Government will maintain an uninterrupted power supply despite strike threats – Gamini Lokuge | Sunday Observer
More JVP members than farmers at protests:

Government will maintain an uninterrupted power supply despite strike threats – Gamini Lokuge

7 November, 2021

Minister of Power Gamini Lokuge said whatever future trade union action is taken; the Government with the assistance of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) employees would take the responsibility of providing uninterrupted power supply to the people. He said the CEB employees have given this assurance to the Government. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said they explained the true situation of the Yugadanavi power plant to the employees of the CEB and CPC. Therefore, the employees didn’t extend their support for a trade union action on November 3 and have a 72 hours blackout as previously threatened by CEB trade unions.


Q: How do you view the protest made by the CEB trade unions against the agreement with US-based New Fortress Energy for the transfer of shares of the Yugadanavi power plant?

A: During their first press conference, these trade unions said that they would stage a protest on November 3 and as a result there would be a 72 hours blackout. These trade unions also warned the fuel supply of the CPC will also be suspended and there won’t be fuel even to run a generator. We should look at why their trade union action was weakened? We explained the true situation of the issue to the employees of the CEB and CPC. When looking at the manner these trade unions speak on the Yugadanavi power plant issue, the people might think the entire CEB is going to be given to the US.

According to our electricity generation plan, the contribution of the entire Yugadanavi power plant to the national grid is less than five percent. However, these trade unions attempt to create a wrong impression that the US is going to create a monopoly in our power and petroleum sectors. However, 60 percent of shares of the Yugadanavi power plant will be managed by Sri Lankan directors. Those who have some legal background are well aware of this.

When the LNG is supplied by the New Fortress Energy, it will be distributed countrywide by a new company. A similar company has been formed to bring coal to the Lakvijaya coal power plant commonly known as the Norochcholai coal power plant which has the capacity of 900 MW. We have been able to provide an uninterrupted power supply due to this power plant. The management and technical part of this power plant is handled by a group of Chinese people. At present, it is smoothly functioning without any issue.

The CEB and the private sector can join hands when the coal power plants are set up. As a result, permission was granted to the private sector to construct coal power plants and the CEB started to purchase electricity from them. That was a development made in the 1990s. Actually, the Kerawalapitiya power plant was also started in such a manner but the Government has a direct link to it. When that company was formed, the majority of its shares were purchased by the Government. Only 40 percent of shares were given to that US Company. According to the agreement the entire project will be fully owned by the Government in 2035.

Another 300 MW power plant named ‘Sobadham” will also be set up with US investments. We need to attract more foreign investors to Sri Lanka. At present, the entire world has faced a financial crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Amidst the crisis the Government is trying its level best to create an environment for the people to live without hindrance. When the Government attempts to fulfill that task, it has to face a lot of problems. At present there is a shortage of gas and cement in the market. However, the Government has been able to manage the situation without resorting to restrictions or quota systems introduced by some developed countries. At present some countries issue fuel based on a quota system.

It is true that we have also faced severe economic hardships. In such a scenario, some INGOs in collaboration with the Opposition attempt to embarrass the Government due to their displeasure over the steps taken by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to successfully end the battle against terrorism. The JVP and some other parties have also joined this campaign and it is obvious they are funded. However, the Government is successfully facing these challenges. Pro-LTTE sympathisers also staged protests when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was in Glasgow, Scotland, to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). They are having a lot of hatred as Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the President of Sri Lanka. Even some of those in our country also contribute to these acts. Those days, trade union leaders such as Joseph Stalin protested in Jaffna to stop the battle against terrorists. Now they are attempting to topple the Government.

Q: Will there be any disruption to the supply of power supply if the CEB trade unions decide to go for a strike action?

A: We would accept that challenge and the CEB would conduct its operations as usual. Those who work in the CEB are reputed and dignified employees who bestow their honour to the nation. I don’t think they won’t join hands with the JVP backed trade unions to disrupt the power supply and cause inconvenience to the people.

Q: You said at a recent press conference that the JVP attempts to paint a picture that the entire power supply is going to be handed over to a US company. Could you explain?

A: Actually, they attempt to give such a wrong impression. The Government is only trying to overcome the financial difficulties faced while permitting New Fortress Energy to invest in the Yugadanavi power plant. Actually, it doesn’t provide at least five percent of electricity to the national grid. Therefore, we have the capacity to run even without this power plant. However, if this LNG power plant comes into operation, the present Rs.30 unit cost of electricity will be reduced to Rs.16.

Q: The People’s Council represented by Government coalition party leaders at a recent press conference heavily criticised the agreement that the Government signed with News Fortress Energy. Your comments?

A: I can’t understand who they represent. If they are in the Government, they should have an understanding of the world economic crisis. They can’t fulfill their duties without having that understanding. Even the President and the Prime Minister at a recent meeting with Government coalition party leaders requested them to submit in writing their proposals to be considered when finalising the agreement. It is very clear that they have a different agenda. If they can rectify their shortcomings, they all would be able to move forward as a one team. Otherwise, they will have to quit the Government.

