Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri’s recent informative article on pricing of coal power generation makes one wonder whether the Chairman CEB has overlooked other factors in computing the price. I must admit that I am not competent to comment on what Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri has said of pricing but I discuss other issues highlighted in the letter.
Dr. Ratnasiri says that power plants like the proposed one are no longer installed in developed countries as they have efficiency below 35%, meaning the plant consumes a higher amount of coal than a high efficient plant to generate the same amount of electricity. It is presumed this statement is in respect of the existing plants at Norochcholai supplied and constructed by China at a time when the country was facing a severe energy shortage in 2004. However, does it mean that we should go in for a similar plant in the 4th additional one. Perhaps Japan or Germany may come forward with modern state-of-the-art plant and better terms and conditions, inclusive of training our local personel to undertake minor repairs and maintenance. it is not out of place to mention here, when Mahinda Rajapaksa made a state visit to Japan as President and Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, Japan offered a coal plant. Why not pursue that offer and avoid the cumbersome procedure of calling for tenders, taking years.
Next, he says low efficient plant also emit high amount of pollution. In this regard M/s Ramboll, Consutants have made a very clear statement in their report, appearing under ‘Smoke Emission’ presume Dr. Ratnasiri has read this report. However, it is questionable whether CEB maintains what is required to be done. This is confirmed when he says ‘ The Chairman’s statement also says that an environment impact assessment [EIA] study is underway. Actually, in Sri Lanka, an EIA study has no meaning and is carried out merely to get over a legal requirement. In the face of these reasons, should CEB consider China’s offer.
According to press reports, the 4th plant is to be undertaken on a loan from China. This does not necessarily mean that China should get the contract, instead call for worldwide tenders and select the best, as said earlier, a modern, state of the art plant. If that is done, China may come forward with very attractive terms, China wants to get a foothold in this vital sector – Electricity. There was also a proposal for a Joint Venture with China to operate the 4th plant which CEB engineers have vehemently opposed. There appears to be confusion on this issue, as at first Minister for Power and Energy sought Cabinet approval to undertake the construction, later he said no decision has been taken. It appears that the Minister, the Secretary and the Chairman CEB act independently and issue press statements.
The most interesting statement Dr. Ratnasiri makes is ‘it is likely that the CEB will have to depend on Chinese technicians to manage the new plant. One could guess, China does not train our locals to undertake running repairs. keeping certain technical aspects secret to have a hold on this important sector. It is absolutely essential, the government plays heed to the CEB engineers’ objection and allow CEB to operate the plant. It should be stated, if a joint venture is signed with China, the Chinese partner will enter the administration, making CEB to face unnecessary problems, as Chinese will consider only the profit and not the interest of the country, the institution and the consumer. At the end, when dividends are paid, repatriate that sum in foreign exchange to China, when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, making all efforts to curb outflow of foreign exchange by restricting imports of even essential day-to-day requirements and calling upon people to produce locally what could be grown or manufactured. Ministers, State organisations should rally round President Rajapaksa to keep his promises made at the Presidential Election. One specific promise was that he will not approve any project without a feasibility study and its financial viability.
It is believed that a new government will be formed, under the same President Rajapaksa, and we the citizens hope for a radical change on his watch.
G. A. D. Sirimal
Road accident killer:
One every three hours
There is a spike of serious traffic accidents and the number of fatalities reported from all parts of the country during the last few weeks. They have snatched many precious and valuable human lives. Media reports, quoting Traffic Police sources indicate, despite the country being in lockdown for three months due to COVID–19, that this year from January to the end of August, 1,418 persons have been killed in traffic accidents
A person is killed every three hours on our roads due to road accidents, and annually 3000 persons die in road accidents. Nearly 8000 serious accidents take place annually, and in many instances the victims end up never to lead a normal life again. In the last four years – in 2016 there were 3017 fatal accidents, while in 2017 it was 3147. In 2018 according to World Health Organization (WHO) data, Road Traffic Accident Deaths in Sri Lanka was 3590, and has been identified as the 10thcause of death in Sri Lanka’s top 50 causes of death, beating other serious diseases causing death in the country. In 2019 there were 2851 fatal accidents.
On September 2nd, a serious accident occurred in the Colombo city at Mattakkuliya. As reported in the media, in that accident three people died instantly when two three-wheelers were hit by a speeding lorry. Apparently, speeding, and driving the lorry without a valid license to drive, is sheer negligence and lack of responsibility of the lorry driver. Lack of care and responsibility for the life of others who share the road is a serious problem. Instilling road discipline in our drivers is paramount for the safety of all road users.
Drivers of motor vehicles need to be responsible and realise, the moment he/she sits at the driver’s seat and holds the steering wheel you are in control of a piece of heavy equipment, at high speed is mere seconds from a potential innocent victim. Furthermore, speed, while greatly increasing the risk of serious crash, increases the odds of an accident and increases its severity.
