The tussle between key players in the power and energy sector came to a head yesterday, when Power and Renewable Energy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya dissolved the board of directors of the Lanka Coal Company (LCC) on the advise of Secretary Dr. Suren Batagoda.

Power and Renewable Ministry Secretary Dr. Batagoda told the Daily News he had written to the Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, prompting him to dissolve the board of directors at the LCC and call a shareholders meeting, to look into issues.

“The Attorney General has published a report highlighting a many issues, many things done wrong by the LCC,” he said. “Not just this board of directors, but board of directors before also, since 2009 – lots of illegal things have been happening,” he said.

“So many illegal things – awarding of tenders and all; and as the Secretary how can I sit and wait? I have to do something. So, I wrote to the Minister of Power and Renewable Energy sand suggested that he dissolves the board of directors and holds a shareholder meeting.”

“The AG had asked – ‘should the LCC continue?’ and I asked the Minister ‘should it continue? Better to dissolve the board and conduct an inquiry.’” Dr. Batagoda said he had taken the initiative to write to all stakeholders – the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), the Treasury, the Shipping Corporation and the Ports Authority, to inform them of his intention to hold a shareholders meeting – ‘I don’t think there has been a shareholders meeting these past five years,” he said. While the decision to dissolve the board caused consternation in many circles, Lanka Coal Company Chairman Maithri Gunaratne, speaking to the Daily News, seemed unsurprised, if disappointed: “First they came gunning for my resignation, then they brought in various inquiries against me, now they have dissolved the Board of Directors,” he said.

Gunaratne claims it is his continued opposition to illegal activity in the power and energy sector that has brought about this decision: “I have claimed, for a while now, that the Power and Renewable Energy Ministry, in awarding a coal tender to the company Swiss Singapore Pvt. Ltd. was incurring a cost of USD 10 a ton of coal.”

“This means the Sri Lankan consumer is paying USD 10 more than necessary for a ton of coal,” he reiterated - “I raised this matter in a letter, at the time, in 2015 – but it was disregarded,” he said of the decision to award the tender to Swiss Singapore Pvt. Ltd – the 5th highest bidder, and not Noble Resources International Pvt. Ltd. - the lowest bidder. “In fact, the AG’s report said my letter should have been acknowledged and acted in accordance to, but that was not done.”

He said the Attorney General’s response to a petition filed at the Supreme Court by the aggrieved bidder Noble Resources International Pvt. Ltd. had found the Ceylon Electricity Board, the LCC, the Standing Cabinet Appointed Procurement Committee (SCAPC), the Shipping Corporation and Ports Authority responsible for the loss of Rs.4.1 billion.

“The Attorney General’s report had furthermore found the Standing Cabinet Appointed Procurement Committee (SCAPC) to have flouted all rules, regulations and guidelines relating to the awarding of tender procedures and deliberately misled the government,” he said, adding that the Supreme Court in its judgment had said the manner in which officials had acted with public funds had ‘shocked the conscience of the court’ But, while the Attorney General had recommended a broad inquiry into the issue, in a comprehensive manner, “these have taken the law into their own hands and dissolved the board of directors of the LCC. ”

The LCC Chairman said he intended to meet with President Sirisena today (18) resolve the matter: “We helped to bring this government into power,” he said, “we believed in the Yahapalanaya ideology. I was appointed by the President and I was committed to protecting his interests and the interests of the government.” 

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