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‘Trade union action by CEB employees’

By G.A.D. Sirimal

(February 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The above captioned article that was alarming appeared in all the newspapers recently which said that "the Draft Act would weaken the power of the CEB despite the assurance given by the Ministry that distribution would be given only to government institutions."

It is appropriate to remind all those in authority why divesting of distribution of electricity was considered as far back as 1982, which gave birth to the Lanka Electricity Company (Pvt.) Ltd. (LECO). Prior to this decision electricity supply in local authority areas was done by local bodies — municipal councils, urban councils, town councils, and village councils under a licence granted by the Minister of Power and Energy.

As these local authorities failed to pay back to the CEB the amounts due, the CEB faced a severe liquidity problem. Threats of disconnecting the supplies had no effect. It was also found that the distribution lines within the local authority areas were not up to the required standard. When this disastrous situation was brought to the notice of President J.R. Jayewardene who was also the minister for power and energy, the Secretary to the Ministry Prof. K.K.Y.W. Perera recommended the setting up of a committee to go into the matter.

This committee was chaired by Prof. Perera with, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Construction, R. Abeyratne; General Manager, CEB, H.S. Subasinghe; Director, Public Enterprises of the Treasury, M. Somasunderam with DGM, Transmission and Generation, CEB, P.B.N. Fernando as the secretary. It will be observed that the committee consisted of top public servants which shows the importance the matter received.

Several options were analysed with a view to selecting the best that would solve the problems pertaining to electricity in local authority areas and for improving the electricity supply within local authority areas. The committee recommended the formation of an electricity distribution company with the participation of CEB, Urban Development Authority, and the local authorities concerned.

The CEB was to be the major shareholder. One important recommendation was that in the long term, consideration should be given to taking over other areas too after evaluating the efficiency of the newly formed company. If the new company was successful, it was agreed, it could take over the total distribution of electricity as the CEB was overburdened

It will be seen that with the formation of another company for distribution of electricity, the CEB being the major shareholder would be able to exert more authority unlike in the case of local authorities which functioned on a licence.

What we as consumers wish to have is an efficient service, regular billing and collection, uninterrupted power supply, prompt action on calls for repairs. As a consumer served by LECO in Boralesgamuwa, I would say there is an immediate need to open another bill collection centre at Boralesgamuwa.

Currently there are two centres at Boralesgamuwa, one of which is a private bank which has displayed a notice that Rs. 15 will be charged for accepting payments of electricity bills, while the other bank functions only from Saturday to Wednesday.

This is totally inadequate to serve a consumer population of over 20, 000. It is therefore suggested that a bill collecting centre is opened at the LECO maintenance depot premises at Boralesgamuwa which is centrally situated and has enough building space and also a car parking facility. But I should say that all in all the service that we get is satisfactory.

Finally, at the time the LECO was set up it was envisaged that there should be no political interference which we very often see in government departments and statutory bodies resulting in utter chaos in the administration of these bodies. My question is — has this been violated at the LECO?

According to several reports appearing in the daily newspapers there appears to be some conflict between the CEB, and the minister in charge, as in the case of the Kerawalapitiya Combined Cycle Power Plant, Liquid Natural Gas Plant and Windmill Tender — all pet projects of the minister.

Mr. Minister, please do not precipitate a crisis at the CEB for it is we the consumers who will have to suffer if there is a disruption of power supply.

(The writer , Former Asst. Secretary,Power and Energy Ministry )
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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