Govt. as an extortionistDecember 5, 2013, 7:45 pm
Some of the stock excuses the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) usually trots out for unconscionable tariff hikes are the high cost of thermal power generation and staggering debts. When electricity prices were jacked up last time, consumers were promised a tariff revision in the event of an increase in hydro power generation without a drastic increase in fuel prices. The CEB has so far raked in Rs. 20 bn from price increases besides saving another Rs. 25 billion thanks to weather gods who kept the reservoirs brimful. It has settled what it owed the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) for fuel purchases, we are told. But, mum’s the word on the part of the government as regards the promised relief.
People expected an electricity tariff reduction from the Budget 2014. They thought at least the fuel adjustment charge would be done away with. But, they got nothing. What one gathers from some statements attributed to high ranking CEB officials is that there will be no relief in the foreseeable future.
Experts have argued that the CEB cannot settle its old debts at the expense of consumers. But, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) is a crippled ass capable of only one thing—braying. It makes some noise from time to time when it receives public complaints and pretends to protect consumers’ interests, but willingly toes the government line.
Here is a helluva situation, as they say. The government is facilitating the monopolistic exploitation by a state venture of the public. The PUCSL is mere putty in the hands of the powers that be. The Opposition is too impotent to take up the cudgels for the ordinary masses. Whom could the people turn to? They have no alternative but to internalise their resentment and wait. The government is making a huge mistake because pent-up public anger is bound to find expression in protests sooner or later.
The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has produced voluminous reports on the CEB’s criminal waste of public funds and rampant corruption. It once called for an investigation into illegal allowances that the CEB fat cats awarded themselves. But, the problem with probes in this country is that they either don’t get underway or nothing comes of them.
The power sector trade unions tell us that one of the CEB bigwigs has been to China 44 (yes, forty-four) times within two years besides other foreign trips. All his colleagues have been on at least 100 overseas junkets each during the past few years. These allegations must be taken up in Parliament. Atop this kind of wasteful expenditure, CEB officials’ PAYE tax is illegally paid by the government which claims to be cash-strapped when it comes to the allocation of funds for other sectors such as health and education. The CEB’s corrupt power purchase deals with the so-called Independent Power Producers (IPPs) have also cost the public dear. Successive governments have, instead of cleaning the Augean stables, conveniently passed the power sector losses on to the hapless consumers.
The private sector is usually blamed for maximising profits at the expense of the public. This is exactly what the government is also doing! It is using, besides the CEB, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) etc to fleece the public on some pretext or other.
At this rate, the day may not be far off when the ordinary people, unable to make ends meet, have to survive on dog food, the prices of which the government has generously brought down through the Budget 2014. But, the problem is that after they pay for electricity, water and gas, they won’t be left with any money even to buy canine food!