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JHU will decide who will win

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Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka who undertook a visit to India with President Maitriapala Sirisena opined that India has a new reading on Sri Lanka. He stressed that Sri Lanka should not look at India through the prism of Tamil Nadu. Also, he said he would lay down a new energy policy with a scientific approach to solve the problems in the sector. Alongside, a new pricing formula is to be worked out.

 
  • India has a new reading on SL

  • Local gas production in 2018

  • Should not side with any country in defence matters

Q   You were a member of the presidential entourage to India. How do you analyse this visit in terms of its benefits for Sri Lanka in the international arena?

Actually, a power shift took place in India with Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) unseating the Congress government.
In Indian politics, there is central administration and peripheral administration. Tamil Nadu politics have not yet changed. Yet, there is a certain change in the central administration. In India, the Congress government was supported mostly by the English educated, elitist, traditional society of that country. There were a lot of corruption allegations against the Congress –led government. Also, there were allegations about the family rule. Yet, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode the nationalist wave and secured power, with the promise of creating a pro-business, powerful India. We believe that the new government of India will concentrate fully on Sri Lanka as a whole in its diplomatic dealings, unlike the Congress government that clung on to the North and East issue.
In this exercise, we have to be very cautious on the present geopolitical developments in the Indian Ocean.




The United States, under the pivot concept of its President Barak Obama, tries to negate the influence of Russia and China in this region. Here, India, Japan, Australia and the US have become allies. Besides, countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines have taken sides with them. Pakistan is with China. Our foreign policy is very important in this situation. We should stick to our non –aligned foreign policy. We should not create confusions and contradictions in our policy.
The previous government committed blunders by getting this policy confused. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a mistake by allowing the Colombo Port to be used for docking Chinese submarines and other military activities. We have to be extremely cautious in this endevour. We should not mix up our commercial activities with defence related issues. In defence affairs, we should not side with any nation. In economic and commercial relations, we can be open with anyone.
We can benefit from successful business institutions such as Infosys and TATA in India. Or else, we have to be able to compete with Indian companies. Otherwise, we will also be an economic hostage, similar to the predicament of countries such as Bhutan and Nepal. We have to position ourselves for it.

 

Q   What are the policy matters discussed during this visit in particular with Indian leaders?

Actually, this was a visit designed more to develop acquaintance between the leaders of the two countries rather than policy matters. There was a networking of a wider cross section of Indian society, especially business leaders, journalists and professionals. In India, there is a new reading about Sri Lanka. Especially, there is understanding that the LTTE is a phenomenon which does not correspond with the aspirations of Tamil people. It is a major policy development. Also, we should also not look at India through the prism of Tamil Nadu.

 

Q   What are your views on plans by some parties to press former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to stage a comeback?

It is an attempt to drive this country back to its dark era. Some elements are trying to employ the tactics used by Mr. Rajapaksa to gain power again. People do not want both these approaches. Now, the country needs a novel approach coupled with important economic, social and political policies. In a nutshell, it is equality that people want.
We should not dwell on ideologies such as Marxism and Capitalism. What is more important is ideas, not ideologies. It is important to have equal partnership.
For it, we need a political leadership with a vision and a mission. The proposed reforms will create the necessary atmosphere for it.

 

Q  Yet, you signed various agreements during your visit to India. How do you see them?

Yes, there were several agreements on nuclear cooperation and the issuance of on arrival VISAs. These are not serious agreements.

 

Q   What discussion took place regarding the Sampur Coal Power project?

By this time, all the important agreements have been signed in this regard. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been opened for public views.

 

Q   How do you intend to find money for this project?

For it, 30 percent will be financed by the Ceylon Electricity Board and the National Thermal Power Corporation of India. The rest will be raised from the international lending market as a loan.

 

Q   How do you see the progress of the 100-day government which you represent?

