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Will CEB make an effort to comply?

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President’s target on renewable energy share in power generation:

by Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

IMPLEMENTING THE NEW POLICY DIRECTIVE OF PRESIDENT

As described in detail by the writer in an article published in The Island of 25 and 26 September, a press release issued by the President’s Media Division on 14.09.2020 said that the President had directed that plans should be made to generate 70% of the country’s overall electricity requirements from renewable energy (RE) sources by 2030. Apparently, this has been decided at a meeting that President had with the State Ministry of Solar, Wind and Hydro Power Generation Projects Development and the Power Minister at the Presidential Secretariat on the 14th September. The Press Release also said that The Government has made the promotion of renewable energy a top priority and President advised the Secretary to the President to issue a gazette calling for all the institutes to assist in this endeavor. See http://www.pmdnews.lk/70-of-electricity-demand-will-be-generated-using-renewable-energy-by-2030/.

However, as required by Section 5 of the Sri Lanka Electricity Act, No. 20 of 2009, to give effect to this policy decision, it has to be referred to the Cabinet to get its approval and incorporate it in the General Policy Guidelines in respect of the Electricity Industry. Thereafter, the PUCSL will be able to direct the CEB to comply with the new policy guidelines. Being a matter concerning RE share in power generation, the relevant cabinet paper will have to be presented to the Cabinet by the Power Minister. The general practice is for the Secretary to the Ministry to draft the paper in concurrence with the Minister. The question is how long the Power Ministry will take to attend to this.

 

CEB’S LONG-TERM GENERATION EXPANSION PLAN

According to the Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Act No. 31 of 2013, any capacity addition to the country’s power system requires that the new plant shall comply with the provisions in the CEB’s Long-term Generation Expansion (LTGE) as well as the approval of the PUCSL and the Cabinet. The LTGE Plan for 2020-2039 prepared by the CEB in May 2019, when submitted to the PUCSL for approval, PUCSL returned it saying that it did not confirm to the Policy Guidelines of the Ministry on Electricity Industry as decided by the Cabinet in March 2019 which had specified a target of 50% as share of renewable energy (RE) sources to be achieved by 2030 and also saying that it did not include the externality costs.

In response, the CEB has revised its LTGE Plan and resubmitted it to the PUCSL in March 2020. (See https://www.pucsl.gov.lk/lcltgep-2020-2039/). However, the revised plan too has a RE share of only 35% as in the original draft and it has not been adjusted to achieve a target of 50% of RE by 2030, though requested by the PUCSL. By its letter dated 28.05.2020, the PUCSL has reiterated that the CEB Plan be revised to achieve the requisite target of 50% of RE share by 2030. However, with the President giving specific directions recently to generate 70% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, there is an urgent need for the Policy Guideline document to be amended through a Cabinet decision to give effect to the President’s new directive. The CEB will then have to revise its LTGE Plan to comply with this policy.

 

BUILDING THE FIRST GAS POWER PLANT IN SRI LANKA

The Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) was reported in the weekly Sunday Morning of 18 October 2020 as having said that the power purchase agreement (PPA) for the 300 MW combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plant to be built at Kerawalapitiya selected after calling for tenders in 2016 would be signed once the Cabinet approval is received for it. (http://www.themorning.lk/300-mw-kerawalapitiya-lng-plant-ceb-awaits-cabinet-nod/). Though the CEB Chairman has said that approval of the Cabinet has been sought for the PPA to be entered into with the supplier of the CCGT power plant, according to the Sri Lanka Electricity Act No. 31 of 2013, once the project is approved by the Cabinet, the PPA needs the approval of the PUCSL only.

It may be noted that the CEB invited proposals through a 500-page Requests for Proposals (RFP) for this power plant in November 2016. However, the decision on the award of the tender took more than 3 years for reasons described in detail by the writer in several of his previous articles published in the Island including the one that appeared on 19.08.2019. The writer pointed out that the CEB should be held responsible for delaying this project.

The writer understands that the award of the tender to the local tenderer, Lakdhanavi Ltd, who had submitted the lowest tender was approved by the Cabinet last December. Further, soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed office, he has instructed the award be made to this tenderer. It is therefore surprising that the CEB is seeking the approval of the Cabinet again for the project and in addition is seeking the approval of the AG’s Department for the PPA, which are not necessary according to the provisions in the Electricity Act.

