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Questionable deal with US energy firm: Professionals’ National Front asks whether govt. received AG’s consent

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Prof. Samarajiva concerned about some sections of agreement

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Professionals’ National Front (PNP) Spokesperson Kapila Renuka Perera yesterday warned of dire consequences of going ahead with the government’s controversial agreement with the US energy firm New Fortress Energy. The grouping questioned the rationale behind losing state control/responsibility in ensuring uninterrupted fuel supplies to power stations.

The agreement with the New York based US firm would result in a catastrophe and the loss of state control of the energy sector could pose a threat to national security, Perera said.

Perera pointed out that the agreement had been finalised in a way that it didn’t come under the purview of Sri Lankan law. Responding to another query Perera said that it would be pertinent to ask whether the government had consulted the Attorney General on the questionable agreement.

Pointing out the danger of agreeing to international arbitration in respect of the US energy agreement, Perera said the issue at hand should be examined against the backdrop of the debt trap and the crisis in sharply weakened foreign reserves. The PNP spokesperson said that successive governments pursued agendas inimical to the country. The SLPP government was no exception, Perera alleged, urging all stakeholders to reach consensus on matters of national importance. “The US deal is nothing but a disaster. Government cannot act in such an irresponsible way,” Perera said.

Meanwhile, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva says he is supportive of PPPs (private and public partnerships) to bring in foreign capital and expertise, but PPPs should be based on a transparent process to secure the best possible price. “A transparent process whereby we know that the best possible price has been paid and the technical criteria have been satisfied.” He said it was certainly not the case as regards what he called a cloudy transaction involving the government of Sri Lanka and the US-based gas-to-power developer New Fortress Energy.

The one-time Director General of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) and political analyst said so when The Island sought his opinion on the US investment on the Yugadanavi power plant aka Kerawalapitiya power station operated by the West Coast Power Limited and the New Fortress Energy receiving the right to build a new LNG plant off Colombo.

The 300MW plant is owned by the country’s largest power supplier LTL Holdings, which is under government control.

Commenting on the recently concluded power deal, Prof. Samarajiva expressed serious concerns over certain provisions in the agreement. One-time DG, Sri Lanka Telecom recalled how exclusivity provisions given to Japan’s Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (NTT) in respect of SLT caused serious issues. Prof. Samarajiva said: “In respect of the agreement with New Fortress Energy, the exclusivity provisions that have been reported are worrisome. I had enormous problems with the five year exclusivity given to NTT when they entered into a PPP on SLT in 1997. The excuse was that it was war time (true) and the rate rebalancing had to be completed (somewhat true). There is no war now, and there is no reason to give a broad exclusivity. If it is not time bound, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Commenting on the challenges faced by Sri Lanka, Prof. Samarajiva said now that Chinese leader Xi Jinping has announced that China will no longer build coal plants abroad, there wouldn’t be any more additions to Norochcholai. “We need baseload capacity, so I guess LNG is the right fuel. But this must be placed in the larger context of the potential use for cooking and automotive uses. This seems disconnected from a larger plan. Should this be in Kerawalapitiya or in Hambantota/Trinco? Perhaps the right answer is Kerawalapitiya, but the assessment should have been done.”

The Island: At a time, the government has invited foreign investment with the focus on the Colombo Port City, how do you see the growing opposition to the US firm investing in the energy sector here?

Prof. Samarajiva: “The government is hobbled because of the cheap sloganeering while in opposition. But if they admit fault and speak the truth to people I believe it’s possible to marginalize Minister Wimal Weerawansa and his ilk.”

The Island: Do you think the government and the Opposition should seek a consensus on vital national matters such as foreign investments in key sectors?

Prof. Samarajiva:”Absolutely. We need bipartisan approaches to infrastructure.”

The Island: What should be the role of the parliament in such an endeavour?

Prof. Samarajiva: “I believe the crisis has reached a level where a national government should be formed. Parliament is where we should start.”

Prof. Samarajiva said that with the national economy in tatters in the wake of unprecedented devastation caused by the raging Covid-19 epidemic, the country was in such a deepening crisis the Parliament should move as an institution.



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No immediate hike in fuel prices – Udaya

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Finance Minister rules out bailout package for CPC

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has told Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila that the Treasury is not in a position to assist the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). However, there would not be a fuel price hike in the short term, the Minister of Energy told the media yesterday.

Minister Gammanpila said that if a fuel hike was on the cards, he would announce it publicly.

“This is what I did last time also. This time around, I have told the people that we are facing a serious problem. We incur a loss of Rs. 15 on a litre of petrol and a loss of Rs 16 on a litre of diesel. The Chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has asked for a price increase,” he said.

Gammanpila said he told the Chairman of the CPC that they should first seek assistance from the Treasury. Given that prices of all essential items had increased, a significant increase in fuel prices would cause great inconvenience to the people, he said.

“At the last Cabinet meeting, I asked the Finance Minister for assistance. He said it was hard to provide assistance and was non-committal. I will again take the matter up at the next Cabinet meeting,” he said.

The government was discussing the possibility of obtaining a 3.6 billion US dollar credit line for fuel from Oman. Sri Lanka spent around USD 300 million on oil imports per month and the credit line would allow for a year of fuel supply at concessionary rates, the Minister said.

“If we get this credit line, we should be able to weather this storm. Otherwise, I will ask the Cabinet for relief. While people are suffering, we can’t also let the CPC go bankrupt. If CPC goes bust, the People’s Bank and Bank of Ceylon will be in deep trouble too,” the Minister said.

Gammanpila added that there was no point in queuing at fuel stations because a decision to increase fuel takes a few months to be approved. For example the previous hike in June was first proposed in April. “If takes a few months for such a proposal to be approved and implemented. I was told that people were queuing at fuel stations last Monday and Wednesday.”

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JVP calls for multi-agency probe into Rs. 4 bn. Gin-Nilwala scam

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Ex Prez can assist inquiry

By Shamindra Ferdinando

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says a comprehensive multi-agency investigation is required to get to the bottom of what he called the massive Gin Nilwala scam perpetrated in 2012 and 2015.

In spite of disclosures in that regard, both in and outside Parliament, over a period of time, absolutely nothing had been done so far, lawmaker Dissanayake told The Island.

The government owed an explanation why over Rs 4 bn had been paid to a Chinese firm, in Dec 2012, and on January 7, 2015, as the project was yet to get off the ground, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that he felt the need to highlight the Gin Nilwala scam against the backdrop of the Pandora Papers exposure of former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa’s husband, Thirukumar Nadesan, as the Chinese company, allegedly involved in the Gin Nilwala project had moved money to a foreign account, in Hong Kong, held by the businessman.

Asked whether the Gin Nilwala scam, too, had been dealt by Pandora Papers, MP Dissanayake said as far as he knew Pandora Papers’ disclosure didn’t include the Gin Nilwala project.

Responding to another query, lawmaker Dissanayake said that though the then President Maithripala Sirisena questioned the Gin Nilwala project, the yahapalana government never investigated the issue properly.

MP Dissanayake said it wouldn’t be a difficult task to establish the transferring to a foreign account of Rs one bn in Dec 2012 and the over Rs. 3 bn on January 7, 2015, the day before the presidential election. Since the release of Pandora Papers, the video footage of former President Sirisena, now an SLPP MP, on the Gin Nilwala project had gone viral, the MP said.

The JVP leader said that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should inquire into the matter as part of the ongoing examination of matters relating to Thirukumar Nadesan in respect of Pandora Papers.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Oct. 06 instructed CIABOC to inquire into Sri Lankans mentioned in Pandora Papers. Nadesan, too, also on the same day, asked President Rajapaksa to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations by appointing a retired Appeals Court Judge for the task. The CIABOC has recorded Nadesan’s statement in this regard.

MP Dissanayake alleged that successive governments had conveniently turned a blind eye to major cases of corruption. The very basis of parliamentary control over public finance was under threat, MP Dissanayake said, urging the government to take remedial measures or face the consequences. “Billions of rupees had been moved around, misappropriated and squandered. Those responsible for ensuring the proper practices are accused of exploiting the system. What is happening now is tragic,” MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that examination of proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Finance) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) since the last general election revealed a frightening situation. The reports before the last general election were no exception, the parliamentarian said, the level of corruption in the public sector and the private-public sector joint ventures was horrifying. The national economy was being mercilessly exploited by persons holding office, the JVP leader said, the CIABOC could examine proceedings of the parliamentary watchdog committees if it was genuinely interested in stamping out corruption.

MP Dissanayake said that the national economy was in such a desperate situation thanks to decades of waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence on the part of political parties in power. “Today, we are seeking finance assistance from various countries. Recently, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris revealed he discussed ways and means to overcome financial crisis with the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary,” he said.

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Inter-provincial travel restrictions extended to Oct 21

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Inter-provincial travel restrictions have been extended to October 21, the Presidential Media Division (PMD) said issuing a press release yesterday.

The PMD added that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed the security forces to strictly enforce the inter-province travel restrictions during the weekend.

The decision was taken at the COVID-19 Prevention Committee meeting held Friday (15) morning.

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