Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) M.M.C. Ferdinando committed an unforgivable blunder last week, which could have sparked diplomatic tensions between Sri Lanka and India – an eventuality that would spell doom for Sri Lanka as India is currently extending a generous helping hand for the island nation to come out of its worst economic crisis in its history.
The CEB Chairman told the Parliamentary Watchdog, Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) on Friday (10) that he was told by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was exerting pressure that certain energy investment projects be awarded to the Adani Group.
He told a COPE hearing that he was summoned by the President and was told that the Indian Prime Minister was insisting that the 500 MW wind power plant be given to India’s Adani Group.
“I told him (President) that this is not a matter related to me or the CEB and it should be referred to the Board of Investment,” he told COPE.
However, President Rajapaksa then categorically denied the statement made by the CEB Chairman. In a tweet on Saturday, the President said: “Statement made by the #lka CEB Chairman at a COPE committee hearing regarding the award of a Wind Power Project in Mannar, I categorically deny authorisation to award this project to any specific person or entity. I trust responsible communication in this regard will follow.”
Within a few hours, the CEB Chairman issued a statement of apology stating that he was compelled without limitation to express the word ‘Indian Prime Minister’ due to unexpected ‘pressure and emotions’ during the discussion.
The statement further said, “In regard to the clarification made by me at the COPE meeting held on 10 June 2022, in replying to the allegation made against me on the proposed Mannar and Pooneryn wind and solar projects with Adani Green Energy Limited to generate renewable energy of 500 MW, I explained the circumstances behind my letter dated 25 November 2021.
“During this discussion I became so emotional due to pressures and unreasonable allegations levelled against me to issue this official letter of request. Therefore, due to unexpected pressure and emotions, I was compelled without limitation to express the words ‘India agamathi bala kara bawa kiwwa’ (said forced by the Prime Minister of India), which is totally incorrect. Hence, I wish to withdraw the relevant statement and record my apology unconditionally.”
The Ceylon Electricity Board is the largest electricity company in Sri Lanka, with a market share of nearly 100 per cent, and it controls all major functions of electricity generation, transmission, distribution and retailing in the country.
Being the Chairman of such a massive entity, while the country is in the throes of an unprecedented energy crisis, is an unenviable privilege. However, what is unforgivable is that the person holding the top post in the country’s largest energy provider lying not just about the Head of State of his own country but also the executive Prime Minister of another country, before Parliament watchdog COPE nonetheless, and then blaming it on emotions!
Would saying sorry suffice for such a blunder? The interest shown by India’s Adani Group in Sri Lanka’s energy projects is a sensitive issue. Therefore, to claim that Indian PM exerted pressure on Sri Lanka’s President to award the Mannar Wind Power project to an Indian company could have far reaching diplomatic repercussions for Sri Lanka.
The responsible thing for Ferdinando to do right now is to resign forthwith from his position and allow someone who is capable of steering the CEB through the current energy crisis to take over the reins, especially if he is unable to bear the pressure from the authorities appointed to hold CEB and the CEB Chair accountable for their actions!