The University Student movement against Indo-Lanka Accord, Janatha Mithuro, National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT), Sihala Urumaya and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) – in this unbroken twenty five year history of the nationalist movement in modern Sri Lanka Patali Champika Ranawaka remains the consistent common factor.
At a time his government is gearing for the Northern Provincial polls the Minister of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy thrashed out a slew of key current issues ranging from power politics to politics of power and energy during his conversation with the
Q:The UPFA Government of which you are a cabinet minister is preparing for Provincial Council election in the Northern Province slated for September. What is the JHU take on the move especially given the fact that you started your political activism protesting against the provincial council system?
We strongly oppose this election. However we are also conscious of the fact that the government is under enormous pressure to go for the polls.
Our opposition to Northern provincial polls is based on many factors.
First of all it is un-democratic.
To hold an election that fails to project the political will of the respective communities in the relevant province is against all the democratic norms. The 13th amendment and the Provincial Council system which were basically meant for the Northern Province were forced on us by the Indian government and they still have not received the people’s mandate. This means they are yet to get the necessary constitutional legitimacy.
Secondly, it’s happening half-way of the resettlement process, when two communities remain yet to be re-settled.
There was a systematic ethnic cleansing process unleashed by the LTTE and its cohorts against Sinhalese and Muslims since 1971. For an example in 1971 the Sinhala population in the Northern Province was 4.5 percent and Muslim population was 4.3 percent. In 2011 it had been reduced to 2% Sinhalese and 3% Muslims. In the Jaffna district, in 1971, there were 20,402 Sinhalese and 10,312 Muslims. However, in 2011, these figures were reduced to 746 Sinhalese and 1874 Muslims. Racist elements within the Tamil community are still opposing the resettling of those displaced Sinhalese and Muslims. Therefore if we hold the NPC elections without restoring the demographic balance of this province it would be an act of legitimizing the mass massacres and ethnic cleansing that had been carried out by the LTTE.
Thirdly there’s the danger of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) using this election as a referendum of the Tamil right to self-determination as they did in 1977 under the TULF. If a neo-Nazi type movement gains power in the Northern Provincial Council, it will agitate for extra powers vested in the Provincial Council act such as police powers and even more and will attempt to unsettle the Eastern Provincial Council as well. It may also join hands with the Tamil Nadu government and the so-called Tamil Ealam transnational government of Rudra Kumaran. Besides there’s a strong chance of it using its powers to instigate an intifada type violent uprising aiming foreign interference. Finally it may agitate for an independent seat in the United Nations as well.
As such holding elections in the Northern Province without assessing the real political repercussions will be a political hara-kiri for the entire nation and the unitary character of the State.
Q:The Tamils in Sri Lanka seem to consider polls in the North as their basic demand and their politicians have been asking for even more. Under these circumstances one may ask how fair is your call?
Tamil politicians have always been advocating unrealistic goals as they have done in the 1970s and 1980s and while attempting to fulfil them they have ruined the future of the entire Tamil community. Now the same demands are being put forward almost triggering a second catastrophe for their community.
Moderate Tamils should realize that their living standards are on a par with other communities except in certain areas in the North where the terrorist had been allowed to rule in the past.
While the Sinhalese were chased away from Jaffna the Tamil population in the Colombo AGA division had risen from 23% in 1971 to 33% in 2011 and there are 236,678 Tamils living in Colombo district as a result. So what is the discrimination the Tamils have been subjected to in this country?
Interventions by the US, India and the Tamil Nadu have clearly destroyed the reconciliation process government has launched after a 30 year long conflict. If we are to achieve real peace we should scrap or at least amend the 13th Amendment and enforce the prevailing law equally among all communities in the county. If Tamil politicians want equal treatment they will get it but, if they want a separate state that will spell disaster.
Q:You have been making some strong statements against power tariff hike and these have created an impression that you are quite a rebel in the rank?
I may have made statements but they have always been responsible statements. I was never been reckless nor have violated the collective responsibility of the cabinet. The subject of tariff hike had not been discussed in the cabinet either. I had to come forward and defend myself when I was falsely accused of something I had never done.
According to the electricity act of 2009, the Minister of Power and Energy cannot make any power tariff revisions as it has been made the domain of the regulator – the Public Utility Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL). Power Minister can issue only the guidelines pertaining to electricity tariff.
So, I informed the cabinet on 31st October 2011 that we should revisit the existing tariff policy guidelines. There I said "to pass economic benefits emanating from the hydro power (which is the cheapest source) generation equally, the lifeline tariff to domestic consumers may be limited to low end users to meet the basic energy requirement with lower rates for making electricity affordable to the low income groups".
This statement has clearly stated my policy. Although, I fully agree that a justifiable electricity cost should be borne by the consumers, low consumer groups should pay less. A merit basis dispatch should be scheduled by the CEB in such a manner that hydro power,which is be the cheapest source of energy, meets the total energy needs of the consumers under 90 units.
With the fuel price increase last January, an electricity tariff was introduced by the Finance Ministry. I opposed this tariff structure as it skewed towards the low consuming groups and small scale businesses and wrote to the President on January, 24th 2013 expressing my concern.
My stand is that energy is the modern day currency in any economy and therefore we should manage it with utmost care and prudence. There should be an objective formula for fuel prices and electricity prices coupled with a performance based management system in both Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).
Q:Is coal an option to mitigate growing electricity prices? What would be the future of the Sampur Project?
High generation cost remains the key concern of the power sector. Volatile fuel market, Rupee devaluation and hydro power situation always give negative effects to its generation cost which is 75% - 80% of the total expenditure involved. Coal is still considered a relatively low cost source. Still cost of coal is on a steady rise and its relative advantage is doomed to be diminished with its high emission rates and global warming problems. This phenomenon is called the "coal locking".
As any other project, the Sampur power project too have three components - political, financial and technical aspects.
Politically, both governments have decided to put up this plant and have signed a MoU in 2006. It is a joint venture between the India's NTPC and CEB where the CEB would be the sole buyer of the generating power. Earlier, a power purchasing agreement draft was initiated, but it was to be finalized after the completion of the feasibility study which was done by Indians. On learning the details of the financial and technical figures such as heat rate or the efficiency of the plant, overhead cost and return on equity rate and a few other matters, the CEB has concluded that it will incur a loss of at least Rs. 4,500 million annually if it goes along with the existing agreement. So I took a political decision against the existing agreement and proposed to re-negotiate in view of a new agreement. I do not know the present situation.
My understanding is that we should not rely on a single power source like hydro or coal. We should diversify our sources by way of fuel switching. Our immediate priority should be the installing 300 MW gas plant in Kerawalapitiya and convert Yugadanavi, AES and CEB gas plants into Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). That would address Colombo city's growing energy needs as well.
The other priority should be introducing a hydro cracker to our refinery so that it would produce more diesel and help expand its capacity. These are the top urgent, high priority moves that we need to make before it is too late. But I have my doubts whether the white collar criminals who reign in this sector would allow anybody to venture into these areas.