Release of records of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) naming those owing unpaid electricity bills over Rs 500,000/= (Rupees Five Hundred Thousand) upon a directive handed down by Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Commission on 3rd January 2023, has disclosed an ex-President/Prime Minister, several Ministers, ‘favoured’ domestic consumers and tri-services/police as defaulters.
This information has come to light in a period when electricity bills of the ‘ordinary’ Sri Lankan people have shot up skyhigh, with red light notices by the CEB being routinely issued and disconnection of electricity following if bills of any small amount are not paid promptly.
The information released by the CEB show ex-President/Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as owing a sum of Rupees 722,216.77 in unpaid electricity bills as at November 2022, which is the date up to which the balances have been currently maintained. The records were handed over in front of the RTI Commission after months of CEB refusing to give the information to ‘Thunhela’ National Organisation led by Ven Omalpe Kassapa Thero, saying that ‘personal details’ of individuals will be made public.
On 3rd January 2023, RTI Commissioners Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, Jagath Liyana Arachchi and AM Nahiya refused to accept the submission of the CEB for further time and strictly ordered that the information be released by 25th January 2023. The CEB was censured for its failure to adhere to the Right to Information Act.
The Colombo Telegraph has looked at the list handed over by CEB to ‘Thunhela’ and found several other politicians included. These include Rishard Bathudeen (Rupees 970,128,82); KDMC Bandara (Rupees 856,561.01), RMCB Ratnayake (Rupees 731,405.13), P Harison (Rupees 577,415.12).
Meanwhile social activists who gave the list to Colombo Telegraph point out that these politicians, who owe payments to CEB amounting to several lakhs of rupees, inclusive of Mahinda Rajapaksa are named as ‘Hon’ in the CEB documents. Referring to these individuals as ‘Hon’ show the slavish mentality of the CEB officials, they say.
A ’secretary to the President‘ (address at No 19, Malalasekera Mawatha) is further named as owing a sum of Rupees 527,755.94 while a ‘secretary to the Prime Minister owes a sum of Rupees 1,114,127.28). Other than these, various offices of the tri-services and the police (despite large components of the national budget being reserved for them) owe bills of several hundred thousands to the CEB. The CEB list shows an individual named as an ‘inspector’ (address at Rest House Road, Kulyapitiya) owing close to Rupees 2.4 million in unpaid amounts.
Earlier, profit earning companies like Iconic Development, Dialog, Nawaloka had earlier been listed as majorly due in their massive electricity bill payments through information previously released by LECO before the RTI Commission. That list also included the tri-services and the police.
The total of money owing to the CEB by politicians, ‘favored’ officials and domestic consumers comes to more than Rupees Sixty Million while the arrears of a great number of security establishments, government entities together with private companies named by LECO in its separate consumers list, total to more than ten times that amount.
Consumer groups and ‘Thunhela’ have vowed to take the CEB to court on refusal of their duty to enforce payment by ‘favoured’ consumers while Sri Lanka is undergoing a severe financial crisis with the Treasury drained dry. ‘We will take poor consumers whose electricity has been cut off for inability to pay nominal sums in arrears, to show the huge injustice’ they told Colombo Telegraph.