poll: importance of the Muslim factor
Rauf Hakeem and Pillayan
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
For the UPFA government, holding an
election in the entire Eastern Province
is part strategy, part dream. As for
President Mahinda Rajapakse, it is the
realisation of a declared political
ambition to 'reintroduce democracy' to
the Eastern Province. It is also giving
expression to Rajapakse's pledge to
fully implement the 13th Amendment, his
recently discovered formula for solving
the national crisis.
Whatever Rajapakse's detractors may say, he
remains determined to conclude the second
phase of his political strategy with the
same tenacity of mind. Only that the
province when taken as an entirety is
diverse and politically divided. It has not
seen a provincial election since 1998, and
is home to over 60% of the country's
displaced population. It is also where the
Muslim community is politically vocal and
strong. The contest would prove keen.
Above all, the east as a province has
different political implications to all
three major communities with each staking
unique claims. Those advocating a separate
homeland for the Tamil-speaking people
oppose the provinces being separated,
despite a court ruling that has indeed
achieved this 20 years after the Indo-Lanka
Peace Accord. As for the Muslims, sandwiched
between the Sinhala and Tamil communities,
and with their own political aspirations
being stifled, a separate administration in
the Eastern Province is vital.
As for the Sinhalese, the east has cultural
and religious implications, in defence of
which the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) feels
duty bound to run for provincial office. The
JVP that does not miss an opportunity to
justify the 'reintegration' of the Pillayan
Group into society and mainstream politics
is quite wary, despite a decision to enter
The JVP listed a series of demands before
announcing its decision to contest the
forthcoming PC elections in the east. They
include the full implementation of the 17th
Amendment to the Constitution well ahead of
the May 10 elections so that the
Constitutional Council would be in operation
by then, and the two vital institutions
required to ensure a free and fair poll, an
Independent Elections Commission and an
Independent Police Commission would be
functional before the polls.
The JVP also dabbled in
bashing alleging that the President's sudden
dedication to reintroducing the 13th
Amendment was at the behest of
a fact the JVP took into consideration prior
to reaching its decision to contest.
All these varying considerations of
communities and political parties would come
into play as the eastern provincial election
process begins. In post Batticaloa poll
euphoria, it is unlikely that the government
feels their weight yet. And to give this
poll the winning streak, just having the
TMVP on its bandwagon is insufficient. The
UPFA requires a powerful ally in terms of
Having worked with the TMVP on the
Batticaloa local election, it is not
possible for the UPFA to disregard the
union. But it is this very alliance that is
proving an embarrassment as the government
struggles to enter the fray as a formidable
alliance. Government partners such as the
EPDP have severely criticised the TMVP's
violence and coercion to capture political
power in Batticaloa.
Given the eastern dynamics, Muslim support
is crucial for victory. Yet, for all the
wanton defecting, this is too much to expect
from the SLMC defectors who work with the
UPFA administration. They too have recently
come out strongly criticising the Pillayan
Group for violence unleashed against the
Muslims. These defectors would lose face if
they were to board the same platform with
the government that openly backs the TMVP.
The east is of immense political value to
the Muslim community. It is there that they
clearly stake a claim for regional political
leadership. As a community, it is a
political right the Muslims would
Quite rightly, they fear that if their
political aspirations are ignored in the
east, the community has nothing to hope for.
"This is crucial for the Muslim political
identity. We represent a political party
that sprang from the eastern soil. The SLMC
was created largely because our founder
leader realised that our political identity
and aspirations were being disregarded. More
so post Indo-Lanka Agreement. It compelled
us to form ourselves into a political
group," explains M. L. M. Hizbullah, a
senior SLMC member.
This is also why the two main political
parties have begun to vie for the SLMC's
support in contesting the eastern provincial
poll. The SLMC, aware of its own
significance during this election has
demanded the post of chief minister and
enhanced accommodation on the nomination
lists. This does not augur well for the UPFA
and the UNP as both parties have Muslim
politicians who would like to run for the
top post in the province.
