ECONOMYNEXT – Thousands of Sri Lanka’s strong trade union members from state-run power, oil, and port firms are to protest on Wednesday (03) against a liquid natural gas (LNG) deal with US-based New Fortress Energy, which critics say has circumvented standard tender procedure.
Sri Lanka plans to sell a government stake in a combined cycle power plant for 250 million US dollars to the US-firm but critics say the involves the purchase of up to 6.0 billion US dollars of LNG fuel in the next few years and has undermined and circumvented an ongoing tender for a floating terminal.
The protest will go ahead as planned despite President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declaring many public services including ports, post, railway, and fuel as essential services.
The trade unions of state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Port, and some trade unions related to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) will come to Colombo and protest in front of the CEB head office, a trade union leader said.
“Except those needed to restore a power failure, around 98 percent of CEB employees will join the protest,” Ranjan Jayalal, Convener of the CEB trade unions, told EconomyNext.
“CEB engineers will also join, as well as trade unions from ports and the CPC refinery.”
There could be a maximum of 20,000 employees from all unions that have pledged support to the protest.
“This is a struggle we are going for on behalf of people. We have not been shown the signed agreement with the American New Fortress Energy. We may lose state control in the power sector if this happens,” Jayalal said.
“See what has happened to the country. Our country has no choice, but is compelled to buy contaminated fertilizer shipment from China. We had no choice but to keep quiet when another foreign nation did not allow our lion flag to be hoisted in Colombo South harbour. The same thing will happen with this,” he warned.
Already at least 11 coalition partners of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have revealed how the deal went through at the cabinet.
Industries Minister Wimal Weerasinghe last week said Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa brought up the cabinet paper on selling a 40 percent share in Yugadhanavi to the US-based energy company when ‘other business’ in the agenda was discussed. There was no approval given, claimed Weerawansa.
“But in the minutes of that cabinet meeting, it is stated that the proposal was approved after deliberations. This is an utter lie,” he told a meeting of all 11 coalition partners who are opposing the deal.
Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila speaking at the same event said the way the deal went through was unprecedented and has never happened in any other previous government which he had considered highly corrupt administrations.
Finance Minister Rajapaksa was not immediately available for comment on the deal being signed allegedly outside the tender process.
Opposition parties however have warned that the coalition partners’ protest against the deal could be a drama to divert the attention of a furious public from the high cost of living, lack of foreign exchange to import goods, not providing fertilizer on time, and job losses during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Trade unions and legislators including replaced power minister Dallas Alahapperuma have voiced concern over the decision to sell the LNG plant to the US firm New Fortress Energy, which critics say will commit state-run CEB to buy large volumes of LNG or pay compensation.
The nationalist SLPP has maintained an anti-US stance before the election and promised the country not to sell any assets to foreigners.
The central bank on Tuesday said the first tranche of a $250 million US dollar deal is expected within the next two months. (Colombo/Nov01/2021)