Government under fire over its decision to abolish PUCSL

PUCSL - Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka logo

Consumer rights groups and opposition lawmakers yesterday alleged that the CEB and some power producers had engineered the disbanding of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), and the government’s decision to close down the PUCSL would pave the way for backdoor power project deals, which would send electricity prices through the roof. They vowed to take legal action if the government went ahead with its decision to abolish the PUCSL.

In a letter dated 10 December 2020, Dr. P. B. Jayasundara, Secretary to the President, has instructed S. R. Attygalle, Secretary to the Treasury, to take steps to close down the PUCSL and to adsorb its technical staff to the Department of National Planning, Ministry of Power and to the Treasury.

The letter says the decision was taken in line with the budget proposal referring to the PUCSL and the CEB to create an efficient work environment to implement power generation plans that have remained unimplemented for years.

The letter says, “As tariff and connected regulatory work is within the government purview, certain relevant provisions in the PUCSL Act could be incorporated in Consumer Affairs Authority and CEB act when PUCSL Act is replaced in due course.”

Commenting on the move, Ranjith Vithanage, President of the Movement for the protection of consumer rights said that the PUCSL was the only place where consumers could seek solutions to their power related problems.

Vithanage said: “Actually we wanted the scope and operations of the PUCSL expanded to regulate water and lubricants as well. But the government is trying to do away with this independent institution. Certain people didn’t like the PUCSL because the PUCSL prevented questionable power deals. There is a move to start power plants violating environmental and procurement process and to increase electricity tariffs. If anything happens to the PUCSL, we as a union will take legal action and take to the streets.”

Sanjeewa Dhammika, Convenor of the Electricity Users Association said that the current administration was attempting complete what the yahapalanaya government had started. He said that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and minister of Power Ranjith Siyambalapitiya had attempted to get rid of the PUCSL a few years back. He added that the PUCSL had attempted to stop illegal power purchases the CEB made from power plants owned by powerful businessmen and that could be the reason for the government move.

The CEB Engineers Union (CEBEU), which has been at loggerheads with the PUCSL for years, said it was not in support of scrapping the PUCSL. Saumya Kumarawadu, President of CEBEU said that a regulator was essential for the power sector.

“We don’t know if the government will really go ahead with this. We had issues with the current officials of the PUCSL, but we have always insisted that a regulator is needed. In fact, we asked for a regulator a long time ago. We had problems with this PUCSL, but what is needed is a good team. The government just haven’t appoint a competent team. We will decide what to do if the government actually goes ahead with its decision.”

SJB MP Harsha de Silva told The Island that he was shocked by the development and that the CEB and connected private energy producers had got the President to shut down the PUCSL. “This will open doors to massive corruption.”

Jayanath Herath, Director Information at PUCSL, contacted for comment, said they had not been informed of the government decision officially.

(Source: The Island – By Rathindra Kuruwita and Ifham Nizam)

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