For example, there is Naushad Majeed who
heads the UNP's Eastern Political Affairs
Committee. The UNP, struggling to come to
terms with the Batticaloa poll has Majeed
brimming with confidence about the
possibility of winning the provincial poll.
In support, he says that the recent poll
shouldn't be compared with an election to be
held in the entire province. "We predicted
the Batticaloa electoral result. There was
much pre election violence that people
feared to vote. We did not want our cadres
exposed to such violence," offers Majeed. In
his opinion, contesting the PC poll is one
sure way to prevent the alleged TMVP
militancy from growing further. "For that,
democratic political parties must contest,"
Nevertheless, the UNP's response to both the
Batticaloa poll and now the Eastern
Provincial Council (EPC) poll has proved
pathetic. When the Batticaloa poll results
were announced, the UNP cried foul alleging
the government's failure to disarm
paramilitary groups and not creating
conditions for holding an election.
Having skipped the local authority poll, the
UNP can no longer risk its reputation by
shunning more elections. It next went up in
delegation to the Election Commissioner's
office at Rajagiriya to express their
opposition. Outside, a badly organised
protest was held with the easiest of slogans
'Batti was handed over to Pillayan.'
For a party that has contested and also held
elections under trying conditions, during
times of insurgencies and war, the UNP's
approach to the polls is lamentable. Party
voters would have heaved a sigh of relief
when its decision making body, the Working
Committee eventually decided to contest the
EPC elections scheduled for May 10. A
nomination board comprising UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe, Chairman, Rukman Senanayake,
General Secretary, Tissa Attanayake, Naushad
Majeed and two others has been appointed.
Meanwhile, SLMC spokesman, Parliamentarian
Hasan Ali confirms the party's decision to
contest the provincial election but adds
that any alliances would be announced later.
"Whether to go it alone or contest in
alliance with another party will be
announced later," says Ali. The SLMC last
week held a meeting with all local council
members, district committee and village
The contentious TMVP, the reason for
grumbling by most political parties, is also
keen to contest. Spokesman Azad Moulana was
recently quoted in the press having stated
that the TMVP would like to take over the
province and administer it.
As nominations were called for the EPC, in a
correlated development, the APRC last Monday
stood for a merged NE Province with a
separate Muslim majority unit. It is an
interesting position that would make the
poll a keenly contested one with
ethno-political considerations of Tamils and
Muslims coming to the forefront. This
proposal was made by the SLMC
representative, Attorney Nizam Kariappar.
Meanwhile, the four Muslim political leaders
extending support to the government -
Ministers Ferial Ashraff, Segu Izzadeen,
Ameer Ali and A.L.M. Athaulla had agreed to
the northeast merger subject to a Muslim
majority unit in the east.
As nominations close on April 3, this
contest is going to prove not only keen, but
trying as well.
The Elections Secretariat has called for
nominations to the Eastern Provincial
Council between March 27 and April 3. As
of March 27, nine independent groups had
submitted their nomination papers.
An independent group has already placed
deposits for the Ampara District. Five
independent groups handed in their
deposits for the Batticaloa District.
Thirty five members are to be elected to
the EPC on May 10.
This is the first time in 14 years that
all three districts of Batticaloa,
Trincomalee and Digamadulla would elect
their provincial representatives.
According to Batticaloa Assistant
Elections Commissioner T.
Krishnanandalingam, some 330,952 voters
are eligible to vote in Batticaloa. The
number of voters eligible to cast their
ballots in Trincomalee is 409,308 while
in the Digamadulla District, 242,563
Ampara District Secretary, Sunil
Kannangara said five assistant returning
officers have been deployed to accept
nominations in the district.
While the government intends deploying
over 100,000 police personnel in the
Eastern Province until the conclusion of
the Eastern Provincial Council election,
TULF Leader, Veerasingham Anandasangaree
has requested that STF cadres be
retained in their positions until polls
In the meantime, the Assistant
Commissioner of Elections, W. B.
