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Murder of Rajani and arrest and release of Senthan

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The Times of Senthan: Little known Liberator and Silent Giant – Part III

by Rajan Hoole

The Murder of Rajani Thiranagama

India had been overconfident about its ability to control the LTTE and very soon an ugly war commenced in which civilians were the chief victims, leaving the community more despondent than before. Against the callousness of the Indian Army, as part of the civilian community, we witnessed how the LTTE deliberately placed civilians in jeopardy and used their suffering for propaganda gain. As our non-violent response, four of us including Rajani Thiranagama, K. Sritharan and Daya Somasundaram talked to civilians widely and compiled their experiences in our book, The Broken Palmyra. It was intended to represent the predicament of civilians denied any voice, whose lives became prey to the armed parties.

In a move to intimidate dissent, the LTTE timed its murder of Rajani Thiranagama on 21st September 1989, to just after India announced its troop pull-out. The Sri Lankan Government which had armed the LTTE had also come to an arrangement to allow them a free run in the North-East while maintaining services and nominal sovereignty. The compromise deal with the Premadasa government could neither however, contain the LTTE’s ideological pretensions to total power, nor allow it to justify the fragile prize it got in return for all the sufferings it inflicted on the Tamil people.

The day after Rajani was killed; her body was brought to the University. While we were waiting in front of the Common Room, Senthan came up to me. He told me that Sritharan who was badly shaken by the event, appeared to be giving the impression that it was the Indian Army or their allies who had committed the murder. He told me emphatically that this would be to play into the hands of those who sought to exonerate the LTTE. I soon found that such a fear was unfounded. A well-known LTTE spy asked Sritharan, who committed the crime? Sritharan pointed to a group of LTTE supporters and asked him to go and inquire from them.

I was out of Jaffna when the LTTE returned to war with the Sri Lankan Government in June 1990. Meanwhile, the LTTE had begun its assault on dissidents. Sritharan wanted me to stay in Colombo and publish the reports he sent me. In September 1990 Sritharan had to go into hiding in the face of LTTE attempts to arrest him. Senthan was among those who gave him shelter and helped him to escape to Colombo in the disguise of a lorry cleaner. Subsequently LTTE intelligence traced nearly all those who had aided the escape and imprisoned them for several months but had not subjected them to the grievous torture experienced by other prisoners.

Several prisoners held with them were killed. Among them were Manoharan and Chelvi, two students who helped the work of the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) of which Rajani was co-founder. As the Indian Army was departing in late 1989, the LTTE had moved in with the Sri Lankan Government’s blessing and recruited many children from the age of ten upwards, besides making political arrests. Once it resumed the war in June 1990, the child recruits were used in highly wasteful military operations. An account of the plight of the injured children was sent to us in Colombo by Chelvi and Manoharan, which appeared in UTHR (J) Report 6 of 4th February 1991.

Kalpana Isaac, who was a journalist at Lake House was reading our report, when the editor H.L.D. Mahindapala became curious. Evidently he showed it to President Premadasa and parts of it were published in the Sunday Observer. I then had no abode in Colombo and sometime stayed with Acca, a cousin who had moved to Colombo with her family. Her daughter worked in a communication centre that was frequented by Varathan, a businessman who had come to know her brother Ravi in the transport business. I met Varathan a few times in Acca’s home, but we exchanged no words. By the time our report appeared in the Observer I was staying with Sritharan and Senthan’s sister Vasantha, who had just married. My wife had gone to Jaffna to be with her ailing mother.

Acca was one who would have no truck with violence in any guise, and she never encouraged Varathan, whose coming there in itself probably had no sinister ring. After the Observer feature made its appearance, he took Acca by surprise, speaking to her angrily about me and the UTHR(J). That was the first time Acca took alarm that Varathan may be more than a businessman. She made the only threat within the power of a helpless, but defiant, Vadamaratchi matron. She told him that if anything happened to me, he would not see her alive again.

