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Now, electricity consumers entitled to interest on LECO deposits

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Rathindra Kuruwita

The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) responsible for protecting the rights of electricity consumers in the country, together with the electricity service providers yesterday (7) affirmed a unique right for electricity consumers.

PUCSL Chairman Janaka Ratnayake told an event held at the BMICH that the regulator PUCSL together with Electricity Utility Provider, Lanka Electricity Company Private Limited (LECO) had launched an Interest Payment scheme for Electricity Security Deposits for LECO consumers.

Over Rs. 1.2 billion would be paid back to electricity consumers annually by the distribution licensee, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) Janaka Ratnayake said yesterday at an event in Colombo to mark the commencement of payment of interest on electricity consumer deposits.

 When a person obtained an electricity connection from the CEB, he or she had to place a deposit at the regional CEB engineering office. As per Sri Lanka Electricity Act, No. 20 of 2009, the CEB had to pay consumers an interest on those deposits. Section 28.3 of the act says ‘(3) Where any sum of money is provided to a distribution licensee by way of security in pursuance of this section, the licensee (CEB) shall pay interest on such sum of money at such rate as may from time to time be fixed by the licensee with the approval of the Commission (PUCSL), for the period in which it remains in the hands of the licensee.’ It is estimated that there is over Rs. 25 billion of such deposits with the CEB.

The following is the text of Ratnayake’s speech: We have taken the steps to protect the rights of electricity consumers since the inception of the Commission in accordance with the powers vested in it. We have published the Declaration of the Rights and Obligations of Electricity Consumers and many regulatory decisions to protect the rights contained therein and to protect consumers. More than 20 different regulations, rules and guidelines have been enacted to protect consumers.

Payment of interest on electricity consumer deposits declared today is a benefit provided to the consumer under Section 28 of the Sri Lanka Electricity Act. Cooperation between the various parties were required to implement such a benefit. In the recent past, steps were taken to implement this interest rate scheme. Section 28 of the Sri Lanka Electricity Act stipulates that an electricity consumer must be paid interest on the security deposit paid by his client company or licensee.

The implementation of the decision to pay interest benefits was delayed due to various issues such as determining the interest to be paid and resolving issues.

But today we have been able to solve all those problems and The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka has developed a methodology for determining interest rates in an accepted and transparent manner.

The Commission recently decided that the interest rate for this year would be 8.68 per cent. Licensed companies that provide electricity services based on that interest must calculate the interest benefit and pay it to their customers. Starting today the consumers will be able to get this unique benefit scheme.

Lanka Electricity (Pvt) Ltd, a distribution licensee, will start paying interest to its customers from today. LECO alone will pay Rs. 42 million annually to its customers as a benefit through the interest payment benefit on customer deposits.

We hope that in the future other licensees will implement this interest payment programme. When other electricity distribution licensees also implement this interest benefit scheme in the future, around Rs. 1,200 million will flow into the hands of electricity consumers annually.

On the one hand, it is a huge subsidy flowing to the country’s economy through the power industry. The Commission will also implement regulatory measures to meet the aspirations of the licensees to maintain a high quality and efficient electricity service.

The Commission was established in 2002 to regulate the multi-faceted industries of the country. The regulatory powers of the electricity industry were vested in the Sri Lanka Electricity Act passed by Parliament in 2009. Since then, the Commission has initiated the economic, technological and security regulation of the power industry.

Initially, the Commission was to be empowered to regulate the electricity industry and the water services industry. Later the petroleum industry was also listed as an area regulated by the Commission. Acts authorizing the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka to regulate the water services and petroleum industries have not yet come into force.

Once we gain the powers through acts to regulate those industries, we are ready to initiate regulatory activities in the water services and petroleum industries to protect consumers.

The Commission has also been appointed as the regulatory body for the lubricant market in Sri Lanka and we provide the necessary advice and assistance to the Ministry of Energy for the promotion of the lubricant market.

Also, the Commission has been entrusted with the regulation of electric vehicle charging stations. We also have plans to expand the network of electric vehicle charging stations to protect the rights of electric vehicle owners.

This year, we are also implementing a programme to enhance the quality of professionals in the electricity sector and ensure the maintenance of high-security electricity service. At present, nearly 45,000 people are working as electricians in the country. Only by standardizing these people can the quality of home electrical systems in our country be guaranteed.

