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Trade union says Energy Ministry has regulatory powers to intervene

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Sharp difference in LIOC and CEYPETCO prices causes further losses to govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government’s efforts to provide an uninterrupted fuel supply at CEYPETCO pumping stations has suffered a debilitating setback due to theunprecedented heavy demand caused by sharp differences in prices at the CPC-owned and the Lanka India Oil Company (LIOC) managed service stations.

CPC Chairman Sumith Wijesinha yesterday (28) said that with the latest price increase announced by the LIOC, a litre of petrol and diesel, at LIOC service stations, now costs Rs. 27 and Rs 18, respectively, more than at CEYPETO stations.

Wijesinha acknowledged that the difference in prices is the sharpest ever since the entry of LIOC into the Sri Lanka market. A trade union affiliated to the main Opposition Party, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) asked the government how the LIOC could increase fuel prices, contrary to the existing agreements.

LIOC entered the Sri Lanka market in 2003 during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President. The Indian state enterprise gradually expanded its operations here and now it operated 202 service stations.

In addition to the oil terminal it managed at Trincomalee, the LIOC owned one-third share in the Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals Limited (CPSTL) – a joint venture involving the LIOC and the CPC. The CPSTL operated 13 oil terminals.

Wijesinha admitted that the LIOC had the right to decide on fuel prices on its own. LIOC increased the price of petrol and diesel on Feb 6 and Feb 25, 2022, effective midnight on each day. On Feb 6, LIOC increased the price of a litre of petrol by Rs 7 and diesel by Rs 3. On Feb 25, LIOC jacked up the price of a litre of petrol by Rs 20 and diesel by Rs 15.

Managing Director of LIOC Manoj Gupta, in a statement issued on the eve of Feb 25 price increase said that the steep rise in international oil markets compelled them to increase the price of petrol and diesel. Pointing out that the Brent crude oil price was now over USD 100 per barrel, Gupta blamed the Russian invasion of Ukraine along with drop in supply by OPEC countries for the situation.

In the wake of Feb 6 price increase, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila said that he was informed of the impending price increase by the LIOC. The Minister said so when The Island sought his response to the fuel price hike.

Minister Gammanpila, too, acknowledged that in line with the agreement between Sri Lanka and India, the latter could decide on the pricing formula.

The third retailer Laugfs Petroleum follows the CEYPETCO’s pricing formula. Laugfs entered the market in 2004 also during the Kumaratunga’s presidency.

In spite of the cash-strapped and debt-ridden CPC taking massive losses, the government has delayed matching LIOC pricing formula, thereby drawing the vast majority of consumers to its service stations. CPC Chairman Wijesinha said that their daily losses went up sharply as the sales volumes grew.

During a recent meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa emphasized that imported pharmaceuticals were the only items subjected to price controls.

Opposition trade union grouping representing oil, port and electricity sector workers yesterday (28) questioned the failure on the part of the government to prevent LIOC increasing oil prices contrary to the existing agreement between the two parties. Having earned massive profits in 2021, the LIOC seemed determined to further exploit hapless Sri Lanka, convener of Samagi trade union grouping Ananda Palitha emphasized that LIOC couldn’t under any circumstances increase prices without specific approval from the Energy Ministry in the absence of a Regulator as envisaged in the agreement between the two parties.

Asked whether the price increases announced by the LIOC on Feb 6 and 25 were illegal in terms of the existing agreements, Ananda Palitha pointed out that would be the case if the Energy Ministry opposed the move. Responding to LIOC claims that oil markets were jittery in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other related factors, Ananda Palitha stressed that both the CPC and the LIOC still received stocks ordered 35 days ago.

LIOC MD Gupta has stated that his was the only public limited energy company in business here and was accountable for more than 10,500 local shareholders.

The outspoken trade union leader called for a total review of all agreements between Sri Lanka and India as regards LIOC and Trincomalee oil tank farms. According to him, in the absence of proper energy policy Sri Lanka was at the mercy of India and other foreign powers.

Reference was made to the controversial circumstances under which Sri Lanka has finalized an energy deal with the US-based New Fortress Energy, in September last year. The matter is now before the Supreme Court.

Ananda Palitha said that the government couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for ensuring steady supply of fuel at reasonable prices to the consumers.



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More than 6 bn worth of substandard drugs dispensed to patients

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The Committee of Public Accounts (COPA) has disclosed that Rs. 6,259 million worth of drugs faced a quality failure from 2011 to 2020 due to improper storage. The COPA report has further revealed that 99% of such drugs had already been dispensed to patients when the condition was brought to attention. In that situation, it was not possible to recover the cost of substandard drugs from the suppliers, the Parliament said.

The Committee on Public Accounts has directed the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine to expedite the process of facilitating better storage of drugs to ensure their safety.