According to a report appearing in the Sunday Times of 25.10.2020, the matter has run into a controversy as the AG’s Dept. has not granted its approval for the PPA. Apparently, some changes have been proposed by the tenderer whereas the RFP has not made provisions to make such changes after the bids are closed. Nevertheless, the CEB as well as the Ministry are in agreement to the changes and want to proceed with the signing of the PPA.

The report says that the Minister will submit a Cabinet Paper seeking its approval to authorize the CEB to sign the PPA with Lakdhanavi at the agreed levelized tariff and issue a letter of intent to build the power plant. (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/201025/news/power-plant-ministry-ignores-ags-advice-seeks-go-ahead-from-cabinet-421184.html). If the RFP did not have provision to make any changes after the bids are closed, it is a lapse on the part of the person who drafted the RFP and should have been rectified at the beginning and not brought up nearly 4 years later and cause further delay.

 

CEB’S IMMEDIATE PLANS FOR POWER SECTOR DEVELOPMENT

In the CEB Chairman’s statement given to the press, he has also given the following list of additional major thermal power plants planned to be built within the decade.

A 300 MW CCGT power plant operating with gas to be built by a local contractor

A 300 MW CCGT power plant operating with gas to be built jointly with India and Japan with financial support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as a joint venture with CEB.

A 600 MW coal power plant as an extension to the existing coal power plant at Puttalam.

According to a report appearing in the Island of 26.10.2020, the CEB Chairman has stated that “the government would go ahead with the fourth power plant at the Norochcholai, as soon as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was completed. He has further said that the Cabinet had already endorsed the plant’s fourth unit although the AG’s Department and the PUCSL were still studying the proposal. (https://island.lk/govt-to-go-ahead-with-fourth-coal-plant-at-norochcholai-once-eia-is-ready/).

In the writer’s above article, he pointed out that in order to achieve a target of high RE share in the energy mix for power generation, all the existing and proposed coal power plants and diesel operated generators will have to be removed and correspondingly increase the share of RE sources such as solar, wind and biomass power plants. In the President’s vision for clean energy, coal has no place, which unfortunately the utility has still not understood.

The meeting that the President had with the Power Ministry and Renewable Energy Ministry on the 14th October would have been attended by the CEB Chairman. Hence, he would have been aware of the President’s directive when he made his statement to the press last week proposing to build new coal power plants. In any case, the President announced his policy to give high priority for RE sources in his manifesto. It appears that the CEB is not keen in meeting the President’s target of achieving 70% share of power generation from renewable resources since it is planning to build more coal power plants which will make it impossible to achieve the President’s target.

 

BRINGING LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS (LNG) FOR THE NEW POWER PLANTS

The new CCGT power plant is required to operate with natural gas once it is available and until such time, it is permitted to operate with petroleum oil – fuel oil or diesel oil. In order to realize the President’s vision to have the existing CCGT plants converted to gas and to operate new CCGT plants to be built soon, it is necessary to have LNG available in the country by the time these power plants are built. However, the importing of LNG for operating the power plant has been a problem because there are no suitable locations to build a land terminal on the West coast close to Colombo and even mooring a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) off the West coast has been a problem.

 

But acquiring and operating a land terminal or a FSRU are complex affairs and under the current situation, the country lacks the necessary expertise to venture into such an exercise. Realizing this, India, Japan and South Korea offered assistance in this regard, but authorities here are somewhat reluctant to accept such assistance. As described previously, even the selection of a CCGT power plant on BOOT basis and signing its PPA could not be accomplished by our professionals even after a lapse of nearly four years despite the fact that several CCGT power plants are in operation in the country and CEB has entered into PPAs with hundreds of independent power producers in the past. Therefore, one cannot imagine how long our professionals would take to finalize a PPA for a hitherto unknown operation of a FSRU or an LNG land terminal.

There are several other options available for bringing LNG into the country. One is to use a mini-terminal at Dikkowita adjoining its fisheries harbour for which the Cabinet approval has already been granted. LNG is brought to the terminal in small shallow carriers which could be accommodated in Dikkowita terminal. After re-gasification, the gas could be taken to the power plant site using pipelines. The writer understands that Its commencement is awaiting the approval of the relevant regulatory authorities. It appears that there is no one in authority willing to take a decision on this matter.

