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Multi-billion rupee project in the pipeline to push up SL’s fuel buffer stock to 3 months

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BY SURESH PERERA

Sri Lanka has embarked on an ambitious multi-billion rupee initiative to significantly improve the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) under an ongoing long-term plan to push up the buffer stock to approximately three months from the existing 21 days.

As a crucial element of the strategy, a new oil farm will be built at Muthurajawala, while enhancing the holding capacity at the Kolonnawa storage terminal in the backdrop of continuing talks with the Indian government to reclaim 84 unused tanks in the upper section of the Trincomalee oil farm.

The operation of the 99-tank Trincomalee oil farm complex was given to Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC), a subsidiary of Indian state-owned IOC, under a long-term lease in 2003. However, at present, only 15 tanks in the lower section of the gigantic British built WW2 era facility are being used by the Indian company.

“The minister is in talks with the Indian government to explore the possibility of using the 84 oil storage tanks now lying idle”, says M. Uvais Mohamed, Chairman/Managing Director, Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals Limited (CPSTL).

“We need to prioritize our focus on enhancing the available storage capacity as the national demand for fuel climbs by 5% per annum”, he said in an interview with The Sunday Island in his office at the sprawling, six-acre Kolonnawa oil terminal.

Sri Lanka’s annual import of fuel amounts to two million metric tons of crude oil and three million metric tons of refined oil.

The Chairman said that 50 acres were sought for the proposed Muthurajawala oil storage project (adjoining the existing CPSTL facility of 29 tanks) but only 25 acres were released. If the outright purchase of the land is considered too costly, a lease arrangement will be worked out.

“The idea is to build bigger oil storage tanks at the new Muthurajawala complex because they are more efficient and easy to maintain”, he explained.

Referring to the proposed storage capacity expansion at the Kolonnawa terminal, he outlined that the construction of nine new oil tanks are on the cards at a cost of Rs. 3 billion.

International tenders were called to build four 15,000MT, four 7,000MT and one 5,000MT oil tanks at the Kolonnawa complex, and bids were awarded to an Indian company to construct six of them, while the other three will be undertaken by a Sri Lankan enterprise using 100% local labor, Mohamed continued.

“One oil tank at Kolonnawa, which is unusable as it’s around 50 to 60 years old, will be demolished, while another with its bottom deck corroded can be repaired. We can do it for Rs. 50 million rather than spend Rs. 500 million to build a new one”, he said.

The Chairman stressed that Muthurajawala was earmarked for the new oil farm as Kolonnawa is a densely populated, cosmopolitan area with inadequate land resources for such a mega project.

“What is important is to enhance energy security by improving the country’s oil reserves to meet any contingency. That’s why we are looking at a three months’ buffer stock in the long run. This is a fair target because even a big country like the US maintains three to six months in oil reserves”, he noted.

Q: When do you expect to achieve the target of enhancing storage capacity under the ‘long-term plan?’

Within the next two to four years, we will be able to increase storage capacity by 100,000MT. The refurbishment of tanks, which are either not in use or cannot be used to their full capacity, is being undertaken. As a result, in another six months, we will be able to enhance capacity by 20,000MT. We are expediting the whole process. These are concrete plans, not wishes. Energy security is of paramount importance.

Q: You referred to talks with India on using 84 tanks in the Trincomalee oil farm. Has there been any headway?

The Minister is holding discussions on the matter, and as we maintain cordial relations with India, I think we will be able to work it out. This was government-owned land that was leased out to the IOC. The Sri Lanka government will decide on it. We should work together to make it viable and beneficial to the country.

Q: The CPSTL is largely dependent on the private sector bowsers for the distribution of fuel island-wide. Don’t you agree that CPSTL should have its own fleet of vehicles for this purpose in the event of a contingency?

At present, 88% of daily distribution of fuel is done by bowsers belonging to both the CPSTL and private owners. However, CPSTL owns only 158 bowsers, while around one thousand others are hired from private owners. I agree that we need to enhance our fleet to strike a balance. Though we have a good understanding with the private bowser owners, it is imperative that we have our own in sufficient numbers in case of an emergency.

We need to reduce costs and enhance efficiency through rail transport of fuel. We have added 27 more wagons to our fleet with the support of the CGR (Ceylon Government Railway). We maintain a bulk storage facility in Anuradhapura for distribution to the North. We have now procured six acres of land at Kankesanthurai for a proposed bulk storage facility to supply fuel to the North.

As the “bloodline of the nation”, it is our responsibility to ensure fuel supplies to all key segments of the economy, whether it is shipping, aviation, transport, power generation or industries. All of them depend on our service. We have to render an efficient and effective service to the nation to realize the President’s vision to make Sri Lanka prosperous.

Bringing greater efficiency to this sector even by a small percentage translates into a saving on the country’s foreign exchange reserves. It also has an impact on the trade balance and the economy as a whole.

Q: Was CPSTL able to achieve its target in terms of profits for 2020?

We were looking at a target of Rs. 1.6 billion, but even with the Covid-19 pandemic, we are optimistic of achieving Rs. 1.6 – Rs. 2 billion.

During the height of the Covid outbreak, we distributed hand and floor sanitizers free of charge to the police, armed services, health authorities and other key segments. During the general election, the Election Department made a big saving as we supplied the requirement of hand/floor sanitizers to polling booths.

At 42 years, Uvais Mohamed is the youngest Chairman to be appointed to the CPSTL. The brother of Justice Minister Ali Sabry, he is a management accountant with work experience in the United Kingdom, India and Bangladesh.



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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