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Mounting protests mark the hike in gas and electricity prices

Protests mounted yesterday against the increase in electricity charges and the price hike of LP gas as these institutions tried to explain to the public why these price increases had to be imposed.

Hard on the heels of these increases, Sri Lanka Telecom confirmed that it would enforce a new tariff system on telephone calls from July 1.

The United National Party urged the government to face reality and bring down the daily escalating prices of essential commodities and services.

"If they cannot do this, please go making way for those to run the country who are capable of doing it," said a statement issued yesterday by Gamini Athukorala, General Secretary of the UNP.

The UNP statement said that the recent sharp increases of prices of gas, fuel, electricity and transport have contributed to sky rocket the prices of all other consumer items and as a result the cost of living has risen to unreachable heights.

"It is an unending battle for the average wage earners, public servants, farmers, labourers and self-employed persons to make ends meet," the statement said. "It seems that the message of the PA regime to its countymen is that they should not live at all," the UNP said.

The Puravasi Peramuna of former Minister Sirisena Cooray expressed shock and horror at what it called the unconscionable price hikes and the manner in which it was done.

At a time when the people are living in fear of terrorist attacks in the South and at a time when they are contributing generously to the war effort, it is unconscionable to heap such an intolerable burden on them, said the Puravasi Peramuna in its statement which was also signed by the General Secretary Wimal Wickramasinghe.

"We therefore urge the government to take immediate steps to rescind the price hike completely or at least limit it to a reasonable level," the Puravasi Peramuna said.

The Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre (JPTUC) sent a letter to the Public Enterprice Reform Commission protesting at the price hikes.

"The reason given by the Shell Gas Company Ltd., to justify its unfair and unfriendly act of price hike cannot be accepted and we reject it in toto," the letter said.

The JPTUC urged the intervention of PERC to compel the gas company to withdraw the price increase forthwith.

A constituent party of the PA government also joined in the protests signalling the extent of displeasure among the people at the price increases.

A statement issued by the Communist Party of Sri Lanka said:

"The increase of the price of LP Gas by the Shell Gas Company is both unbearable for the consumer and unreasonable. It is true that under the present economic system prices are determined by the market. However, the Fair Trading Commission could have intervened to determine whether the increase of the price is reasonable. It is either inoperative or has failed to act in the present situation. In the circumstances we call on the government to intervene on behalf of the consumers in order to bring them relief."


Telecom introduces new tariff rates from July 1

While protests mounted yesterday against the raising of electricity charges and LP gas prices, Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) confirmed that it would introduce new tariff rates from the beginning of next month.

It said in a statement that ‘with effect from the 1st of July 2000, Sri Lanka Telecom will introduce new tariff rates, whilst restructuring its tariff structure. The methodology adopted in the new tariffs is based on an ongoing tariff rebalancing process, committed to moving towards a cost-oriented tariff structures, in keeping with the current international telecommunication trend. This tariff-rebalancing exercise is carried-out over a period of time, to gradually eliminate the current cross-subsidy of revenue from the international operations to the domestic, whilst enhancing Sri Lanka Telecom’s efforts in expanding and modernizing the telecommunications infrastructure facilities with the aim of transforming Sri Lanka into the ‘communications hub’ of South Asia.

With effect from July 1st, 2000, the IDD rates will be reduced by another 8% on average. Taking into account this reduction, the IDD call rates since 1997, would have been reduced by as much as 40%. International call rates are currently one of the lowest in the SAARC region.

SLT explained that the current four time bands (peak, standard, economy and discount) will be simplified and reduced to three (day, night and discount), in order to make it more user-friendly. One unit in this relatively new discount band, from 10 p.m. till 5 a.m. will constitute as much as 9 minutes, which will be very beneficial to the domestic customers, especially the Internet users. Moreover, the ‘economy period’ too has been advanced and also broadened to 6 p.m.-10p.m. from the current narrow time band 8 p.m.-10 p.m. As the majority of SLT customer base comprise of residential customers, they will benefit by this enhanced economy period.