Another option available is to make use of insulated standard containers conforming to specifications of International Standard Organization (ISO). These containers could be used both for transport and storage until the gas is used in the power plant. Once a container is brought to the Port in a standard container carrier, it is unloaded on to a trailer drawn by a prime mover and taken to a yard close to the power plant site. As and when required, a container is moved to a platform built close to the power plant and LNG is fed to a re-gasifier with storage from which the gas is fed to the power plant. There is no additional infrastructure required to import these containers other than what is already available within the Port. The only requirement is that it needs the clearance from the Ministry of Energy, Ports Authority, Motor Traffic Dept. and the Central Environmental Authority.

A third option is to negotiate with China who is building an LNG terminal within Hambantota Harbour to feed its 400 MW CCGT gas power plant currently being built there to supply power to industries in the Chinese Industrial Estate planned in Hambantota. If the capacity of this terminal is increased, the additional gas could be brought to the city in a pipeline laid along the highway reservation for operating the gas power plants planned near the city. In addition, the government should be able to provide a bunkering service to LNG operated vessels passing Hambantota for which Singapore is already building the necessary infrastructure.

A fourth option is to develop Trincomalee Harbour as a hub for natural gas distribution. LNG could be brought in large carriers to Trincomalee Harbour which has the ideal depth and area to build a large land terminal. Once re-gasified, gas could be stored and brought to the city and other load centres through pipe lines. Surplus gas could be supplied to South India who has been negotiating for decades to bring gas from suppliers in the region including Myanmar, Turkmenistan and Iran. Sri Lanka need not spend any capital on the project other than providing the land and regulatory mechanism while building the actual facility could be assigned to an investor with good track record.

 

CONCLUSION

With the President announcing his new policy on incorporation of 70% of power generation from renewable resources, the Ministry Policy Guidelines on Electricity Industry needs amendment through a Cabinet decision to give effect to this policy decision. Further, the CEB will have to revise its long-term generation expansion plan to align with this policy as its current plans only yield a RE share of only 35%.

Achieving a 70% target of renewable energy share in power generation by 2030 is feasible both technically and financially as pointed out by the writer in his recent articles which appeared in the Island of 25th and 26th September. However, the question is whether the CEB is willing to give up coal enabling it to meet the President’s target.

There are several options available for bringing LNG to the country to make achieving this target feasible. However, a suitable regulatory mechanism needs to be put in place before such mechanisms are implemented along with necessary facilities for monitoring of operations and ensuring safety protocols are adhered to following acceptable international procedure including guidelines laid down in international classified societies.

With the President giving the leadership for adopting cleaner technologies for power generation, it is essential that the relevant organizations, particularly the CEB, do their utmost to achieve his targets without giving lame excuses or its engineering staff threatening trade union action to get the President to change his policy as they have done in the past.



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Solidarity and Aragalaya: A few thoughts from an educationist’s perspective

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by Harshana Rambukwella

Very little in Sri Lanka at the moment inspires hope. We are facing an existential crisis that was inconceivable just six months ago. Sri Lanka is also, ironically, just a year away from marking the 75th year of its independence. As we reflect on these seven decades of postcolonial nation building, and as we confront a future of extreme precarity, our scorecard as a country is not a proud one. Much blood has been spilt in the name of postcolonial nation building and the ethno-nationalist conflict that shaped almost three decades of that history and two youth rebellions against the state speak to a history of division and enmity. While our current predicament cannot be entirely attributed to this conflictual history alone, it surely played more than a small role in shaping our present misery. It is within this context that I want to offer this brief set of reflections on what I feel is an unprecedented form of solidarity that has emerged in Sri Lanka as the aragalaya took shape. While I do not want to romanticize this solidarity because it is a highly contingent phenomenon and is shaped by the extreme nature of the current political and economic conditions, it offers us as a society, but more specifically as educators, something to reflect on as we try to imagine our role in a society that faces a painful process of rebuilding and recovery (though my hope is that such rebuilding and recovery does not mean the repetition of the tired old neo-liberal script we have followed for decades).

Before I explore what I mean by solidarity within the aragalaya, let me briefly reflect on solidarity as a concept. Solidarity is a term sometimes deployed in geopolitics. Particularly in this time of global turmoil where not just Sri Lanka, but many other countries are experiencing serious economic challenges, we see nations expressing solidarity with or towards other nations. However, such solidarity is almost always shaped by instrumental motives. This is what we might call a form of ‘vertical’ solidarity where more powerful and wealthy nations extend a ‘helping hand’ to their more unfortunate counterparts. Therefore, when India says ‘neighbourhood first’ and expresses solidarity with Sri Lanka in this time of trouble one can easily discern this as a hierarchical gesture shaped by instrumental motives. It is in reality, India’s strategic geopolitical interests that largely dominate this narrative of solidarity though one cannot disregard the critical importance of the assistance extended by India and other such ‘powerful’ nations in this time of national distress.