As it turned out Varathan had far bigger fish in mind. On 21st June 1991, a suicide car bomb blew up at the Joint Operations Command in Colombo. Varathan later committed suicide to evade arrest. Acca’s daughter, who worked at the communications centre which Varathan visited, was detained and released after several months. Her son Ravi, a harmless and obliging youth, who lived with a cousin in Jaffna, disappeared after the Army took over in 1995.

The Observer feature above became an issue at a meeting of the University of Jaffna Council which, out of the blue, gave vacation of post notices to me and Sritharn in early May 1991. On 15th April 1992 the LTTE had arrested Senthan. They had been cautious about arresting him because of his fame as an engineer, besides being among the exceptional few that could contribute to an expansion of Jaffna’s industrial base.

 

Senthan’s prison term

Senthan was placed under the top level intelligence leader Kapil Amman, who did not torture him but kept tapping him with a stick to make him feel small and at his mercy. In the course of interrogation, Senthan had told him candidly that he had given shelter to Sritharan and helped him to escape. He explained that his intention in doing so was to save life, and if he, Kapil Amman, were in a similar plight he would have done the same for him, as he would for any human being. I knew generally about the imprisonment from Senthan. His assistant, who had been close to him for many years, told me that after the conversation mentioned, Kapil Amman was touched and sought to release Senthan. He must also have been conscious of internal splits within the LTTE as had led to Mahattaya’s arrest. He asked Senthan to write directly to the Leader. Senthan was dropped off at home during the Nallur festival in August.

 

Getting over isolation

Those of us who formed the UTHR(J) in 1988 had chosen it to be a non-violent witness that spoke the truth impartially in defence of the community. But living in a violent environment we could not afford isolation. Soon after the University reopened in 1988 after the Indian Army offensive, on the initiative of Rajani and Sritharan we sought a meeting between members of the staff and the Indian Army, where Rajani placed the civilian case forcefully. We had moved beyond the earlier phase where the University was a passive spectator. The LTTE was alarmed. It only wanted university academics as cheerleaders, to which it returned after it killed Rajani and the students she had inspired.

It was our turn to feel isolated and uncertain after her murder. At this point we received important moral support and help from Senthan and several former leftist militants who had been associated with Visvanandadevan, the engineer I mentioned earlier, whom Sritharan and I both knew at the University of Ceylon. They formed a small group, the NLFT. I came to know Vivekanandan (Anton) at Senthan’s office. Anton, who was arrested by the LTTE in September 1990, later escaped with a member of the PLOTE and disappeared after being caught. The LTTE considered them a political threat and was responsible for several disappearances among them even though they had settled down to normal civilian life. Anton had just married.

Some of them concluded that rather than trying to lead a normal life and get picked off one by one, as happened to Anton, the only option for them was to kill Prabhakaran. Such a decision was not our choice, but it was an honourable choice when peaceful resistance was closed. They did not want to approach the Sri Lankan forces for help. Some had talks with the EPDP and other Tamil groups, and having reached a dead end went abroad.

It was ridiculous to profess non-violence when offering no resistance. We owed respect to those who took up arms to defend a life of freedom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Letters and Papers from Prison, which was gifted to me by our Dutch friend Ben Bavinck, made a strong impression on me. Although Bonhoeffer’s actions were non-violent, he was charged and executed for links to Admiral Wilhelm Canaris’ group that made a failed attempt on Hitler’s life. Professing Gandhian non-violence had become a form of escape from responsibility in our context.

Senthan’s and Sritharan’s influence and contacts, something that Rajani would have fully approved, led to our having individual links and friendships with several former militants from the NLFT and EPRLF (Padmanabha) on the basis of shared political and social objectives, as a means of furthering our human rights work. Among those from the EPRLF were T. Subathiran, T. Sritharan, Thurairatnam and Kirupa.

 

Hypocrisy the greatest evil

My wife and I made personal contact with Senthan when we spent about three weeks in Jaffna in 1997 and had several long conversations with him. Subathiran was among those we met. One of the main themes Senthan raised then and subsequently is the enormous evil that stems not from sins of the flesh, but from hypocrisy.