It said that customers using upto 1000 units a month (approximately a monthly bill of Rs. 3,000) will in general be unaffected by this tariff revision, which accounts for around 80% of the SLT customer base. Infact, most of them will enjoy a minimal to a fairly substantial reduction in their monthly telephone bills, up to a maximum of Rs. 330 (for e.g. a customer with moderate usage of 501 units a month will have his bill reduced by as much as 21%, giving a monthly saving of over Rs. 280, despite his monthly rental been increased by Rs. 20 (residential) and Rs. 60 (business) as the case may be. This is due to the restructured method of calculating the total call charges. Currently the total call charge is determined as a flat rate, which depends on the total number of call units used in a month (For e.g. 200 units will be charged @ Rs. 1.10=Rs. 220, whereas 201 units will be @ Rs. 1.65=Rs. 331.65). However, the new method of calculating the unit rate is on an incremental basis, which is more equitable as follows.

UNITS Rs.

< 100 = 1.10

101-300 = 1. 40

301-500 = 2.20

501 and above = 2.80

"We have increased the rental rebate for service outage, with the aim of committing ourselves to provide a more reliable service to our customers. In order to support the network rollout programme the installation charge has been marginally revised upwards by Rs. 500." SLT said adding since its privatization less than three years ago, SLT has invested over 30 billion rupees and a further 13 billion is planned for this year to rapidly develop the telecommunication infrastructure in Sri Lanka. The SLT network has rapidly expanded to include more than 600,000 customers today. SLT has also interconnected 14 key towns via an extensive optical fiber network covering a length of over 600 k.m. in order to provide to the country with the latest in the leading-edge technology. This cutting-edge technology will further upgrade and facilitate the provision of broadband services such as multi-media, high-speed data communication, ISDN, video conferencing, etc., to SLT’s customers.


‘Gas company maximises profits at country’s expense’

The Puravasi Peramuna of former Minister Sirisena Cooray yesterday urged the government to take immediate steps to rescind the price hike on gas or limit it to a reasonable level.

A statement issued by Sirisena Cooray, National Organiser of the Puravasi Peramuna and Wimal Wickramasinghe its General Secretary, also expressed shock and horror at the recent increases in the prices of a number of essential consumer utilities.

The statement said:

We express our shock and horror at the unconscionable price hikes in number of essential consumer utilities (electricity, water, telephone and particularly the hitherto unexpected price hike of gas) and the manner in which it was done. By initiating or condoning these drastic price increases, the government has allowed the imposition of an intolerable burden on the absolute majority of the people of this country.

We would like to point out that at least some of these anti-people measures are the direct consequences of the incorrect economic policies of the PA regime.

We refer in particular to the erroneous and excessive privatisation programme of the government which gave a foreign multinational (with a well established record of doing anything and everything to maintain and enhance its profit levels) monopoly status on an essential consumer item. And we must point out that this most unfair of all price hikes has absolutely nothing to do with military expenditure - it is the result of the Shell Company’s determination to maximise their profit at the expense of the people of our country. The increased revenue accrues not to the Lankan state but to a foreign private company which in any case, siphons it out of the country. And this is the third price hike effected by the Shell Company in a period of six months together with a surreptitious reduction in the quantity of gas in a cylinder. And we believe that this latest price hike is in apparent violation of the agreement between the Shell Company and the government of Sri Lanka.

At a time when our people are living in fear of terrorist attacks in the South and at a time when they are contributing generously to the war effort, it is unconscionable to heap such an intolerable burden on them. We therefore urge the government to take immediate steps to rescind this price hike completely or at least to limit it to a reasonable level.


UNP tells govt.
Please go home if you can’t govern the country

Gas prices and electricity charges have once again been increased with immediate effect. With the latest blow of price hike of gas, a 12.5 kg domestic gas cylinder being increased to Rs. 470 from Rs. 365, while electricity charges skyrocketed by five to ten percent a statement issued by the General Secretary of the United National Party, Gamini Atukorala said.It states

‘When the Shell Gas was given the monopoly in gas in 1995, the government said it would benefit the consumer and the state in a big way and even predicted that the gas price would eventually come down. What a fantasy? But the reality was wide apart.

