President declares wide range of public services as essential

Gazette Sri Lanka

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has declared a wide range of public services as essential services, as trade unions are bracing for a strike demanding the cancellation of an agreement with a US company on the sale of 40 percent of the shares of the Yugadanavi power plant at Kerwalapitiya.

The move came as the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led Government’s 10 coalition partners also called for the cancellation of the agreement with the US company.

The President acting under the Public Services Act declared as essential services fuel, banking, postal, ports, railway, district secretaries, divisional secretaries, grama sevaka officers, Samurdhi development officers, agricultural research assistants, waste management services, Lanka Sathosa Ltd, the Co-operative Wholesale Establishment, the Food Commissioner’s Department, the Cooperative Development Department, cooperative Societies, the Paddy Marketing Board, Ceylon Sugar (Pvt.) Ltd.and Provincial councils.

Ceylon Electricity Board trade unions yesterday warned that there would be a repetition of the 1996 blackouts if the Government did not cancel the agreement which they claimed would give the US company New Fortress Energy (NFE) a monopoly of Liquefied Nitrogen Gas (LNG) supplies to Sri Lanka’s power plants.

The CEB Trade Union Front Convener, Ranjan Jayalal, said nearly 30 unions would resort to protest action against the Government move which they believed might threaten the national security of the country. The unions set a Wednesday deadline for the Government to revoke the agreement.

But Power Minister Gamini Lokugue told the Sunday Times they had held talks with at least four unions which had assured they would provide their services for an uninterrupted power supply.

He said, however, he was surprised by the criticism by the Government’s coalition partners who were briefed by President Rajapaksa about the agreement with the US company on Thursday.

“They listened to the President but came out and spoke against the agreement,” he said.

The SLPP’s 10 coalition partners on Friday held their first “People’s Council” meeting to express their opposition to the agreement which seeks to sell 40% of the Yugadhanavi plant’s Government-held shares to the US-based company.

Those in attendance included Ministers Vasudewa Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila, State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara, MPs Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, A.L.M. Athaullah, Gevindu Kumaratunga and Tiran Alles.

They claimed that the NFE agreement threatened the country’s energy security as it would give one company the monopoly to supply LNG.

Industries Minister and National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader Wimal Weerawansa was among those who directly attacked Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa over the agreement. He insisted that contrary to claims by the Finance Minister, the Cabinet Paper regarding the agreement was not taken up for discussion.

“We will go before court and say that there was no discussion regarding this Cabinet Paper. This was brought in fraudulently. We are not prepared to stay silent on such things for the sake of ministerial positions,” an angry Mr Weerawansa said.

Union leader Jayalal said that nearly 30 unions would take part in the protest action.

He warned the Government they had only decided to call a picketing campaign on November 3 but if the Government decided to go ahead with the deal they would go on strike and this would lead to a countrywide blackout.

“We warn the Government not to allow history to repeat itself,” he said.

Mr Jayalal said they would carry out a picketing in front of the CEB headoffice on Wednesday, thereafter if their demand was not met they would be forced to carry out an island wide strike handing over power supply responsibilities to the Government. No date has been fixed for the strike.

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) in a statement  issued last night said that it would take part in the  picketing campaign  on Wednesday.

The CEBEU said it called on the authorities to give up the unsolicited  NFE proposal that would cause an enormous loss to the country and have a huge adverse impact on the country’s energy security, with rights to supply LNG  for 1000-1500 Mw plants being handed over to one company.

(Source: The Sunday Times – By Damith Wickremasekara and Kasun Warakapitiya)