The past four years has been eventful. The good governance brigade sold the voting public of Sri Lanka an almost believable story. There was apparently corruption that was widespread. So widespread that corruption had become endemic. Well, the problem you see, is that us in the media world we are rather mindful of the laws of libel. Therefore anything appearing in print in this newspaper attracts the attention of its publishers. Every story must be factual. It must be able to standup in a court of law. All our stories do so. We like most of the population do not have anything like parliamentary privilege – perhaps something even called ‘journalistic flourish’. Our business is fact. The more factual the greater the attraction. Sometime as it turns out for journalists, a fatal attraction.
Ravi Karunanayake the Minister of Power & Energy appears to be one of those unfortunate cabinet Ministers in the history of Sri Lanka. It appears that he is always appointed to Ministries that are engulfed in controversy and difficulty. In the past he was the Minister of Commerce and he found that there was so much of controversy that at times it appeared he himself would be engulfed.
In this government Mr. Karunanayake was appointed as the Minister of Finance. However he found that the Prime Minister had clearly and some would say cleverly, removed key institutions away from the Finance portfolio. This famously included the Central Bank, the State Banks and State owned enterprises. One would argue that the Minister of Finance was virtually stripped naked and that the Minister was obviously almost a Minister of Finance without much to manage. True he had the Customs under him.
To his lasting credit Mr. Karunanayake clearly did not let the shoddy treatment get him down but kept fighting back. The unfortunate Bond matter in which although the bus was going to Jaffna, the AG and the rest caught the bus South along with RK meant that the Prime Minister was able to keep the Minister down. The favoured – like Malik Samarawikrama – were stoutly defended against seeming odds. From a PR perspective the Prime Ministerial actions were an absolute disaster for party and country alike.
Eventually after an epic behind the scenes battle the Prime Minister had little option but to bring the Minister back on to the front benches especially after it became clear that the fundamental cornerstone of the law we practice in Sri Lanka is that one is presumed innocent until otherwise proven.
The power crisis has been a long time in the making. Successive forward planning engineers at the Ceylon Electricity Board have hardly taken any positive steps to secure the future energy security of the country and have pandered to the lobbyists representing the ‘diesel mafia’. The Coal power station whatever its problems does deliver product at a resounding reduced cost. The fact that the public living around the plant have not been relocated is obviously beyond the CEB and other Ministries have to shoulder the blame. However the CEB ought to have ensured that plans they did have for relocation and compensation ought to have been implemented. The vexed question of supplying sub-standard coal – certainly below par that the CEB themselves wrote the specification for – is inexcusable. It is proof positive that corruption played a major role at the onset of commissioning the plant. (In terms of coal supply). Then Minister Patali must also share the blame irrelevant whether there were high ranking Princes and acolytes involved. The chain of responsibility cannot be ignored and of course the people have rather long memories.
To say that Ravi Karunanayake has been given a Ministry with a herculean task is an understatement. The weather and a series of other events including the underperformance of one of the Norochcholai engines has caused the CEB endless problems with the Minister having to take the flak.
Sri Lanka needs to get its act together when it comes to the energy sector. This single industry plays a key and pivotal role in the attraction of large scale foreign investment. The same is true for small and medium sized enterprises. Both probably cannot justify the installation of generators to be used on the off chance that the central power supply will underperform. In turn there are knock on effects of a political nature. A few more months into this government with elections looming in at least seven to nine months or even as late as June, means that the government is bound to take strategic action to put to bed the intermittent power supply now available in the country.
The Minister gave his assurances in parliament Friday last (yesterday) that although he has been in office for a short while, he is confident of ensuring a return to normalcy by the 10th of April. Clearly a response to the analysts who forewarn that the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will result in power cuts. Politically this is unlikely to happen and the Ministry will undoubtedly leave no stone unturned in its effort to ensure constant supplies of power throughout the island. At least for the holiday period.
The abysmal record of attendance in parliament saw three ministry allocations defeated on Thursday last. For long now there have been calls for a course correction in parliament where the quorum which has been in place since 1947, be changed to a situation where there will be a minimum of 50% plus one in attendance in parliament before business can begin. Some Ministers claim to work late hours whilst others tend to ‘style it out’. It is about time that all Members take a cue from senior members who end up as Ministers and attend parliament regularly and not merely to mark their presence. They are paid to do a job of work and that is what we expect of them.
As for Ravi Karunanayake the country will be rooting for him in his quest to make a real difference in the power and energy sector. Everyone will remember that he was a notable absentee at the inaugural ceremony of the ‘Refinery project’. Now that the detail of this somewhat questionable ‘deal’ emerges it has become clear abundantly so, that Ravi Karunanayake was right in keeping himself away from this event.