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Shock treatment awaits PUCSL Chief Parliament to debate his removal

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The ongoing tussle between the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) and the Ministry of Power and Energy starting from electricity tariff hikes to occasional pushbacks to the Ministry’s attempts to restructure the energy sector is well known and very public.

Its current Chairman Janaka Rathnayake turned out to be a lone voice against the current tariff and went to the extent of going to courts against the tariff-hike decision which was approved and came into immediate force while he was abroad.

Janaka Rathnayake

Meanwhile, a Parliamentary Resolution has been placed in the Order Paper of the House seeking to remove him from the post as chairman. It is expected to be taken up for debate on May 24.

Other moves to reduce the PUCSL’s powers are also underway. The latest is to downplay the role and powers of the independent regulator of the energy sector through the legislature as proposed by a Parliament Oversight Committee recommending to clip some of its powers.

The first interim report of the Sub Committee on Identifying the Priorities in Formulation of Short-, Medium- & Long-Term National Policies of the National Council, headed by MP Namal Rajapaksa handed over its report to the House this week with a specific recommendation of “streamlining the role and authority of the PUCSL with regard to the power sector.”

This is after the committee observed that there is a requirement for a hike in the tariff due to the high cost of power generation. “Some issues had cropped up due to the huge authority vested in the PUCSL in determining the tariff,” the
report said.

“A structural change in the institution and making the PUCSL accountable to Parliament are required
in order to streamline its functions,” reads one of its
recommendations.

Some MPs who are members of the Committee and served in the previous Yahapalana government that saw the introduction of independent commissions for ‘better transparency and good governance’ also took part in the sittings that saw the undoing of the work the then Administration carried out.


Unqualified persons posing as professors: UGC clarifies who is a ‘Prof’

The issue of unqualified individuals posing as professors came up recently when the University Grants Commission (UGC) came before the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

COPE Chair Ranjith Bandara, who was a Professor of Economics at the University of Colombo, told UGC Chairman Prof. Sampath Amaratunge that some individuals claim to be professors though they had only held the position at a university for two months. He asked the UGC chief as to who could actually claim to be a professor.

Prof. Amaratunge noted that a professorship was a post and not everyone could use it after they retired or resigned from a university. He said the UGC had issued a circular detailing the criteria that must be met for a person to refer to himself or herself as a professor post-retirement or resignation. A university’s senate, after examining the individual’s service to academia, has to approve the request for him or her to be given the position of Emeritus Professor, which entitles them to be referred to as a professor for life. That honour had been granted only to a handful, he noted.

“Before coming here, I phoned the Registrar of Colombo University and asked him if I could refer to you as Professor,” the UGC Chairman confessed to the COPE Chair. “He said I could. I then asked him if I could refer to Prof. G.L. Peiris as Professor and he said that too was fine as you are both Emeritus Professors.”

Prof. Amaratunge said he needed to be sure about whom to address correctly as a professor as he has seen how government officials who come before parliamentary committees address some MPs as professors though they clearly did not have the qualifications to be referred to as such. These individuals also did not try to correct the officials and continued to pretend that they were indeed professors,
he added.

COPE recommended that the UGC introduce a procedure rule detailing who could hold certain academic titles.


Bribery probe on Kataragama Basnayake Nilame election

The Bribery Commission has summoned a group of voters who had cast their ballots to elect the Basnayake Nilame of the Kataragama Devalaya coming under the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy following a complaint that some voters had been bribed to cast their vote for a particular candidate.

The voters, including senior Buddhist monks, Basnayake Nilames of several other Devalayas and government officials in Kandy, have been instructed to appear before the Bribery Commission on March 15 to provide statements to investigating officers.

The summons have been issued following a complaint made by a former Basnayake Nilame of the Kataragama Devalaya who stood for the election.


SLMC MP seeks Saudi backing to protect Muslim interests

As Presidential discussions are underway with little progress in reaching a lasting solution to the decades-long ethnic question, some upcountry Tamil political parties represented in Parliament and Muslim parties remain unhappy. The reason is they want to have their own Presidential round table discussions on issues faced by their respective communities– the Muslims and Upcountry Tamils.

Their argument is the very simple logic: as Tamil-speaking people in Northern and Eastern provinces have ‘special issues, so do their communities.

This week, a group of Muslim parliamentarians took up the matter with the Secretary to the President asking that issues faced by their communities should also be resolved through separate talks. The Secretary assured them that their grievances would be taken up with the President to accommodate the issues faced by them and other minority communities.

Amidst all these issues, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Parliamentarian Faizal Cassim took the matter to the House this week to openly critique the geopolitical pressure behind the talks pointing out neighbouring India’s influence in the discussions. In his speech, he said that if India did not want to raise Muslim interests, as it did for Tamil interests, it should openly say so, so the Muslims could consider alternatives. His suggestion for an alternative is to seek support from Saudi Arabia to protect the interests of Muslim people in the country.

Hearing his speech, a veteran lobby correspondent was heard saying to his colleague that “we already have enough foreign players poking fingers in the internal affairs of the country, so one additional player would be a great mix, if not chaotic.”

State Minister Nishantha with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, former fist lady, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene and SLPP MP Prasanna Ranaweera

 


Water Minister in hot water over birthday bash

A grand birthday bash was held at a leading Colombo hotel on Wednesday for Water Supply State Minister Sanath Nishantha.

The event was attended by a large gathering, which included many Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MPs led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Mr Nishantha is one of those accused of leading an SLPP mob to attack peaceful protesters camped outside Temple Trees and at Galle Face a year ago. Many social media users reacted angrily to photographs showing the state minister having a good time at his birthday bash.

Never one to shy from controversy, Mr Nishantha reacted mockingly to the social media posts. In one post, he wrote that his birthday actually falls on May 3. “Parliament however, convened for this month on May 9 and the party was organised for that day. We were hoping to hold it at the ‘aragalaya’ site,” the state minister said, in direct reference to the events that unfolded outside the president’s office a year ago.

He said former President Mahinda Rajapaksa dissuaded him from holding a party on May 9, pointing out that it fell on the one-year death anniversary of late SLPP MP Amarakeerthi Athukorala, who was killed by a mob after the attack on Galle Face set off a wave of retaliatory violence across
the country.


Presidential Secretariat tackles sand mafia in Batticaloa District: Issue of licences suspended

The Presidential Secretariat has ordered an immediate halt to the issuing and renewing of licences for sand mining in the Batticaloa District following extensive evidence of illegal and hazardous sand mining in the district.

The President’s Office directive to the Geological Survey & Mines Bureau (GSMB) has come after authorities noted the continuous reports of the licensing scheme being abused to conduct illegal sand mining.

The GSMB has conceded that most of the sensitive areas near waterways in the district have been heavily destroyed by illegal miners and rural roads have been heavily damaged due to the illegal transport of sand.

It has been noted that a “Sand Mafia” operating in the district has overruled the sand miners and farmers in the area and most of the licences issued by the Divisional Secretaries have been misused for illegal and hazardous mining.

 


Lanka giving Japan cricket and curry

Regardless of the economy, Japan seems to be requesting help from Sri Lanka as far as cricket is concerned.

The Japan Cricket Association has made a request for a tour to prepare itself for the East Asia Pacific Regional tournament in July this year.

Thereby, the Sri Lanka Emerging Team is playing five games against the Japan National Cricket Team from May 10 to May 15 at the Sano International Cricket Ground.

Japanese cricketers were observed eating Sri Lankan rice and curry
after the matches and the Emerging Team on a visit to the town also
visited the local High School, where they attempted to learn each
other’s languages.

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