‘Not only the government approved the increase of gas prices six times from Rs. 250 in 1995 to the current price of Rs. 470, it did nothing when the Shell Gas reduced the quantity of gas in a domestic cylinder from kg. 13 to 12.5 a few months back. It is obvious from its stoic silence that the government does not care any, about the unbearable burdens and ever increasing Cost Of Living, which is a direct result of these price increases.

‘The UNP warned of these consequences at the very beginning when the Shell Gas showed it’s interests to start business in Sri Lanka. The government in reply said they could control the multi national company. But the prevailing situation has proved otherwise and the UNP was correct.

‘The government is attempting to sweep all its sins under the carpet of war. In contrary to its repeated appeals from the public to make sacrifices in cash and other resources for the sake of the country, the government won’t do anything to alleviate the untold sufferings of the people.

‘It was not long ago that the Chandrika regime boasted that there would not be any more power cuts. But now the government make threats saying that the CEB would impose a surcharge on consumers and cut off the supply unless the consumers limit their consumption of electricity. The government has miserably failed to deliver goods in the energy sector as in all other areas. This is the tragedy the country is faced today with. A vast majority in the country except a privileged few has fallen to the hearth from the frying pan.

‘The recent sharp increase of prices of gas, fuel, electricity and transport have contributed to skyrocket the prices of all other consumer items and as a result the COL, has risen to unreachable heights. It is an unending battle for the average wage earners, public servants, farmers, labourers and self employed persons to make their ends meet.

‘It seems that the message of the PA regime to its countrymen is that they should not live at all.

‘We urge the PA government to come to the reality from its utopia and bring down the daily escalating prices of essential commodities and services. If they cannot do this please go, making way for those to run the country who are capable of doing it’.


Two student factions clash at Peradeniya University
Nine students hospitalised: instructor’s car smashed
by Saman Indrajith

Nine students were hospitalised and a motor car belonging to an instructor was smashed following a clash between two student groups at the University of Peradeniya on Wednesday night, a student spokesman said yesterday.

President of the Students’ Council of Peradeniya Univ-ersity, Jagath Jayasekara told "The Island" that two student groups of the Arts Faculty of the university attacked each other and one group of students damaged a car of an English Instructor attached to the English Language Teaching Unit.

He said that the clash occurred following an unofficial meeting conducted by a female English instructor. She had organised a meeting for a group of students and the meeting was held at the premises of the Arts Faculty. Since all meetings, seminars, and rallies were banned by the authorities under the emergency laws, rest of the students were curious to find out how and why an instructor managed to hold a secret meeting within the university premises. "Nearly three hundred Arts students surrounded the building where the meeting was being held. When the Arts students questioned the instructor about the meeting a student Buddhist priest who participated in the meeting attacked them. After that both groups went on assaulting each other ," he said.

The Secretary of the Students’ Council, Kapila Karunaratne said that though top level officials of the university and student leaders were there nobody could stop the mini-battle until the motor car of the English Instructor who organised the secret meeting was smashed. "We tried our level best to separate the two groups, but it was in vain," he said.

Four students had been admitted to Kandy Hospital while five others sought treatment at Peradeniya Teaching Hospital, he said.

A lecturer of the Arts Faculty who declined to be identified said that the English instructor who organised the meeting wanted to establish an alternative student union and the present student union wanted to disrupt that attempt.

The Vice Chancellor and the Dean of the Arts Faculty were not available for comment. They were at a meeting discussing the clash.

Hospital sources said that five of the nine students were discharged yesterday after treatment.


Low key skirmishes in Jaffna

The special Media Information Centre of the government yesterday said that in Jaffna around 3.30 p.m. on Wednesday terrorists attacked the Security Forces defences at Colombuthurai with small arms and mortars. Troops repulsed this attack causing casualties among the terrorists.

It added that ‘Security Forces fighting patrol operating west of Sarasalai area confronted a group of terrorists. Troops killed three terrorists and recovered miscellaneous military equipment including firearms.’


