by Dr Janaka Ratnasiri
The government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), in a policy decision made in 1998, expressed its commitment to power sector reforms and embarked on a programme to restructure it by unbundling the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) into separate companies for generation, transmission, and distribution, as reported in the ADB Report on Country Assistance Programme Evaluation: Power Sector Assistance Evaluation, August 2007. To give effect to this policy, a Bill was drafted to introduce reforms in the power sector as far back as 2002.
ELECTRICITY REFORMS ACT 28 OF 2002
The draft titled Electricity Reforms Bill was presented to the Parliament in 2002, outlining sector reforms comprising restructuring of the electricity industry by breaking the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Lanka Electricity Company (LECO) into several independent state-owned companies to carry out generation, transmission, and distribution functions.
The Bill proposed that independent companies be incorporated for the following purposes:
One company to take over the functions of the CEB relating to hydroelectricity generation and thermal electricity generation,
One company to take over the functions of the CEB relating to transmission and bulk procurement of electricity,
Three or more companies to take over the distribution of electricity, and
One or more companies to take over other functions of the CEB and LECO.
The Bill when presented to the Parliament brought in strong protests from many quarters including the CEB trade unions and other trade unions as well as from several political parties. They saw this Bill as an initial step towards privatizing the CEB and consequently loss of employment for its staff. Once the government gave the workers an assurance that the workers’ rights would be safeguarded, the protests died down and the Bill was passed in March 2002. It was gazetted as Electricity Reforms Act No. 28 of 2002 on 13 December 2002. However, the necessary order to give effect to the Act was not gazetted by the Minister and as a result the Act did not come into operation.
ENERGY EXPERT’S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UNBUNDLING THE POWER SETOR
Prof. Priyantha Wijayatunga, Director of the South Asia Energy Division of Asian Development Bank (ADB) said at the launching of the Techno 2019 exhibition held in July 2019, that “Sri Lanka still needs to go a long way in relation to sector governance, compared to other countries in the region. It is time that we look at this closely so that we do not lag behind. Reforms will undoubtedly help the energy sector and hence the country’s economic development,” (Daily Mirror, 18.07.2019).
He specifically pointed out that improved governance in the energy sector in India and Bangladesh enormously helped conceptualizing and implementing clean energy initiatives, while enhancing their energy security. He highlighted the important role played by independent energy regulators and separation of functions of the energy sector in these countries, which had paved the way for breakthroughs in clean energy initiatives.
Prof. Wijayatunga elaborated “By now, a large majority of the countries, including many in the developing world around us, have fully unbundled the energy supply industry with a reasonably independent regulatory environment. If we look at South Asia, India and Bangladesh have already significantly advanced and are rapidly progressing in these areas,”. Further, he noted that “reforms also led to an increase in private sector participation in all sub sectors, including generation, distribution and even in transmission business in these countries”.
RECOMMENDATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
The GoSL, from time to time, engaged the services of international institutions such as World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to make recommendations to improve the power sector. Among the reports produced from these studies are:
JICA Master Plan Study on the Development of Power Generation and Transmission System in Sri Lanka, February 2006,
Asian Development Bank report on Assessment of Power Sector Reforms in Sri Lanka, 2015,
JICA Report on Electricity Sector Master Plan Study in Sri Lanka, March, 2018, and
World Bank Group study on Sri Lanka Energy Infrastructure Sector Assessment Programme (InfraSAP), April 2019.
The 2006 JICA report observed that “political intervention is making it impossible for the CEB to manage itself autonomously. As a result, its management has been criticized as inefficient by external parties. Moreover, it has piled up a debt big enough to jeopardize its continued sustenance. One of the areas where politics has been heavily involved is the tariff question. Thus far, political considerations have worked against attempts to raise tariffs, and tariff revisions to reflect the costs have consequently been delayed. To put a halt to political intervention in CEB management as well, it is necessary to lay down the proper conditions for corporate business. This is to be done by unbundling the current CEB, which is a vertically integrated government-owned monopoly; making the generation, transmission, and distribution divisions completely independent”. The report further recommended that “a fundamental reform of the sector is absolutely essential for promotion of long-term investment and increase in the overall efficiency. To this end, the government must present a detailed vision and schedule for CEB unbundling, and swiftly complete the reform, which is currently stalled.” But no follow up action was taken by the GoSL towards unbundling of the CEB.
