Coal purchase tender politics revealed as UPFA rebels gear up for
When there were disciplinary issues in the party, the party did not take
tough action and many believed that the lukewarm approach worsened the SLFP’s
internal problems. There is no evidence, at this point, to suggest that the
party will deviate from the same policy when it comes to the rebel group’s
The clash that occurred at the University of Jaffna, last weekend, was a
manifestation of the ‘communal sentiments’ dominating Sri Lanka’s post-war
politics since May, 2009.
As much as racism has plagued the country’s political spectrum in the South, it
has done the same damage to the North, coming out of a traumatic experience of a
30-year long war.
It all began with an innocuous fresher’s welcome held at the Jaffna University
over the weekend. The organizing student committee of the Science Students Union
(SSU) planned an event with traditional Tamil welcome drums and music,
garlanding and escorting the new students and the staff to the university
A simmering controversy started when the Sinhalese students presented a request
to have a traditional Kandyan dance as part of the same event. The organizing
committee, at the eleventh hour, turned down the proposal, much to the
consternation of the Sinhalese students at the university. The bigger students’
body, the University Students’ Union whose majority is formed by arts and
management students, also backed the organizing committee’s decision.
Despite this difference of opinion, Sinhala students went ahead with their
original plan and Tamil students remained adamant. When Sinhala students began
their traditional welcome, some Tamil students pelted stones at them. Multiple
eye-witness accounts said they were from Arts and Management Faculties of the
Jaffna University. The building in which the welcoming ceremony was held had
glass windows and as a result, some Sinhalese students sustained injuries.
Out of control
Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya came out, all guns blazing,
defending the tender board and the transparent process adopted
by the evaluation committee in awarding the tender. He has
clearly outlined that instead of the alleged loss, the State has
made considerable savings by awarding the tender to Swiss
Singapore Overseas Enterprises Pte. Ltd. The Minister said in
parliament that the saving was Rs. 1.1 billion, rubbishing media
reports that said the loss had amounted to Rs. 1,803 million.
The situation grew out of control when some students went on to post the
pictures of their injuries on Facebook, stirring up a hornet’s nest in the
South. Not only did it cause fear among their parents, it also alarmed
university authorities who took swift action to ensure the safety of students.
They took maximum measures to prevent a recurrence of the clash, evacuating
students from the university. This incident, however, was interpreted by the
South in many different ways and it deepened the crisis, over the next few days.
The clash at the Jaffna
Pic: Courtesy tamilguardian.com
Some sections of media, especially the ones with warped political visions, used
this event to paint a different picture about the Sinhala-Tamil relations in the
country. They projected this incident as a resurgence of terrorism in Jaffna and
their ulterior motive, needless to say, was to give more ammunition to
ultra-nationalist politicians in the South.
It fueled the efforts of rabble-rousers on social media platforms who, deep
down, wanted to turn this incident into an opening of sorts to create a conflict
between Sinhala and Tamil university students across the country.
However, other stakeholders involved in the controversy tread carefully on the
matter and they stressed the need for ‘managing’ the crisis.
Issuing a statement soon after the incident, the Jaffna University Teachers’
Association (UJTA) urged students, staff, employees and administrators of all
the universities to work towards keeping the university space free of violence
and cultural intolerance and creating harmony and solidarity among student
The Association’s Secretary S. Sivakanthan said his Union was utterly
disappointed over the violent incident that occurred on July 16, at the Faculty
of Science, and emphasized that the Association recognizes that the University
of Jaffna and all the other universities in the country are multi-ethnic,
multi-religious and multi-cultural spaces.
“We unequivocally condemn all the students who were involved in this clash. We
would like to assure the people of the country that we will take every necessary
step to protect the cultural rights of each student community at our university
and bring about unity among the different student groups,” he added.
After the incident, many parties wanted the TNA to disclose its position on the
matter as there were allegations that some sections of the party – mainly the
group led by Northern Provincial Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran were
responsible for what they termed as the radicalization of the Jaffna youth.
However, the Tamil National Alliance took a sober stance on the matter,
expressing deep shock over the student clashes and invited students who had been
evacuated from the campus as a precautionary measure to return.
was a direct response to the demand by the SLFP section in the
UPFA rebel group that the President should form a SLFP-only
government, without the involvement of the UNP. Dissanayake made
it clear that such an arrangement would not be possible as the
President and the Prime Minister had already agreed to work
together for five years. .
