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4 August 2013 05:46 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Under the new electricity tariff system, every light bulb is a burden to the public, especially to the common man. The attempts at halting the hike in the electricity tariff have been in vain. With an array of rationalisations, promise and reassurances by the government new electricity tariff has now been in effect from a few months. However, even after the supposed relief to those who has the lowest electricity consumption, for most of the average citizens the electricity bill has increased to an unbearable level.  Upon receiving numerous complaints regarding the electricity tariff and how it is calculated, Daily Mirror investigated the effects of the new electricity tariff on the public.

Ministry Comment
Main reason was the high cost of fuel
M.M.C Ferdinando- Secretary Power & Energy Ministry
I do not deny that there is no corruption at CEB. Corruption is everywhere. Can you tell me any organisation, any politician who is not involved with corruption?

The Secretary of the Power and Energy Ministry, M. M. C. Ferdinando admitted that there was corruption in the CEB. However, he stated that the main reason for the electricity tariff was the high cost of fuel used in operations of power plants.
“All politicians and everybody else know the reason. It is the operation of the fuel power plant,” said the Secretary. “I do not deny that there is no corruption at CEB. Corruption is everywhere. Can you tell me any organisation, any politician who is not involved with corruption? But, when you highlight the cost factors in this case, 12 billion rupees go for salaries. It is a salary bill. There are cases where there mark the time and get over time. But anyway it goes to a particular individual. There is no way of rob that money. The other cost for CEB is for fuel. Then fuel bill goes to Ceylon Petroleum Cooperation. Out of the revenue eighty percent goes as the fuel bill. There might be corruption in buying material which costs around 5-6 billion rupees annually. But you cannot rob entire CEB. There may be ten percent to fifteen percent corruption,” he said. The secretary stated however, the problem of the increased electricity tariff was a temporary problem. He claimed that with the high rainfalls recently, the CEB has managed to overstep their target of hydropower and as a result will be able to cover their losses.
“Because of this, we should be able to completely eradicate the increased electricity tariff by January next year,” he said. “I have recommended to the government that we bring the electricity tariff back to what it was by the start of this year.”

Ferdinando also admitted that there was room for human error when calculating electricity bills of consumers.  
“If a consumer says that his bill is unreasonably high, then there maybe errors in calculating. What the consumer can do is to complain to  the Public Utilities Commission in order to safeguard the interests of the consumers,” he said.
When Daily Mirror questioned him about the over staff at the CEB he accepted that there is an abundance of workers.
 “Yes it is overstaffed. From a beurocratic point of view one may say that it is overstaffed. All Ministers who were in charge of the Ministry should be responsible for this problem, Ferdinando said. “There are categories which still have vacancies. And then there are categories which are overstaffed. Politicians find easy ways to give jobs. Although the jobs such as labour and clerical categories are outdated the politicians find a way to give jobs to their supporters. But there is a shortage of staff for technical categories. It is hard to point figures because we are under pressure.”

However, he denied that there was political influence in hiring staff for professional positions.
He also denied the allegations regarding mismanagement, stating that even though there was no 100 percent efficiency rate, the CEB was reasonably efficient, especially compared to other government entities.


Opposition Comment
Government policy is 50 per cent of
the problem

Ravi Karunanayake - UNP MP
If the government decides to subsidise electricity, then the government should pump in money to the CEB

According to the United National Party (UNP) Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake, government policy is the main factor that has led to the unbearable hike in the electricity tariff.
“Government policy is 50 percent of the problem. Corruption is 25 percent of the problem,” he said. “Mismanagement, inefficiency and over-staffing are also to be blamed.”
He claimed that when the UNP government handed over the CEB, it was a profit-making entity. He pointed out that it was making a profit of 110 million rupees in 1994. However, after handover, the CEB began its downward spiral and in 2012 alone, the total losses incurred by the CEB were at a staggering figure of 85 billion rupees.
Karunanayake added that since the handover, the total losses incurred by the CEB were 680 billion rupees.
“If the government decides to subsidise electricity, then the government should pump in money to the CEB. However, instead, the losses were passed onto the CEB which is a single entity,” he pointed out. “The CEB in turn passed on the losses to the public and now the common man is paying the price of government’s policies. This is neither fair nor necessary. Why should the consumer pay for a promise made by the government?”

