Amidst the Cabinet approving an unprecedented second hike in electricity tariffs yesterday (9th January 2023) impacting on the country’s poor, information disclosed on appeals to Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Commission show huge arrears in payments on electricity bills outstanding as at 31.03.2022 by several prominent – and privileged – companies and individuals.
Requests under the Right to Information Act to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and LECO were filed by ‘Thunhela’, an organisation of monks headed by Venerable Omalpe Kassapa Thero asking for defaulters on electricity bill payments above the amounts of Rs 500,000/= . Both service providers did not agree to hand over the information until the monks filed an appeal to the Right to Information Commission.
Following summons being issued by the Commission, LECO released their annual audit reports as well as the list of customers who had defaulted on their payments as at 31st March 2022.CEB senior officials appeared at the Commission hearing on 3rd January 2023 and requested time to collect the data from branch offices. Time was granted till January 25th 2023 with the Commission not agreeing to CEB requests for extensions.
At appeal hearings before RTI Commissioners Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, Jagath Liyanar Achchi and AM Nahiya, the CEB was directed to explain its delay to answer when the information request by the monks was filed in late 2021. The CEB had first asked for time to respond but then not responded till the appeal was filed to the Commission. CEB officials were informed that this conduct violates the RTI Act.
After the hearing, Venerable Kassapa Thero told media that the RTI Act was of great value to the country by showing how service providers privileged a favored section of defaulters who, in total, owed a massive amount of Rs 4,440 million in arrears. In the LECO defaulters list seen by Colombo Telegraph, several individuals owe arrears in millions including one defaulter with an address at Ragama (Mahasen, 22+ million). Major private companies Iconic Development, Navaloka, Namdo Transport, Dialog Axiata PLC offices, Fairway, Mobitel, Tristar and some Colombo based law firms are also listed with arrears ranging from 1 to 3 million.
Hospitality ventures linked to politicians including Avenra Garden Hotel, Negombo (arrears of 21.5+ million) have majorly outstanding bill payments as at the named date.
Both information requests had asked for details of politicians who had defaulted on their electricity bills but LECO and CEB maintained that they did not compile lists of politicians owing arrears but instead had general lists of individuals and companies.
Details of CEB defaulters are due to be handed over to the RTI Commission on January 25th 2022.