The 2015 ADB report in its concluding paragraph said that “The next stage of reform requires establishing six independent companies out of the CEB’s generation, transmission, and four distribution licensees. The organization culture in the government-owned company LECO needs to be replicated in the CEB’s distribution licensees by creating corporate entities that report to the CEB holding company. The functional business units currently established within the CEB are adequately staffed and organized to enable the formation of six corporate entities. The corporatization need not involve privatization if political decision makers do not wish to involve private capital more fully in the sector, provided the state-owned firms operate as independent commercial companies”.
The ADB report further said that “The electricity sector was proposed to be restructured to ensure increased efficiency, transparency, autonomy, accountability, competition, and financial viability. The CEB functions were to be vertically and horizontally unbundled. For this purpose, the CEB owned subsidiary companies were planned to be established under the Companies Act No. 17 of 1982. The electricity sector was proposed to be restructured to ensure increased efficiency, transparency, autonomy, accountability, competition, and financial viability. The CEB functions were to be vertically and horizontally unbundled. For this purpose, CEB owned subsidiary companies were planned to be established under the Companies Act No. 17 of 1982”.
The 2018 JICA report reviewed and updated the 2006 JICA Master Plan. However, it did not refer to the issue of unbundling the power sector but recommended incorporation of renewable energy projects as well as natural gas in the energy mix for generation of electricity up to 2040 including consideration of financial commitments. It also considered the option of generation with 100% renewable energy sources by 2040, recommending that to meet the deficit of power arising out of continuing high cloud cover for several days, storage batteries need to be installed at an estimated cost of USD 1,000 million.
The 2019 World Bank report says “Apart from a few recent competitive outcomes, the country has not yet been able to develop utility scale non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) projects at tariffs comparable with other projects globally or in the region or to tap into commercial financing and private sector participation in larger scale projects. As part of the preparation of the InfraSAP, two pre-feasibility assessments for potential large scale NCRE park sites were conducted for sites in Pooneryn and Moneragala, respectively, totaling about 500 MW of potential generation capacity”.
“The Solar and Wind power has the potential to further optimize the cost of power in the country. In line with what is being witnessed across the globe (i.e. low tariffs in solar and wind-based generation), it seems reasonable to assume that by opening the sector to international players with adequate incentives and risk mitigation mechanisms in place, a significant reduction in cost of power could be achieved in Sri Lanka. The solar and wind-based generation could be potentially used to replace some of the expensive imported oil-based power, which is currently utilized to offset the low availability of hydro resources” (p. 17).
Though the government sought the assistance from these multilateral agencies for improving the performance of the CEB, it has not taken any initiative to implement them, particularly those on reforms. The CEB is also rather slow in pursuing building of large-scale solar energy systems despite the government giving high priority for them and availability of funding from India on a credit line to the extent of USD 100 million specifically for solar energy project development (See The Island of 03.09.2020)
PRE-REQUISITES FOR UNBUNDLING OF CEB
Once the CEB is unbundled, separate companies are to be set up to take over the generation, transmission, distribution and other functions. There will be one company each for generation and transmission and three or more for distribution, according to the draft Act. However, it will be more prudent to have separate generation companies for each of the generation complexes, Kelanitissa, Laxapana, Mahaweli and others including large renewable energy plants. These companies will serve as independent power producers (IPP) and will have to sell the energy they generate to the transmission company, along with other IPPs. Electricity generated at power plants other than from small power plants, is transmitted to grid substations using 220 kV and 132 kV transmission lines.
When the available capacity exceeds the demand, the System Controller will have to decide the amount of power to be purchased from the IPPs based on a merit order system. Generally, plants providing firm output at low cost is given priority according to which power from renewable sources may get low priority. However, with the government policy to meet a minimum of 80% of generation from renewable sources, a mechanism will have to be worked out to accept power from RE sources, possibly by providing storage facilities which will even out their fluctuations.
Before selling energy, it has to be measured to an accuracy of at least ±0.1% using instrumentation which need to be type approved by the Department of Measurement Units, Standards and Services (MUSS) as required by the relevant law. Further, the instruments need to be regularly calibrated by an accredited laboratory. The CEB is already having a Meter Laboratory and this may have to be brought under the control of the transmission company with updated instrumentation serving as secondary standards with accuracy traceable to international standards. This can be verified by calibrating them against the primary standards available at MUSS Department, which is a legal requirement. Every generating unit before being connected to the grid for transmission, needs to go through the metering unit which will monitor the energy dispatched on a daily or monthly basis and transmit the data to the transmission company. It will then pay the IPP at rates agreed to in the power purchase agreement entered into between the IPP and the transmission company, based on the energy dispatched.
