News

Senior CEB officer transferred to facilitate New Fortress deal?

  • CEB engineers threaten TU action over sudden transfer
  • Accuses CEB GM Ranatunga of violating CEB rules

BY Pamodi Waravita

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers’ Union (CEBEU), in a letter addressed to the CEB management, has threatened trade union (TU) action over the sudden transfer of CEB Additional General Manager (AGM) – Transmission Eng. G.J. Aluthge, a key figure in making decisions with regard to the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the country, including in matters pertaining to the recent controversial agreement with US-based New Fortress Energy Inc.

“It is very clear to us that the motive behind this AGM shuffle is to get rid of Eng. Aluthge – the most experienced officer in the CEB on matters pertaining to transmission business, systems operations, and independent power producer-related operations, all valuable knowledge to take a proper decision pertaining to supplying LNG to the country – from the post of AGM – Transmission, and to replace him with another senior engineer who has zero experience on transmission-related matters,” said the letter addressed to CEB GM  Eng. M.R. Ranatunga, as seen by The Morning.

It is learnt from CEB sources who spoke to The Morning on condition of anonymity that the AGM shuffle happens as officers such as Eng. Aluthge refused to work outside of the legal framework with regard to tender procurement processes, in the backdrop of the deal with New Fortress Energy.

“We have a code of ethics which we must adhere to because we are working with public money. This is why we have to work according to the law, despite what the management or even the Chairman tells us or pressurises us to do. Ultimately, we will be responsible if anything illegal occurs,” a CEB officer told The Morning on Wednesday (17).

Speaking to The Morning yesterday (18), CEBEU President Eng. Saumya Kumarawadu said that all of its members stand in unison with the union on the matter, and have therefore communicated to the union’s Executive Committee to take all necessary action concerning the matter.

The letter by the CEBEU further claimed that CEB GM Eng. Ranatunga “supports the illegal New Fortress Energy Inc. deal” and has accused him of undermining the efforts of the CEB to procure LNG competitively.

“By taking further steps in violation of the established rules in the CEB, which also adversely affects our individual members, you (a reference to Eng. Ranatunga) have extended your conduct to a level that we cannot tolerate any further. It appears that you are merely acting under the dictation of the CEB Board, probably to please the present Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando, to secure any benefit beyond your scheduled retirement on 12 January 2022,” the letter added.

Thus, the CEBEU has directed Eng. Aluthge not to hand over his duties as AGM – Transmission and has also directed AGM – Distribution Division Three Eng. P.W. Hendahewa, who has been chosen to replace him, to not take over his new duties.

Furthermore, the CEBEU has threatened trade union action over the matter.

The Morning’s attempts to contact Eng. Ranatunga, Eng. Aluthge, Ferdinando, CEBEU Convener Ranjan Jayalal, Minister of Power Gamini Lokuge, and Ministry of Power Secretary Wasantha Perera regarding the matter proved futile.

In a press release issued in September 2021, New Fortress Energy Inc. said that it would acquire 40% of the shares of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Station in Kerawalapitiya and that as part of the agreement, it would also provide about 1.2 million gallons of LNG to the government per day through a LNG terminal which will be built off the shores of Colombo.

The New Fortress Energy deal has received much criticism over the past month, as it has allegedly been acquired outside of the proper tender procurement process and without proper cabinet approval.

The People’s Alliance, led by Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa, Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila, and Minister of Water Supply Vasudeva Nanayakkara, its their first press conference on 29 October, where they heavily criticised the agreement that the Government of Sri Lanka signed with New Fortress Energy. They further claimed that they had not been privy to the cabinet paper regarding the matter and alleged that the proper cabinet procedure had not been followed prior to signing the deal.

CEB Chairman Ferdinando said recently that the content of the agreement cannot be disclosed due to a condition in the agreement and that the agreement has not even been presented to the CEB yet.

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) announced on 26 October that the Government is set to receive a $ 250 million inflow from the partial divestment of the Yugadanavi Power Station to New Fortress Energy Inc. and that the first tranche of the same is expected in November and December 2021. However, allegations levelled against the deal claim that the long-term loss to Sri Lanka through the deal is around $ 6 billion and also cite threats to the country’s energy security.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has filed a writ application in the Court of Appeal against the agreement, whilst the Samagi Jana Balawegeya (SJB), Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, and the Federation of National Organisations filed fundamental rights (FR) petitions at the Supreme Court regarding the matter.

The CEB Trade Union Alliance held an islandwide protest on 3 November, demanding that the aforementioned agreement be revoked.