Another form in which solidarity manifests is through what some scholars have termed ‘enchanted’ solidarities. This is literally and metaphorically a distant form of solidarity where intellectuals, activists and others extend solidarity towards a struggle they perceive as deserving their support but without truly understanding the context in which they are intervening. This has often happened with ‘first world’ academics and intellectuals expressing solidarity towards ‘third world’ struggles which they felt were ideologically aligned with their beliefs. One example is how many liberal and leftist intellectuals supported the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, believing it to be an anti-imperial liberation movement, only to become disillusioned with the movement as they began to see the full horror of the repression and violence unleashed by the Khmer regime. I think if we reflect on Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history, we can also find many such moments where enchanted solidarities were expressed towards various movements from people in the ‘metropolitan’ center with little understanding of the nuances of the politics on the ground.

Premised against both vertical and enchanted solidarities, scholars have also proposed what is called ‘disenchanted solidarity’. By this they mean a situation where diverse groups, sometimes with very different political and ideological agendas, come together to fight for a common cause. They are often critically conscious of their differences but face a common precarity that pushes them together to struggle and align in ways that were not possible before. Often such moments are also underwritten by anger, though the sources of anger or the objects towards which the anger is directed could be different. I would like to read the aragalaya through this lens of disenchanted solidarity. Particularly at the height of the Galle Face ‘Gota go gama’ protests – before the brutish May 9th attack symbolically ‘killed’ something of the ‘innocence’ of the struggle – there was a sense in which the different groups represented in that space were expressing solidarity towards a singular goal – getting rid of the Rajapakasas and a political system they saw as deeply corrupt – there was anger and a gathering of disenchanted solidarities. For many middle-class people, the aragalaya was a way in which to express their frustration at the lack of the basic necessities of life – be it gas, electricity and fuel – and how a corrupt political class had robbed them of their future. For those with longer histories of political activism such as the IUSF (the Inter University Students Federation) or youth activists from the Frontline Socialist Party or the JVPs youth wing or the many trade unions that supported the aragalaya, this moment in some ways represented the culmination, and perhaps even a vindication, of their longstanding struggles against a political, social and economic order that they consider fundamentally unfair and exploitative. Of course, within this larger narrative, there were and continue to be pragmatic political calculations, particularly from groups affiliated with political parties. At the same time, we also witnessed ethnic and religious minorities, often historically marginalized in Sri Lanka’s social and political mainstream finding a rare space to express their anger at the ways in which they have been discriminated against. However, the argalaya gave them a rare space to do so by channeling their anger as a form of solidarity towards the common goal of getting rid of the Rajapaksa dynasty and the corrupt political system as a whole.

But at the same time, we also saw the tenuous nature of these disenchanted solidarities in the aftermath of the 9th May attack on ‘Gota go gama’. Initially we saw another spectacular display of organic and spontaneous solidarity when health workers and office workers abandoned their workstations and rushed to ‘Gota go gama’ when news of the attack broke. But by the evening of that day the story had turned more insidious with a wave of attacks against the properties of politicians and others thought to have been involved in the attack against the peaceful aragayala participants. While we may understand and even empathize with this backlash, its violent nature and what appeared to be other instrumental motives driving it, such as the looting and revenge attacks, made it difficult to associate it with the moral principles that had animated the aragalaya thus far.

Thereafter, at the current moment I am writing, the aragalaya also appears to have lost some of its vital energy as the political configuration has shifted and the tragi-comedy of Sri Lanka’s realpolitik with its underhand deals and political mechanizations seems to have regained the upper hand.