Mainly, the government was formed to address corruption allegations against the previous government, to give economic redress to people and to bring about necessary political reforms. The economic package has been announced. It is the duty of the government to probe thousands of corruption allegations. It is unfortunate that the conviction rate of criminal cases has been as low as 4 percent. Therefore, the public confidence in the system has eroded. Therefore, these corruption allegations should be probed for legal action in a manner that builds public confidence. It should be done in a manner that does not allow wrongdoers to creep through loopholes.
As for political reforms, there is a draft prepared. Now, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) should become a part of the government rather than crowing over in the Opposition. SLFP support is a must to enact this legislation aimed at transferring executive powers to Parliament and establishing independent commissions.
It is advisable for the SLFP to join hands with the government. Otherwise, it will be compelled to be in the opposition for another 20 years. The forces, trying to bring back Mr.Mahinda Rajapaksa, want to split the SLFP to be in the opposition for 20 years.

 

Q   What is the role of your Jathika Hela Urumaya(JHU) at the next election ?

Whatever anyone might say, the JHU is the prime determining factor of Sri Lankan politics. We will unveil our programme next month. We will present a major programme of work for this country. We will rally people around this programme. Both the SLFP and the United National Party (UNP) should be restructured and re-branded. They have to cast away their traditional ideologies such as liberalism. We need to mobilize the entire country to think above party lines for a national agenda.

 

Q   How will the JHU contest the next Parliamentary Election?

Only the JHU can decide who will win. That is all I can say. We are yet to reveal our strategy.

 

Q   As the subject Minister, what are the plans being made for a revamp in the entire energy sector?

 We have identified certain dramatic areas for improvement. First, we try to improve our customer service. In the petroleum sector, we have Lanka Indian Oil Company to compete with us in the market. Yet, in the electricity field, there are only the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the LECO. It is a State monopoly. We do not have a market competition to improve efficiency in this sector as a result. Therefore, we decided to have an internal competition among various sectors of the CEB. In this exercise, we intend to work out a mechanism to give ‘smart solutions’ in our customer care. Then, customers can easily know their electricity bills, the criteria adopted for their calculation, the kind of appliances to be used for energy saving and all. Also, they are able to settle their bills through this mechanism in a smart way .



 

"Also, it is important to take various measures to guarantee the rights of our electricity consumers. For instance, customers can complain about frequent breakdown of power supply and power outages to a unit. Then, such complaints are referred to the relevant officials."




On the other hand, we intend to work out a pricing formula subject to revision after every six months. It will be done in consideration of tariffs and fuel prices in the market. The proposed pricing formula is revised after every six months. It will facilitate industrialists in making long-term decisions about their investments.
If there is sufficient rainfall within a period for hydro electricity generation, people will have the benefit of low-cost electricity during that particular six month period. If the fuel prices drop , people will again have the same benefit. It is still a proposal, not agreed upon yet. Besides, we want to introduce a new concept called ‘Smart Grid’. Then, a customer can access detailed bill using a laptop. The customer can even the electricity use in real time.
We will introduce electric car charging points. First, a pilot project will be launched to introduce this project. In another aspect, we will introduce the new electricity meters that determine the time of use. Special concessions are intended to be given to customers once this Time of Use (ToU) metres are fixed. Especially, the time between 10.00 p.m. and 4.00 a.m. is considered a low electricity consuming period of the day. People can enjoy concessions during this time of the day.



Also, it is important to take various measures to guarantee the rights of our electricity consumers. For instance, customers can complain about frequent breakdown of power supply and power outages to a unit. Then, such complaints are referred to the relevant officials.
Another challenge is to encourage people in energy-conservation. We have achieved the quality energy for all. Altogether, 98 percent of our people have electricity.
For quality electricity, we need proper voltage, standard fuel for power generation. It should be supplied without any outage. Our target is also to look for such aspects. Earlier, there was high pilferage of electricity. We have reduced it now. The pilferage was very high in the North and the East. After the war was over, we were able to contain it. We aim at reducing the pilferage level to 9 percent. It remained at 24 percent. In India, it is as high as 30 percent.
Likewise, another ambitious target is to make both the Ceylon Electricity Board and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation economically viable. It is our intention to covert them to economic power houses. Both, internal and external factors have contributed to the poor financial situation at these two bodies. As for internal factors, these two State institutions have suffered due to trade union actions. There are ridden with inefficiency in the absence of any competition from outside. There is no objective appraisal. It is only a subjective appraisal. Upward salary revisions are done every three-year period, be there any productive work or not.



