President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has pressured members of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka to resign, as his Government faces an internal crisis after he made the unilateral decision to scrap the independent regulator for public utilities.
The Government was in a dither last week after Senior Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara publicly slammed the President’s move to scrap the PUCSL saying it could disrupt ongoing projects and consumer programmes in the pipeline which could make the incumbent regime unpopular.
Nanayakkara urged Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is the subject minister in charge of the PUCSL to step in to prevent the disaster. “As the Public Utilities Commission is an institution under your Ministry, any decision related to it must be taken by you,” Nanayakkara said in a letter to the Prime Minister on Thursday.
Speaking based on confidentiality, senior CEB officials told Colombo Telegraph that the President has since realised that he cannot unilaterally disband the PUCSL. However determined to proceed with certain power projects with China that the Commission would almost certainly block for lack of transparency etc, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has directed his Secretary to immediately procure the resignations of the PUCSL Members, highly placed sources told Colombo Telegraph.
Colombo Telegraph learns that Secretary to the Treasury has already secured the resignations of two PUCSL members, who were told that unless they resigned voluntarily, they would be forced out by the regime. The other three members are expected to submit to pressure and resign from their positions on Wednesday (9).
The resignations would leave the PUCSL unstaffed and ripe for being completely dismissed by the Government which may not appoint a new Commission at all, or put political lackeys in place to rubber-stamp the President’s every whim.
In Parliament this week, Opposition Lawmaker Dr Harsha De Silva slammed the moves by the President to cripple PUCSL.
Dr De Silva revealed that the subject minister was not even aware of such a letter being sent from the Secretary to the President dissolving the Commission.
Surprisingly, even Government politicians have stepped into defend the role of the PUCSL.
Set up by an act of Parliament in 2002, the five-member PUCSL was intended to be an independent regulator, with the independence of its members guaranteed by provisions which ensure that Members serve for a fixed term of office and cannot be removed except in exceptional situations such as misconduct, and that too, only upon an address of Parliament.
The independence of such commissions would be completely negated if commissioners are removed and re-appointed immediately upon the assumption of office by a new government, opposition MPs point out.
CEB officials expressed hope that the Chairman and the other two Members of the Commission would refuse to give into the pressure exerted on them and continue to act as a watchdog over public utilities including the corruption riddled energy sector.
The PUCSL is the economic, technical and safety regulator for the electricity industry and the regulator for petroleum products and water supply. (By Janakie Mediwake)