Political Parties Raise Concerns about Energy Sovereignty

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 25 2021
Ceylon Politics Political Parties Raise Concerns about Energy Sovereignty
By Gagani Weerakoon

Party leaders of the Sri Lanka People’s Freedom Alliance met at Temple Trees on Thursday afternoon under the patronage of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa with the controversial Kerawalapitiya LNG power plant deal the Government signed overnight with an American company at the helm of discussion.

In this nearly-two-hour meeting attention was also drawn to the potential consumer benefits from the operation of the Yugadanavi Power Plant. The meeting took place amidst reports that Ministers Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila reportedly having expressed their opposition to the decision at the recent Cabinet meeting.

 There were reports that these three party leaders would leave the Government due to this controversial deal. Former President Maithripala Sirisena, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party; Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Founder and National Organiser of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna; Minister of Highways and Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando; Sagara Kariyawasam, General Secretary of the Sri Lanka People’s Front; Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna; Minister of Water Supply Vasudeva NanayakkaraSecretary of the Democratic Left Front, Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa, Leader of the National Freedom Front; Prof. Tissa Vitharana, Leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party; Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda, Leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party; M. Rameshwaran, Vice President of the Ceylon Workers’ Congress; Tiran Alles, Secretary, United People’s Party; Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Deputy Chairman of The Communist Party of Sri Lanka were also present at the meeting. However, Thursday’s discussion ended without a decision and Minister Weerawansa said that there was difference of opinion between Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and the party leaders. He further said a discussion on the matter will be held with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the next course of action to be taken, once the latter returns from the US. 

Meanwhile, prior to this meeting, leaders of political parties in the Coalition Government held an emergency meeting at the official residence of former President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday (21) afternoon. General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Dayasiri Jayasekera said the discussion was based on the controversy surrounding the transfer of 40 per cent of shares of the Kerawalapitiya power plant to a US firm. Jayasekera said views on the matter will be conveyed to the President and the Prime Minister. 

State Minister Jayasekera warns that 50% of the country’s electricity generation falling into the hands of a single entity would have serious consequences. He also said the Government was not elected to sell off the resources of the country, but to protect them. US based energy firm, New Fortress Energy Inc. on Tuesday (21) announced that it had executed a definitive agreement with the Sri Lankan Government for New Fortress’ investment in West Coast Power Limited, the owner of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant based in Colombo, along with the rights to develop a new LNG Terminal off the coast of Colombo. In a statement it stated: “New Fortress will acquire a 40% ownership stake in WCP and plans to build an offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal located off the coast of Colombo. 

New Fortress will initially provide the equivalent of an estimated 1.2 million gallons of LNG (~35,000 MMBtu) per day to the GOSL, with the expectation of significant growth as new power plants become operational. “The 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant currently has a long-term power purchase agreement to provide electricity to the national grid that extends through 2035. This power plant consists of General Electric turbines and is configured to run on natural gas in a combined cycle. “This is a significant milestone for Sri Lanka’s transition to cleaner fuels and more reliable, affordable power,” said Wes Edens, Chairman and CEO of New Fortress Energy. 

“We are pleased to partner with Sri Lanka by investing in modern energy infrastructure that will support sustainable economic development and environmental gains.” “The Kerawalapitya Power Complex is the foundation of the base-load power that serves the country’s population of 22 million people. Delivering cleaner and cheaper fuels to Sri Lanka will support the country’s growth for years to come.” Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa condemned the Government’s decision to sell shares of the Yugadanavi power plant in Kerawalapitiya to a US company. 

Issuing a statement, he said the Government has taken the arbitrary decision of depriving the Yugadanavi power plant in Kerawalapitiya to the nation obstinately, at its will. He said the decision on the sale was made during a Cabinet Meeting that was held via Zoom technology at midnight recently. 

“This Government is out of its senses to the level of not understanding the fact that anybody who receives controlling power of energy in a small land will also receive power to manipulate that country’s governance,” he said. The Opposition Leader said that, however, the general public in this country, including the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, will camp against this arbitrary conduct of the Government. 

The JVP alleged that the controversial midnight deal for the Kerawalapitiya Power Plant grants permission for the US firm to switch ON/OFF electricity to Sri Lanka. MP Vijitha Herath said that signing the deal compromised Sri Lanka’s National Security and should be seen as a measure taken by the State against its own people. He called on the Government to immediately terminate the agreement and respect the rights of the people. 

Meanwhile, JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake alleged that the Government has signed a midnight agreement with a US firm for electricity generation and the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG). He alleged the agreement was already signed in a backdrop where the Cabinet Paper for this project, was not seen by any Cabinet Minister, thought it was approved. ‘

The agreement was signed at 12:06 AM on Saturday (18). Thereafter, the President flew off to the US,” said Dissanayake. Dissanayake also warned that whoever controls Sri Lanka’s energy sector has powers to decide Sri Lanka’s governance. He said the JVP will seek relief from the Court against these attempts. SJB MP Dr. Harsha De Silva also said there are serious concerns about Sri Lanka’s move towards LNG with US firms involved. Pubudu Jagoda of the Frontline Socialists Party says these agreements threaten Sri Lanka’s energy sovereignty as a whole. 

