Protecting Lankan interests

Saturday, 18 August 2012 01:06 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A team of Chinese engineers reportedly arrived in Sri Lanka on Wednesday to expedite repairs at the Norochcholai power plant. However,  questions raised over the quality of the equipment and its usage remains, with even the Power and Energy Minister admitting that there are issues to be worked out.

However, authorities remain reluctant whistleblowers given the deep ties between Sri Lanka and China. Yet a US$ 1.3 billion coal power plant that if completed could provide 55 per cent of the country’s power hangs in the balance. Can Sri Lanka protect its interests?

Earlier this year when allegations were levelled by CEB engineers about the standard of the machinery installed at this first coal power plant of Sri Lanka not being up to international standards, a step was taken that has not been followed up.

A four-member committee to probe into the continuous breakdowns and fires breaking out at the Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant (LCPP) at Norochcholai was appointed by Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika. It was subsequently reported that this committee had presented its findings to the Minister but there has been no follow-up in terms of implementation.

The typical kneejerk reaction to criticisms was further highlighted when a recent report quoted a top CEB official as saying that the previous power cuts were caused by a Rs. 25,000 repair at the same power plant. If this report is to be believed, 20 million people underwent hardships for five days because the power plant officials failed to fix a minimal glitch in the system.

Critics also opine that since the Lakvijaya power plant was constructed with funds from China, which is also holding the financial pipeline to a plethora of other projects, the Government is reluctant to take any action over the repeated breakdowns. The worrying factor in this is that two more phases of the project will be completed within the next few years with the full plant eventually costing Sri Lanka over US$ 1.3 billion and if quality is not assured, then the people will be saddled with yet another white elephant and the bill to boot.

Since it began operations early last year, the Norochcholai power plant has regularly hit the headlines. Even though many authorities have pointed out that it was necessary given the power needs of Sri Lanka, many others, including a reputed columnist of this paper, have regularly pointed out that the CEB has ignored cheaper and more environmentally-friendly power generation methods for expensive ones that have burdened people with their inefficiency and expense.

Sri Lanka being plunged into darkness in two successive months is an indisputable issue that must be addressed. The Government, especially the Minister in charge, need to do more than appoint committees that are then promptly swept into the shadows. The findings must be presented to the public to assure transparency and good governance. More than anything else, the shortcomings of the coal power plant must be identified and rectified.

Each day the rains are delayed, the CEB loses Rs. 200 million. Untold millions are lost during power cuts and endless hardship is endured by the people. This is surely reason enough for the Government to grow a backbone and ensure that Sri Lanka is given the quality for which it has dearly paid.