Institution-wise, we will work out a system to appraise them objectively. The international norm called ‘Balance Scorecard’ will be introduced in this respect. In fact, I proposed it in 2010 when I was the Minister in charge. Then, we will introduce this system for the appraisal of performance at individual level in the management.
It is needed to curb corruption through a sustainable mechanism. In this exercise, we will conduct procurement in a transparent manner. We will introduce e-tendering process. During the past few years, there was corruption in procurement, oil deals, hedging deal and all. We will punish all responsible without any hesitation.
The external factors such as soaring fuel prices and adverse climatic conditions have also contributed to the losses of these State bodies. We need to achieve self- sufficiency in the energy sector. Currently, we depend externally for 45 percent of our energy requirements by importing coal and fuel.

 

Q   How far have you progressed in terms of investigations into these cases?

Actually, we have done a lot now. We will be able to submit the report next month. Investigations are in progress regarding the purchase of adulterated fuel, the import of substandard coal, the corruption allegations involving the projects of laying pipelines and oil refinery. A Standing Committee is looking into these allegations.

 

Q   How is the progress of gas and offshore oil exploration?

We have been successful in gas exploration in two wells in the Mannar basin. We will lay an upstream pipeline to extract gas from one well, and bring it. There are four stages related to oil and gas exploration and development . First, there is this explorative stage. We have done exploration in Mannar basin. It is done in various stages in other parts. Second, it is the development stage. In the Mannar basin, we have found gas deposits only in one out of the nine wells. We will opt for the development stage of this well. We will extract gas and bring it to the Noraichcholai area. First, we will use such gas at the Ceylon Electricity Board. Then, we will release the next stock for use in the hotel sector in Colombo and others nearby. If there is anything left, it will be exported.
After that, we will opt for oil exploration in other areas. It will be done through an open bidding process. We will do away with the approach of apportioning oil wells among different countries in an ad hoc manner. In our approach, any country can bid and stake a claim through a competitive process. We have identified 20 blocks right around the country. We want to develop it as a social wealth as in Norway.


 

"As for political reforms, there is a draft prepared. Now, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) should become a part of the government rather than crowing over in the Opposition. SLFP support is a must to enact this legislation aimed at transferring executive powers to Parliament and establishing independent commissions."




The third stage is the development. It will be done the 2018 / 2020 period. The last stage is abandoning wells. We have to close operations at these wells after 20-25 years.
For all these activities, we have to lay the necessary physical and legislative infrastructure. We need to have legislative power, financial strengths and models. The National Oil Company has to be set up. We are working in this respect at the moment.
By 2018, we target for the use of our gas resources. We work with that in mind. Actually, we are late in taking action. We should have done it by 2011.

 

Q   What is the reason for the delay in your view?

Actually, the attempt to strike surreptitious deals delayed action needed at that time. We have to be mindful of the fact that we should handle this industry properly. If we act with care, we can make Sri Lanka a prosperous social welfare nation like Norway. Otherwise, we will end up being a country like Nigeria. These are the two extremes available. We were heading towards the State of becoming a country like Nigeria.

 

Q   But, you are a Minister of the government that is expected to rule the country for 100 days. Then, how certain are you that you can execute all these plans in future under changing political circumstances?

It is a not problem. I will lay the future plan for the development of the entire energy sector during this 100 day programme. I will lay the foundation for it. Then, anybody can move ahead with it.


 
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