Shell attributes gas price hike to world prices
by Chittaranjan de Silva

An official of Shell Gas Ltd, yesterday attributed the Rs. 105/- price hike on a domestic gas cylinder to the rise in world market prices, but UNP parliamentarian, Ravi Kurunanayake blamed the government for allowing Shell to jack up local gas prices "at will".

Mr. Karunanayake explained that the government is not exercising its control over ‘Shell Gas’, which maintains a monopoly in the local gas market until June 2001.

"According to the agreement with the government, Shell could raise the price of gas by only 10% per year," Mr. Karunanayake stressed.

But according to the Shell Gas official, the company increased the price of a domestic gas cylinder by Rs. 10/- in January and by Rs. 30/- in February before its latest hike of 28%, which has shocked consumers throughout the country.

Mr. Karunanayke warned that the price hike would have a "ripple effect" on the cost of living, which has already been jolted by the increased taxes due to the war and also the hike in electricity charges and the telecom rates hike.

However, the Shell official defended the price hike explaining that the company had recorded a loss of Rs. 500 million by May 2000 by selling gas at prices lower than that of the world market.

He said that with this price hike, "the local LP gas prices would come on par with the world market prices" and would help the company to recover the losses.

He further said that in June 99, the cost of a metric ton of LP gas in the world market stood at US$ 148. It increased gradually to US $ 267 in August’99 and the present price stands at US $ 270 per metric ton, he said.

Though the world market prices had increased from June last year, Shell’s gas prices in Sri Lanka had been far below the world rates, even after it increased gas prices in January and March this year before its latest hike, he argued.


Catholics urged to pray for peace in the country

The Catholic hierarchy yesterday urged the authorities to accelerate the process of negotiation and urged the faithful to intensify their prayers for peace in the country.

This appeal was made in a statement issued by Bishop Oswald Gomis, President of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference with the approval of all the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.

The statement said:

"As Christians we cannot remain indifferent to the sufferings of people wherever that be. And this concern becomes all the more grave when it affects a group of persons who are our brothers and sisters in our own land. We refer to all who are suffering in this disastrous war in the North and the East.

In view of the great calamity in terms of human life and suffering, not only of the combatants but also of the civilian population trapped in between, we cannot remain unconcerned.

Painfully aware of their sufferings and the sufferings of all in Sri Lanka as a result of this conflict, we express our support for and solidarity with, all groups and persons of goodwill who are working for peace at this crucial juncture.

The concern of friendly nations in the peace effort and their presence these days to commence discussions, should give us the necessary confidence to reject war and opt for a negotiated settlement to the conflict. We strongly urge that the process of negotiation be accelerated.

We also appeal to the large majority of people in the country, who are in favour of a negotiated settlement to express their solidarity with the peace effort so as to give it the necessary support and backing.

As believers in the power of prayer, we appeal to our priests, religious and the lay faithful, to intensify their prayers for the intention of peace.

We begin the Novena to the Most Holy Spirit on Friday the 2nd June. During these nine days of prayer let us ask the Holy Spirit to "renew the face of the earth." Let us pray that the minds and hearts of all of us Sri Lankans, be renewed; and we be given the courage to work for a peaceful and united Sri Lanka based on equality and justice for all. May all those concerned be enlightened to see the truth. May God grant us peace"


Death of Prof. A. J. Wilson

The death occurred in Canada on Wednesday of Prof. Alfred Jeyaratnam Wilson, who once held the Chair of Political Science at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya and later migrated to Canada where he established well recognised credentials as a distinguished academic.

Prof. Wilson was consulted by President J. R. Jayewardene in the constitution making process in the post 1977 period.

Married to the daughter of Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, QC, the Federal Party leader he wrote a biography of his father-in-law and has often contributed articles to the Sri Lankan press in various exciting political events of which he was a ringside viewer.

He has a number of books and academic publications to his credit. Prof. Wilson migrated to Canada many years ago and held a Chair in the University of New Brunswick.

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