In the vast world of knowledge and exploration, a good university degree is just a token of learning, a foundation to be built upon lifelong. However, Senthan pointed out, many waste their energy extrapolating on ancestry and origins on a very weak factual basis, leading to an arid intellectual climate of chauvinism and intolerance.

Our politics, Senthan explained, takes over from here. The hypocritical notion of Tamil purity taken over from parliamentary politics was imposed at gunpoint by the LTTE. Ideological impurity is in particular the mark of a traitor.

One area where Senthan saw hypocrisy institutionalising itself in the name of purity pertained to marriage, something that is natural, but the LTTE’s earlier rules enforced formal celibacy, even as deviations of the leaders were known inside and frequently outside the organisation, in some instances to the point of notoriety. When the Leader married a girl kidnapped from a protest fast in 1984, some who questioned his breach of his own rule left the organisation in fear for their life. An instance of hypocrisy combined with inhumanity that Senthan found characteristic was: The only daughter of a retired post-master from Valvettithurai, and her boy-friend, both LTTEers, were sentenced to death and executed for a love affair in a sentry bunker. This was long after the Leader’s marriage, by when the ban on marriage had been lifted.

Senthan knew at first hand the perils that confronted people in the North-East. Travelling by bus in the mid-1980s to meet his brother who was a medical officer in Pottuvil, the atmosphere was menacing when a soldier put him down from the bus. He is convinced he escaped with his life only because he paid humble obeisance to the soldier. The following, both pithy and ironical, on the plight of the people was published in my Arrogance of Power (Ch.22) in 2001:

[Senthan] was cycling to Jaffna through the Ooriyan passage, east of Elephant Pass, in the early 1990s. It was past mid-night when he passed an LTTE sentry. A child in uniform was sharing a gun with an older boy. Apart from the gun, the one mark of adulthood in the child was his wrist-watch. The man asked the child the time. After a pause, the child replied, “Seven-five”. The man knew instantly that the time was one-thirty five AM! Such innocents were the first to be killed whenever the Army made a foray.

That was part of the terrible price exacted from the weak whose true plight was distorted to uphold the purity of an elite segment.



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War: We are not children

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By Gwynne Dyer

“We appear to be witnessing a dramatic and childlike scenario,” said Pope Francis, in Bahrain, recently. “In the garden of humanity, instead of cultivating our surroundings, we are playing, instead, with fire, missiles and bombs, weapons that bring sorrow and death, covering our common home with ashes and hatred.”

It’s Pope Francis’s job to say things like that, and he does it with sincerity and grace. He condemned the “childlike” whims of “a few potentates” to make war, and everybody thought that sounded fine, although nobody mentioned any names. (Hint: the name of the chief offending ‘potentate’ of the moment starts with ‘P’.)

But here’s the question. Are you a child? Well, do you at least think like a child? Are you ignorant and powerless? Three times ‘no’?

Well, then, if you are a responsible adult, what did you do the last time your country went to war? (If you belong to the minority whose country hasn’t gone to war since you have been alive, you may skip this question – or just use your imagination.)

The reason war is always with us is not an endless supply of evil potentates with childlike whims. It is an endless supply of human beings, most of whom don’t even have evil in their hearts.What they do have, in full measure, is a basic culture, older than our species itself, that sees war as natural and necessary (at least when our side does it). There are sometimes clear aggressors and defenders, of course, but the roles swap around regularly and the game never stops.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wouldn’t agree with me, but he only knew the most recent three thousand years of human history. We know about our distant pre-history, and we also know about our primate relatives (especially the chimpanzees), and that has taught us something very important. Human beings didn’t invent war. They inherited it.

In the mid-20th century, the belief that human beings lived in peace before the advent of civilisation began to crumble before the anthropologists’ evidence that warfare was chronic and almost universal among hunter-gatherers. We are all descended from hunter-gatherers.

Then, in the 1970s, primatologist Jane Goodall, studying chimpanzees in Tanzania, discovered that neighbouring chimp bands fought wars with each other. It was low-level war, conducted entirely by many-on-one ambushes, but later research revealed that the male death toll from war averaged 30% per generation, and sometimes entire bands were wiped out.