However, what does this mean? Does it mean post May 9th the aragalaya has lost its meaning and purpose or can we push our analysis a little deeper. At this point I would like to introduce one final way in which scholars have discussed solidarity which I feel is appropriate to understand the aragalaya and the spirit that underwrote it and continues to underwrite it. This is what some scholars have called ‘deep solidarity’ – a situation where in today’s neo-liberal context where the vast majority of the population come to a realization of their common social and economic predicament and realize their common enemy is the symbolic ‘one percent’ or an insidious nexus between crony capital and political power that disempowers them. This is of course an idealistic conception but one which I feel holds true at least partially to this moment in Sri Lanka. People from widely varying social and economic strata, from different religious persuasions and people with wildly different ideological and political beliefs have been suddenly pushed together. They are all standing in the never-ending petrol and diesel queues, they are desperately hunting for the next cylinder of gas and increasingly many of them are going hungry. The privileges and the divisions that once defined them, no longer seem to be so ‘real’ and the one stark reality confronting them is a form of existential annihilation. I believe within the aragalaya we can glimpse traces of this deep solidarity and as an educationist I think it is our vital task to think of creative ways in which we might sustain this solidarity, grow it and nurture it, so that we can at least ‘imagine’ a better future. These are idealistic sentiments, but at least for me, such hope, is a political and pedagogical necessity of the current moment.

Harshana Rambukwella is attached to the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University of Sri Lanka

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies

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No solutions to nation’s problems from draft constitutional amendment

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by jehan perera

The three-wheel taxi driver did not need much encouragement to talk about the hardships in his life, starting with spending two days in the petrol queue to get his quota. He said that he had a practice of giving his three children a small packet of biscuits and a small carton of milk every morning. But now with the cost tripling, he could only buy one packet of biscuits and his three children had to share it. This is because their beloved country is facing one debacle after another for no fault of those kids or the larger nation. The latest is the failure of the government to make headway in accessing either IMF funding or other funding on any significant scale. Several countries have made donations, but these are in the millions whereas Sri Lanka requires billions if it is to come out of its vicious cycle of a dollar shortage.

There was much anticipation that the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would bring in the billions that are desperately needed by the country if it is to obtain the fuel, food and medicines to keep the people healthy and the economy moving. But things have not worked out in this manner. The pickings have been slim and sparse. The IMF has given the reasons after the ten day visit by its staff to Sri Lanka. They have specifically referred to “reducing corruption vulnerabilities” in their concluding statement at the end of their visit. The international community in the form of multilateral donors and Western governments have prioritized political stability and a corruption-free administration prior to providing Sri Lanka with the financial assistance it requires.

The pressing need in the country is for the government to show there is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption in dealing with the prevailing crisis. It is not enough for government leaders to give verbal assurances on these matters. There needs to be political arrangements that convince the international community, and the people of Sri Lanka, that the government is committed to this cause. Several foreign governments have said that they will consider larger scale assistance to Sri Lanka, once the IMF agreement is operational. So far the government has not been successful in convincing the international community that its own accountability systems are reliable. This is the main reason why the country is only obtaining millions in aid and not billions.

INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONS

The draft 22nd Amendment that is now before the parliament (which will become the 21st Amendment should it be passed) would be a good place for the government to show its commitment. The cabinet has approved the draft which has three main sections, impacting upon the establishment of the constitutional council, the powers of the president and dual citizenship. However, the cabinet-approved draft is a far cry from what is proposed by the opposition political parties and civil society groups. It is watered down to the point of being ineffective. Indeed, it appears to be designed to fail as it is unlikely to gain the support of different political parties and factions within those parties whose support is necessary if the 2/3 majority is to be obtained.

In the first place, the draft constitutional amendment does not reduce the president’s power in any significant manner. The amendment is drafted in a way that the reduction of presidential powers will only occur with the next president. The president now in office, who has publicly admitted failure on his part, continues to be empowered to appoint and sack the prime minister and cabinet ministers at his arbitrary discretion. He is also empowered to appoint and dismiss the secretaries to ministries, who are the highest-ranking public service officials. In short, the executive arms of the government are obliged to do the president’s bidding or risk their jobs. This indicates the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose party has only a single seat in parliament, has no independent strength, but is there at the will and pleasure of the president.

In the second instance, the draft amendment was expected to set up a system of checks and balances for accountability and anti-corruption purposes. The pioneering effort in this regard was the 17th Amendment of 2001 that made provisions for a constitutional council and independent commissions. According to it, the members of all state bodies tasked with accountability and anti-corruption functions, such as the Bribery and Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Public Service Commission and the appointees to the higher judiciary were to be appointed through the constitutional council. The 17th Amendment made provision for seven of the ten members of the constitutional council to be from civil society.