For distribution, the CEB has already divided the country into four regional divisions and a subsidiary company, Lanka Electric Company Ltd, covering the Western coastal townships from Negombo to Galle, excluding the city of Colombo. Electricity distribution from 220 kV/132 kV grid substations to the rest of the country is carried out using 33 kV lines which are again converted to 11 kV at load centres for local distribution. The 33 kV or 11 kV line voltage is again converted into 230/400 V for supplying to consumers. Currently, one 33 kV line may extend across two division boundaries, but if these two divisions are to be set up as two independent companies, there has to be separate distribution lines, each covering only one division receiving electricity from one or more GSSs located within the division. It will be then possible to measure the amount of energy transferred to this particular distribution company separately. Hence, certain amount or modifying the distribution system may have to be undertaken prior to unbundling.
FINANCIAL VIABILITY OF CEB
The CEB has been selling electricity to most of its consumers below cost price which is around Rs 20 per unit. For example, the tariff for households consuming up to 90 kWh per month is only Rs. 10 per unit for the last 30 units and less for lower slabs. For industries with demand up to 42 kVA and for other industries during daytime, the tariff is below the cost price. The average cost of generation per unit of electricity in 2017 was Rs 20.40, while the average selling price per unit in 2017 was Rs. 16.26. The corresponding values for 2018 were Rs. 19.12 and Rs. 16.29, respectively. These low tariffs resulted in the CEB incurring a net loss of Rs. 47.6 billion in 2017 and Rs. 30.5 billion in 2018 (AR, 2018).
In view of these losses, the CEB has not been able to settle its dues to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) for supplying fuel in 2016 amounting to Rs. 12.43 billion and also to settle the payments to IPPs for supplying power which amounted to Rs. 21.52 billion in 2016, according to General Manager’s Review appearing in the 2016 Annual Report (AR). Further, the total long-term borrowings as at end of 2016 were recorded as Rs. 220.5 billion, while that for 2018 were recorded as Rs. 281.3 billion, as given in respective annual reports. This poor financial status of CEB is an impediment for it to raise any borrowings from commercial banks.
The subsidies given to low-end consumers amounted to Rs. 70 billion in 2017 and Rs. 60 billion in 2018 (AR 2018). These were partly recovered by selling to high-end consumers at above-average cost price. The surplus recovered by these means in 2017 was Rs. 15.2 billion and Rs. 20.6 billion in 2018. Had the CEB was operating as a commercial enterprise, the logical measure that would have been done was either to increase the selling price above the cost price for all consumers and also reduce the cost of generation.
Being a government organization, the tariff is determined by the government policy to provide electricity to low-income households at an affordable price and hence the CEB is constrained against raising the tariff. However, this issue needs to be carefully studied and an upward revision of the tariff should be considered, removing the subsidies at least partly. Even for industries, to make them competitive in the global market, the government policy is to supply electricity to small and medium industries at below cost, but this policy too needs to be reviewed.
There is also the possibility to reduce the cost of generation. The CEB has been generating electricity from petroleum oil to the extent between 25% – 35% with the generation in 2017 being 5,000 GWh. According to 2016 Generation Performance Report of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the cost of generation from oil-fired power plants has been between Rs/kWh 22 and Rs/kWh 38. On the other hand, the cost of generation from NG fired power plant is no more than Rs/kWh 15 as quoted in the tender for the 300 MW gas power plant to be installed at Kerawalapitiya. If the thermal power plants presently operating with diesel are converted to NG, the saving is of the order of Rs. 50 billion annually.
The Cabinet of Ministers as far back as December 2010 decided to introduce natural gas (NG) in all sectors including power and industries and authorized the Ministry of Petroleum to pursue the matter, but no action was taken either by the Ministry of Petroleum or Ministry of Power and Energy. It is hoped that with the mandate given to the Ministry of Renewable Energy to convert all oil power plants at Kelanitissa complex for operation with NG, will inspire the CEB to give priority for this conversion which will reduce the losses incurred by the CEB.
The other matter that needs to be resolved is the delay in public sector organizations not paying up their bills for electricity on time, and this has caused liquidity problems in the CEB. As a result, the CEB is unable to pay the CPC for the fuel it purchases from the CPC on time and also unable to pay the IPPs for the power it purchases from them on time. With the unbundling of the sector, this system could be improved. Every Distribution Company (DC) should collect the payments due from the consumers on time giving a grace period of say one month. The Transmission Company (TC) should collect the payments from every DC for the electricity sold to them on time and settle the payments due for each of the Generation Companies (GC) on time. The GCs could then settle the payments due for each of the IPPs for the electricity they purchase from them. With the availability of on-line banking facilities and smart metering systems, all these operations could be undertaken without human intervention, other than occasional verification.
