CEB unions threaten islandwide strike

Mar 27 (IL) Amidst a looming countrywide blackout, powerful unions attached to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) yesterday refused to bow down to the Government’s sudden interest in ‘restructuring’ the CEB, unless the Government immediately halts the restructuring process.

A very powerful union of the CEB, Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) President Ananda Piyatilake pointed out that the restructuring process is not going to solve any of the problems the CEB is currently facing including its astounding financial debt running to more than Rs. 80 Billion.

Also hitting out at the Government, the CEBEU President accused the Government of merely going ahead with the process ‘just for the money’. He also claimed that the Government had failed to even initiate a discussion with the employees and had resorted to an ad hoc based manner in the restructuring process.

“The restructuring is not going to help the situation the CEB is faced with now, but the Government is doing it for the money, he noted. “If there is anywhere a little money, they want to get it, maybe they might even use it for their referendum,” the senior CEB official alleged.

The Asian Development Bank and the Japan Bank for International Corporation, which are two donor agencies pressurizing the Government to go ahead with the process have only pledged a sum of US $ 60 million ( Rs. 6 Billion), which is not even 10% if CEB’s total debt.

“No donor is going to come forward and grant us even a cent; they will give us only loans which we will have to repay some day. And even if they lend a loan it will be only a few million dollars, not the entire 80 billion.” CEBEU President Piyatilake noted. .

He also emphasized that the most important thing that should be done is not to restructure the Board but to find what sort of a mess the CEB is in right now and how did it occur and address these issues immediately.

“The mess we are in right now is because of the high generation cost. Sri Lanka generates some 65% of its electricity from liquid fuel, while the balance is from hydro. The foremost important thing that should be done is not to restructure the CEB but start immediate construction of a coal fired power plant,” he stressed.

Mr. Piyatilake also noted that Sri Lanka’s biggest problem is that it depends a lot on liquid fuel for electricity, while world statistics show that only 7% fuel is utilized for electricity generation while 40% electricity is generated through coal. “The world depends less on fuel because it is expensive and its price volatility,” he noted.

He also stressed that there was no problem with the 1969 CEB act if not for the political interferences. “If the Government had stopped doing the functions of professionals, the CEB would have been functioning smoothly,” he noted.

Commenting on the impending strike, he pointed out that the CEB unions do not want to take the country to ransom. “But the power sector has been one of the most patient sectors, we have always through negotiations solved our problems, yet we believe that the Government has gone too far this time, and they have not even consulted us, the previous administration always consulted us on such vital issues, before going ahead,” he said.

However Mr. Piyatilake expressed his hope that the Government would initiate constructive negotiations with the CEB unions and solve this issue amicably.