Sumanasiri has written to the National
Police Commission informing that the
transfer of police officers in the
Trincomalee District should be stayed
until the election is concluded.
DIG Gamini Navaratne confirmed that
maximum police protection would be made
available to candidates and the three
districts would be provided with maximum
Consumers paying for
A.H.M. Fowzie and John Seneviratne
For Sri Lanka's electricity consumers who
continue to reel under the spiralling cost
of living, there appears to be no hope.
People received shock treatment mid March
when a minimum 40% tariff hike was imposed.
Electricity consumers had to shoulder that,
though due to no fault of their own.
The administration is honest enough to admit
that it is the corruption, mismanagement and
inefficiency that have made the Ceylon
Electricity Board (CEB) run into massive
losses amounting to billions. Yet, the
burden has been passed on to the hapless
consumers who have to pay higher tariffs not
due to over consumption but due to the
failure of the successive administrations to
Likewise, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation
(CPC) has caused constant heartache to
consumers. The regular and burdensome fuel
price revisions impact on the public in
several ways. Just as much as their
transport becomes costly, be it private or
public transport that they resort to, the
essentials also go up in price with more
transport costs being added on.
The situation is such that people find it
impossible to afford their daily rice and
curry. Heaven help the infants born in these
However, while the administration allows
price revisions, be it electricity tariffs,
rice or gas prices, what is not explained is
the failure of the mismanaged institutions
to recover millions if not billions of
rupees due to them.
If the CPC and the CEB feel cheated, they
can only blame some of the public
institutions that owe money by the billions.
The real tragedy here is that it is the
Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) that owes the
Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) Rs. 28
billion, the highest amount owed by a state
institution to another. And the trend that
these public institutions have set is
explained in this investigation.
It is sad that instead of an effective
recovery mechanism, the institutions appear
only too happy to pass on the burden to the
public with no feelings of remorse.
This investigation is an effort to
highlight as to who owes how much to the CPC
and the CEB - perhaps the real reason for
the inability to continue with the
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema and Nirmala
It is a question of trying to ascertain as
to who has robbed whom. The answer is murky.
Just take the two most important
institutions - the Ceylon Petroleum
Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity
Board (CEB), burdened in many ways and
unable to recover dues.
Who owes the two vital public institutions
so much of money? It is certainly not the
private sector. Consumers are only victims
of this evil circus, held by their throats
and made to pay higher tariffs for no fault
Even the ministers in charge of these
institutions concede that the consumers
could have their burdens made lighter, if
those in debt paid up. But there is little
said about effective recovery mechanisms.
Need to recover
We have Petroleum Resources Minister A.H.M.
Fowzie claiming that if the Ceylon Petroleum
Corporation (CPC) recovered the money owed
to it by state institutions, subsidising
fuel without burdening the masses would be
easier. And actually possible. Well said.
According to Fowzie's explanation, CPC was
incurring heavy losses from fuel sales in
the local market. "We do not recover the
money that we spend on purchasing fuel from
the global market. For the last three
months, CPC has incurred a monthly loss of
Rs. 1,700 million," he says.
He also notes with concern that this month,
the losses are expected to increase up to Rs.
2 billion, a mammoth amount.
Apart from the losses incurred by fuel
sales, CPC also has to bear the heavy burden
of carrying bad debts of state institutions.
The money owed by state institutions to CPC
amounts to billions of rupees. The Ceylon
Electricity Board (CEB) owes the CPC Rs. 28
billion, which is the highest amount owed by
a state institution. There is little wonder
that the CEB feels the need to electrocute
people with a crippling tariff hike.
Meanwhile, the state transport sector (CTB
and the railways) too owe a sum of Rs.3
billion, state owned Mihin Lanka owes Rs.650
million and the armed forces have an
outstanding bill of Rs.2 billion.
Fowzie says that he has been making constant
requests from the Finance Ministry to
intervene to recover the money owed to the
CPC by other state institutions.
