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CEB going against court order – Consumer rights group

A consumer rights’ advocacy group today accused the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) of going against a direct order by the Court of Appeal which quashed the controversial 2014 CEB engineers’ salary circular in April this year.

According to the Movement for Consumer Rights (‘Aitheen Udesa Paaribhogikayo’), the CEB Chairman has informed its General Manager to pay the salaries which were halted by the Court of Appeal. The reason for this, the Movement said in a statement, is that the CEB board of directors has greenlit the salary increase.

A copy of the CEB chief’s letter seen by RepublicNext states that the Board decision was taken giving consideration to “maintaining the industrial peace, fulfilling basic needs of employees, directives given by the Hon. President and Hon. Prime Minister to ensure uninterrupted power supply, the current emergency situation in the country and, finally, to avoid any negative repercussions as experienced in the past in this regard.”

According to the petition filed in 2015 by the Lanka Viduli Podu Sevaka Sangamaya (Ceylon Electricity Public Services Union) challenging the legality of the circular, a ‘Unified Engineering Service’ was created and a special ‘E Salary Scale’ was introduced for the Engineers and Engineering Assistants in the CEB. The petitioner argued that this was “unmistakably illegal and arbitrary” and “created a great salary anomaly between the Engineering employees and the other employees of the CEB gravely endangering industrial peace.”

The circular in question, introduced in 2014 and subsequently declared null and void by the Court of Appeal, approved a salary increase from 40% to 120% among to Rs. 1 billion, which the Movement for Consumer Rights said showed favouritism to some 1,000 engineers.

“This salary increment incurred an additional Rs. 6 billion for tariff payers in Sri Lanka for the period of 2015 to 2019 which is enough to reduce the electricity bill by 5 per cent,” it said.

In his letter to the CEB General Manager dated 4 June 2019, Chairman Rakitha Jayawardena has said that under the circumstances and without prejudice to the Appeal Court decision and also considering that the said salary issue cannot be regularised within a short period of time, the Board with the concurrence of the Power & Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake decided to pay an interim allowance for the month of April 2019 equal to 85% of the March take home (net) salary for all employees belonging to the Unified Engineering Services category which will be on a recoverable basis, if required.

The consumer rights group also accused Minister Karunanayake of proposing a Cabinet paper seeking the approval of what they called “this illegal salary” – the same salary halted by the Court.

“The Minister has also stated in his cabinet proposal that the Attorney General had recommended the payment of salaries, misleading the Cabinet of Ministers,” the statement said.

Arguing that the Attorney General doesn’t have the authority to recommend an order against a court decision, the Movement for Consumer rights said the AG had in fact recommended that the CEB employees be paid a salary instead of an allowance until a proper salary scheme in line with the court order was introduced.

“The AG has not mentioned which salary to be paid. We’re sure it is not the banned salary scheme. What the AG had meant was to implement the salary scale of 2014 temporarily until a new salary scheme is approved. However, the Minister and the CEB are now trying to distort the AG’s opinion and to re-enforce the same salary scheme that was banned by the courts,” it said.

Letter sent by the CEB Chairman to the General Manager, dated 4 June 2019