The reason for this may lie in evolutionary biology. The world has always been pretty full up, and when a given region’s food sources grow scarcer – a drought, a flood, a change in animal migration routes – some of the local inhabitants are going to starve.If you’re a territorial animal that lives in groups, then it pays off in the long run to whittle way at the population of the neighbouring groups. When a crunch time arrives, your more numerous group will be able to drive away, or kill off, the neighbouring band and use its resources as well as your own.

Chimps did not think this strategy up, or choose it. Neither did human beings. Many other group-living predators have the same strategy: lions, hyenas, wolves. Traits like aggressiveness will vary between individuals, but if aggression brings advantages, evolution will work in favour of it.

So here we are, a very long time later, stuck with a deeply embedded traditional behaviour that no longer serves our purposes well. In fact, it might even wipe us out. What can we do about it?

There’s no point in yearning for some universal Gandhi who will change the human heart. He doesn’t exist, and anyway it’s not hearts that need to change. It’s human institutions.

Actually, almost all the military and diplomatic professionals already know that. Even a lot of the politicians understand it, and in the past century – say, since about the middle of the First World War – a great deal of effort has gone into taming war and building institutions that can replace it.

That was what the League of Nations was about. It’s what the United Nations is about, and arms control measures, and international criminal courts to try people who start an aggressive war, starting with the Nuremberg trials in 1945. It’s a work in progress, but there has been a steep and steady decline in the scale and frequency of wars in the last 50 years.

The work is far from finished, and the return of great-power war – with nuclear weapons this time – is an ever-present risk. But nuclear war is not just a threat. It’s also a huge incentive to bring this ancient institution under control, and ultimately to abolish it.And a little prayer along the way probably wouldn’t do any harm.

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IMF-led privatisation, land and resource grab in Sri Lanka

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BY DR. Asoka Bandarage

On September 1, 2022, debt-trapped Sri Lanka reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a 48-month Extended Fund Facility of $2.9 billion, which hardly covers the country’s outstanding debt, nor its immediate survival needs. Nevertheless, IMF structural adjustment requires the country to meet its familiar debt restructuring conditions: privatisation of state-owned enterprises, cutbacks of social safety nets and alignment of local economic policy with US and other Western interests. There are already signs that these policies would be detrimental to the well-being of ordinary Sri Lankans and the sovereignty of the country and will inevitably lead to more wealth disparity and repeat debt crises.

The most important source of generating state revenue identified in the 2023 Sri Lanka budget is the privatisation of SOEs (State Owned Enterprises), a primary strategy of IMF structural adjustment and neoliberal economics. The 2023 Sri Lankan budget states:

“The government is currently maintaining 420 State-owned enterprises. 52 of these generate over Rs. 86 Billion in losses… A Unit has now been established at the Ministry of Finance with the specific task of restructuring SOEs. Initially, measures will be taken to restructure Sri Lankan Airlines, Sri Lanka Telecom, Colombo Hilton, Waters Edge, and Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC) along with its subsidiaries, the proceeds of which will be used to strengthen foreign exchange reserves of the country, and strengthening the Rupee.”

The left-wing and nationalist Bandaranaike governments established many SOEs between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, many of them import substitution industries to replace foreign imports with domestic production. Many SOEs were privatised after the introduction of the Open Economy in 1977, and privatisation (or commercialisation) has continued steadily since then, with successive governments selling SOEs outright or turning them into Public Private Partnerships (PPP).

There are 55 strategic SOEs, 287 SOEs with commercial interests and 185 SOEs with non-commercial interests in Sri Lanka. The 55 strategically important SOEs are estimated to employ around 1.9 percent of the country’s labor force. The total state sector workforce is estimated to be about 1.4 million people, which accounts for over one in six of the country’s total workforce. Many Sri Lankans prefer to work for the government sector given job security, retirement and other benefits. There are concerns that “…privatisation can result in lower salaries and benefits as well as retrenchment and high employee turnover,” and that privatising SOEs that enjoy monopolies can result in “corporations making decisions based on profits rather than on public benefit.”

