Despite the debt-ridden CEB warning of an imminent catastrophic economic crisis due to rapid depletion of foreign exchange resources, caused by the unprecedented rise in global oil prices, officialdom has recently made an attempt to involve the private sector in a project which could have been handled by the CEB, well informed sources said. This wasn t an isolated case, the sources said.
The CEB would have been able to build the eight-kilometre high tension Beliatta transmission line at a cost of Rs. 250 million. Due to overall escalating costs, the entire cost could go upto Rs. 300 million, the sources said. But it would have cost the taxpayer a staggering Rs. 600 million if the CEB handed over the project to the private sector, the sources said.
Protests led by the Engineers Union had prompted the Power and Energy Ministry to assure the union that it would be given the opportunity to handle the project. During last Sunday s meeting, summoned by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the union had emphasised the need to cut down on waste and extravagance.
A well respected trade unionist said an already bad situation had been made worse by waste, corruption and irregularities. Jayaweelal Meegoda of the Engineers Union said an overall change in attitude of all concerned would be imperative if the country was to survive the economic fallout.
Although Junior Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya recently assured Parliament that they had managed the economy well despite the steep rise in oil prices, the CEB said its appeal to reduce consumption of electricity was urgent and desperate.
The CEB has warned that the failure to reduce power consumption by at least 10 per cent with effect from July would cause a disruption of service. To educate the public, the CEB has launched an advertising campaign in the print and electronic media. The CEB said that thermal generation has led the country into what it called a heavy debt situation with limited funds available to meet the fuel costs. The CEB warned the rapid depletion of foreign reserves would affect the import of even the bare essentials.
The CEB has asserted that an immediate and sharp drop in diesel consumption would be compulsory to prevent what Power Secretary M. M.C. Ferdinando called melting down of the economy.
Ferdinando said they wanted to close down the Kelanitissa thermal power generation complex by August to cut down on losses. But that would entirely depend on the commissioning of the Kerawalapitiya power plant, he said, asserting that the operation of the costly Kelanitissa power plant was no longer viable. `In fact, if we continued with thermal power generation in the face of diesel price hike, the country would be doomed. This is the hard truth.`
According to him, the cost of producing one unit of electricity in some plants at Kelanitissa varies from Rs. 30 to Rs. 52. He speculated on the possibility of the government providing two quality CFL bulbs free of charge to consumers as it would help conserve electricity. In the longer run, it would be a wise investment, he said. Fielding questions, he said the consumers need to reduce consumption between 6.30 p.m. ad 10 p.m. as the heavy load had become an untenable burden on the national economy.
Udayasiri Kariyawasam who had to quit the CEB due to protests by the Engineers Union, in his Chairman s report last February pointed out the danger in the growing dependence on thermal power. In fact, Kariyawasam was the first to detail the unprecedented shortcomings, negligence and corrupt management practices which had crippled the public enterprise.