A driver under the influence of alcohol is as deadly, and similarly at risk of serious accidents. The harmful influence alcohol has on the crucial decision to drive is great. Drinker’s self assessment about whether he/she can drive safely is critical. The deadly influence alcohol has on the driver is great. Alcohol impairs the drinker’s ability of self-assessment. Reduces the driver’s ability to react to things that happen suddenly. The alcohol also blurs vision, impairs attention and reflexes are slowed.
The road accidents having reached such a horrendous proportion, random measures to instil road discipline in errant drivers are not effective. Speeding, reckless driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol are the major causes of serious traffic accidents. The Police launching limited enforcement and special operations during festive seasons, and operations targeting certain Police areas or specific Traffic Rule violations, are not enough to address this tragedy. Police must implement comprehensive long term programmes, employing technology and modern devices to detect traffic rule violations and make roads safe for all road users.
According to Colombo Traffic Police, there are 106 CCTV cameras operating in Colombo and use 3 Mobile CCTV Surveillance Vans to monitor traffic. Surveillance of Colombo using the Road Safety Camera system alone is not sufficient. Road Safety Cameras; Red Light violation detecting cameras, and combined Red Light and Speed cameras can detect a host of Traffic Rule violations. Sri Lanka Police should seriously consider expanding this method of surveillance using the Road Safety Camera system countrywide.
Road Safety Cameras installed at intersections in all cities and major towns, at strategic locations and high risk roads along the country’s entire road network, would be a deterrent to speed maniacs, and other road rule violators who know they are being watched all day and night. These cameras can be used as both detective and preventive measures. It’s a 24/7 surveillance.
The camera captures a host of data including the vehicle number plate, date, time and location of the offence etc., sufficient to prove the offence committed by the driver. In addition, mobile cameras mounted on Police vehicles positioned at strategic locations, and hand held cameras, could be used to book speeding drivers and other road rule violations.
As for alcohol-impaired driving, the government can do more to reduce the number of drunk-driving instances. Couple of years ago the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) proposed to reduce the maximum Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of drivers; at present it is 0.08 grams per 100 mm, to 0.03 grams per 100 mm. There is no indication thus far of any initiative of the government taken in this regard. Australia and most European countries have the BAC level of drivers at 0.05. Norway and Sweden in Europe, and China has this level at 0.02, while in Russia it is 0.03. Canada, USA and some countries have it at 0.08.
The government could look into lowering the legal BAC level to 0.03 as proposed by the NATA. This approach would better respond to discouraging drunk-drivers. The government could also consider making instances of driving while exceeding the legally permitted BAC limit, a criminal offence; initially applying it to drivers exceeding the legally permitted BAC level and meeting with accidents, and finally extending to exceeding the permitted BAC level under any circumstances, a criminal offence.
Clearly, the law can’t work on its own. The key factor in the reduction of Traffic Rule violations is enforcement and stiff penalties. Police should be provided with technology and modern devices used in other Police Forces around the world. Police should be given authority to stop and demand to undergo testing from any driver at the roadside more often, rather than testing after accidents occurred.
Cross-disciplinary learning to meet graduates’ skills shortages
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has emphasized the importance of matching the skills acquired by University students with the demands of employers. Over the years, criticism has been directed at Humanities and Social Sciences programmes in local Universities, questioning their relevance to the needs of a developing economy. Besides, some of these graduates had problems finding jobs in the private sector. They have historically relied on public sector jobs, an expectation almost all recent governments have had to grapple with.
The employability of Humanities and Social Sciences graduates is not a puzzle unique to Sri Lanka. In Singapore, I encountered several contemporary students who feared their degrees were not well sought after by the industry. I have seen such students putting a lot of effort into studying a minor in fields of study that could give them an edge over their peers. A minor comprises a set of courses which helps a student to develop secondary expertise in addition to the degree requirements of one’s major field of study. Completing a minor is not compulsory in most cases, but it sends a positive signal to employers on the quality of their potential hire. Some of the most popular minors among my batch mates were Business, Computing, Economics, and Entrepreneurship.
Promoting such cross-disciplinary learning could be an immediate solution to the expectation set by the President. Local Universities already possess resources to implement such programmes. It eliminates the need for a hurried overhaul of the curricula in universities. Most importantly, a rapid increase in the output of graduates with qualifications demanded by the industry, could just be the solution to the critical skills shortage faced by sectors such as Information Technology.
Depositors and Stock Exchange
State Minister Nivard Cabraal recently requested Sri Lankans who have deposited money in banks and finance companies to use that money in shares on the Colombo Stock Exchange. Our ministers and officials who control state finances do not know that most of those depositors maintain those deposits not as investments. They live on the interest they receive monthly from those deposits.
Before 2015 too, Cabraal as Governor of CBSL and many others, encouraged those depositors to invest in shares, and many learnt the lesson as they were caught in the game of “pumping & dumping” by groups of some big fish. Cabraals are in a way hitting those depositors by ad-hoc reducing of interest rates, and now they ask them to follow the more easier path to think of committing suicide.
Have the higher-ups in the government ever investigated why people maintain those deposits and how many use the interest they receive to meet their daily needs, before playing around with interest rates in order to please the borrowers and lessees?
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