Electricity Board shock – wires crossed
CEB infighting comes into the open
By Marisa de Silva
The controversial resignation of the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) ‘opened up a can of worms’.
CEB Chairman Ananda S. Gunesekera who stepped down last week following disputes with the engineers and the minister had called for an explanation from the General Manager (GM) Ranjith Fonseka, regarding his trip to China, in late August, to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the Norochcholai Project and to Switzerland in early September to meet the CEB consultants, without having sought the approval of the Chairman, said former CEB Vice-Chairman L.C.R. de Silva.

Although the Board had unanimously decided that Mr. Gunasekera should sign the MoU and notified the Power and Energy Ministry Secretary, the Presidential Secretary and the Treasury Secretary of its decision, Mr. de Silva said the GM had explained that he had apparently been sent to China, under the authorisation of these three officials. Furthermore, even with regards to the GM’s trip to Switzerland (accompanying a team of engineers) he had got his papers approved by the President and had merely informed the former Chairman of his plans, rather than request his approval, as was the usual practice, he said.

Upon his return, Mr. Gunasekera as his superior, had sought a clarification from the GM, regarding why he went overseas on two consecutive occasions, without obtaining his approval, prior to leaving.

However, what was most difficult to digest though, was why the Power and Energy Minister Susil Premajayantha, asked for an explanation from the former Chairman as to why he questioned the GM on his two trips overseas. “Now, what’s the necessity for the minister to get involved in a regular matter of domestic administration,” questioned Mr. de Silva.

Even in relation to the MoU itself, which had been signed on August 30, the Board was only shown a draft of it prior to it being sent to the Cabinet. In addition, they weren’t shown the revised version that was eventually passed by the Cabinet, neither were they shown the MoU, after it had been passed. As of the date of his resignation on October 10, the Board had yet to see a copy of the MoU, he added. “Two ugly incidents took place between the GM and myself (on October 6 and 7), just before I resigned, based on which, I have called an inquiry,” he said.

One incident was as an immediate reaction to serving the GM with a subpoena (a writ requiring appearance in court to give testimony).

Furthermore, the CEB Engineers Union too had been ‘up in arms’ against the former Chairman and the Board, stating various grievances affecting both the members of the union and the CEB.

The other was a previous incident where the GM had complained to the CID that Mr. de Silva was taking unauthorised photographs of the CEB power plants, when in reality he had been taking photographs of the fire protection systems in Kotmale, in aid of a disaster management simulator exercise, being conducted by a British engineer. However, the CID had dropped the inquiry on the former Chairman’s explanation of the actual situation, he said. About a month later, the GM had once again re-opened this case with the Joint Operations Chief Admiral Daya Sandagiri, who is currently inquiring into the case.

“Irrespective of everything, the CEB must go ahead with the coal power project, as we require approximately 4000 MW over the next 10-15 years, to meet the country’s power needs and coal is the only practical and feasible alternative source of power generation at our disposal,” he said.

No comment on resignations:GM
CEB General Manager Ranjith Fonseka declined comment on the issue of the resignation of the former Chairman and Vice Chairman of the CEB.
“However in my opinion, the engineers are pleased with this change,” he said. Furthermore, he showered praise on the newly appointed Chairman, Moksevi Prelis, saying “he has the right vision for the CEB.”

With regard to the Norochcholai Coal Power Project, he said all the technical planning has been meticulously carried out, excluding one major component - the need to educate the public on the workings of the project.

It’s very easy for the public to be misguided by people having vested interests. Therefore, we plan to carry out public awareness campaigns over the following few weeks, he said. The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) categorically denied that its request to remove the former Chairman and members of the CEB, was due to the refusal of the Board to approve some Board Papers on revising certain allowances. At the last AGM of the CEBEU held on September 2 the general membership had passed a resolution requesting the Power and Energy Minister Susil Premajayantha to remove the then Chairman Ananda S. Gunesekera and Board members, said CEBEU president Rohan Seneviratne.

According to the resolution, the CEBEU found the former Chairman and the Board to be a direct threat to the welfare of its membership in particular as well as the CEB as a whole.

The resolution pinpointed certain issues such as the Chairman being a hindrance to the reform path agreed to by all the stakeholders in the sector and also being an obstacle in the implementation of what was arrived at after lengthy deliberations between the stakeholders and the Government. The negative attitude shown by the Chairman and the Board members towards the implementation of Norochcholai Coal Power Project was also mentioned.

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