Q: Some Government lawmakers are of the view that the SLPP should take disciplinary action against these constituent party leaders of the Government as they have violated the collective responsibility of the Government. Would you like to comment?

A: These constituent party leaders resorted to a very wrong action. That is why I also told a recent press briefing if they want they can quit without creating unnecessary issues within the Government. I think the party is exploring the possibility of taking disciplinary action against these coalition party leaders of the Government. The SLPP is a well disciplined political party. We don’t know what the real motive of these coalition parties of the Government is. We are there to protect the Government and move forward and not to become the next President of this country.

Q: Despite objections by the alliance partners, the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna has insisted on the need to proceed with the LNG project with New Fortress Energy. Could you enlighten your views?

A: Some look at us as a country always aligned with China and India. The world’s richest investors are in Europe. When the US is going to invest in Sri Lanka, it is a very strong message given to the world. Therefore, the JVP is trying their level best to sabotage this project with the funding of some NGOs. Even some of our coalition partners who speak to the public gallery have also joined hands in that campaign. We would be able to see the results of this LNG project within the next one and half years.

Q: Teachers’ and Principals’ Trade Union Alliance has warned that the Government should explain how the teacher-principal salary anomaly issue would be resolved before presenting the Budget 2022 to Parliament, if it fails to do so, they would resort to a massive strike action. Your comments?

A: The Government has already given them a very clear answer as to how their salary anomaly will be sorted out. A salary increment will be to teachers and principals by the forthcoming Budget 2022. As we have promised, the salaries of teachers and principals would be increased in several phases. The salary anomaly in the teacher service would be addressed by Budget 2022 as well. If these trade unions resort to any strike action, the Government along with the parents will face it. Even during the battle against terrorism, the people like Joseph Stalin went to Jaffna and staged protests against it. I would say without any fear they went there and staged protests because of the money given to them by some NGOs. Now they attempt to topple the Government with the help of some NGOs. This salary anomaly of teachers had been there since 1995. What did these trade unions do from 1995 to up-to-date to address that?

Q: The People’s Bank of Sri Lanka was recently blacklisted by the Chinese Embassy’s Economic and Commercial Office in Sri Lanka for failing to make the payment according to the Letter of Credit and the contracts between two parties. Will this have any adverse impact on us?

A: There are international rules and regulations to be followed by banks when a Letter of Credit (L/C) is issued. Therefore, we have to act according to those international rules. No bank can violate these rules and regulations. When a L/C is issued it specifies the conditions with regard to the work to be fulfilled at the loading port.

Therefore, if those conditions are violated, we will have to pay when that company submits the L/C to the bank. However, I really don’t know what is mentioned in this L/C.

Q: Certain sections have raised concern on the appointment of Ven.Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera to lead the Presidential Task Force working to implement a ‘One Country, One Law’ policy. Would you like to elaborate your view?

A: The President who obtained 6.9 million votes at the Presidential Election has powers to take a decision to make such appointments.

Q: The Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) have warned about another Covid-19 wave as the public disregard the health guidelines after the travel restrictions were lifted. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: What the PHI Association says is exactly right. Having very well known about this, trade union leaders such as Joseph Stalin take the people to streets and conduct protests. We can realise these people somehow want to topple this Government by creating even yet another Covid-19 wave. The PHI Association honestly says what they can see at the moment. However, Stalin and his group conduct protests by violating these health guidelines. When the Police are deployed to prevent such protests, they say they are not allowed to conduct their protests.

Q: How do you view the allegation leveled by the Opposition that the prices of some essential commodities have rapidly increased due to the Government’s decision to remove the price control imposed on them?

A: If this Opposition is in power now, can they control the increase in the prices of goods in the international market? Actually, we cannot stop the increase of the prices of fuel, gas and sugar in the international market. We somehow attempt to provide food and other consumer items to the people without any shortage. The entire world has faced severe economic hardships due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Sri Lanka has also suffered a lot due to the pandemic. At present the number of Covid-19 wards in hospitals is drastically reducing due to the measures taken by the Government to control the pandemic. Earlier Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that the Government is going around the world asking for loans to bring Covid vaccines. Today Sri Lanka is among the few best countries which have conducted their vaccination drive. However, the Opposition Leader doesn’t utter even a single word about it.

Q: Still the farmers countrywide engage in their protests demanding fertiliser despite the assurance given by the Government to provide sufficient fertiliser to farmers to cultivate during the Maha season. Your comments?

A: These farmers’ protests are politically motivated. More JVP members participated in these protests than farmers. In most of the areas, farmers have engaged in their cultivation. When the farmers switch from chemical fertiliser to organic fertiliser, certain issues may come up. Sometimes, organic fertiliser may not be available everywhere. Farmers have no idea about the quality of the organic fertiliser as they have not used them earlier. They will realise it by the end of this cultivation season.