Unlike the private sector, many of the SOEs in Sri Lanka have powerful trade unions, with workers of different skills and professional levels, which have fought for workers’ rights and the country’s sovereignty for decades. Privatisation is likely to lead to the elimination of many trade unions, strikes and other forms of labor resistance. In October 2022, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers held a protest strike against the proposed privatisation of the CPC. Similarly, 1200 union workers of the Government Press plant – also targeted for privatisation and cutbacks in wages, work conditions and jobs – went on strike in November 2022.

The CPC, a vital enterprise in the island’s oil supply and energy security, has been targeted for privatization under the IMF restructuring programme. Lanka India Oil Company (LIOC), China’s Sinopec, Petroleum Development Oman and Shell have expressed interest in this deal. It is important to note that, in the name of privatisation, the CPC is being handed over to state owned enterprises of powerful foreign countries. The parent company of LIOC is the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOC) which is owned by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas of India. Similarly, Sinopec Group is the world’s largest oil refining, gas and petrochemical conglomerate and is wholly owned by the Chinese state; and Petroleum Development Oman is owned by the Government of Oman, Royal Dutch Shell, Total Energies and Partex.

Parasites and Vultures of Privatization

Sri Lanka must take lessons from privatisation episodes in other parts of the world. According to a 2016 study, ‘The Privatising Industry in Europe’ by the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, privatisation in Europe has failed to produce the expected revenue as only “profitable firms are being sold and consistently at undervalued prices.” The study notes that privatised firms are no more efficient than state-owned firms and that, under the rubric of privatisation, many European energy companies in Portugal, Greece and Italy, have been sold off to state-owned corporations from China. The Study also states that privatisation in Europe has “encouraged a growth in corruption, with frequent cases of nepotism and conflicts of interest” in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the UK.

We must also be vigilant for conflicts of interest in such large deals involving public money and wellbeing. For example, the financial and legal advisory firms Clifford Chance and Lazard have been hired by the Sri Lankan government to assist with IMF debt restructuring. The Transnational Institute Study lists Clifford Chance as part of a small group of privatisation advisory law firms, with annual revenues of more than a billion Euros, “reaping huge profits from the new wave of crisis-prompted privatisations.”

Lazard is reputed to be both “the number one sovereign advisory firm” and “the world’s largest privatisation advisory player.” Lazard’s operational global headquarters are in New York City, but the company is officially incorporated in Bermuda – always a warning sign when it comes to (lack of) financial ethics. In previous government advisory contracts, Lazard has taken advantage of its prominent position by involving itself not only its advisory services branch, but also its asset management branch. According to the Study, “Upon the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of important state companies, Lazard has on a number of occasions undervalued the price of a company, which has allowed its asset management branch to buy up the stock at low prices which have then been sold for considerable profit when stock prices soared.”

The practice of both advising on processes of privatisation and then profiting from that advice, raises ethical questions about Lazard. Questions are also raised about the entire global financial industry responsible for creating debt crises in the first place, and then finding devious ways to benefit from them, at the expense of debt-trapped countries.

Despite such serious concerns over privatisation, there is now an enormous push by local and international actors that the solution to Sri Lanka’s debt and economic crises is to privatise the remaining SOEs, and no doubt a select few profit greatly in the process.

A key local player in this is the Sri Lankan NGO, the Advocata Institute in Colombo, which is associated with the Mont Pelerin Society and the Atlas Network and their neoliberal agenda. Advocata is spearheading a major campaign to convince the public that privatisation of SOEs is the path to ‘reset Sri Lanka’ for solvency and prosperity. The ‘Great Sri Lanka Fire Sale’ of state owned enterprises and strategic assets is now on, with huge returns expected for colluding local and global financial and corporate elites and pauperisation for ordinary people.

Land Privatization

One key state-owned resource at risk is land, such that commoditising state-owned land is a major aspect of privatisation in Sri Lanka. Not only the land, but water – indispensable for survival of life on Earth – is threatened by privatisation and commoditisation in Sri Lanka and around the world.

