ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s power sector has plunged into a crisis with a trade union warning of blackouts after a senior official who resisted unsolicited power deals was sent on compulsory leave and alleged attempts are in motion to undermine the independence of the general manager.
Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union had earlier resisted attempts to give a liquefied natural gas supply monopoly to US-based New Fortress Energy on an unsolicited deal.
CEB engineers had also opposed attempts to bring back feed-in tariffs at high prices, usurping competitive tenders required according to the CEB Act. CEB had earlier gone to court to stop pre-set feed in tariffs and start competitive tenders at much lower prices.
Unions had warned that Sri Lanka will be committed to buy unwanted LNG under the deal valued at 6 billion US dollars and pay compensation it fuel was not used under a so-called Take-or-Pay unsolicited deal.
Union are now in arms after Janaka Aluthge, the head of CEB’s transmission division, which also handles power purchases was suddenly transferred and replaced, apparently on the orders initiated by the Board.
When Aluthge questioned the transfer in writing, he was sent on compulsory leave.
Sri Lanka is now facing blackouts as unions step up work to rule.
CEB Engineers Union had already declared a work-to-rule where they will not work after 4.15 pm but which did not apply to break downs.
“This week when there was a power failure we restored it in 1.5 hours even though there was a work to rule,” CEB Engineers Union Saumya Kumarawadu told reporters on December 01.
“But from today we are not going to attend to break downs after 4.15pm.”
“We are doing this to halt massive economic harm for the country, for the people for the future of the country.
“We are raising a voice against replacing the rule of law with the law of the jungle.”
CEB workers say staff changes are a matter for the General Manager and not the Board, or the Chairman, according to CEB’s governing law.
Unions allege that attempts are being made to disrupt the way the General Manger is appointed to cherry pick persons who will carry out orders from the top which will ultimately backfire on the country.
In the past the most senior Additional General Manager had been made the General Manager.
Now the Board is attempting to extend the term of the current GM to cherry pick the next CEB Chief effectively violating the CEB law and precedent through the backdoor, unions allege.
“For 52 years, since 1969, the next most senior engineer had become the General Manager,” Kumarawadu said.
“Now without respecting the law of the land, attempts are being made to appoint people who will carry orders of a higher functionary; appoint persons as General Manager who will carry out the law of the jungle.”
Unions say extension are not given to the GM as they then become beholden to the Minister who approves it and also because it prevents the next in line senior person from automatically getting the post without political meddling.
CEB staffers say attempts are under-way to take away powers from Area Engineers who have the knowledge and authority to re-energize the grid to others which can endanger people and the grid worsening the stand-of with unions.
Sri Lanka’s power does not fail unless the CEB Engineers Union goes on strike. Sri Lanka last faced blackouts 30 years ago when engineers went on a full blown strike. (Colombo/Dec01/2021)