“We urge other students who remain to welcome them and assure them of their
safety as they resume their studies,” the TNA said in a statement on Sunday (17)
“We regret that several students have sustained injuries and that the Sinhala
students had to be evacuated from the university and Jaffna as a precautionary
measure,” the TNA statement said, while urging all students not to permit any
recurrence of such incidents or anything that will hinder genuine reconciliation
amongst communities in Sri Lanka.
“We call upon the students and the authorities to work together in creating the
right conditions for students from different backgrounds to live and study
together in the University of Jaffna in the future,” the TNA statement added.
Even the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF), which often comes under
criticism for their seemingly extremist views on many matters, handled the issue
carefully, without playing into the hands of those who were trying to take
political mileage out of the incident. They said, despite what happened at the
University of Jaffna, immediate measures should be taken to prevent various
groups from fanning communal flames in Sri Lankan universities.
However, it was crystal clear that their positions on the Jaffna university
clash was much more progressive than the position adopted by ultra-nationalist
Sinhala Buddhist parties such as the National Freedom Front and the Pivuthuru
Meanwhile, to bring the issue to an end, a three member committee was appointed
to probe into the clash.
sections of media, especially the ones with warped political
visions, used this event to paint a different picture about the
Sinhala-Tamil relations in the country. They projected this
incident as a resurgence of terrorism in Jaffna and their
ulterior motive, needless to say, was to give more ammunition to
ultra-nationalist politicians in the South. .
Jaffna University Vice Chancellor Prof. Wasanthi Arasarathnam said that the
committee report should be ready within two weeks and it would be forwarded to
the University Grants Commission and the Higher Education Ministry.
“Disciplinary action will be taken against those who were responsible after
analyzing the committee report,” the Vice Chancellor told our sister paper,
Apart from the committee, a three member ministerial delegation comprising
Ministers Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and D.M. Swaminathan and Deputy Minister
Karunaratne Paranavitana visited the Jaffna University over the weekend and held
talks with relevant parties.
The delegation had discussions with the University Senate, Vice Chancellor and
student representatives over the possibility of reopening the university and
building up friendly relations between the two groups.
Commenting on the matter, Deputy Minister Karunaratne Paranavitana told media
that the two student groups involved in the clash had given an assurance that
such incidents will not be repeated. After their intervention, the university
authorities agreed to reopen their faculties, bringing the issue to an end.
Although the situation at the Jaffna University has been brought back to
normalcy, strong measures have to be taken to build up friendly relations
between Sinhala and Tamil students. However, it is quite evident that
ultra-nationalist rhetoric adopted by political groups in the North and the
South is not helping this task.
UPFA rebel march
The SLFP now faces a fresh issue with the UPFA rebel group – which calls itself
‘Joint Opposition’ - launching a protest march from Kandy to Colombo aiming to
exert pressure on the government on several matters including the VAT issue and
the proposed accountability mechanism.
The steering group of the rebel group’s protest march comprises Johnston
Fernando, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Namal Rajapaksa,
Wimal Weerawansa and Kanchana Jayaratne. Interestingly, almost all of them are
under investigation by law enforcement bodies over allegations of bribery and
It is interesting to see as to how the SLFP would respond to the Joint
Opposition’s protest march. However, SLFP General Secretary Duminda Dissanayake
has made it clear that the party has nothing to do with the protest march.
Dissanayake said that no SLFP parliamentarian has intimated they wanted to join
the protest, slated to begin in Kandy on July 28. However, some SLFP MPs openly
supporting the UPFA rebel group have confirmed that they would take part in the
When asked if the SLFP would initiate disciplinary action members who would
participate despite the party’s decision not to, Dissanayake said the matter had
not been discussed as yet.
He said the matter would be discussed at the Central Committee of the party, if
the need arose.
When there were disciplinary issues in the party, the party did not take tough
action and many believed that the lukewarm approach worsened the SLFP’s internal
problems. There is no evidence, at this point, to suggest that the party will
deviate from the same policy when it comes to the rebel group’s protest march.
