With the New Year over, power cuts have returned to the top of the agenda the Government has to resolve, especially given that the weather situation is showing no signs of improvement. In such a situation it is imperative that the Government works with stakeholders to improve transparency and accountability to ensure that Sri Lanka gets the best possible solution.
However, initial signs are that this is not happening. Appointing committees during a crisis is the standard reaction of most governments and there was no difference in this instance with a committee being appointed to understand what caused the power cuts and to suggest possible solutions for the Government to implement.
The causes for the power cuts are obvious as no new power plants have been established by the Government for years and implementation of the least cost generation plan had been delayed due to disagreements between the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), Power and Energy Ministry and unions.
Nonetheless there were recent reports that efforts had been made to alter the committee report so that its recommendations would favour or align with business interests of officials. An unnamed senior official of the Power Ministry has been singled out as having attempted to make the changes. The committee had specifically recommended the purchase of 200MW of power for six months from a private supplier operating a barge-mounted plant. The Ministry official had added other barge-mounted power projects.
Another was the inclusion of two different contracts to different companies for LNG projects — a subject that did not come before the Committee. It is not clear whether the official included these changes on his own or at the insistence of political leaders. Though the recommendations were intended to be for a short-term period, the official changed it.
The committee was headed by Power and Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake and included Highways Minister Kabir Hashim and Non-Cabinet Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Minister Harsha de Silva. The changes were reported and the original report was apparently submitted but the entire fiasco shows how deep the crisis in the power sector runs. In such a situation who will protect public interest and ensure that public funds, which will eventually be used to find short and long term solutions to the power shortage will select the best possible option?
Solutions need to have public buy-in and trust as well. The Government, especially since it was elected under the ‘Yahapalanaya’ tagline should be far more transparent about its actions. The committee report should, ideally, be made public so that the people are aware of the Government’s policies and is able to then monitor implementation. The basis of recommendations should be made clear, especially since the Government also has multi-billion dollar projects such as the light rail running on its future power requirements, and the projects that will make the most sense given the technological and environmental considerations Sri Lanka will have to face.
Party of the reason why report tampering is taking place so blatantly is because transparency has been sacrificed for expediency but it is possible for quick decisions to be made and made honestly.