PRESENT STATUS OF SRI LANKA’S POWER SECTOR
In 1969, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) was established by an Act of Parliament for the purpose of developing and coordinating of generation, supply and distribution of electricity island-wide, taking over the functions of the Department of Electrical Undertakings. By the end of 2018, the total installed capacity has grown to 4,045 MW of comprising 1,400 MW of hydropower plants, 1,137 MW of oil power plants, 900 MW of coal power plants and 608 MW of other renewal energy plants owned by both CEB and independent power producers. The total electricity generation in 2018 was 15,300 GWh, with the per capita electricity consumption 650 kWh, which is only above the least developed countries in Asia. The forecast for generation in 2030 given in CEB’s long term generation plan is around 31,000 GWh.
In 1983, Lanka Electric Company was established as a subsidiary company of the CEB and took over the distribution of electricity in coastal townships between Negombo and Galle, which resulted in reducing the distribution losses. In 2007, the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) was established with the main objective to identify, assess and develop renewable energy resources in the country. However. The SLSEA has been operating more as a regulator than as a promoter of RE projects.
It is noteworthy to compare Sri Lanka’s power sector situation with that of another Asian country, Taiwan, where the population in 2018 (23.78 million) is similar to that of Sri Lanka (21.67 million) and land area (36,200 sq. km) is almost half of Sri Lanka’s (65,610 sq. km). Taiwan’s installed capacity in 2018 was a staggering 44,600 MW comprising 13,000 MW of coal power plants, 16,000 MW of natural gas power plants and 4,500 MW of nuclear power plants, generating 275,500 GWh of electricity in 2018 giving a per capita consumption of 11,585 kWh compared to 650 kWh for Sri Lanka (Wikipedia). The rapid growth of industrialization has been the main driver of the power sector, with a GDP (nominal) per capita of USD 24,800 in 2018 compared to USD 4,100 for Sri Lanka. It will be interesting to find out how Taiwan was able to achieve such high performance in the power sector – whether superior competency and dedication of professionals or correct policies in place or strong political leadership.
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY IN SELECTING MAJOR PROJECTS
Unlike in many Asian countries, Sri Lanka has been able to provide electricity to almost 100% of households, which was made possible through funding made available through decentralized budgeting in which provision of electricity to rural villages has been given priority. While the national grid was extended to cover almost the entire island to meet the power demands of every industry, commercial establishment and household, the CEB has not been able to expand its generation capacity correspondingly.
Efforts to build a coal power plant kept dragging for over 20 years at the beginning of the mid-eighties due to the CEB’s failure to initiate a dialogue with the public and concerned parties and vacillating policies of the government. Instead of inviting bids for building a power plant meeting performance and emission specifications from reputed manufacturers internationally and selecting a plant in a transparent manner, the CEB accepted a plant based on outdated technology offered by China on credit. The plant is known to breakdown repeatedly and the CEB is compelled to retain Chinese technicians even today to attend to its maintenance. Though the CEB claims that the coal power plant generates at the lowest cost, when the cost of financing is added, the cost gets more than doubled as revealed by a study undertaken by World Bank team.
On three occasions between 2000 and 2010, Sri Lanka government announced calls for expressions of interest for building thermal power plants on BOOT basis with capacity 1,000 – 1,200 MW, but pursued none. This gives a poor image of Sri Lanka within the international power industry, as the investors have to incur heavy expenditure on site visits and making bid bonds. In one announcement, the fuel option was kept open to solid or liquid or gas and the site to be selected by the investor while in another, the fuel option was specified as coal with the site to be near Hambantota.
In 2005, India offered to build a 500 MW coal power plant at Sampur, near Trincomalee on cost-sharing basis. Negotiations between the Indian party and the CEB kept dragging for five years before the final agreement was entered into and another five years to get feasibility studies and environment impact studies completed as well as other clearances obtained. By that time, the new government had changed its policy to adopt gas power rather than coal power on environmental grounds and the project was aborted. Had the CEB not taken such a long time to finalize the terms and commenced work sooner, the plant would have been built by now. It needs to be stressed that the proposed coal power plant at Sampur was abandoned because the CEB was dragging the project for nearly 10 years. The project took so long to commence work, obviously because it had problems both technical and operational which the CEB was unable to resolve. Hence, it was best to cancel the project and consider a new project afresh.