However, in a strong response to the rebel group’s protest march, the SLFP
General Secretary said the current understanding between the UNP and the SLFP
would exist until 2020.
“The unity government will exist until 2020,” Dissanayake said, addressing a
press conference at the Committee Room 8 in Parliament.
The Minister, at the same press conference, indicated that a fresh agreement
would be signed between the two parties next year. The current MoU between the
two parties will come to an end in September, 2017.
He also said both the President and the Prime Minister were on the same page
about the matter.
Dissanayake quipped that the coalition between the UNP and the SLFP was similar
to an ‘arranged marriage’.
“Although there are differences of opinion about some matters, the agreement is
solid,” he said.
It was a direct response to the demand by the SLFP section in the UPFA rebel
group that the President should form a SLFP-only government, without the
involvement of the UNP. Dissanayake made it clear that such an arrangement would
not be possible as the President and the Prime Minister had already agreed to
work together for five years.
Apart from the SLFP General Secretary, UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim also
spoke to the media at the same press conference and he lashed out at the Joint
Opposition group for trying to paint a wrong picture about the country’s
This week the Government took an aggressive position when the Minister of Power
and Renewable Energy, Ranjith Siymbalapitiya got into the fray to defend
decisions made by the Cabinet appointed Tender Board in regard to a tender
awarded for the supply of coal to the Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant in
The minister took this stand after several media reports implied that the
sitting contract was questionable and unprofitable.
Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya came out, all guns blazing, defending the
tender board and the transparent process adopted by the evaluation committee in
awarding the tender. He has clearly outlined that instead of the alleged loss,
the State has made considerable savings by awarding the tender to Swiss
Singapore Overseas Enterprises Pte. Ltd. The Minister said in parliament that
the saving was Rs. 1.1 billion, rubbishing media reports that said the loss had
amounted to Rs. 1,803 million.
He added that the said loss was reported not taking into account the entire
picture of the 4 spot tenders but just by highlighting one of them, and that the
government had decided to go for both long term as well as spot tender processes
to ensure energy security.
The Minister said that from 2009 to 2015 there were 5 tenders called and each
tender was finally awarded to Noble Resources, despite the fact that they were
not selected by the tender board but by recommendation of the Procurement Appeal
Board or the Cabinet.
It is significant that Noble Resources had become the only supplier of coal to
Lanka Coal Company during this period, even though they were not recommended by
the Tender Board.
Every time a tender was called and awarded to a party other than Noble it had
been cancelled for some obscure reason and the tender was extended to the then
sitting contractor, Noble Resources Ltd. According to the Minister, it was the
general practice of Noble to create a shortage of coal by not supplying the
contracted quantities required for the plant closer to the time when a new
tender was about to be awarded; which was one of the reasons why the CEB, the
Ministry and the Cabinet were compelled to extend the contract to Noble
Addressing the Speaker, the minister said that the CEB faced severe losses
during this period due to the irregularities in the coal supply process. He
highlights the following:
Although Nobel Resources had entered into an agreement in 2011 to supply coal
based on a price index of US $ 68.50 / 73.40; they got themselves the
opportunity to supply 222,739 metric tons of coal at a steady index of US $
Due to Noble not supplying as agreed during 2011, the Norochcholai power plant
could not be operated from September 28 to October 23, the resultant loss to the
CEB being approximately Rs. 3,500 million.
During 2014/2015 Noble defaulted by supplying 300,000 metric tons less than the
agreed quantity and it is said the loss resulting from this is Rs. 12,500
Since Noble did not supply the total quantities agreed upon, 81,688 metric tons
of coal in 2011, 59,358 metric tons in 2012, and loads of 55,984, 32,828 metric
tons and 55,11 metric tons in 2013 had to be purchased from Torian at higher
costs; without a proper tender process or cabinet approval.
The Minister said the Cabinet had held lengthy discussions in respect of the
coal tender and decided to purchase 50 percent of the coal requirement for the
next 3 years, on a spot tender basis. This was done to break the monopoly in the
supply of coal as well as to take advantage of the reducing prices of coal in
the world market.
Many parties believe that the controversy surrounding the coal power tender will
turn into a political volcano in the months to come. Therefore, a comprehensive
and transparent investigation into the controversy, at this juncture, will allow
the government to clear the air on the matter.