Last week the country was literally kept in the dark for a second time in as many weeks but the big question is whether it is being kept in the dark metaphorically too?
When there was a power outage a few weeks ago, there was some consternation but Sri Lankans being Sri Lankans, they shrugged it off and went about their business believing that the powers that be would ensure that there would be no power cut yet again but that is exactly what happened.
With power disrupted island wide for six hours this week, there have been more questions than answers. The public was led to believe that the first power cut was thoroughly investigated and that such incidents would not recur. Of what use were those assurances? Is this the result of mechanical failure, mismanagement or sabotage? Very few seem to have convincing answers.
Once again, this being Sri Lanka, the matter has been politicised. Some in the government are crying ‘sabotage’ and blaming the ‘joint opposition’. Others in the ‘joint opposition’ are demanding the resignation of Power and Energy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who interestingly is from their own camp, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
Refreshingly, the Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Anura Wijepala has tendered his resignation but Minister Siyambalapitiya has refused to accept it, suggesting that there was more to it than the culpability of one person.
However, the questions remain and the claims and counter claims continue, adding to the confusion: at the rally staged by the United National Party on Tuesday, the party renewed claims of sabotage by the ‘joint opposition’. However, the trade union of CEB engineers have categorically rejected sabotage and cited mechanical failure of a thirty-year-old transformer as the reason for the blackout.
Sabotage though remains clearly a possibility, at least in the eyes of authorities which is why President Maithripala Sirisena has ordered the deployment of the army to guard CEB installations. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has, once again, promised a full investigation into the crisis.
For all this political posturing, the country needs honest answers about what really happened, why it happened and what the government is doing to prevent it from happening again. The government needs to rise above playing the blame game where it lays all the ills of the nation at feet of the previous regime.
It is in office for a reason: the people found the previous regime wanting on several fronts and sent it home. The fact that this government has now been in office for a little over a year is also not lost on the public. Just how long can you go on, blaming all the country’s ills and perils on the previous government?
Meanwhile, Sri Lankans are sweating it out. They have been handed a schedule of crippling power cuts that brings back memories of the dark days when an uninterrupted power supply depended on the indulgence of weather gods who decided whether our hydropower reservoirs would be full or not.
For some, this is even more baffling. If the power outages were due to sabotage, how would a series of power cuts prevent future blackouts? There may be a technical explanation for this but if there is, it has not been clearly communicated to the people.
There was a time when the government of the day boasted that Sri Lanka would never see power cuts again. That is now yet another broken promise and Sri Lankans would be annoyed to know that the power cuts occur when our cricket team is defending its World T20 crown –although some may argue that it is a blessing in disguise, given the recent form of our team!
Sri Lankans being Sri Lankans, our social media is now full of black humour relating to the power crisis, but it won’t be long before the public will cease to grin and bear it.
So, before they turn their wrath on a government which already appears to be nearing the end of its honeymoon with the voters, let there be light, both literally and metaphorically!