The latest attempt to build a 300 MW gas power plant at Kerawalapitiya on BOOT basis also got dragging for nearly four years mainly because of the manner in which the project selection process was handled by the CEB. A 500-page request for proposal (RFP) was announced in November 2016 seeking unnecessary details while the more important information essential for making a decision was left out. Such detailed information would have been in order had CEB was paying for the capital expenditure. With a BOOT project, the investor will ensure that a plant worth the money would have been purchased. The CEB will only have to know the price at which energy be sold to CEB and whether the plant satisfies performance and emission specifications laid down by the CEB.
The lack of clarity in the RFP resulted in the matter taken to the courts for a ruling. Though the approval of the Cabinet has already been granted for the project and the new President has directed this project be given priority soon after he was elected, the CEB has still not finalized its acceptance. Instead, the CEB is pursuing building a 300 MW coal power plant at Norochcholai against President’s policy. Incidentally, China was allowed to build a 400 MW gas power plant along with an LNG terminal at Hambantota with no such detailed RFPs announced.
According to a SLSEA Report dated 27.03.2019, several RE projects submitted by investors that have received the approval of the SLSEA since 2016 have been held up as CEB has not agreed to sign power purchase agreements with them, citing a section of the Electricity Act. This includes 101 RE projects with total installed capacity of 3,052 MW comprising 264 MW of mini-hydro plants, 2,028 MW of solar plants, 673 MW of wind plants and 87 MW of other plants, which could generate over 7000 GWh of energy annually. This situation is shown in Fig. 2 in 2018 Annual Report where the growth of energy added from RE projects to the system shows a stagnation between 2015 and 2018, with the value for 2016 showing a drop of 200 GWh compared to other years. It appears that there was no coordination between the CEB and the SLSEA.
FLAWED LONG TERM GENERATION EXPANSION PLAN
The CEB during the last few decades has been preparing biennially a long-term generation expansion (LTGE) Plan and the mandate of the Power Ministry specifies that the sector should be developed to comply with the CEB Plan. It is supposed to determine which power technology will be the cheapest in 20 years hence based on current prices. With the cost of generation depending on plant capital cost and fuel prices both of which could vary widely within a span of 20 years, it is futile to make forecasts now as to which technology is the cheapest in 20 years hence and to adopt it. Therefore, to give a mandate to follow the CEB’s LTGE Plan which is highly flawed for the development of the sector, does not make sense. The CEB Plan for 2018-2037 recommends adding 2,700 MW of coal power plants between 2023 and 2037 under Base Case scenario saying it is the cheapest option. However, the 2019 World Bank report cited above says in p. 18 that “coal ceases to be the least cost source of power generation, as cost of power from LNG and NCRE could potentially be lower than US cents 9 / kWh” which is the estimated coal power price.
When the CEB submitted its LTGE Plan for 2018-37 to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) for approval as required by the Sri Lanka Electricity Act No. 31 of 2013, PUCSL did not approve it but proposed an alternative plan incorporating natural gas power plants in place of coal power plants included in the CEB Plan. The CEB refused to accept this recommendation and the dispute between the PUCSL and the CEB kept dragging for over a year, and the matter was finally referred to the President who gave a directive to the PUCSL to approve the CEB Plan, fearing disruption to the power supply in the country after the CEB Engineers’ Union threatened to resort to industrial action if their demand for coal power plants is not acceded to. This is a clear indication that Sri Lanka’s power sector is being governed not by the PUCSL nor the Ministry nor the Governing Board of the CEB, but by its trade unions. This justifies Prof. Wijayatunga’s statement that “Sri Lanka still needs to go a long way in relation to sector governance”.
The CEB ha a staff strength about 23,000 with over 1,400 professionals. It is the opinion of several international agencies that this organization be split into several organizations each responsible for different functions undertaken by the CEB, including generation, transmission and distribution. It is expected that such an unbundling process will improve the efficiency, transparency, autonomy, accountability, competition, and financial viability. The CEB has failed miserably in the recent past to increase the generation capacity to meet the growing demand with due consideration for environmental concerns even after granting Cabinet approval for many of them. It has also failed to initiate work on large renewable energy projects for several years, particularly during the last seven months even after the President’s policy of pursuing renewable energy and gas power projects was announced.
Possibly the high inertia of the CEB with its large staff prevents it from being flexible to undertake new projects in keeping with international trends and hence continues to insist on outdated technologies. Hence, it is desirable if the government initiates unbundling of the CEB urgently as recommended by reputed energy experts to make it more flexible. The unbundling will also give an opportunity for the government to get rid of dead wood after giving them a golden hand shake.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
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.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
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!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
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!