Cabinet decision on Lohan 

The Cabinet has decided to appoint an independent panel of inquiry headed by a retired High Court judge to look into the alleged trespassing of Minister of State Lohan Ratwatte into Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons with a group of friends, Justice Minister Ali Sabri said in Parliament. The Minister of Justice said this in response to a question raised by Jaffna District MP Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam. The Minister said that he condemned this incident and that it should not have happened. He said he was saddened by the plight of the victims and their famlies. 

“I unequivocally and unconditionally condemn the incident which has taken place. It was a disgrace and should have never happened,” he said. Minister Sabri said that no attempt should be made to give a political or racist interpretation to this incident and that this was not the case. He said the incident was already being investigated and that the Human Rights Commission was conducting an independent investigation. MP Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam asked whether the Government would give an assurance that the state minister involved in the incident would not be allowed to hold any more ministerial posts. 

Bandula to resign? 

Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena offered to resign from active politics if anyone proved that he had stolen, scammed or taken commissions from any institution coming under his Ministry. He made this remark during the second reading of the Consumer Affairs Authority (Amendment) Bill.

 In response to the allegations regarding a garlic scam in Lanka Sathosa the Minister said that the IGP should catch the real perpetrators of the scam. Speaking further, Gunawardena said that a speech by Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority Thushan Jayawardena was published in a national newspaper. 

This person has obtained this appointment from another Minister. This person says that I did not allow the CWE to investigate the garlic scam. Surprisingly, that is not the truth, he claimed. “My State Minister is Lasantha Alagiyawanna and he has the power to set prices. He also has all the powers of the Cooperative Department. A separate amount of money will be allocated to him for this purpose.

 I have not attended any meeting of the Consumer Affairs Authority. My State Minister invited me to come and discuss the Consumer Protection Act. That was the only time I went there. I have never seen this person.” “If it is proved that I or a member of my family has committed any fraud, I will not just leave Parliament but I will say goodbye to active politics forever,” Gunawardena stressed.

 Ranil loses cool 

Last week UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe lost his cool in Parliament as he engaged in a heated argument with SJB MP Vadivel Suresh and ended up calling the Chair to make the ‘pissa’ sit. MP Suresh raised a privilege issue alleging that former UNP MPs and UNP seniors have threatened him with death after breaking into the office of Janatha Estate Workers Union with weapons. Wickremesinghe who intervened said that the matter which Suresh raised was sub judice as a court case is pending. Wickremesinghe: “There is a court case pending on this matter. 

Therefore, the Speaker will only be available to look into it after the case is concluded.” Suresh: “This is not fair. I am a trade unionist as well and Wickremesinghe is trying to prevent justice being meted out to me. You cannot act in this way.” Wickeremesinghe: “The Speaker should make this lunatic sit.” At this juncture, SJB MP Harin Fernando who intervened in the heated conversation also said that there is a court case pending on the matter. “However, Suresh only raised a privilege issue,” he told Wickremesinghe. 

AKD takes a dig at elephant owners 

Those who are suffering from inferiority complex after becoming wealthy in prudent ways, are trying to maintain elephants to suppress their inferior complex, Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake alleged in Parliament. Although these people have obtained massive wealth in prudent ways such as misusing tenders. In the past, people who were from noble families had elephants as a symbol of their wealth and social status. 

But those who are not originally from such families have inferior complexes regarding that although they have wealth now. Therefore, such people also try to show off their so-called wealth and status by keeping elephants because their minds have not developed parallel to the wealth they have obtained, Dissanayake claimed. “You can see that such people rush to get advice from soothsayers. They try to cure COVID-19 using the so-called Dhammika Peniya.

 When they get sick, they go for so-called doctors like Eliyantha White. This is one side of the elephant racket we can see these days. The other side is gaining money from selling captive elephants,” he said. “There was a system to register elephants. According to the law introduced in 1991, an elephant which is not registered is considered as a public property. But now, this Government is trying to justify the elephant racketeers. 

This Government is trying to introduce a law to give a permit for an elephant which is not registered. This is nothing but another fraud. You are trying to justify the elephant racketeers. How can you do that?” Speaking further, Dissanayake stressed: “I will tell you an example. To keep a weapon there should be a licence. 

There are weaponry which is registered and illegally obtained. Such illegal weapons are taken into custody and produced in Court as an item related to the Court case. Are you going to request a licence for such items? This is exactly what is happening now regarding the illegally kept elephants.” There are registered elephants and unregistered elephants. 

