Some State institutions like the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) are apparently doing their damnedest to ruin the national economy and plunge the country into chaos. The Colombo Port functioned even at the height of LTTE terror but in peace time it is likely to get crippled thanks to the CPC, whose contaminated diesel rendered several gantry cranes inoperative besides causing extensive damage to SLTB buses and SLR locomotives the other day. The CPC hedging deal has also cost the country dear, though the government is making a vain attempt to downplay the losses. Atop these heavy blows to the economy, the CEB is now imposing power cuts. The country is faced with a double whammy.
CEB Vice Chairman Anura Wijepala has told this newspaper that the Chinese contractor responsible for building the Norochcholai coal-fired power station has used substandard equipment and as a result some parts of the plant have rusted. If this allegation is true, then the chances of ensuring an uninterrupted power supply with 300 MW from Norochcholai are remote. All signs are that we will be burdened with another white elephant.
The question is what the CEB has been doing all these years. It should have taken up the issue of poor quality equipment used by the Chinese contractor much earlier without waiting till the completion of the first phase of the plant to raise the alarm. What will the CEB do about the substandard equipment? Will the public have to grin and bear it whenever the plant fails? If Norochcholai breakdowns recur, which is likely to be the case, the CEB will have no way of meeting a shortfall of 300 MW unless reservoirs remain brimful throughout the year. People will have to put up with regular load shedding while invoking the blessings of weather gods.
The Chinese contractor would not have been able to install substandard equipment and get away with it without the blessings of government politicians. Did anyone receive kickbacks? A probe is called for. It is hoped that the Opposition will take up the issue and demand a parliamentary debate.
CEB trade unions are known for their aggressiveness. They down tools at the drop of a hat and hold governments to ransom. Their members are among the highest paid and most pampered State workers in spite of their lethargy, indolence and callousness. The government even pays their PAYE tax under duress while claiming to be cash-strapped. Yesterday, they launched another strike demanding the rectification of salary anomalies (read a pay hike). Their right to trade union action cannot be questioned but they need to be asked why they are silent on issues like Norochcholai. Is it that they are preoccupied with feathering their nests without caring a damn about the well-being of their institution and the public interest?
CEB unions have incurred the wrath of the public for launching a strike while the GCE A/L examination is on. They have failed to be different from the political nitwits who in their wisdom opted for snap PC polls in three provinces taking no heed of the university entrance examination in August. They must be ashamed of themselves! We are beginning to wonder whether they have adopted a Polpotish attitude towards education.
It is from the scam-ridden state ventures, corrupt politicians and callous public workers—and not from external forces—that this country has to be saved.