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.
Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?
Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.
By Srilal Miththapala
Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.
And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.
However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?
The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today
There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.
Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.
Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.
According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()
Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()
Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.
What have other countries done ?
As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.
A few are described below
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.
Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China
In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.
The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.
A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.
These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
Safety – the one overriding condition
All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.
Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.
Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).
Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.
So what about our train ride ?
The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.
In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.
So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?
Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.
One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.
This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.
Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.
But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.
But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.
Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?
Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE
By Dr M Haris Deen
COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.
The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.
In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.
The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.
Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.
Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.
Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.
Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.
Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.
After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.
Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.
Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.
Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990
It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.
Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….
Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.
They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..
“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.
“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”
Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!
Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.
“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.
“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.
In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.
He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.
It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.
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