CEB paid Rs 5B from public funds – COPE

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The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has utilised nearly Rs 5 billion in public funds to pay for Pay As You Earn Tax (PAYE) and Advanced Personal Income Tax (APIT) of its employees from 2010 to 2020, it was revealed at a Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) meeting.

This came to light when COPE met yesterday (21) under the chairmanship of Dr. Charitha Herath to look into the Auditor General’s reports for the years 2017 and 2018, and the present performance of the Ceylon Electricity Board.

Cabinet decided in December 2007 to revise the salaries, and when the collective agreement was reached in May 2015, it was decided to shift the liability for PAYE and APIT to the employees, but from 2010 onwards. However, the CEB had paid Rs 4.8 billion (PAYE/APIT) in taxes from its fund without deducting the salaries of the employees till 2020.

CEB officials pointed out that the payment of this tax has been halted.

Also, based on the draft collective agreement, the CEB had increased the salaries of employees by 25 per cent in 2021.

However, it was found that this was not a legal document, as it was an unfinished draft agreement, and the relevant parties, employers, and unions had not signed the draft. Thus, the adverse impact on the Board due to this unauthorised payment was approximately Rs 9.6 billion, COPE said.

Attention was also drawn to the Cabinet decision on 14 November 2008 and the payment of various staff allowances from time to time with the approval of the Directors, contrary to the provisions of the Management Services Circular No. 39 of 26 May 2009.

It was revealed that Rs 2.1 billion has been provided as these allowances in 2021 and Rs 1.5 billion in 2020.

The COPE Chairman pointed out that there should be accountability, as it is public funds. He also said some of the categories of allowances were ridiculous. For example, in addition to ‘reading the meter,’ there is also an allowance for ‘reading the meter correctly,’ he added.

Moreover, according to the 2018-2034 long-term power generation plan, the Seethawaka Hydropower Project should have been implemented by 2022. Thus, discussions were held regarding the suspension of the project, of which the cost was Rs 301.19 million, at the end of 2020.

COPE members said it seems like the feasibility study at a cost of Rs 301.19 million has been conducted and that the project has been dropped halfway, indicating that it may not be feasible. Therefore, it was recommended that a comprehensive report be submitted to COPE.

By Gagani Weerakoon and Methmalie Dissanayake