The parliamentarian also added that the new electricity tariff was ineffective as it only aimed to eradicate the 500 billion losses of the CEB. It is by no means a permanent solution and he did not anticipate it to solve the underlying problems.
Karunanayake also said that mismanagement, and inefficiency were two other causes for the hike in electricity prices, citing Norochcholai power plant as an example.
“The CEB is the engineer’s mafia,” he said. “We built Norochcholai at a lowcost but it is a prime example of inefficiency and wastage. Norochcholai has ceased to function 22 times. Why? Because we paid for European standards but got a Chinese product,” he pointed out.
Karunanayake added that the solution to the problem was not increasing the electricity tariff and making the public pay for the government’s blunders and corruption and mismanagement of the CEB but to pump in government investment to the CEB and making the CEB more efficient.
“The government has simply taken the easy way out,” he claimed.
In a staunch promise, the opposition parliamentarian added that if his party was elected tomorrow, the tariff hike would be completely eradicated.



People have fallen in to a pit of darkness
Sunil Handunneththi- JVP MP

As per the information I received by a transaction of buying coal for the power station government lost three billion rupees
The JVP Parliamentarian Sunil Handunneththi commenting on the tariff hike stated that it is the people who pay for the faults of the government.
Recently in the Parliament he said that the people have fallen in to a pit of darkness as the government passed a bill amending the previous law. Under the earlier law once the consumer receives a red notice they will be given prior notice before three days before disconnection the electricity supply. But under the new regulation such notice will not be given.
“A person receives a red notice because he cannot pay the bill. When advanced notice is given they somehow will attempt to settle the bill. But under the new scheme it is the consumer who suffers,” Handunneththi said.
However, when contacted by Daily Mirror, the Power and Energy Ministry stated that no such regulation has been passed and a 3-day-period would be given to the consumers who receive red notice before discontinuation of the electricity supply.
Commenting on the Norochcholai power station Handunneththi said “as per the information I received by a transaction of buying coal for the power station government lost three billion rupees,” he said.
The parliamentarian said that unfortunately people do not come forward to speak about the matter due to fear.
Some people say that although they are heavily burdened with the tariff hike but they are scared to speak out.  Although the government creates other news to make these problems unspoken we will always take action on behalf of the people,” Handunneththi said.




Expert Comment
People should not be accountable for the corruption of the institution

Kalyananda Tiranagama - Human Rights Lawyer
Up to 2013 the CEB has not forwarded their accounts to the Public Utilities Commission so far. The government should be totally responsible for these mishaps

Kalyananda Tiranagama, an attorney-at-law and the Executive Director of the Lawyers for Human Rights who has filed petitions  and urged action against unfair electricity tariff hikes in the past, stated that the main reason for all the difficulties faced by the public is corruption in the Ceylon Electricity board (CEB).
He said people should not be accountable for the corruption of the institution. Tiranagama pointed out that it is the only institution which does not deduct tax from the employees.
“In year 2008 also there was a tariff hike. At that time prices were increased including the religious institutions. But after various representations made by religious leaders, those institutions were given a concession,” Tiranagama said.
As he said even the Auditor General has pointed out the matter at one instance. Not only that CEB does not deduct taxes from the employee’s salaries but also they pay huge amounts of many other allowances such as Post graduate allowance, professional allowance, Semi professional allowance, Disturbance allowance and Exodus allowance.         

With all these allowances calculated a person in the rank of a General Manager earns more than 50,000 rupees per month, he claimed.
The Executive Director further stated that various projects which come with public funds are totally controlled by certain individual officers. The total income generated is in their hands. Tiranagama went on to say that “Up to 2013 the CEB has not forwarded their accounts to the Public Utilities Commission so far. The government should be totally responsible for these mishaps,” he said.
Tiranagama highlighted that there is clear discrimination in the tariff schemes. He said that the domestic sector consumes around thirty nine percent of the power generated. The rest sixty one percent is used by industrial, business and government institutions.  He questioned why everybody has to carry an unnecessary burden.
“There is unequal protection of the law. Almost all the sectors are given concessions except the private sector. There are huge differences in the bills,” he said.
Tiranagama suggested that elimination in the system must be dealt under law. He added that it is important to follow the remarks made by the Auditor General.



