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No queue for the lucky few

By Ifham Nizam

While many other public sector professionals, including medical specialists and other health workers, spend days and nights in fuel queues, Ceylon Electricity Board engineers are not feeling the pinch thanks to the government prioritizing fuel supply for power generation, a food official and an energy ministry official said.

Although everyone else is going through incalculable hardship trying to find fuel, CEB engineers happily dipped into the large stockpiles of diesel at the Kelanitissa power station to fill their fuel tanks, it is reliably learned.

An official said: “Ironically, the CEB has no rupees to pay CPC even when the Treasury is scratching the bottom of the barrel to find the dollars to pay for fuel imports. Consequently, the CEB is forced to obtain short-term loans from commercial banks at exorbitant interest rates, usually above 30%, to pay for its fuel and the monthly salaries and generous allowances of its employees.

Several CEB employees contacted by The Island, including veteran trade unionist Ranjan Jayalal, were of the view that it is criminal for the CEB to use government-supplied diesel for power generation to pump fuel into engineers’ vehicles.

These supplies are often made at the cost of deprivation of other essentials such as public transport, school vans and the transport fleet bringing daily necessities like fish and vegetables to urban centres. But some of the power-generating fuel is used to maintain the lifestyle of a privileged set of state employees. According to these CEB employees, long lines of CEB vehicles used by engineers have become commonplace at Kelanitissa Power Station. These vehicles often carry barrels and other containers to take on additional diesel supplies.

These employees complain that although diesel is taken out of Kelanitissa storage under the guise of supplying the essential needs of maintenance and recovery vehicles, only a small fraction of this fuel is allocated to CEB field vehicles. Engineers meanwhile have an almost unlimited supply. of diesel for their official and private journeys (sometimes including the daily journeys of their spouses), despite people agonizing in long fuel queues across the country.

Indeed, the CEB warns its customers that the processing times for breakdown claims will be longer because its maintenance vehicles do not have enough fuel.

CEB engineers are permitted to commute between home and work, subject to a maximum of 20 km each way, plus an additional private travel allowance ranging from 600 to 900 kilometers per month at the expense of the Commission. But some engineers travel to Colombo daily from places like Wennappuwa, Negombo, Panadura and even more distant places like Ratnapura. Apparently, the fuel shortage has not deterred these engineers from saving on fuel consumption despite the current crisis through diesel stocks in Kelanitissa for power generation.

It is understood that when the chief executive of the CEB recently announced that the engineers’ private mileage allowance would be reduced by 50%, the engineers protested vehemently. Many CEB employees wonder why this decision has irked engineers so much when there is not even fuel to handle CEB’s daily maintenance work in most areas.

It is also learned that some CEB engineers who received gasoline vehicles were quickly switched to diesel due to the ready availability of fuel from the Kelanitissa storage facility.

Its employees complain that even the engineers attached to the project work in the Project Division continue to work the same mileage as before, although the project work has stalled due to shortage of foreign currency and shortage of essential materials like steel, cement as well as CEB’s inability to open LCs for essential imports of new equipment.

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