Thursday, November 03, 2011

Curious and curiouser

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).

Amidst the stormy weather some strange doings are afoot.

Take for instance the report that some 249 state enterprises lost a total of Rs.19,000m between 2007 and 2009. The usual culprits, the Ceylon Electricity Board and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation were there (and probably lose the most money) but the surprise inclusion is Sri Lanka Cricket. Cricket is a very lucrative game, the ICC shares some of its revenue with member boards which is in addition to direct advertising revenue earned locally. Yet they lost money. Some white elephant investments, built with expensive debt is the probable cause of the loss.

The Government's recent forays into business including Mihin Air and Lankaputhra Bank have also lost money. The timing of this report is rather unfortunate coming within the week of the bill to vest underperforming assets with the state. Why these State ventures lose money is anybody's guess.

We are also informed that Gazprom will start oil exploration in the Mannar basin. All very well, but what happened to the proposed tender for exploration blocks? Was it called? Who bid? How was it awarded? And where did Gazprom turn up from?

When the blocks were originally auctioned the sole bidder was Cairn, a small but respected operator that specialises in niche markets. Listed on the London Stock Exchange, they have reasonably transparent operations, some details of the exploration bid and recent gas strike being available on its website. Gazprom's website contains nothing on Sri Lanka other than two reports of meetings where the participants considered the prospects for bilateral cooperation in the energy sector.

Gazprom has a well earned reputation for opacity. It was a formerly privatised venture that the Russian state reacquired under controversial circumstances. Perhaps there is more in common between the parties than we thought?

In the meantime, the Central bank has told directors of banks to be diligent. This is all very well, but it was only a few months ago the directors at a couple of banks were changed under strange circumstances.

The BOI is now set to receive a CEO, a new position that has been created within the organisation. Last year, it was announced that the BOI was to be abolished...

I'm beginning to understand what Alice felt when she remarked "Sometimes I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

No comments: