Taiwan’s and Sri Lanka’s Power Sectors
by Kumar David
(State Owned Utility like our CEB)
There is no reason, except cabinet and ministerial mismanagement, government meddling and political corruption, why the electricity supply sector is a mess in Mother Lanka but successful in, say Taiwan. But then the same is true of these two economies almost in every way. Lanka’s population is 22 million and Taiwan’s 26 million, our land area of 65 thousand sq. km is quite a bit larger than Taiwan’s 36 thousand and both countries lack significant deposits of oil, gas or mineral resources. Taipei, latitude 25 degrees north of the equator is more temperate than Colombo’s six degrees north. The economic indices however are as far apart as paradise is from purgatory; Taiwan’s nominal GDP and GDP per capita are US$ 760 billion and US$ 32,000, respectively, while the corresponding numbers in Mother Lanka before Covid were US$ 88 billion and US$ 3,700; though in the first decades after the Second World War we started with a notable handicap in our favour. People wistfully recall Lee Kuan Yew’s lament about similar early disadvantages that Singapore had to start from. Taiwan in those days after the civil-war in China was a bigger laggard.
These differences show up sharply in the electricity supply sector. The size of the sector in Taiwan with the corresponding number for Sri Lanka in parenthesis is; installed capacity 49 GW (4.1 GW) and electricity generated 270 TWh (20 TWh). A TWh (terra watt hour) is a thousand-million kWh and a kWh in common parlance is a unit. Taipower, Taiwan’s CEB owns the world’s largest gas-turbine power-station, the 4.4 GW Tatan and the world’s fourth largest coal-fired station, the 5.5 GW monster Taichung, nine times bigger than today’s Norochcholai. And, Taipower manages without provoking too big an uprising by irate environmentalists and without blanketing the nearby countryside with fly-ash to an unbearable extent. Taiwan’s breakdown of generation by energy source is 35% coal, 32% gas, 10% nuclear, 9% renewables and 8% oil. Allow me to remind you that in Sri Lanka the averages – hydro varies with rainfall and modifies all other annual percentages – is about 40% coal and 25% major hydro, other renewables including minor-hydro, wind, solar and biomass add to about 5%. The rest is oil-fired (private and CEB). Renewables will increase in the coming years in absolute terms but not much as a percentage because demand too will rise as the country’s economy (hopefully) improves.
Taiwan as one of four Asian Tigers is credited with an astounding economic trajectory; but the other three are easier to understand. South Korea is the biggest and Korea has the longest modern history, it also sports a complex and chequered relationship with Japan. Singapore’s upswing is half a century and going; it is a meritocracy of singular distinction, a place where racial bigotry is officially despised and there is English. Hong Kong from the post-revolution Shanghai money pots and after that in Deng’s days it was a sophisticated hub of the world’s soon to be largest economy. But Taiwan is different. It was colonised and raped by Japan from 1895 to 1945, and in 1949, kicked out of China. Chiang Kai Chek established himself as dictator till he died in 1975. Forty two years of Martial Law on the island ended only in July 1987 and thereafter the territory gradually emerged as a thriving if cantankerous democracy.
In the next three to four decades Taiwan evolved into a thriving economic powerhouse. What is the answer to this enigma? Let me try to explain. First, Taiwan was in the frontline of America’s anti-China policy and a magnet for American investment and finance. Second, a treasure-trove of Chinese talent fled to the island with Chiang in the late 1940s and carried with it a mother-lode of historical and artistic treasure and money. Thirdly, Deng’s opening up of China benefited Taiwan as much as it did Hong Kong.
However there is another reason which is no less important for us in Sri Lankan. Religion, language and ethnicity count for nothing and Taiwan has no “national conflict” to speak of; it is pretty cohesive. Mandarin is the unofficial national language and after the removal of Japanese was made compulsory in schools. It is a more natural lingua franca in Taiwan than English or Hindi are in India. True, though related, in everyday life nearly 70% speak Hoklo (Hokkien) and 20% use Hakka; aboriginals have their own languages. The point however is that the government recognises and fosters many languages and dialects.
A second huge advantage that Taiwan has over Sri Lanka is that religion has no clout in public life and plays no official role. No Mahanayakes or Ganasaras rally their forces, no Cardinals gather their flock and there is hardly a ‘madarasa’ school in sight. Thankfully, 20% of Taiwan’s population is officially atheist. Among the majority about 35% each are Far Eastern Buddhists and Taoists and 4% Christians. Nearly 10% belong to a rainbow of faiths though unfortunately Animists (a better lot than the religious) have died out even among the remoter indigenous peoples. The lesson to me seems clear; though admittedly language, race, ethnicity and religion aid social cohesion, communication and culture, none can dominate the show and boss others in political-space. Now you fill in the blanks.
Let me get back to the electricity sector which I chose because it is topical in Lanka and representative of the point at which I am hammering away. There are reasons some different and some similar why renewable sourced electricity is nine percent in Taiwan and 25-30% in Sri Lanka. Taiwan is simply not blessed with big hydro power in the way we are. However, being a small island with an even higher population density than Lanka it simply cannot find the tens of thousands of acres of land needed to generate gigawatts of power and terra-watt hours of electricity using solar panels. Being intelligent the Taiwanese are not living in 70% cloud-cuckoo land.
A crucial matter on which learning from East Asia is vital for Sri Lanka is how to buy LNG on contract and in global spot-markets. Whatever happens to the New Fortress Energy game (I hope a competitive tender succeeds instead) we can be certain that LNG is the way to go. The hard part is that gas and LNG prices have been wildly volatile in 2021 thanks to supply chain disruptions and the unexpected post-Covid pick up of the global economy. And the future’s not ours to see. Therefore, Sri Lanka, meaning CEB and CPC, need to build LNG buying departments and teams and start training right now. East Asia is the place to send our people for training.
Let me give you a ball-park idea of scale. When the two stations (total 660 MW) now under consideration for LNG fuelling in the Negombo area are in full flow they will need about 35 million-million Btu of LNG a year. The secretive contract with New Frontier Energy makes mention of the following two pricing options for the Take-or-Pay deal that is being pushed: Henry-Hub+115%+$5 per million Btu or Japan-Korea Marker+$1.15 per million Btu. My column last week (Oct 3) carried graphs of Henry Hub and JK-Marker prices in recent months. No one can be sure where they will end up in about two years but these two composites computed on Jan 2021 prices work out at about $12 and $25 per million Btu, respectively. (The big difference may be due to liquefaction and transport costs but the variation underlines a point; we need purchasing people who are on the ball. Otherwise the country will be screwed).
Now as I said these are ball-park numbers to indicate to readers the magnitudes involved. Let me use $15 per million Btu for LNG for my purposes next. The LNG bill for the two aforementioned power stations will be about $525 million per annum – dear God! The CEB’s long term expansion plan to 2037 speaks of a gas-fired generating capacity of about 3,000 MW. If all this happens and if prices stay more or less the same as my assumption, the outlay on LNG fuel will be in the region of $2 billion to $2.5 billion per year. These numbers will be out of kilter within a decade but one thing is for sure, LNG is the way of the foreseeable future for electricity generation and it brings me back to what I am trying to say: Start inducting a group of blokes with expertise in gas purchasing and LNG spot markets. My two cents worth is that East Asia is an important location for this training. After core teams are built the skills will become self-perpetuating, but get down to training buyers now whatever happens to ongoing shenanigans.
There is one other matter we need to bear in mind going forward. China’s President Xi announced at the UN a few weeks ago that his country will not build any more coal-fired plants abroad. Sri Lanka’s only coal plant and the additional unit now being installed are Chinese made; and China helped in the financing. Now that road is closed. However, the CEB’s 2020-2039 expansion plan envisages the addition of 1,800 MW of coal-fired capacity distributed over five power plants in this period. Pretty surely some projects will go out of the window but the 600 MW plant at Foul Point said to be for 2026 will be re-timed but not easy to replace. Europe and America are not in the power plant construction game but are turbine, generator, transformer and control software providers. This leaves us with India, Japan and South Korea as potential sources for finance and equipment and construction agents as well. Taiwanese plant contractors with equipment sourced globally may also be an option. Is it too cheeky to expect Beijing to finance projects while the province of Taiwan builds them? Ah well, hope springs eternal in the human breast and paupers need to find ever more innovative ways to beg.
What JVP-NPP needs to do to win
By Dr. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA
A young academic at the Open University writing on a popular website has recently defined the NPP project as ‘Left populist’, a term which is very familiar to us at least from the writings of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. He also mentions several parallels and precursors internationally.
As one who has been advocating a ‘left populist’ project for years, I am disinclined to nit-pick about whether or not the JVP-NPP fits the bill. At the moment and in its current incarnation, it is indeed the closest we have to a ‘left populist’ project. Its competitor the SJB, which its founder-leader identifies as social democratic, would be as approximate –and as loose– a fit for the labels ‘progressive populist’, ‘moderate populist’ or ‘populist centrist’, as the JVP-NPP is for ‘left populist’. But that’s the deck of cards we have.
The points I seek to make are different, and may be said to boil down to a single theme or problematique.
Distorted Left Populism
My argument is that the JVP-NPP is as distant from ‘left populism’ globally as it was from ‘left revolutionism’ globally in an earlier incarnation. In both avatars, it is unique in its leftism but not in a positive or helpful way for its cause at any given time.
Mine is not intended as a damning indictment of the JVP-NPP. It is intended as a constructive criticism of a rectifiable error, the rectification of which is utterly urgent given the deadly threat posed by the Wickremesinghe administration and its project of dependent dictatorship.
The JVP-NPP has a structural absence that no ‘left populist’ enterprise, especially in Latin America, has ever had. It is an absence that has marked the JVP from its inception and has been carried over into the present NPP project.
It is not an absence unique to the JVP but figures more in Sri Lanka than it has almost anywhere else. I say this because the same ‘absence’ characterised the LTTE as well. In short, that factor or its radical absence has marred the anti-systemic forces of South and North on the island.
The homeland of left populism has been Latin America while its second home has been Southern Europe. With the exception of Greece, it may be said that ‘left populism’ has an Ibero-American or culturally Hispanic character, which some might trace to the ‘romanticism’ of that culture. But such considerations need not detain us here.
‘Left populism’ has had several identifiable sources and points of departure: the former guerrilla movements of the 1960s and 1970s; the non-guerrilla movements of resistance to dictatorships; parties and split-offs from parties of the Marxist left; left-oriented split-offs or the leftwing of broad flexible even centrist populist formations; leftwing experiments from within the militaries etc.
Populism, Pluralism & Unity
Despite this diversity, all experiments of a Left populist character in Latin America and Europe, have had one thing in common: various forms of unity – e.g., united fronts, blocs etc.—of political parties. I would take up far too much space if I were to list them, starting with the Frente Amplio (which means precisely ‘Broad Front’) initiated by the Tupamaros-MLN of Uruguay and containing the Uruguayan Communist party and headed by a military man, General Liber Seregni, in 1970. The Frente Amplio lasted through the decades of the darkest civil-military dictatorship up to the presidential electoral victories of Tabaré Vasquez and Mujica respectively. Another example would be El Salvador’s FMLN, which brought together several Marxist guerrilla movements into a single front under the stern insistence of Fidel Castro.
Though the roots of unity were back in the 1970s, the formula has only been strengthened in the 1990s and 21st century projects of Left populism. There is a theoretical-strategic logic for this. The polarisation of ‘us vs them’, the 99% vs. the 1%, the many not the few—in socioeconomic terms—is of course a hallmark of populism. But pro-NPP academics and ideologues are unaware of or omit its corollary everywhere from Uruguay to Greece and Spain. Namely, that socioeconomic ‘majoritarianism’ is not possible with a single party as agency.
When the JVP and the NPP have the same leader, and the JVP leader was the founder of the NPP, I cannot regard it as a truly autonomous project, but a party project. Left populism globally, from its inception right up to Lula last year, is predicated on the admission of political, not just social plurality, and the fact that socioeconomic, i.e., popular majoritarianism is possible only as a pluri-party united front, platform or bloc.
This recognition of the imperative of unity as necessitating a convergence of political fractions and currents; that unity is impossible as a function of a single political party; that authentic majoritarianism i.e., “us” is possible only if “we” converge and combine as an ensemble of our organic political agencies, is a structural feature of Left Populism.
It is radically absent in the JVP-NPP and has been so from the JVP’s founding in 1965. It was also true of the LTTE.
It is this insistence on political unipolarity (to put it diplomatically) or political monopoly (to put it bluntly) is a genetic defect of the JVP which has been carried over into the NPP project.
I do not say this to contest the leading role and the main role that the JVP has earned in any left populist project. I say it to draw the Gramscian distinction between ‘leadership’ and ‘domination’. Only ‘leadership’ can create consensus and popular consent; domination through monopoly cannot.
The simple truth is that however ‘left populist’ you think you are; no single party can be said to represent the people or even a majority – as distinct from a mere plurality– of the people. Furthermore, the people are not a unitary subject, and therefore cannot have a unitary leadership. This is the importance of Fidel Castro’s insistence to the Latin American Left of a ‘united command’ which brings together the diverse segments of the left by reflecting plurality.
Anyone who knows the history of Syriza and Podemos knows that they are not outcrops of some single party of long-standing but the result of an organic process of convergences of factions.
Had the JVP had a policy of united fronts – within the Southern left and with the Northern left– it would not have been as decisively defeated as it was in its two insurrections, and might have even succeeded in its second attempt. Though it has formed the NPP which has brought some significant success, it is still POLITICALLY sectarian in that it has no political alliances, partnerships, i.e., NO POLITICAL RELATIONSHIPS outside of itself.
I must emphasize that here I am not speaking of a bloc with the SJB, though it is most desirable, to be recommended, and if this were Latin America would definitely be on the agenda of discussion.
Let us speak frankly. The most important phenomenon of recent times (since the victorious end of the war) was the Aragalaya of last year. The JVP, especially its student front the SYU, participated in that massive uprising which dislodged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but it played a less decisive role in the Aragalaya than did the FSP and the IUSF which is close to it. This is by no means to say that the FSP led the Aragalaya, but to point out that it played a more decisive role – which included some mistakes– than did the JVP.
How then does one remain blind to the fact that the JVP-NPP’s ‘left populism’ does not include the FSP and by extension the IUSF? How can there be a ‘popular bloc’ – a key element of left populism—without the IUSF?
Given that Pubudu Jayagoda, Duminda Nagamuwa, Lahiru Weerasekara and Wasantha Mudalige are among the most successful public communicators today (especially on the left), what kind of ‘left’ is a ‘left populism’ devoid of their presence, participation and contribution?
What does it take to recognise that unity of some sort of these two streams of the Left could result in a most useful division of labour and a quantum leap in the hopes and morale of the increasingly left-oriented post-Aragalaya populace, especially the youth?
Surely the very sight of a platform with the leaders of the JVP-NPP and the FSP-IUSF (AKD and Kumar Gunaratnam, Eranga Gunasekara and Wasantha Mudalige, Wasantha Samarasinghe and Duminda Nagamuwa, Bimal Ratnayake and Pubudu Jayagoda) will take the Left populist project to the next level?
As a party the JVP from its birth, and by extension, the NPP today, have set aside one of the main weapons of leftist theory, strategy and political practice: the United Front. Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Dimitrov, Gramsci, Togliatti, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro have founded and enriched this strategic concept.
It is difficult to accept that Rohana Wijeweera and Anura Kumara Dissanayake knew/know better than these giants, and that the JVP-NPP can dispense with this political sword and shield and yet prevail–or even survive the coming storm.
The JVP must present a LEFT option in the leadership of which is the major shareholder; not merely a JVP option or para-JVP option, which is what the NPP is. A credible, viable Left alternative cannot be reduced to a single party and its front/auxiliary; it cannot but be a United Left – a Left Front– alternative.
[Dr Dayan Jayatilleka is author of The Great Gramsci: Imagining an Alt-Left Project, in ‘On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative’ eds Richard Falk et al, Routledge, New York, 2019.]
Obtaining fresh mandate unavoidable requirement
by Jehan Perera
The government’s plans for reviving the economy show signs of working out for the time being. The long-awaited IMF loan is about to be granted. This would enable the government to access other loans to tide over the current economic difficulties. The challenge will be to ensure that both the old loans and new ones will be repayable. To this end the government has begun to implement its new tax policy which increases the tax burden significantly on income earners who can barely make ends meet, even without the taxes, in the aftermath of the rise in price levels. The government is also giving signals that it plans to downsize the government bureaucracy and loss-making state enterprises. These are reforms that may be necessary to balance the budget, but they are not likely to gain the government the favour of the affected people. The World Bank has warned that many are at risk of falling back into poverty, with 40 percent of the population living on less than 225 rupees per person per day.
The problem for the government is that the economic policies, required to stabilize the economy, are not popular ones. They are also politically difficult ones. The failure to analyse the past does not help us to ascertain reasons for our failures and also avoids taking action against those who had misused, or damaged, the system unfairly. The costs of this economic restructuring, to make the country financially viable, is falling heavily, if not disproportionately, on those who are middle class and below. Fixed income earners are particularly affected as they bear a double burden in being taxed at higher levels, at a time when the cost of living has soared. Unlike those in the business sector, and independent professionals, who can pass on cost increases to their clients, those in fixed incomes find it impossible to make ends meet. Emigration statistics show that over 1.2 million people, or five percent of the population, left the country, for foreign employment, last year.
The economic hardships, experienced by the people, has led to the mobilization of traditional trade unions and professionals’ organisations. They are all up in arms against the government’s income generation, at their expense. Last week’s strike, described as a token strike, was successful in that it evoked a conciliatory response from the government. Many workers did not keep away from work, perhaps due to the apprehension that they might not only lose their jobs, but also their properties, as threatened by one government member, who is close to the President. There was a precedent for this in 1981 when the government warned striking workers that they would be sacked. The government carried out its threat and over 40,000 government officials lost their jobs. They and their families were condemned to a long time in penury. The rest of society went along with the repression as the government was one with an overwhelming mandate from the people.
The striking unions have explained their decision to temporarily discontinue their strike action due to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s willingness to reconsider their economic grievances. More than 40 trade unions, in several sectors, joined the strike. They explained they had been compelled to resort to strike action as there was no positive response from the government to their demands. Due to the strike, services such as health, posts, and railways were affected. Workers in other sectors, including education, port, power, water supply, petroleum, road development, and banking services, also joined the strike. The striking unions have said they would take up the President’s offer to discuss their concerns with the government and temporarily called a halt to their strike action. This would give the government an opportunity to rethink its strategy. Unlike the government in 1981 this one has no popular mandate. In the aftermath of the protest movement, it has only a legal mandate.
So far, the government has been unyielding in the face of public discontent. Public protests have been suppressed. Protest leaders have been arrested and price and tax hikes have gone ahead as planned. The government has been justifying the rigid positions it has been taking on the basis of its prioritization of economic recovery for which both political stability and financial resources are necessary. However, by refusing to heed public opinion the government has been putting itself on a course of confrontation with organized forces, be they trade unions or political parties. The severity of the economic burden, placed on the larger section of society, even as other sectors of society appear to be relatively unaffected, creates a perception of injustice that needs to be mitigated. Engaging in discussion with the trade unions and reconsidering its approach to those who have been involved in public protests could be peace making gestures in the current situation.
On the other hand, exacerbating the political crisis is the government’s continuing refusal to hold the local government elections, as scheduled, on two occasions now by the Elections Commission and demanded by law. The government’s stance is even in contradiction to the Supreme Court’s directives that the government should release the financial resources necessary for the purpose leading to an ever-widening opposition to it. The government’s determination to thwart the local government elections stems from its pragmatic concerns regarding its ability to fare well at them. Public opinion polls show the government parties obtaining much lower support than the opposition parties. Except for the President, the rest of the government consists of the same political parties and government members that faced the wrath of the people’s movement a year ago and had to resign in ignominy.
The government’s response to the pressures it is under has been to repress the protest movement through police action that is especially intolerant of street protests. It has also put pressure on state institutions to conform to its will, regardless of the law. The decisions of the Election Commission to set dates for the local government elections have been disregarded once, and the elections now appear to have to be postponed yet again. The government is also defying summons upon its ministers by the Human Rights Commission which has been acting independently to hold the government to account to the best extent it can. The government’s refusal to abide by the judicial decision not to block financial resources for election purposes is a blow to the rule of law that will be to the longer-term detriment of the country. These are all negative trends that are recipes for future strife and lawlessness. These would have long term and unexpected implications not to the best for the development of the country or its values.
There are indications that President Wickremesinghe is cognizant of the precariousness of the situation. The accumulation of pressures needs to be avoided, be it for gas at homes or issues in the country. As an experienced political leader, student of international politics, he would be aware of the dangers posed by precipitating a clash involving the three branches of government. A confrontation with the judiciary, or a negation of its decisions, would erode the confidence in the entire legal system. It would damage the confidence of investors and the international community alike in the stability of the polity and its commitment to the rule of law. The public exhortations of the US ambassador with regard to the need to conduct the local government elections would have driven this point home.
It is also likely that the US position on the importance of holding elections on time is also held by the other Western countries and Japan. Sri Lanka is dependent on these countries, still the wealthiest in the world, for its economic sustenance, trade and aid, in the form of concessional financing and benefits, such as the GSP Plus tariff concession. Therefore, the pressures coming from both the ground level in the country and the international community, may push the government in the direction of elections and seeking a mandate from the people. Strengthening the legitimacy of the government to govern effectively and engage in problem solving in the national interest requires an electoral mandate. The mandate sought may not be at the local government level, where public opinion polls show the government at its weakest, but at the national level which the President can exercise at his discretion.
Sing-along… Down Memory Lane
Sing-alongs have turned out to be hugely popular, in the local showbiz scene, and, I would say, it’s mainly because they are family events, and also the opportunity given to guests to shine, in the vocal spotlight, for a minute, or two!
I first experienced a sing-along when I was invited to check out the famous Rhythm World Dance School sing-along evening.
It was, indeed, something different, with Sohan & The X-Periments doing the needful, and, today, Sohan and his outfit are considered the No.1 band for sing-along events.
I’m told that the first ever sing-along concert, in Sri Lanka, was held on 27th April, 1997, and it was called Down Memory Lane (DML), presented by the Moratuwa Arts Forum (MAF),
The year 2023 is a landmark year for the MAF and, I’m informed, they will be celebrating their Silver Jubilee with a memorable concert, on 29th April, 2023, at the Grand Bolgoda Resort, Moratuwa.
Due to the Covid pandemic, their sing-along series had to be cancelled, as well as their planned concert for 2019. However, the organisers say the delayed 25th Jubilee Celebration concert is poised to be a thriller, scheduled to be held on 29th April, 2023.
During the past 25 years, 18 DML concerts had been held, and the 25th Jubilee Celebration concert will be the 19th in the series.
Famous, and much-loved, ‘golden oldies’, will be sung by the audience of music lovers, at this two and a half hours programme.
Down Memory Lane was the brainchild of musician Priya Peiris, (of ‘Cock-a-Doodle-Do’ fame) and the MAF became the pioneers of sing-along concerts in Sri Lanka.
The repertoire of songs for the 25th Jubilee Celebration concert will include a vast selection of international favourites, Cowboy and old American Plantation hits, Calypsos, Negro Spirituals, everybody’s favourites, from the ’60s and ’70s era, Sinhala evergreens, etc.
Singers from the Moratuwa Arts Forum will be on stage to urge the audience to sing. The band Echo Steel will provide the musical accompaniment for the audience to join in the singing, supported by Brian Coorey, the left handed electric bass guitarist, and Ramany Soysa on grand piano.
The organisers say that every participant will get a free songbook. There would also be a raffle draw, with several prizes to be won,
Arun Dias Bandaranaike will be the master of ceremonies.
President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha Perera, back from Australia, after a successful tour, says: “All music lovers, especially Golden Oldies enthusiasts, are cordially invited to come with their families, and friends, to have an enjoyable evening, and to experience heartwarming fellowship and bonhomie.”
Further details could be obtained from MAF Treasurer, Laksiri Fernando (077 376 22 75).
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