We have also paved the way for these electricians to be recognized nationally and internationally. The National Electrician Licensing Scheme prepared by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka will be introduced from this year. To obtain this license, we have implemented an expeditious process of awarding at least the 3rd level of National Vocational Qualification or NVQ 3 Certificate.

Under this expeditious programme, 2500 electricians will be issued NVQ 3 qualification and professional licenses by next July. The awarding of the license and NVQ 3 certificates to the first group of professional electricians is scheduled to take place next June under the patronage of His Excellency the President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Over the next few years, we look forward to implementing special programmes for the advancement of all sectors under the purview of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka. Licensing licensees who provide utility services under our regulation are also required to improve in their respective fields.

We hope they will work with us to set the tone”.



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Toxic coconut oil scare trigger public wave of fear over aflatoxins in foodstuffs

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People now wary of buying certain products

By Suresh Perera

In the backdrop of a top official of Sri Lanka’s key standards body coming under heavy flak over her controversial claim that several other consumer commodities also contain toxic substances, public apprehension has shifted to many other products in the market following a wave of fear triggered over cancer-causing free radicals in foodstuffs, industry players said.

The Trade Ministry has already initiated a disciplinary inquiry into the assertion by Dr. Siddhika Senaratne, the Director-General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), that aflatoxins are also found in certain other food items sold to the public.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops.

As the SLSI scientist’s remarks during a television talk show ignited an uproar following the seizure of imported stocks of contaminated coconut oil, industry officials said that customers are now wary of purchasing certain food products as the social media, rightly or wrongly, painted a frightening picture, they said.

A committee will be appointed to examine Dr. Senaratne’s statement to ascertain the validity or otherwise of her claim of the presence of aflatoxins in some food products in the marketplace, authoritative sources said.

Though the Director-General didn’t identify any of the “toxic products” she claimed were being sold to consumers, her statement unleashed a cycle of fear and uncertainty as consumers, influenced largely by social media reports and hearsay, viewed many brands with suspicion, the sources noted.

However, there has been no credible scientific evidence so far to prove that products identified on social media contain carcinogenic properties, they said.

Dr. Senaratne’s contention was that identifying products with toxic substances could lead to the collapse of some local industries. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has been informed to take up the issue with the relevant manufacturers for remedial action, she said.

It is no secret that many mills use copra with fungus to extract coconut oil. The perishable copra is dried outdoors but there is no proper cleaning of the fungi, which are common under tropical and sub-tropical conditions, before the oil is extracted, industry officials said.

Has it been established whether the shiny wax coating used on apples as an oxygen barrier to preserve freshness, particularly in consignments imported from China, belong to the safe food grade material?, they asked.

In the case of apples imported to Sri Lanka from the USA, the whole process of orchard to point of landing take many weeks. It is true that fruits are stored in cold rooms to preserve quality and slow the aging process by regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. However, the question arises whether there are accredited processes to monitor the agro chemical and other toxic levels in imported apples and other varieties of fruits before permitting the stocks to be released to the local market, they noted.

Hoppers are a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, but it’s common knowledge that many wayside eateries introduce plaster of paris (a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder known as calcium sulfate hemihydrate) to the batter to keep them fresh and crispy, the officials asserted.

“This is because customers insist on freshly baked hoppers and as a result, those that have gone flat cannot be sold”, they said.

Cleanliness of eateries is being monitored to some extent, but are there any quality checks for toxicity on the food served to customers?, they queried.

After the contaminated coconut oil scandal surfaced, people are reluctant to even buy traditional oil-based sweetmeats from the marketplace, they further said.

Unlike earlier years, there is a slump in sweetmeat sales, a supermarket official said. “Customers are wary about toxic coconut oil in the market”.

 

 

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Ceyleon Solutions launch Sparetime App to turn spare time into income

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Ceyleon Solutions, a leading mobile app solution provider, launched Sparetime (www.sparetime.lk), a special mobile app to make easy money using one’s spare time. This app helps to search for people providing domestic, official or personal services or earn an extra income by providing a wide range of services.

Services such as masonry, plumbing, computer related services, wholesale, distribution, medical & healthcare, teaching, legal, beauticians, cleaning, helping, babysitting and car wash can be either searched or provided using this app as it creates an online platform for such service providers and those who seek their services.

