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Tuesday May 17th, 2022
Politics

Sri Lanka opposition demands document of US energy deal

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s opposition legislators on Wednesday (08) demanded that the government table a signed document of a controversial deal between the Finance Ministry Secretary and US-based New Fortress Energy (NFE).

Speaking in parliament, opposition MPs insisted the House is responsible for public finance and the public have a right to know about the deal.

NFE said in July it had signed a framework agreement with Sri Lanka’s finance ministry to build a floating liquefied natural gas terminal and was also in talks to buy a thermal plant.

Finance Ministry Secretary S R  Attygala, who reports to Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, signed the agreement on behalf of the government.

Leader of National People’s Power (NPP) Anura Kumara Dissanayaka said Power and Energy Minister Gamini Lokuge had failed to table the agreement of the deal despite promising to present it to parliament five weeks ago.

“This agreement is signed by the finance ministry. So there is no point in discussing this on the day of the power ministry debate,” Dissanayake told parliament on Wednesday.

“OnDecember10, we have the finance ministry (budget) debate. So the treasury secretary should enlighten the parliament on the sale of this country’s strategic asset to a US firm so that we can discuss it during the debate.”

“If there is any deficiency or opinion on the deal, we have to discuss it on December 10. But this agreement has not been tabled in the parliament despite a significant time has lapsed.”

Responding to Dissanayake, Minister Lokuge agreed to present the agreement to parliament within a week and said there had been media reports of a non-disclosure clause that the agreement should not be disclosed for two years.

Top officials of the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had said the agreement cannot be made public as it has a non-disclosure clause and only a handful of government officials are aware of the agreement.

The agreement has stirred the CEB as the trade unions are against it. Many trade unions threatened ‘work to rule’ if the government does not repeal the agreement.

Some trade union officials have said in the event of a blackout, they will still work on a work-to-rule basis. Amid the work to rule, Sri Lanka faced a six-hour blackout last week, which a CEB top official claimed was sub-borage.

Sri Lanka had earlier called international competitive bids to procure a Floating Storage Re-gasification Unit (FSRU), on a 10-year Build Operate Own (BOO) basis.

Bids for a pipeline were called on a Build Operate Transfer (BOT) basis which will go to Sri Lanka at the end of the contract.

Gas supply was to be separately procured by the state at market prices on long term and spot mix to be decided.

However, with the tender already called, there were reports that negotiations were under-way with another company to build the FSRU triggering a controversy.

Though more than a dozen firms collected tender documents, there were only a few responses, energy industry sources have said. But all of a sudden, the finance ministry went ahead and signed the New Fortress Energy deal.

“It’s true that the finance ministry has the power to enter into the agreement. But it represents the part of the power conferred by the people of this country. The accepted norm is it can’t do whatever it wants and hide things from the people,” said Dissanayake.

“If there is something about the country’s power and energy, this parliament should be aware of it.”

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said he will ask the relevant minister to respond to the question.

Opposition whip Lakshman Kiriella said the parliament is responsible for public finance and the government should table the agreement in parliament.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the speaker to order Finance Ministry Secretary Attygala to present the agreement.

“If you order it today, then he will present it tomorrow,” said Kiriella. (Colombo/Dec08/2021)

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