Power supply disconnections reflect deepening economic crisis – Udaya



Udaya Gammanpila

SJB: CEB not interested in recovering unpaid electricity bills amounting to Rs 65 bn

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, yesterday (26) said that disconnection of electricity supply to nearly 600,000 families so far this year reflected the magnitude of the deepening economic crisis.

Former power and energy minister Gammanpila said so responding to his successor Kanchana Wijesekera declaration that 3,000-rupee re-connection fee levied by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) would be reduced by Rs. 1,000 with effect from 01 Dec. The announcement was made at the regular media briefing held at the President’s Media Division (PMD) on Saturday (25).

The PHU leader lost power and energy portfolio in early March last year when the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa removed him following his criticism of government policy.At present power supply reconnections would depend on the payment of the outstanding amount in full and an additional 3,000-rupee penalty.

Gammanpila pointed out that the rapid increase in the number of disconnections should be examined against the backdrop of the vast majority of people reeling from the extremely high cost of living. Increase of VAT (Value Added Tax) from 15% to 18% with effect from January 01, 2024 would further worsen their situation, the ex-minister said.

Gammanpila said he had raised the issue during the committee stage debate on the vote on the Ministry of Power and Energy last week.Eng. Noel Priyantha, CEB spokesperson, who is also DGM (Business and Operational Strategy), said that by end of Oct there had been altogether 544,488 disconnections though electricity supply was resumed after the payment of the total outstanding amount plus Rs. 3,000.

Responding to The Island query, Priyantha said that the vast majority of them got electricity back within 48 hours after the disconnection. The top official stressed that power had been restored to all 544,488 households within days of disconnection.

MP Gammanpila said that the growing number of disconnections couldn’t be discussed without taking into consideration the increase in power tariffs twice this year, in Feb (61.65%) and Oct (18%). The former minister pointed out that tariffs had been increased twice and decreased once in June (14%) regardless of much touted assurance to restrict the revisions within a year to two.

The assurance on two power tariff revisions annually had been given by President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera in January this year.

Responding to the CEB decision to go all out against those who had failed to settle their bills on time, Samagi United Trade Union Force convener Ananda Palitha yesterday said that the government should explain why those who owed the CEB massive sums of money continued to receive uninterrupted services.

Claiming that he had obtained the latest official data, Palitha said the CEB had not recovered unpaid bills amounting to Rs 65 bn. He asked the CEB to release the names of those who hadn’t paid massive bills but continued to receive uninterrupted services. “Among the culprits are politicians, politically influential persons and major companies,” Palitha said, adding that those who settled their bills religiously with difficulty were being further burdened with increased bills.

According to CEB data, of the 544, 488 disconnections (January-October, 2023), 88,020 and 85,621 had been carried out in August and September respectively.JVP trade union leader in the power sector Ranjan Jayalal said that disconnections, too, had been outsourced. According to him, each disconnection and reconnection cost the consumer Rs 800 each. The CEB spokesman stressed that only part of the operation had been outsourced.