CEB Engineers’ Union hampers fight against corruption

Q: What is your plan of work as the chairman of the Industrial Development Board?

It has been one year since I assumed duties as the chairman of the Board. During this period, I spent my time in restoring the organizational structure of it.  I corrected various structures such as administration, accounting, financial management and auditing. By the time, I took over, six out of the 12 director posts remained. There was no corporate plan. I have now prepared the corporate plan for the next three years. 

Q:What are the latest developments in the small and medium scale industrial sector in the country?

Our idea is to develop this sector as a vital part of the economy.  We have now formed a Federation of Small and Medium Entrepreneurs which comprise 22 district level bodies. Altogether, there are 4000 members now. The major problem confronting this sector is the lack of management knowledge. It is my duty to provide these skills to the entrepreneurs.  This sector has been neglected for so many years. Entrepreneurs should consult experts before investing their money. Sometimes, they invest money without proper guidance and end up in failure.  We have to provide a solution to that issue. Sometimes, they have basic ideas, but don’t know how to implement them. Also, they are not unaware of other matters involved.

In the developed countries, the small and medium scale enterprises contribute a lot for the Gross Domestic Products. In Sri Lanka too, it should be developed to a sustainable level. In the countries such as China and India, there are domestic huge markets for entrepreneurs in those countries. Here it is small. What I want these entrepreneurs is to start their businesses initially as small business ventures and then develop them to large scale ones. They can expand them to district and provincial levels.  Then, we can generate new employment opportunities too. Then we need to consult experts in this exercise.  When we want to seek medication, we consult qualified doctors   or medical practitioners. When it comes to litigation too, we consult professional lawyers. But, for investment, we do not do so.

Q:How crucial is industrial peace to economic development in your opinion?

It is very important. In other countries, we have 24-hour economies. Economic activities are taking place right throughout the day. Here, most of the time, we are sleeping. Only at some places of work such as garment factories, we see the system of working on shifts.

Q:How much would you say the trade union sector contributes to this aspect of development?

Trade unions should act with a sense of responsibility.  They should also have knowledge about the management and administrative structure of the organization concerned.

Q:How would you analyze this matter in terms of your experience as the former chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB)?   

There are problems created by trade unions. During the last few year period starting from 2005, there have been seven or eight chairmen. There is a misalignment between the management and trade unions at the CEB. I do not say employees. They are not well aware about the management, administrative and governance structures.  They try to dominate everything. This category of persons cannot do it.  As a result, there is a great disadvantage. It involves a huge cost to the public at the end of the day. They are not willing to accept management practices.

Q:It means that these   trade unions have not understood what the CEB is meant for? 

They cannot understand. The CEB is a commercial venture according to the criteria laid by the Treasury. This is a public commercial enterprise. At the end of the day, both consumers and the venture have to be satisfied. These trade unions are a problem to achieve that target.

Q:What are the other areas where the problem has aggravated in the CEB?

There is a management principle that power should be delegated to the authorities concerned in a structured organization. The management has the power to take back whatever the power devolved when the authorities concerned do not perform well as expected. This is what has happened at the CEB. This category of persons at the CEB does not like it. The management has to act in such a manner to improve efficiency. 

Q:How difficult has the move to curb corruption at the CEB become due to the influence of these trade unions, particularly the Engineers’ Union?

It is at the maximum level. It is impossible to implement the projects according to the stipulated budget limits and time frames. It is all the more serious regarding the major power projects such as Upper Kotmale or Norochcholai.  If you take any power project in the Colombo city for example, none of them have been implemented in time with the budget estimated initially. When the time limit is extended again, the cost is high.

Q:At what level does corruption take place within actually?

It happens at technical and tender evaluation committees. I do not know whether it happens due to lack of knowledge on the part of those involved. I wonder whether they do it deliberately.  I can cite examples. It happened at that time in the purchase of equipment.  In one power line project of the Upper Kotmale plant, I remember the contract had been at RS.550 million. Again, it had been given to another subcontractor at 350 million.  There had also been a third subcontractor who did for Rs. 150 million. In this case, who has done the estimates? It is engineers. I wonder whether it is willful or lack of knowledge. It can be interpreted as corruption. This is the engineers’ usual   pattern.

Q:How do these engineers try to enjoy total control over the CEB?

 They firmly insist that the CEB should be chaired by an engineer. But, it is an organization that can be managed by a management expert.  It is something to do with management and administration. But, they do not accept it. They start fighting with trade union action. They start work to rule campaign. They send threatening letters to other employees. 

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