"I have asked the Finance Secretary on many
occasions to look into this matter, but
nothing has been done so far," he said.
Fowzie explained that since the government
does not make any subsidy payment to CPC, it
was the institution that had to bear the
present losses incurred, especially in
diesel and kerosene sales.
"CPC is currently subsidising diesel and
kerosene, otherwise, the consumers would not
receive it at current prices. However, since
the government does not make any payment for
it, the loss has to be borne by the CPC," he
However, Fowzie noted that if the
institution managed to recover some of the
money owed to the CPC by other state
institutions, then the money could be
invested and the returns could help minimise
the present losses incurred by the
Passing the burden
"If the billions were recovered, it could be
invested and the interest from it alone
would be Rs.800-900 million and that would
help CPC subsidise diesel and kerosene
without incurring a loss and also without
passing the burden to the people," Fowzie
However, he said that there were no plans
yet to increase fuel prices in the local
But that's only half the story - and half
the problem. The other side of the coin is
the debt burden of the CEB which by now has
been mercilessly passed on to the consumers
with a crippling 40% tariff hike in mid
According to Power and Energy Minister John
Seneviratne, the losses incurred by the
Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) was a key
contributory factor that led to the recent
electricity price hike. It is evident that
consumers are not paying for increased
consumption but for the CEB's sins.
Seneviratne said that although the CEB has
incurred losses amounting to billions of
rupees, programmes have been put in place to
minimise further losses.
According to the Minister, CEB has so far
managed to marginally reduce its losses from
17% to 16.5%.
"We are working to bring down the losses
further," he said.
However, Seneviratne refrained from stating
the exact amounts owed to the CEB, but said
that state as well as private institutions
owed the state power giant billions of
"CEB is taking steps with regard to
consumers who do not pay their bills. Such
lines are disconnected," he said.
Although CEB carries out disconnections,
Seneviratne said that there still were some
consumers who received electricity without
making any payment. "We do need to be more
effective when it comes to recovery," he
A key problem faced by CEB is the illegal
tapping of electricity that takes place in
many parts of the island. And some 4% of the
consumption happens this way, according to
statistics, and there should be no reason
for the authorities to turn a blind eye on
Apart from the non-payment of bills, the
illegal tapping of electricity causes heavy
losses to the CEB.
"Illegal electricity tapping has caused
immense losses to the CEB and we are looking
at ways to address the situation,"
He also said that the CEB faced immense
difficulties when it came to addressing
illegal electricity tappers. "There is
organised resistance that prevents CEB
officials from carrying out their duties,"
The CEB's external resources unit has been
requested to find the necessary funds to put
in place the infrastructure to further
minimise the losses incurred by CEB.
CEB incurs a loss of Rs. 40 million per day.
Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama, during his
tenure as finance minister called the CEB
one of the biggest white elephants in the
country that empties Treasury coffers.
The government during the past few years had
spent billions of rupees subsidising the CEB.
Till 2005, the government spent Rs. 5
billion in subsidies and in 2005 the subsidy
payment was a hefty Rs.11 billion.
CEB was earlier provided diesel at Rs.55 per
litre when local retail oil prices were much
higher. The CEB is now compelled to purchase
diesel at Rs.85 per litre from CPC.
It is learnt that apart from the monies lost
due to the non payment of bills by consumers
as well as illegal tapping of electricity,
CEB has been incurring a loss of Rs. 250
million per month since 1994 following a
decision to place hotels under the
industrial tariff scheme from the general
purpose tariff scheme.
engineers claim high fuel cost compelled
The high electricity generating cost is
the main reason for the present
electricity tariff revision, claims the
Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers'
The failure to introduce appropriate
power plants that could generate
electricity at a much lower price has
resulted in the present electricity
price hike, the sources said.