DEATH BLOW

Unfortunately, in a manner designed to deal a death blow to the concept of checks and balances, the draft amendment sets up a constitutional council with the proportions in reverse to that of the 17th Amendment. It reveals a mindset in the political leadership that fears de-politicisation of decision making. Seven of the ten members will be appointed by the political parties and the president in a way in which the majority of members will be government appointees. Only three will be from civil society. This ensures a majority representation in the Council for government politicians, and the ensures government dominance over the political members. The composition of the constitutional council proposed in the Bill undermines the independence of the institutions to which appointments are made through the Council who will be unable to stem the wildly growing tide of corruption in the country.

It is no wonder that the furious people in the endless queues for petrol and diesel should believe that there is corruption at play in the continuing shortage of basic commodities. The government promised that ships would come in laden with fuel a week ago. Then, inexplicably, the information was disseminated that no ships were on the horizon. In any other country, except in a country like no other, the concerned leaders would have resigned. Due to the lack of fuel, perishable farm produce rots in rural farmhouses and markets in urban centres are empty and prices are rocketing up. In the meantime, the media has exposed rackets where the privileged, politically powerful and super rich, are given special access to fuel. It is patently clear that the government has failed to deliver on the results that were expected. The situation is getting worse in terms of corrupt practices.

To the credit of the Sri Lankan people, they are being patient. The bonds of social solidarity still prevail. But the anger at the self-seeking and incompetent political leaders is reaching the boiling point, as it did on 09 May. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to set up an interim government in consultation with party leaders in parliament. However, he did not do so but appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and thereby ended efforts of other parliamentarians to form a national unity government. The president’s pledge, made in the aftermath of the cataclysmic and unexpected violence that took place that day, was to reduce his presidential powers, transfer those powers to parliament and to appoint an all-party and interim government of no more than 15 ministers. These pledges remain unfulfilled and need to be implemented to be followed by elections as soon as the situation stabilises.

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Kehelgamuwa’s football skills and President Premadasa’s political sagacity

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By Hema Arachi

T.B. Kehelgamuwa, the cricketer who needs no plaudits from anyone, is well known. He represented then Ceylon and, later, Sri Lanka as a fearsome fast bowler during the pre-Test era. His contemporaries still talk about Kehel with great respect. Once S Skanda Kumar, the well-known cricketer, cricket commentator and former High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, proudly told me about his playing cricket with Kehelgamuwa. Bandu Samarasinghe, a Sri Lanka film star, on a TV programme vividly demonstrated how he faced Kehelgamuwa in a Sara Trophy game. That was the top-level tournament in the country.

This note is to share my watching Kehelgamuwa playing soccer when he was not so young. Then, though his grey hair was visible, he ran fast and played hard like a teenager. This was during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure. Returning from The Netherlands, after my postgraduate studies, I lived in Pelawatta, near the Sri Lanka Parliament and my workplace – International Irrigation Management Institute headquarters. I used to enjoy walking on Parliament grounds. That day was unique because the game between the President’s soccer team, comprising parliamentarians, and the Sri Lanka Police team, was played there.

President Premadasa was well known for his political sagacity, especially in manipulating any situation in his favour. For instance, the day Anura Bandaranayake became the Opposition Leader, Premadasa, praised Anura stating, “Anura is the best Opposition Leader we have.” He further requested that Anura join the ruling party and become a minister and also marry a girl from a prominent ruling party family. But within weeks, he was critical of Anura. One day an Opposition member asked him, “You said Anura was our best Opposition leader a few weeks ago but now criticise.” His reply was this: “Yes, I said so because Anura is the best Opposition leader for us, the ruling party, not for the Opposition. For the Opposition, the best leader is Sarath Muththetuwegama!”

A few weeks before the scheduled encounter between the Parliamentarians and the Police football team, there was a game between the Parliamentarians and the Colombo Municipality team. Premadasa captained the Parliamentarians and kicked the winning goal. I remember a cartoon in a newspaper where the Municipality team goalkeeper withdrew so that Premadasa could score the goal at his will.

During the game against the Police, Premadasa did not play but visibly played the role of the coach of the Parliamentarian team. Unlike the Municipality players, the Police played the game seriously. Kehelgamuwa represented the Police team that scored five goals by halftime, and the Parliamentarian team was nil. At halftime, Premadasa replaced the Parliamentarian goalkeeper with Jayawickerama Perera. Yet, the Police team recorded a sound victory.

I thought Premadasa was upset due to this defeat for his team. But no. Premadasa claimed victory: “I am happy that my team won the game by beating the Parliamentarians today! Being the Executive President, I do not belong to the Parliament. However, as the Commander-in-Chief, the Police come under my purview, so my team won today!”

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