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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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Amendments to be incorporated into Colombo Port City Bill – GL

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris says amendments proposed by government lawyers in respect of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill submitted to the Supreme Court, through the Attorney General’s Department, would be incorporated into the Bill along with the amendments proposed by the Supreme Court.

Education Minister Peiris, one of the intervening parties in support of the Bill, says the government is confident of the passage of it in Parliament this week.

Prof. Peiris discussed the upcoming two-day debate on May 19 and 20 at the regular SLPP media briefing at their Nelum Mawatha Office in Battaramulla.

The former internationally distinguished law professor and Colombo University Vice Chancellor said that the government was determined to go ahead with the mega project as part of their overall efforts to attract investment. The Minister explained the need to go ahead with planned projects, regardless of difficulties caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic.

The Minister briefly described the procedures adopted in the passage of the Bill.

Petitioners that challenged the Bill included the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera represented by SLPP Colombo District lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC. Petitioners asked for the Bill to be approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and at a referendum.

The only MP other than former Justice Minister Rajapakse to express concern over some provisions in the Bill was Yuthukama leader and SLPP National List parliamentarian Gevindu Cumaratunga.

At the onset of the briefing Prof. Peiris said the government was continuing with a vaccination drive to bring the Covid-19 situation under control. The minister acknowledged the difficulty in procuring the required number of covishield doses for those who required the second dose. The SLPP Chairman said that the government was discussing the issue at hand with both governments and the private sector in a bid to obtain the required stock.

Prof. Peiris placed the shortage of covishield vaccines at over 400,000 whereas the health ministry earlier estimated the shortfall at over 600,000.

Minister Peiris acknowledged that a daily count of approximately 2,500 new Covid-19 cases was quite a challenge though the government sustained efforts to keep the situation under control.

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Covid patients to be treated at centres close to homes

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Those diagnosed with COVID-19 would be sent to treatment centres and Intermediate Care Centres closest to their homes, the Health Ministry said yesterday

The decision was taken at a meeting held yesterday at the Health Ministry. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and Ministry officials took part in the meeting.

 A Health Minister’s spokesman said the decision had been taken to lessen the psychological trauma on the patient and the family.  

 The Ministry will also supply necessary medical equipment and medical staff to treatment centres that are being built by the government and non- governmental organizations.

 State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) has been instructed to procure AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses required for the second jab as soon as possible. (RK)

 

 

 

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Digitalization way forward for Lanka – World Bank

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Healthcare workers in Sri Lanka enter data into the DHIS2 COVID-19 surveillance system(Pic courtesy World Bank)

Digitalization is the way forward for Sri Lanka to transform into a technology-based society, says the World Bank.

The WB report said that the Government of Sri Lanka has demonstrated its commitment to accelerate digital transformation. In order to reap the benefits of digital technologies, the country now needs to ensure that access to high-speed and affordable Internet is available to all citizens including in remote areas of the country and across income groups and gender. It also needs to ensure that the right policies, laws, and regulatory frameworks are in place to protect the security, data and rights of all especially the vulnerable.

In early 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown began, Sri Lanka’s food supply chain was significantly disrupted leaving farmers and consumers to face the adverse effects of the pandemic. Wholesale and retail markets were closed and traders were encouraged to deliver food items directly to doorsteps following strict health guidelines.

However, to sell and deliver food items and agricultural products, small traders were required to register at the Divisional Secretariats (DS), local-level administrative units which serve as the primary citizen delivery points.

But government office closures significantly affected this process. Meanwhile, there was no means to submit and process permit requests electronically.

Now, the Government of Sri Lanka, led by the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) in collaboration with various stakeholders, has embarked on a highly anticipated digital transformation journey to address such issues.

With support from the World Bank’s Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC), ICTA is planning to bring services online to 10 selected Divisional Secretariats through piloting the ‘form.gov.lk’ initiative, a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) platform.

The platform will leverage existing infrastructure such as the Lanka Government Cloud (LGC 2.0), the government’s cloud computing infrastructure, and the Lanka Government Network, the government’s private network which connects 860 government offices across the country.

The proposed solution will offer the general public and businesses the capability to fill and submit relevant information and documents digitally without having to visit government offices.

These pilot services will range from civil registrations (births/deaths) and small business registrations to allowing farmers to process police permits for transporting crops.

Once the system is successfully piloted in selected DS offices, the platform can be scaled to other government organizations, reducing travel and building efficiency in service delivery including in areas outside of urban centres and contributing to Sri Lanka’s green recovery.

“Our biggest objective is to build the digital foundation for the government to continue serving all Sri Lankans during a crisis like this. This is just the beginning of our digital transformation journey” says Mehinda Herath, Chief Executive officer of ICTA.

The CERC will also build resilience in public service delivery by enabling government officials to work remotely.

This will be done through the implementation of a government-wide email and collaboration solution and video conferencing facilities; and by enhancing the capacity of the government cloud infrastructure (LGC 2.0) to support more services.

A disaster recovery site will also be established for LGC 2.0 so that critical data is not lost in times of exogenous shocks, including natural disasters such as flooding and cyclones.

“The vision of ICTA is to improve living conditions and livelihoods across Sri Lanka irrespective of geographical locations and other disparities. This will be done through effectively adopting digital technologies and developing the required enabling environment, including the legal framework, basic infrastructure such as unique digital ID and government wide digital connectivity as well as various other aspects that are required to develop the digital economy,” says Prof. Lilith Gamage, Chairman of ICTA.

Transforming Sri Lanka into a technology-based society is one of the key national policy objectives of the country, as highlighted in the President’s manifesto, Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor. This includes the implementation of a “whole-of-government approach” to digital government to improve the delivery of public services to all Sri Lankans; developing the technology industry for jobs and growth; and supporting digital entrepreneurship and growth of a digitally savvy workforce and population.

The government is developing a foundational digital ID system that is backed by biometrics. ICTA together with the Ministry of Justice has also commenced an initiative to establish a country-wide court management system with the aim of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial system.

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