I opened the Daily News this morning to learn that the Ministry of Power and Energy was denying that power cuts were taking place. The pro-Government Island newspaper has however reported that power cuts in the Biyagama industrial zone were causing a lot of disruption.
What on earth is going on?
When checking around, one person in the office had experienced a power outage from 7pm to 8pm last night. When he had inquired from the Electricity Board they had confirmed that it was a power cut, another person in Ratmalana experienced a power outage from 7-8.30pm last night, although he did not bother to check with the electricity board as to the reason why.
A friend in Battaramulla told me that they were without power all day from 9am-5pm last Saturday, the Electricity Board had said it was for "major repairs" but had not specified what the repair was. Apparently in the past the CEB used to inform them of the nature of the repair so it is a bit suspicious that they were so vague this time around and adding to this is the fact that it came on sharp at 5pm, the time they said it was likely to come back on.
It seems obvious that power cuts are indeed taking place, what is intriguing is the attitude of the Government: to deny that the problem exists. This is not the first time this has happened, the contaminated petrol fiasco saw exactly the same reaction. Persistent denial, until it became impossible to deny, then attempted to blame the users or the petrol pump owners.
It seems that they have cottoned on to a whole new strategy for dealing with problems; deny, deny and deny. With the media tamed, not a lot get reported anyway so people are in the dark. It is only through personal experience, which may be bitter; as in the case of the contaminated petrol or merely uncomfortable; as in the case of a power cut, do people learn the truth.
Perhaps the Government has been spending too much time with PR firms, or perhaps the 18th amendment, in giving new life to the government has infused it with fresh confidence, but it seems that the methods of dealing with critics in the West are now being applied to voters at home.
Quite apart from the moral aspect, the denial of a problem points to a bigger issue: the unwillingness to take responsibility for a problem or to be accountable to the electorate.
It is true that people are easily fooled and politicians all over the world spend some of their time trying to make things look better than they are but if this is taken too far and the only effort spent is on painting some fantastic or Utopian picture then the consequences can be grave.
The country has just adopted a new inflation index, with a reduced weightage on food (39%, v about 45% in the old index). Given that food price inflation is high the new index will probably report a lower figure, so everybody will be happy, while the reality is ignored.
Policy needs to be shaped by a proper understanding of problems, pretending that the problem does not exist is the last thing one needs.
And why do we have power cuts? Because the electricity board is running at losses and huge amounts of power are lost in transmission. We don't know exactly how much is lost or how badly it is run because there is no information. Any possibility of getting information was killed off with the defeat of the Right To Information bill. The price of inefficiency and waste must eventually be paid and the public do pay, in terms of an erratic and uncertain power supply.
There is one little solution that will ease the problems of the CEB and cause no disruption to the public. Put the clock forward by half and hour, a simple painless solution that was working fine that was unwound: to please the astrologers.