RW gives notice of removal for PUCSL Chief; Ratnayake denies charges, says move is malicious

Wednesday, 29 March 2023 01:18 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has issued 7-day notice of removal of Public Utilities of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) Chairman citing five grounds which Janaka Ratnayake denied alleging the move was pre-planned and malicious.

Move by the President, who is also Minister of Finance, Economic Stabilisation and National Policies, was by virtue of the powers vested in terms of Section 7 of the PUCSL Act No 35 of 2002. The notice was issued on 22 March.

Among five grounds cited were as member and Chairman of PUCSL, Ratnayake caused the Commission to institute an application in the Court of Appeal contrary to sections of the Act and guilty of misbehaviour as envisaged in terms of the Act.

The other reason is that the Court of Appeal by its order on 10 February with regard to the said application made an affirmative finding against Ratnayake in the exercise of functions and/or conduct as a Member and Chairman hence Ratnayake is guilty of misbehaviour as envisaged in terms of the Act.

President also cited Trillium Property Management & Services Ltd., in which Ratnayake has interest is in possession of an Exempt License to engage in the distribution of electricity and therefore Ratnayake is disqualified in terms of the PUCSL Act for being a connected person who has a financial or other interest• amounting to a conflict of interest directly or indirectly in Trillium Property Management & Services Ltd., which carries on and/or engaged in a public utilities industry. “Thus, you are disqualified from continuing as a member” of the PUCSL in terms of the Act, the President pointed out.

Another ground is that in violation of the Act, Ratnayake publicly opposed the request for tariff revision by the CEB without following due process in terms of law, especially the imperative provisions of the Act and acted contrary to the objectives and functions of PUCSL especially to protect the interest of all consumers as envisaged in the Act. “Thus you are guilty of misbehaviour,” as envisaged in terms of the PUCSL Act, the President added.

It was stated that whilst holding the posts of Chairman and Member of PUCSL Ratnayake by making statements targeting the Power and Energy Minister has acted in a manner which affects his ability to exercise, performed and discharge powers, functions and duties under the PUCSL Act, reasonably with fairness, impartiality and independence and in a manner that is timely, transparent, objective and consistent with the PUCSL Act and thereby acted in contravention of the objects of the Act. Therefore, Ratnayake is guilty of misbehaviour as envisaged in terms of PUCSL Act.

The notice letter stated that Ratnayake can make representations in respect of the five grounds of proposed removal within 7 days and in the event he fails, the President will proceed to act in terms of the PUCSL Act.

In response, Ratnayake wrote back to President Wickremesinghe saying he strongly denies all and singular the several allegations  and provide detailed responses to each of the allegations made by Wickremasinghe notwithstanding the extremely short period of one week afforded despite the serious consequences that could flow from the misconceived allegations made against Ratnayake.

Ratnayake who also held a media briefing detailing his response, highlighted that the PUCSL is expected to function as an independent regulator, and such is evident from the provisions contained in the Act including the necessity to obtain the concurrence of the Constitutional Council with regard to the appointment of Members (vide section 3).

As the Regulator for the Electricity Industry, Ratnayake said the PUCSL is expected in terms of the Sri Lanka Electricity Act inter alia to exercise several functions including act as the economic, technical and safety regulator for electricity industry and regulate tariffs and other charges levied by licensees and other electricity undertakings to ensure that the most economical and efficient service possible is provided to consumers.

In the course of so exercising its powers and function s, including regulating tariffs, the PUCSL is expected to consider inter alia the following aspects: protect interests of consumers, ensure that all demands for electricity are met, licensees acting efficiently will be able to finance, and promote efficient use of electricity supplied to premises.

Ratnayake retorted that interests of consumers includes interests of existing and future consumers with regard to prices charged and other terms of supply, availability and continuity of supply and quality of supply and exercise of any rights conferred under the Act.

He said the statutory framework does not envisage the PUCSL being a rubber stamp for proposals put forward by the Electricity Industry including the CEB but rather, that the PUCSL should duly exercise its powers and functions as an independent regulator even when the consequent decision reached by the PUCSL may be one which is not desired by the CEB or the Government.

The PUCSL Chairman said it acting independently has resulted in the Minister of Power and Energy being unable at times to act at his whim and fancy. This appears to have irked the said Minister of Power and Energy, and the President, alleged Ratnayake.

“This is borne out by a newspaper article as far back as 4 July 2022 which suggests that in your capacity as Prime Minister, in response to a request from Government MPs to oust me from my position, you had stated that 113 MPs should make such a request, in which event I could be removed,” Ratnayake said.

He also recalled that in May 2022, Secretary to the President phoned personal assistant instructing her to “ask the Chairman of the Commission to refrain from making any announcement or statement contradicting the speech made by the Prime Minister.”

“This unwanted interference with the affairs of the PUCSL compelled me to write to your secretary by letter dated 18 May 2022,” Ratnayake said, adding that in January 2023 it was reported in the media that the Minister of Power and Energy had prepared a charge sheet for removal.

He said that subsequently the Minister of Power and Energy sought to make baseless allegations against Ratnayake suggesting that the latter was to be appointed as a National List MP from a certain political party. “This too shows the malice with which the Minister has acted,” Ratnayake said.

He emphasised that recently he petitioned the Supreme Court in a Fundamental Rights application against the unlawful purported approval said to have been granted for the CEB's proposed tariff hike of January 2023.

“My grievance broadly speaking was that the decision was taken in a manner ultra vires the provisions of the PUCSL Act, and also in a manner which violated Article 12 of the Constitution, by inter-alia imposing a disproportionately high burden on lower consumption categories, which are usually low income households,” Ratnayake said.

He said that his Petition was filed on 10 March 2023 and fixed for support on 24 March 2023, and the President's letter was two days before the date of support viz 22 March 2023.

“I must note at this stage that I have never opposed a cost-reflective tariff. My objection has been that costs associated with providing high amounts of electricity to the wealthy, should not be recovered by passing on such costs to the poor. Thus, at the very outset I wish to observe that it is clear that the purported Notice under section 7 of the PUCSL has been pre-planned and malicious,” Ratnayake emphasised.