"Out of the total power generation, 65%
is being generated from thermal power
while the rest is generated through
hydro power. If the country can rely on
a higher level of coal or hydropower,
we will be able to generate cheap
electricity. Earlier the Norochcholai
coal power plant was halted and
subsequently re-started. The same
happened with the Upper Kotmale hydro
power plant. Due to political
interference, the efforts to generate
cheap electricity and to create energy
sufficiency in Sri Lanka were defeated.
Although these projects have
recommenced, it is too little to late.
There is a crisis in the energy sector
now and the crisis situation has
resulted in this debilitating tariff
revision," said the sources.
The sources further stated that the fuel
subsidy withdrawal by the Ceylon
Petroleum Corporation (CPC) too
compelled the CEB to increase
electricity rates. "Out of the total CEB
expenditure, 75% goes for power
generation while around 15% goes for
maintenance while less than 10% goes for
administrative costs such as salaries
and allowances," explained the source.
When questioned whether the government
departments' failure to pay back dues
was the main reason for the latest
tariff revision, the sources explained
that this was largely due to the
government's failure to introduce the
Norochcholai coal power plant and the
Upper Kotmale hydro power plant on schedule. "This has now been passed
on to the people," the sources said.
Meanwhile, unionists further claim that
although the government departments owe
the CEB billions of rupees, they still
continue to make payments, adding that
it was the high interest bank loans
obtained for CEB's operational work that
had caused financial collapse.
"The truth is, domestic consumers do
not delay payments due to the
possibility of power disconnection. But
it is the government departments that
drag their feet when it comes to
payments. Had these departments settled
their arrears on time, the CEB wouldn't
have been in this financial mess or
compelled to raise high interest loans,"
union sources added.
Sources add that out of the government
institutions, the Police Department, the
three armed forces and the government
health sector owe the CEB huge amounts
Meanwhile, they also said that in the
present situation, the CEB cannot afford
to generate more hydro power. However,
they claim that thermal generation
should be increased for the country to
avert a severe crisis in the days to
"Electricity is a resource that cannot
be stored. The more we generate the more
we consume. If we generate more hydro
power by reducing thermal power
generation, once the water levels go
down in the reservoirs, we will have to
increase thermal generation or impose
power cuts. Both choices will badly
impact on the country's economy," union
from key government
institutions as at
February 29, 2008
CEB - Rs.50,000 million
Mihin Air - Rs.650 million
CGR - Rs.3,000 million
Police and the three armed forces - Rs.
SriLankan Airlines - Rs.1,000 million
Failure to collect arrears cause of
- JSS Petroleum Branch
President Mahinda Rajapakse's failure in
his capacity as Finance Minister to
instruct government institutions to pay
their massive dues to the Ceylon
Petroleum Corporation (CPC), amounting
to more than Rs.56,000 million has
resulted in the price hike in petroleum
products alleges Secretary, Jathika
Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) Petroleum Branch,
According to Palitha, these two factors
are responsible for the frequent
petroleum price revisions.
"When crude oil prices go up in the
world market we have no other option but
to increase prices to avert any losses
to CPC. But the present spate of fuel
price hikes were a direct result of the
government departments' collective
failure to pay their dues to the CPC,"
Accusing the JVP and the government for
their combined agitation to urge the
then UNP regime in 2003 to cancel the
proposed Global Energy Programme in
order to construct one of the latest oil
refineries in the country, Palitha
further stated that if the proposed
refinery was initiated in 2003, the
country would have reaped the rewards by
"If the refinery was constructed on
schedule, we would have started
petroleum production in July last year.
If we did that, we would have met the
entire gas requirement and could have
given it at 40% less than the present
market price. In the meantime CPC could
have also manufactured all the petroleum
products at a significantly lower price
which would have been beneficial to the
people," added Palitha.
According to him, the sole
responsibility of the government
departments' dues have to be borne by
the Treasury, as it was the Finance
Minister who directed CPC to supply fuel
to government departments on credit.
"So it is the responsibility of the
President to intervene and ensure that
debtors pay back. Or else, CPC will
have no option but to keep increasing
fuel prices at regular intervals,
whether the world prices go up or not,"