A wide variety of snowshoes for the benefit of CEB – The Island engineers

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By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board implements most of its electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure development projects, such as construction of new transmission lines, transmission and distribution substations, etc., using loan funds obtained from international lending organizations such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan. International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

These “concessional” loans are guaranteed by the government, and the projects financed by these loans are implemented through specially created project management units (PMUs).

Engineers attached to PMUs enjoy special facilities and monetary incentives on the understanding that they will work outside normal working hours and weekends to complete their projects on time and within the allocated budget. and the critical needs for improving the country’s electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure.

Almost all of these project titles carry the words like “green energy”, “clean energy”, “green energy”, etc., which means that these investments are mainly aimed at using renewable energy.

However, according to a senior official from the Ministry of Power and Energy, these projects are rarely completed within the given time or budget. For this reason, not only are the expected benefits of these investments often lost to the country, but the government suffers heavy losses due to the commitment fees paid to the lenders.

Once project funds are committed through a loan agreement, the government must pay these fees to the lender, usually calculated as a percentage of the loan amount or “commitment amount”. This is a significant burden for the government, especially in a situation where there is a severe shortage of foreign currency.

If the loan funds are disbursed during the initial term of the loan, this “upfront fee” is charged at a lower percentage. Therefore, when the CEB does not complete projects on time, the government ends up paying a higher commitment fee and is also forced to request an extension of the initial disbursement period of the loan, thereby incurring additional costs.

What is even more worrying than the long delays in project completion is that some completed projects have turned out to be wasteful investments of foreign funds granted to the country. Galle, which was completed in 2017 at a cost of Rs. 1,500 million, has remained out of service to date.

Sunday Island understands that CEB’s system control center can only activate this transmission line when the Samanalawewa hydroelectric plant is operating at full capacity. This project had been presented by CEB’s transmission planners as a priority investment and a solution for serious transmission bottlenecks in the country’s southern grid. Southern regions had been experiencing serious restrictions in transmission capacity for decades. .

The 220kV transmission line from Pannipitiya to Polpitiya via Padukka is another example of a costly planning error by the CEB. Construction of this long transmission line began in 2015 but was delayed due to numerous issues including public protests and lawsuits by some landowners. However, when this AfDB-funded project was finally completed at the end of 2021 (after a delay of more than five years), it was discovered that the current flows in the wrong direction when the line is on, causing the sub to overload. -Pannipitiya station. Therefore, this transmission line also remains inactive at present. It is understood that CEB planners have explained that power will flow in the right direction once several more transmission lines (built under different loans and already delayed for several years) are completed.

The then CEB Director General, taking part in a nationally televised discussion following the nationwide power outage on August 17, 2020, explained that the unavailability of this critical transmission line was a factor major contributor to CEB’s inability to restore supply for many hours. Another example of a colossal waste of funds is the Kapalthurai transmission substation in the Eastern Province which cost the country more than Rs. 2,500 million AfDB loan funds. As there is no strong electricity demand or future demand growth in the area, this facility will be idle for the foreseeable future.

According to CEB employees, the existing Trincomalee substation, which is located approximately 11 km from this new substation, has sufficient capacity to meet the electricity demand in the region for many years to come. Meanwhile, the CEB has also made a major investment in increasing the capacity of the Trincomalee substation. significant project staff, even when no funding has been secured for relevant projects.

CEB employees complain that project managers and their engineers attached to these “white elephants” are allowed to receive all benefits, including the project allowance (an additional amount equal to one third of the monthly salary) and luxury SUVs because most of them hold important positions in the powerful CEB engineers’ union. They claim that CEB management never holds a project manager accountable for long delays, but they are allowed to continue enjoying all the benefits. According to a senior engineer who works as a consultant on project-related work, this “job security” guarantee acts as a strong incentive for project engineers to extend their projects. is that foreign-funded projects have long been a constant source of luxury vehicles for CEB engineers.

Most of the vehicles used by CEB’s top engineers, including the Managing Director, were provided under different foreign-funded projects, as existing government guidelines will not allow the purchase of these high-end SUVs. having a large engine capacity, including premium European brands like Audi and Mercedes Benz. for government officials. CEB employees complain that the Ministry of Energy and Energy generally turns a blind eye to these irregularities, mainly because the majority of project managers and their project engineers are senior officials of the powerful engineers’ union. .

They allege that even the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), which has a legal obligation to ensure that the CEB will not make wasteful or wasteful investments in its transmission infrastructure, has never questioned the CEB on assets that are dormant for many years after spending billions of rupees of public money.