There are two apps compatible to android and apple phones, ‘Sparetime Provider’ for those who provide services and ‘Sparetime User’ for those who seek such services.

“This is an ideal option for those who find it difficult to make ends meet with their salaries. Using this app, they can make use of their spare time effectively to earn extra money. This creates a comprehensive service hub. For an example, a vegetable farmer can find both a whole seller and a transport service provider to transport his goods with just a click. Even students can find part time work for their financial needs”, said Chaminda De Silva, creator and owner of the Sparetime app.

“This app works as a platform for social workers to get together and mobilize people for tasks that they wish to perform. This is a very user friendly app. However, operating instructions can be obtained by calling our hotline 0706355450 or 0706355452. An instructor will come to help you if necessary”, he noted.

Regardless of being a service provider or a user, this app will be ideal. It will also pave the way to gradually reduce the unemployment rate in Sri Lanka and will subsequently contribute to the gross domestic product accelerating economic growth of Sri Lanka.

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“Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims; they hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes’

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Rishad Bathiudeen tells Parliament

The Muslims never called for separatism. The Muslims have been on the side of the nation for over 1,000 years in Sri Lanka as documented in the book of Dr. Lorna Devaraja titled, ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony’. Even when the Muslims were threatened with eviction or death from the North, they risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to be on the side of the State, Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, said.

Speaking in English during the fifth day of the debate on the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Attacks in Parliament on April 7, he said: “Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims. They hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes. The report in Page 94 confirms that Zahran wanted to build tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim Communities of Sri Lanka”.

The MP’s speech contained many points and references to matters in the report and events that transpired thereafter.

Some of the points raised by the MP were:

* The State is antagonizing the Muslim community in the manner that Zahran had wanted them to act. The State should not play to the tunes of Zahran. The State should not act in a way that would jeopardize national security. The State has already commenced the process of State sponsored oppression by prohibiting the import of Muslim books and are making plans to ban Niqabs/Burkas and Madrasas.

* The PCoI has exonerated Rishad Bathiudeen from all charges in connection with the Easter attacks. Only two charges remain to be investigated. First one is in relation to the phone call placed by Bathiudeen to then Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake, concerning Ihsan Moinudeen. Secondly, the sale of scrap metal by the Industrial Development Board to Colossus (Pvt) Ltd. Rishad Bathiudeen visited the Bribery Commission on 8th of April, 2021 to request them to investigate the allegation in the report.

 

* The weight placed on the phone call made by Rishad Bathiudeen to General Mahesh Senanayake, was given far higher significance in the report in comparison to the actions of Dayasiri Jayasekara who released six persons from the Hettipola Police Station who were involved in torching and destroying Muslim owned shops and Muslim places of worship. The Commission Report had recommended investigation into the phone call but had not charged Dayasiri on any matter.

 

* The Government cannot have a law banning the Niqab and Burka without also banning medical masks, helmets, sunglasses, etc.

* Restriction of Islamic books being brought into the country is a violation of the Constitution.

* Bathiudeen quoted Page 331 of the Report:‘Reciprocal radicalization is the cycle of radicalization which promotes each other’s radicalized ideologies’. If the Government can keep politicians like Wimal Weerawansa in check, the de-radicalization program will be half completed. He also said that inciting racism will only provoke and radicalize more Muslims.

 * Killing of Fouzul Ameer Mohamed Salley in Kottramulla before his children in the aftermath of the Easter Attacks, was Genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, and all persons who were inciting racism could be charged for incitement to genocide. Subsequent charges of oppression too can have a detrimental effect on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka must be careful as Sri Lanka is now a party to the Rome Statute and can be held accountable by the International Criminal Court.

 

* It was Azath Salley who indicated during a press conference concerning the criminal activities of Zahran Hashim in 2017, but he is alleged to have connections to the Easter Attacks. This is not fair. The Government is politically victimizing Muslims who are speaking up against the oppressive tactics of the Government.

* The One Country One Law Policy does not mean that Muslim Personal Laws alone should be targeted. Most people believe that Customary Laws should be removed. However, that logic would require the Government to abolish Provincial legislation too, as Provincial legislation is also territorially implemented and not countrywide. Several laws will have to be struck down. However, the right way of interpreting the One Country One Law policy would be to maintain all laws that are consistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

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