Activists out for Power Secy’s scalp

Questionable deals:

Batagoda stands his ground

By Saman Indrajith

Consumer rights protection activists demand Power and Energy Ministry secretary's immediate resignation or removal for what they call violating the Electricity Act and attempting to mislead President's Office into pressuring the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) to extend controversial power purchase agreements with three privately owned power stations for three years.

The National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection Chairman, Ranjith Withanage told The Island yesterday that Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy Dr. Suren Batagoda had violated the Electricity Act to continue to purchase power from private power stations without following due tender procedure. "The PUCSL rejected the proposal for purchasing power from Ace Power Embilipitiya, Ace Power Generation Company Ltd Matara and Asia Power Plant. The secretary somehow signed an agreement with that company in an illegal manner. Thereafter, he has written a letter, dated Aug 6, to the President's Office seeking a presidential intervention to legitimise his unlawful act. The Secretary wants the President's Office to get the National Economic Council to force the PUCSL to endorse purchasing power from independent power producers."

Withanage said the parliamentary Committee of Public Enterprises (COPE) had already commenced an investigation into that deal. "The CEB had suffered a loss of Rs. 2,300 million due to the deal. The unit cost of electricity has been varying from Rs. 27 to Rs. 47 monthly. In June, the cost of a single unit was Rs. 47. Had it been wind power or solar power the unit cost could have been around Rs. 10. We the people will have to pay for this.

The President does not pay the electricity bill; we the consumers do. So we would resort to legal action against this wrongful act. We would go before courts against the Secretary Batagoda’s arbitrary act violating the country’s law. The NEC cannot approve an illegal act by a ministry secretary."

Secretary Batagoda says that there is an urgent need to purchase power from privately owned plants because there is a critical power shortage. There is no such critical situation as per CEB engineers and other energy experts."

The Voice against Corruption, Convenor Wasantha Samarasinghe told The Island that decision to purchase power from Ace Power and other private companies should be probed by a presidential commission of inquiry. "The electricity mafia is very powerful. Eventually, the people will have to bear the cost of their frauds. There is absolutely no need to go for emergency power purchasing for three years. The government could have built a new plant in three years without making private companies richer. We demand that these deals should be probed."

Dr. Batagoda, who is also an attorney-at-law, said that he knew the Electricity Act's provisions and did not violate any of them. "I did the right thing by seeking the mediation of the NEC because there was a dispute between PUCSL and CEB over the issue of purchasing power from private plants. I cannot wait till their dispute is over to purchase power as there is an emergency and, therefore, I sought the mediation of the NEC. I did not do anything wrong. During the 2016 drought, we purchased power from two private plants in Embilipitiya and Matara. The PUCSL approved it. In the power purchasing agreement it is mentioned that it could be further extended if the two parties to the agreement are willing to do so. I opted to extend the agreement with Embilipitiya plant on that basis. Some people are calling for my removal because I have minimised corruption in the CEB. When I assumed duties the CEB had been purchasing coal from a single supplier for five years continuously overlooking all other bidders. I stopped that practice and registered 24 suppliers and opted for the lowest bid. Since that day I have been under attack. Those who are criticizing me forget the fact that Embilipitiya plant offered the lowest price. Let's suppose that we suspend purchasing power from them then we'll have to purchase power from others for higher prices and people would be compelled to pay more."

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