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Impediments to a better CEB

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by Kumar David

It is a shame that CEB Chairman Vijitha Herath was happy to sell his professionals down the river for cheap popularity with his political bosses as in his interview in Ceylon Today (23 August, pA4). The sub-heading was “Corrupt Power Deals by last regime – CEB Chairman” and the opening summary statement by the interviewer reads “The power and energy sector in Sri Lanka, mainly the Ceylon Electricity Board is alleged to be one of the most corrupt and most negligent entities in the country. In the past even the state sector worked with the power sector in the most lackadaisical manner – cancelling competitive tenders and at the same time awarding them to those who curry favour with higher ups or private suppliers based on deals. There are accusations that CEB Engineers run a monopoly”. To my knowledge Mr Herath has issued no refutation disassociating himself from the interviewer’s implied attribution of views, nor has he rejected the association of his name and office from grossly untruthful slanders of his staff. Is this the man who is going to give leadership to the CEB? Does he not know that corruption in the power sector derives 90% from Presidents, the Cabinet, Power Ministers and Ministry Secretaries? Big time corruption in the power sector commenced in the 1990s in Chandrika’s time with the awarding of contracts to build and operate private power plants. Big money went to big players. Do they not teach corporate managers like Mr Herath about reciprocal confidence building? Managers who undermine and untruthfully publicly ridicule their staff will lose the trust of colleagues and the confidence of the institution.

In the mean time we have had this eight-hour all-Island blackout and an inability to restore full supplies for four or five days. One matter I want to especially complain about is the failure of the CEB or CEB-Ministry (erroneously named Power-Ministry) to issue a full, frank and transparent public statement. I appreciate detailed technical analyses will take time and highly placed fools who allege sabotage are doing damage. However, a simple summary would have sufficed to keep speculation at bay. Speculation on the grapevine says that a bus-bar was inadvertently energised by maintenance crew before a heavy earthing chain was removed which led to massive tripping of other circuits and the isolation of Norochcholai. After that it took ages to restart Norochcholai, a known problem which seems not to have been sorted out for 12 years.

Furthermore, there was something new that has not been encountered before. When units were brought back on-line and attempts made, in many different ways, to re-energise Colombo, the system repeatedly tripped. Is all this true? No official statement! Questions: (a) Three-phase to ground flashovers are not common but not unknown; systems should be robust to such events. (b) Why has something not been done for a decade about Norochcholai restarting? And (c) Repetitive tripping-on-re-energisation is a new phenomenon that CEB professionals can sort out given time. However, there has to be stringent outside review of their analyses and proposed solutions. Ministers who smell a saboteur-rat under every bed and Chairmen who undercut their staff will be of no help.

 

Renewable Energy

 

Renewable energy sourced technologies for the generation of electricity is one of the very best things that has happened to humanity. The problem is that the God Indira who commands the sun and wind was not equally generous to all corners of the earth. A one square kilometre site atop the Atacama Desert in Chile or Hardup in the Namib Dessert will produce about 350 GWh (gigawatt hours) and 230 GWh respectively per year. The output for a one square kilometre site in Puttalam, NCP, NP or Hambabtota will be about 150 GWh per year. [A GWh is 1,000,000 units or kWh]. A 1000MW coal power station will generate about 6300 GWh per year (Norochcholai is 900MW and extension to 1200 is planned). To match this, we will need 42 square kilometres of land, that is close to 10,000 acres! This is the problem! Only countries with large dessert landmasses can think big about solar powered electricity. Uninhabited and uncultivated portions NCP, NWP, NP and Hambantota District are good locations for big solar farms, but all together it will not be easy to put together more than about half-a-Norochcholai. As with big-hydro, with wind and solar too, once the best sites are used up it’s saturation; what after that? With other technologies (thermal, nuclear and future fusion power) new plant can be added without such restrictions.

An attraction of solar power is that prices are coming down steeply. After you factor in lifetime repayment of capital, the future cost of electricity generated from large solar farms will be about Rs 10 per kWh while coal or LNG cost between Rs 7 and Rs 9 depending on global coal and gas prices. Let us agree, prices are comparable. The CEB buys privately generated (IPP or Independent Power Producer) power, when it faces shortage, at about Rs 25 per kWh, again variable with world oil prices. [I won’t waste your time with fractions and decimals which will be out of date between one month and the next. When someone with a little subject knowledge writes media columns the duty is to convey useful and reliable information, not to impress readers with minutiae].

We are in our present predicament because of the stupidity and inanity, respectively, of President Sirisena and PM Ranil who ignored an Expert Committee Report in 2016 which warned that cancelling Sampur coal-fired power station would be ruinous. They had numerous warnings from other experts and CEB planners as well. As a member of the Committee I estimated, and included in the Report, that this blunder would cost the country Rs 220 billion. That now seems a bit of an underestimate and the crisis has arrived sooner than I forecast. I am not playing the usual “this regime”, “that regime” game that the media, corporate chairmen and politician are slick at. The two former Rajapaksa Administrations and the 2015-2019 government have all been grossly imprudent in respect of the long and short-term future of the country’s electricity sector. That’s that and QED!

I will not repeat the same story about wind generated electricity though I have jotted down some back of the envelope calculations for my own use. The scenario is similar to solar: It is, like solar, much less polluting and it is price comparable with coal or LNG and much less pricey (only capital costs, negligible running cost) than oil-fired private power. But availability of good sites is limited as with solar (once the best sites are used up as with major hydro, the story is finished – what to do after that?). A very important point is that renewables are big in the public popularity stakes and this is the great selling point for politicians who don’t know the difference between a kilowatt-hour and an LED lamp.

As per the most up to date information on the CEB website (2017) large-hydro supplied 24.6% of total energy while wind, mini-hydro and solar supplied 8.1% – of which mini-hydro was 5.2% all the others 3.9%. CEB thermal (coal and oil) was 52.2% and IPPs (all oil) 15.2% of energy. (It fluctuates a little annually depending on rainfall and unforeseen events like the August 2020 system outage). However, one needs to be ignorant of the basic laws of physics and not schooled in primary arithmetic to say that renewable source electricity will supply 80% of energy by 2030. If in 10 to 15 years demand doubles (say) and no large-hydro is added (only few medium-size projects are left to do) then its relative share will decline, as per trivial arithmetic, to 12.3%. To increase non large-hydro renewables (only 3.9% now) by a factor of five to 19.5%, energy supply must increase, as per trivial arithmetic again, tenfold within 10 years! Only knaves and politicians make such promises.

Has government (President/PM/Cabinet/Subject Ministry) corruption and incompetence been an obstacle to the faster implementation of renewable energy sourced electricity? When competent, rational and honest decision making about the country’s long-term generation expansion programme is undermined by government (all governments) it throws a spanner in the works. Government after government have been ‘playing pandu’; to-LNG or not-to-LNG; to have another coal fired unit or not; to embrace India or Japan or both. When mega private sector companies screw ministers and when nothing is decided properly, it throws the transmission plans out of kilter and demoralises planners. It stands funding including for renewable sources on its head. Therefore, in addition to the technical limitations that I discussed previously cock-up and corruption at the highest levels – not in the CEB Mr Herath but in governments – is an impediment to a sensible programme for increasing renewable source power generation.

 

 


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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