This is not new; privatising and commoditising state land for export production has been going on in Sri Lanka since the British colonial era. Although the more recent neoimperial US Millennium Corporation Compact agenda, initiated under George W. Bush in 2002, has not been officially signed by Sri Lanka, contemporary Sri Lankan governments have been advancing its agenda of privatising state land to prioritise export production over local food production, despite rising prices of imported food and the food crisis facing the country.

Two very important proposals in this regard have been slipped into the 2023 budget proposals without public discussion. Firstly, Clause 12.1 on ‘Lands for Agricultural Exports’ states:

“A vast amount of land belonging to Janatha Estate Development Board [EDB), Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SPC), and Land Reform Commission (LRC) remains without being cultivated or productively utilized for a long time, ….. Accordingly, a programme will be devised to allow investors to productively utilise them in a manner to increase both the production and exports. Hence, it is expected that large parcels of unutilised/unproductively used lands will be leased out on long-term basis to grow exportable crops…”

Secondly, Clause 13.1 of the 2023 Budget on ‘Disposal of Government Lands’ states:

“…activities related to the disposal of government lands are carried out by District Secretaries/Government Agents through Divisional Secretaries/ Additional Government Agents…, , such duties were also allocated to Sri Lanka Mahaweli Authority and Land Reform Commission which were established for special requirements at a later stage…there are occurrences of discrimination and malpractice as …activities related to disposal of lands … Therefore…, a programme will be prepared during the next year to enable preliminary activities in relation to disposal of all government lands including the disposal of lands under the above two institutes only by the Divisional Secretaries.”

Nationalist members of Parliament and the Federation of National Organizations have criticised the move to place state land under Divisional Secretaries as a ploy for land grabbing, and that the move to deliberately privatise state land may have ‘irrevocable consequences.’ While recognising the need to reform the existing Land Reform Commission, they point out that solely empowering Divisional Secretaries would encourage partisan land distribution. The 2023 Budget seems to put the MCC Compact into effect although activists challenging the Compact have warned of a neocolonial agenda for a massive modern-day land grab, displacement and peasant pauperization.

There is great concern over the legitimacy of crucial land and other privatisation decisions taken by President Wickremesinghe as neither he nor his United National (UNP) Party have a mandate to do so from the people. The land, the ports and the state enterprises do not belong to politicians but to the people and to future generations of Sri Lankans. Clearly, there needs to be careful deliberation of alternatives before the IMF dictated ‘Great Sri Lanka Fire Sale’ is allowed to proceed.

(COURTESY ASIA TIMES)

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A simple lesson in arithmetic on electricity sector

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By Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe
parajayasinghe@gmail.com

In February this year, I published an article titled, Sri Lankan Electricity Sector – The Headless Chicken (https://www.ft.lk/columns/Sri-Lankan-electricity-sector-The-headless-chicken/4-730564), and that was before Sri Lanka faced an unprecedented shortage of transport fuels, and long queues. The damage caused to the economy by diverting some 75% of the oil supplies to electricity generation is yet to be properly assessed. Therefore any observer including the smallest electricity consumer would agree with the above assessment, considering the sorry state that the once proud electricity sector has deteriorated to. This is by no means a sudden problem, but a repetition year after year even giving a new interpretation to what is meant by “Emergency Power”.

That Sri Lanka is subject to a dry spell every year from January to April does not require elaboration. However, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has chosen to ignore this reality and continues to do nothing to anticipate or mitigate the recurring problem year after year. Its solution has been to deploy costly emergency power generation, using imported oil. ignoring the very high cost of generation and as happened this year and the grave impact on the transport sector.

With the good fortune of more than usual rainfall, lasting beyond the southwest monsoon, the use of oil for power generation has been minimal over the past several months and the power cuts, too, have been limited to two hours per day. But, how long will that euphoria of ample hydro power last? Is there any possibility at all of the January to April dry spell not materialising?

The abyss facing us in a few short months

Maybe, Sri Lankans have already forgotten the miles long fuel queues. This story is set to be repeated in early 2023, too, with the Chairman of CEB, having already approved 100 MW of emergency power. In the meanwhile, the new long-term electricity generation plan (LTEGP 2023-2042 ) recently discussed at a public stake holder meeting proposes addition of 320 MW of emergency power now given a new name of “Short Term Supplementary Power”, nevertheless operated using expensive oil imported using the meager dollars resources, borrowed from increasingly reluctant lenders.