Also, there are elephants which have become items related to Court cases. There are cases regarding 38 elephants as such, the JJB Leader noted. “I will tell you how this is happening. The CID Special Operation Unit OIC requested the Court to release the elephants under the CID custody for Court cases, under the new Gazette notification. This same OIC is the one who is conducting the investigations regarding those cases. How can this be?” There are 13 elephants which were under CID custody and they have been ordered to be released to the original owners. 

Apart from that, there is a special elephant which is registered under a person called N.G Rajapaksa in Mirihana, Nugegoda. “I assume that this is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elephant. Now this elephant is not even a case item. That elephant was given back under a Sannas Pathraya in 2015. 

Why is this elephant ordered to be given back to Rajapaksa? What do you think about this? Why are you publishing a Gazzete notification for the President to get back elephants like this?” Dissanayake stressed, “There are another two elephants called Mihin Raja and Kohona Raja. The address for one of them is Weeraketiya while the address for the other elephant is Kotte. But both elephants belong to the same person named N.K. Wanninayake. This person is a common security official. How can such a person obtain elephants?” 

TNA applauds President

 Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) MP M.A. Sumanthiran praised President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the latter’s invitation to Tamil diaspora for discussion and congratulated him on his effort. Speaking in Parliament, Sumanthiran said that they welcomed the President’s stance. 

However, on 16 July, the President invited TNA for discussions and at the last minute he put it off, may be due to an emergency. He sent us two letters saying that we will have discussions with him very soon. But two months after that, we are still waiting for that discussion, Sumanthiran said. 

“Now the President says that he is ready to hold discussions with Tamil Diaspora. We welcome it. That is very good thing and all the very best for him. But he must discuss with us first, the representatives of Tamil people in Sri Lanka and settle the issue here,” he noted. Furthermore, Sumanthiran claimed that there is a problem with the current Government regarding doubletongued speech. 

“On 21 July the President tweeted ‘we are committed to work with the UN to ensure accountability and human development to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. We are dedicated to resolving the issues within the democratic & legal frame to ensure justice and reconciliation by implementing necessary institutional reforms.’ We welcomed this remark immediately.” 

We (TNA) retweeted and said we welcome and support the President’s commitment to work with the UN on accountability and human development for peace, justice and reconciliation and also to make institutional reforms. We also said that we are awaiting further moves of the Government in this regard. “Whenever the Government takes a progressive work, we commend and support it. 

But there were times we had to wait and wait for something progressive to happen and nothing happened. In 2009, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a joint statement with Ban-ki Moon regarding the same thing. After 12 years his brother says the same thing. But now, the Foreign Ministry says the opposite. Foreign Ministry says that they reject the Oral Statement regarding Sri Lanka presented in Geneva recently. The President says one thing and the Foreign Ministry says another thing. This is double-toungued speech,” he stressed. 

President addresses UNGA 

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Wednesday (22) said fighting terrorism, which is a global challenge, requires international cooperation such as intelligence sharing, if the world is to overcome it. Addressing the 76th session of the UNGA in New York, the President stressed that violence robbed Sri Lanka of thousands of lives and decades of prosperity in the past halfcentury. 

"My Government is committed to ensuring that such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again, and therefore, Sri Lanka is acting to address the core issues behind it." He reiterated that Sri Lankan voters granted him an emphatic mandate to build a prosperous and stable country, and uphold national security and sovereignty. President Rajapaksa also commended Sri Lanka’s efficient vaccination drive against COVID-19, despite being a developing nation. 

“We have already fully vaccinated nearly all those above the age of 30. Everyone over the age of 20 will be fully vaccinated by the end of October. We will start vaccinating children over 15 years of age in the near future”, he said, thanking healthcare workers, Armed Forces, Police personnel, Government servants, and elected officials for their efforts in this regard. 

Furthermore, it was proposed that a Regional Knowledge Hub in Colombo be established in Sri Lanka, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), to facilitate the exchange of lessons learnt from COVID-19 and support countries to build back better.

 Speaking of the impact COVID-19 has had on Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa explained that in addition to the tragic loss of life, the country’s economy too, has been deeply affected. “The lockdowns, together with general movement restrictions, reduced international travel, and slower global growth have affected nearly all sectors of our economy. 

Tourism, one of Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earners and a sector that supports nearly 14% of the population, has been devastated”, he said. President Rajapaksa thanked those nations and institutions that aided Sri Lanka both financially, and materially, in its fight against COVID-19, noting that the increased global cooperation visible during this ongoing crisis was ‘greatly encouraging’. 

He noted, however, that there was more to be done, adding that it is vital that more initiatives including development financing and debt relief be adopted through international mechanisms, in an attempt to support developing nations overcome this pandemic. “The economic impact of the pandemic has been especially severe on developing countries. This has placed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals at considerable risk”, President Rajapaksa highlighted.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 25 2021

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