Unlike in the past, the recent countrywide power failures are still making headlines. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have taken this matter up seriously with Power and Renewable Energy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya expected to submit a special report to Parliament today on the recent happenings in the power sector.
The Government’s concern is understandable in the light of its leaders planning to attract foreign investments from all over the world as the only solution to the problems faced by the country, especially to fulfil its promise of creating one million jobs. The fate of the Government and country hence appears to be relying entirely on those investment prospects. The controversial Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) is also being tied up to these prospective investments. Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawikrame in a recent newspaper interview on ETCA explained that investors would seek market facilities if they were to invest in a country and that ETCA was meant for that purpose. He said the Government was planning to sign similar agreements with other countries as well keeping in mind that investor confidence was vital for the government. The avoiding of any future countrywide power failures would be a great challenge to the Government’s plans.
It is surprising to note that the recent power failures are still a mystery, despite there being more than a thousand engineers attached to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and it is more surprising to hear Minister Siyambalapitiya claiming that he was shocked to learn that the cooling system of the Norochcholai Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant (LCPP) was powered by the power plant itself -- a major flaw in building the power plant.
“The LCPP shuts down automatically to prevent any damage to the plant during a major power failure and a cooling system has been installed to reduce the extreme heat generated by the power plant and enabling engineers to restart the machines. But this does not happen because the cooling system also shuts down simultaneously with the power plant during a major power outage. If the cooling system was operational during the shutdown, the LCPP would have resumed power generation within 24 hours,” the minister said. No engineering knowledge is needed to understand what the minister said. But the question is, as to how the engineers had failed to understand such a simple matter? Not only the minister but several others as well had hit out at the CEB for failing to prevent the recent blackouts. Minister Champika Ranawaka, who is also an electrical engineer and the former minister in charge of the power sector had at a public meeting pointed fingers at a mafia which was bugging the power sector.
JVP parliamentarian Sunil Handunetti who is also the Chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) had for the first time summoned CEB bigwigs to report to the Committee. He later told the media that some of them had threatened the COPE. Meanwhile, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) had also told the CEB that it had violated the Transmission Licence on maintaining an uninterrupted power supply throughout the country because of the power outages on three occasions during the past six months. The CEB has agreements not only with the PUCSL but also with the consumers to provide an uninterrupted power supply which the CEB invariably violated without prior notice. One might remember during last year’s presidential election, Minister Ranawaka saying how officials get away with their blunders and mass-scale corruption using technical parlance which is beyond the grasp of ordinary people including politicians who criticise such crimes. He suggested establishing an audit commission with technical, managerial and financial capabilities to tackle the issue. It is high time now to initiate such a mechanism.