Sri Lanka paid a hefty sum in demurrages for the shipment of crude oil recently, which was lying in the out harbour for 56 days due to lack of dollars to pay for it. Where are the dollars coming from to pay for the proposed emergency power once the rains cease? The grave question of adequate supplies of coal to keep Norochcholai operational is hanging above us which will make the situation unbearable.These are the circumstances which prompted the tittle of this article.

The numbers game

The CEB is fond of pinning the blame on the government for the continual losses they make year after year, claiming that its income is based on tariffs determined by others, and they are inadequate to cover the costs. This is only part of the story. The average income to the CEB thereby was about Rs 16.50 per unit whereas the average cost of generation continued to increase and was of the order of Rs 23.00 per unit before Covid-19 and the subsequent economic meltdown. As such the CEB losses kept mounting, as shown in Tables 1 and 2.

The annual losses per unit borne by the consumers

The Accumulated loss over this 10 year period is Rs. 484 Billion, with the rare instance of marginal profit in the year 2015.All of these losses were covered by the Treasury or are accumulated as bad debts in the two state banks and the CPC. This in other words means that the consumers at all levels have in reality paid an additional amount for every unit consumed.

However, why didn’t the CEB, or the Ministry of Power and Energy, or even the Treasury ask why the cost of generation cannot be lowered?So, my first lesson in Arithmetic is this; if ‘A’ is the cost of generation and ‘B’ the income, and if A >> B resulting in a negative value for C being the loss, and if A cannot be increased at will, why not lower B?

The CEB’s answer would be to say that its proposals for adding more coal power which in their books is the cheapest source of electricity was not permitted. The fact that coal is to be imported with dollars and the rupee continued to be depreciated and we have no control on the price of coal, does not enter into their reasoning. This is to be expected as their long term generation plans are based on the assumption that the price of coal does not change and the rupee does not depreciate. With that kind of mindset it is futile to continue this discussion with the CEB. Obviously they are also blind to the vast strides made the world over, where by many cheaper options for power generation have now been commercialized. Is this driven by pure ignorance, or willful misinterpretation of the realities of the sector or just lack of competence of the CEB engineers making decisions, are the unanswered questions, but with the net result of the present calamity faced by the nation.

The role of the Ministry of Power and Energy and the Treasury

But what about their superiors in the Ministry of Power and the custodians of the public purse in the Treasury? Do they, too, lack the simple knowledge in evaluating this equation and asking the obvious questions? In fact, I would lay the greater blame on the Ministry and the Treasury, for permitting the CEB to perpetrate this deception year after year, with total disregard for the interest of the country and its people. This blame is not limited to the present admiration, but must be laid at the feet of all previous regimes who also turned a blind eye on this problem for whatever reason.

The net result of this collective lack of accountability and blatant violation of responsibilities has been the current disaster and the even greater disaster waiting to unfold shortly. The disaster that would occur in early 2023, as the price of coal has sky rocketed and the best price quoted in the recent tender was $ 325 per ton. As such the line on coal has now got to be removed from the category of low cost generation in the CEB projection. (See Tables 03 and 04)

The Relative Costs prevailing prior to 2020 shown above clearly shows that even then the cheapest option was RE. This is the historical data before Sri Lanka faced the current crisis. However, it is interesting to see below the analysis of actual cost of coal power issued by the PUCSL in 2020. The myth of cheap electricity has been clearly debunked. Matters have worsened since then. The estimates revealed at the recent TV programme are shown below. The recent news items in Economy Next (22nd Nov 2022) tells the true story

” CEB loses Rs 108 bn up to August 22″

(See Table 05) With both escalated purchase prices of oil and coal the true cost of coal power would now reach over Rs 65 /kWh and that of oil over Rs 120/kWh, the prognosis for the next year is indeed alarming. Of the many NCRE options, which averaged only Rs 14.81 , well below the average income of the CEB, the true cause of this alarming loss is clear from the above chart.

