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Harsha slams CEB

Deputy Minister Harsha De Silva speaking at the (PUCSL) Energy Forum. Picture by Mahinda Vithanachchi

Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Harsha De Silva repeatedly criticised the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) for what he called an abdication of its duty.

He was speaking at the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka’s (PUCSL) Energy Forum on Thursday evening.

In his keynote speech and the panel discussion, De Silva called out the CEB for not attending the event, for failing to cooperate with the PUCSL, for neglecting the government’s pursuit of renewable energy, and for inefficiencies in tender procurement, losses incurred, and over-inflated salaries.

He began his speech by excoriating the CEB for not attending the Energy Forum. “The Ceylon Electricity Board General Manager is not here. We are talking about electricity at this Energy Forum 2017. This is organised by the regulator. I am here, the Chairman is here, the invitees are here. Where is the CEB General Manager? What is the anxiety attack the man has got?”

De Silva emphasised the government’s “deep disappointment that the Ceylon Electricity Board has been very unprofessional by not participating in the forum".

Repeatedly throughout the forum, he took the CEB to task for not doing their jobs, leading to incomplete procurements.

“How can we complete the procurements if those members of the procurement committees are not sitting on those procurement committees?”

He specifically mentioned the proposed LNG power plant at Kerawalapitiya, blaming the CEB for delay.

“I have sat in multiple CCM meetings and multiple excuses have been given about why it is delayed. Six people bid, five people were disqualified, only one person was selected and that person didn’t have a proper bid. What happens now? Now what has happened is that no CEB engineer is sitting on the procurement boards. That’s a hell of a how-do- you-do. Are we being kept to ransom by certain people?”

De Silva acknowledged that there are disagreements between the CEB and the PUCSL as a regulating body regarding the Long-Term Generation Expansion Plan, but said that these were technical differences without bearings on tender procurements and should have been sorted out by now.

And he took issue with the way in which problems with the CEB turn into allegations against the Government, which he says are without merit.

“It is not the decision of the Cabinet or the Minister in charge, or the Prime Minister or the President, to go ahead and order a tender. It must be done by those who have been appointed to do it. If those who have been appointed to do it are absconding and not sitting in these tender committees and approving these projects, then how is it the fault of the Government?

“It is just like the CEB is not present here to discuss these matters. They are running away from the responsibilities they have been tasked with in going through the proper procedures and selecting who needs to be given these tenders so that the plants can come online,” De Silva said.

De Silva also criticised the CEB’s Rs. 30 billion loss for the first six months of 2017. He argued that Sri Lankan citizens end up paying for that through taxes on “bread or sugar or milk powder,” as well as the CEB’s Rs. 40 billion debt incurred to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation in the first nine months of this year. He said these losses might be owed in part to the salaries of various CEB employees, which he called “very high.”

De Silva conceded that the Government carried some responsibility for not implementing proper reforms, but he insisted that the Government is trying in its attempts to reform not just the CEB but the entire energy sector.