The country needs a transparent tariff
Bandula Chandrasekara - Advisor of the National Movement of Electricity Consumer
This system lacks transparency, leaving ample room for corruption within the system
Speaking at a public forum organised by Transparency International Bandula Chandrasekara, Advisor of the National Movement of Electricity Consumer urged that the country needs a transparent tariff for electricity.
“The normal procedure is that every ten years the electricity tariff is reviewed and adjusted accordingly,” he stated. “However, the current system lacks transparency, leaving ample room for corruption within the system. This is an injustice to the consumers.”
Chandrasekara explained that the current tariff system was based on the cost incurred by the Electricity Board. However, disguised within the cost is corruption and wastage. Therefore the consumer is forced to pay the price for corruption and inefficiencies, he added.
He pointed out that one of the reasons for the high cost in electricity generation is the country’s dependence on oil for generating power.
“Instead of buying oil on a contract basis after negotiations, Sri Lanka engages in spot purchasing. This means we buy oil when we need it,” Chandrasekara said. “When buying oil in this method, there is more room for bribing and stealing.”




VOP
They waste power for useless events like ‘Deyata Kirula’
Venerable Weligama Anuruddha Thera

Some houses are in the dark simply because they cannot afford bills.
The increase in electricity tariffs has severely affected religious institutions. In our temple, the electricity bill used to be Rs. 3,000. Now it is around Rs. 5,000. We used very little power. We use it only for the most necessary things. I have noticed that some houses are in the dark simply because the owners cannot afford to pay the bills.
It is the government and the officials of the CEB who should be held responsible for the losses and the debt incurred by the CEB. They waste so much power for useless events like ‘Deyata Kirula’ and Colombo Night Races. If the country is experiencing an energy crisis, they should stop wasting power for unnecessary reasons.
Then there is so much corruption in the CEB and in the government. Even though we have had so much rain in the past few weeks, they did not use hydro-power to its maximum capacity. They have not even opened some of the sluice gates.
There is a high price for such mistakes and now consumers are forced to pay that price.



Do they expect us to live in the dark?
Priyangika Aponsu, Moratumulla

We are helples as we are not clear about the tariff system.
Those days our bill was not more than 1,000 rupees. Now it is more than 2,000 rupees. That is more than double the price we used to pay. How can we afford to pay such a high electricity tariff? Do they expect us to live in the dark?
On top of that, they even make mistakes in the bill. When we ask the officlas from the CEB, they don’t give us straightforward answers. Since we are not clear about the tariff system and cannot argue with them, we are helpless.



It is unbearable for everyone
Nilmini Niroshini, Housewife

What can we do for the injustice done by the government?
We are extremely thrifty when using electricity and yet our bill has increased unbelievably. It used to be about 2,500 rupees and now it is almost 4,000 rupees. It is very difficult to bear such a sudden increase in the cost of electricity. Not just for us, it is unbearable for everyone. What can we do for the injustice done by the government?


Electricity tariff hike is governmental terrorism
Herman Perera, pensioner

Access to electricity is one of the basic human rights.
The hike of the electricity tariff is governmental terrorism. The Electricity Board is under the government so it is the government’s responsibility to find a solution to reduce the cost of electricity. The reason for the increase in electricity tariff is to cover up the debt of the Electricity Board. The debt incurred by the Electricity Board is more than Rs. 250,000,000,000
The per-person consumption of electricity in Sri Lanka is one of the lowest in the world. Yet the electricity tariff in Sri Lanka is one of the highest in Asia. Access to electricity is one of the basic human rights. Is it fair to ask us to turn off the lights and wait in the dark? The electricity tariff is unfair to the ordinary people in the country.
The main reason that we have to pay such a high electricity bill is because of the atrocious mismanagement of resources. If there was no wastage and corruption, we would not have to pay such a high price for electricity.



The price of corruption, passed on to public
Saman Rathnapriya – Union Leader

In the future these losses will also be added to the electricity bill
The electricity tariff was increased to cover the cost of the CEB. This is extremely unfair by the public. If the Electricity Board needs to cover the costs, they should try to minimise wastage and put an end to the corruption in the industry.
Now they have signed the agreement to start the Sampur Power Plant project. This agreement was signed without the approval of the CEB and without the knowledge of the then Power and Energy Minister John Senevirathne. The agreement was signed just to please India. The efficiency of Sampur is estimated to be only 33 percent. The loss incurred per year is estimated to be Rs 1050 billion.
In the future these losses will also be added to the electricity bill and the electricity tariff will increase even more.  The heavy price of corruption, wastage and mismanagement of resources has been passed onto the consumer.
















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