It is time for the next lesson.

It is quite on the cards that the CEB loss will exceed Rs. 150 Billion for the year 2022. Thus based on the expected generation less than 15,000 GWhThe loss per kWh = 150,000,000,000/ 15,000,000,000 = Rs 10.00

This is not included in the monthly electricity bill even after the increased consumer tariff.So who bears this cost? You guessed it. The consumers including those consuming a mere 30 units a month and up to those consuming 3000 units a month in equal measure.

What awaits us round the corner?

In this light it was a breath of fresh air to note that Sri Lanka managed even for a few days with very little oil based generation in the past months, courtesy of the weather gods. However, this euphoria will be short lived and the rains are already dwindling. The damage is worsened by the fact that the cost of generation using oil and coal has reached such levels , so that any right minded admiration would shut down such plants immediately and seek whatever sustainable means of bridging the gap. (See Table 06)

Estimated generation cost for year 2023

These numbers are generally in line with those presented in the TV programme where the cost was predicted as Rs 900 Billion.So I dare not perform the next calculation of the loss per kWh which the consumers will have to bear albeit indirectly. That is unless something rational is done without any further delay.

The options available

Fortunately for Sri Lanka we have ample means of doing so, which does not result in continuous drain of Dollars and has the benefit of many other economic advantages. More details of these options have been submitted to the officials who hopefully would advise their political masters of the lack of any other alternative. This is where the third lesson in arithmetic becomes important. It was revealed that based on the current projections the total cost for the CEB in year 2023 is estimated as Rs 900 Billion. They cannot hope to get even 50% of that even with the recent 75% increase in consumer tariff resulting in a projected loss of over Rs. 450 Billion.

Who will bear this cost? What will that do to our balance of payments and the parity rate if it is also to be funded by the treasury? We will be entering a positive feed back loop in financial terms, the result of which the CEB engineers talking about stability of systems should understand.But what are those who are expected to mange the energy sector and more importantly the treasury which has blindly covered all the massive losses incurred by the CEB in past will at least now take some decisive actions.

Having wasted many years by obstructing the development of the Renewable Energy Sector, the options for any short term interventions are now limited to the Roof Top Solar systems. It is on record that with the help of the Surya Bala Sangraamaya which provided some degree of safety against those hellbent on disrupting it, some 650 MW of roof top solar has been now grid connected. Even now adding a further 100 MW at least in the next six months is technically possible if the authorities can do another simple sum in Arithmetic. (See Table 07)

It is seen that the average cost of generation would now be around Rs 62.00 per unit, if the present price of coal and oil stays and the rupee does not deteriorate any further. Also considering that what is even more important to consider is the availability of FOREX for the import of coal and oil, the decision on the tariff payable for the Roof Top solar, being the only short term solution should be against the cost of generation using coal and oil.

In this regard the industry experts have made detailed submissions that, under prevailing financial and economic considering the viable tariff to attract any investor to this sector would be Rs 50.00 – Rs 60.00 per unit based on size of installation. Naturally this could come down as hopefully the Sri Lankan economy improves in the coming years. But can we afford to wait till then. The alternative is to use emergency power costing more than double. So the simple question to be asked is , which number is higher?

Cost of Solar RT of Rs 50.00 per kWh or Cost of Coal of Rs 65.00 per kWh, (If we manage to buy some coal, which too is in doubt), and Cost of Solar RT of Rs 50.00 per kWh or Cost of Oil of Rs 120.00 per kWh Isn’t there any one at the CEB, PUCSL, or the Ministry of Power or The Ministry of Finance who can do these simple sums?

Unless there is some sanity even at this late hour to realize that the CEB must secure it energy by focusing on the facilitation of the indigenous, renewable sources of energy, which does not depend on imported fuels of any kind, Sri Lanka is rushing towards a disaster on unimaginable proportions in a few short months. Don’t be surprised if a further consumer tariff increase is round the corner and worse still the possible resumption of the petrol and diesel queues before long.

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