It has also been observed that the temperature in the warehouses, owned by the Medical Supplies Division, is maintained properly and that the medical supplies are stored in the corridors of the central drug warehouses and hospitals.

Furthermore, the Secretary to the Ministry has pointed out that if there is a system to detect the failure of drugs as soon as they are received, the loss can be recovered from the suppliers and if the quality testing of 60 drugs can be done by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, this situation can be avoided to some extent.

These concerns and observations were contained in the first report of the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament on COPA, which was tabled in Parliament recently (20) by Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts.

The report contains information about the investigations of seven state institutions summoned before the Committee on Public Accounts and one Special Audit Report during the period from 04.08.2021 to 19.11.2021.

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CBSL Chief: Economy could be stabilised in year or so if …

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By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The prevailing Balance of Payments (BoP) crisis could lead to a major social crisis as the available foreign reserves were only sufficient for a few weeks’ imports, Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe warned on Monday.

“The economy can be stabilised in the next 12 month if the IMF negotiations and debt restructuring are finalised within the next seven to eight months. Until then we have to support the poor people,” Dr. Weerasinghe said, addressing a seminar on the “State of the Economy and Talks with the IMF”. It was organised by the Press Club, together with the Press Institute, at Colombo Hilton.

The CB Governor said the current BoP crisis would worsen and, therefore the economic pain could only be minimised if essential policies and measures were implemented in an expeditious manner. But “IMF technical level virtual meetings are likely to conclude this week, and thereafter further discussion will take place to finalise everything,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.

Dr. Weerasinghe suggested that the monetary and fiscal authorities tighten the monetary policy by higher margins and fiscal policy by restoring tax rates to pre-2020 levels.

The Governor said, “We have three categories of creditors namely International Sovereign Bonds, which raise short term funds from global markets, which account for 35 percent of the government debt, while other two creditors are Paris Club and non-Paris Club (India and China).

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the country’s debt needed to be brought to a sustainable level. “For that purpose a debt sustainability analysis needs to be drafted with a fiscal policy for the IMF bailout”, he said.

Speaking about the country’s worsening economic fundamentals, Dr. Weerasinghe said: “The nation is currently experiencing a historically low economic growth and falling trend of per capita GDP since 2017 with rising levels of poverty. It is also running the highest fiscal deficits since 1988 with the lowest ever government revenue as a percent of GDP.

“Amid those developments Sri Lanka’ poverty level will increase, unemployment level soar and local industries will have to shut down due to restriction of importation of raw material. Therefore, we have to seek humanitarian assistance from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other bilateral and multilateral agencies”, the Governor said.

“We are seeking short-term bridging facilities from official creditors until an agreement is reached with creditors on restructuring,” he said.

In his presentation, Dr. Weerasinghe analysed the links between banking and the currency crises. He pointed out that the problems in the banking sector typically precede a currency crisis with the currency crisis deepening the banking crisis, thus activating a vicious spiral.

Sri Lanka also had the highest-ever government debt which was unsustainable at the moment. Debt dynamics might be worsening in the next few years unless the debt was restructured, he said.

Sri Lanka also recorded the highest rate of inflation in 12 years which was increasing sharply and was experiencing the highest-ever levels of money printing by the CBSL, he added

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Dragonfly thought to be extinct found again

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By Ifham Nizam

Scientists have rediscovered Sri Lankan Clubtail (Anisogomphus ceylonicus), one of the rarest species of dragonflies in the country. The team that made the discovery comprised Amila Sumanapala of the Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, University of Colombo, T. Ranasinghe of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka, and D. Sumanapala of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. According to lead scientist Amila Sumanapala Sri Lankan Clubtail is one of the rarest species of dragonflies.

First collected in 1859, it was only known from the original collection and another collection record made a century after in 1962. This species had not been found anywhere in Sri Lanka for close to 60 years until the team encountered a larva during a survey conducted in 2021.

Anisogomphus ceylonicus is one of the few Odonates of Sri Lanka with no photographic records of a living specimen available hitherto.

The present observation provides the first photographs of a live A. ceylonicus larva and the most recent documentation of the species. These observations, coupled with previous work (Lieftinck 1971, Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013), provide an improved understanding of the species, which might enable further targeted surveys to be made

It was first discovered from Ramboda over 140 years ago based on a female specimen, which was originally described as Gomphus ceylonicus and later assigned to the genus Heliogomphus by F.C. Fraser (Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013). Almost a century later, Lieftinck (1971) collected an immature male and its exuvia of a clubtail dragonfly from Rambukpath Oya, 10 miles northwest of Hatton in 1962 and described it as Anisogomphus solitaris. However, Bedjanič & van der Poorten (2013) recognized that H. ceylonicus is conspecific with A. solitaris, and thus reassigned it to the genus Anisogomphus. Since the discovery of the species, only these two records have ever been documented (Bedjanič et al. 2014), despite odonatological surveys and numerous biodiversity explorations conducted countrywide.

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