issues.

Dr. Hari Sharma of Nepali Social Science Baha paid attention to impact of political structures on social and political processes. It is of key importance to take political interests into consideration as it is a main factor in deciding how preventive and remedial measures should be exercised accordingly, especially in the face of social, economic and natural disasters. This could be viewed against the backdrop that populist politics has integrated with nationalism over the most recent years posing a grave threat to the democratic political practices and minority interests. The rational politics in Nepal stands at a critical juncture and the Nepalese people live in difficult times, despite unprecedented challenges created by COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Hari Sharma emphasized that it is a vital fact that democratic elements reclaim political space which has been lost.

Professor Singh moderated the session by questioning what went wrong and how new form of inequalities came into existence. Those who want to stick to the status quo turn a blind eye to growing social inequalities emphasizing the importance of growth and development. One of the outcomes of this approach would be that society at large becomes less sensitive to social inequality and academics also play a very poor role in bringing real social issues to the discussion forums. Hence, it is necessary for new social movements to recognize emerging trends of inequality in post COVID South Asia. The discussion underscored the need to give priority to emerging inequalities in post CIDID South Asia in national and regional discourses.

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