DAYS AFTER he alleged before a Lankan parliamentary panel that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “pressured” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to award a power project to the Adani Group, the Chairman of Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), M M C Ferdinando, resigned on Monday.
Although Ferdinando retracted his statement a day after his appearance before the panel and claimed he had become “emotional”, it triggered a political controversy, with the Opposition accusing the Rajapaksa government of “pampering” Modi’s “friends” to allow them “backdoor entry” into the country.
Announcing that Ferdinando had stepped down, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera tweeted on Monday afternoon: “I have accepted the letter of resignation tendered to me by the CEB Chairman Mr MMC Ferdinando. Vice Chairman Nalinda Ilangaokoon will take over as the New Chairman CEB.”
Ferdinando told a parliamentary committee on Friday that Rajapaksa had asked him to give a 500-megawatt renewable energy project in the island nation’s northern Mannar district to the Adani Group. Addressing the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), Ferdinando had claimed that Rajapaksa “summoned” him on November 24, “and said that India’s Prime Minister Modi is pressuring him to hand over the project to the Adani Group”.
Rajapaksa “insisted that I look into it”, he told the panel, adding that he then “sent a letter that the President has instructed me and that the Finance Secretary should do the needful. I pointed out that this is a government-to-government deal.” He also said that CEB had never given unsolicited proposals in the past, even on a government-to-government basis.
But, in a letter sent to the Sri Lankan Finance Ministry on November 25, a day after his reported meeting with Rajapaksa, Ferdinando did not mention any pressure from Modi. He only stated that the President had asked him to “facilitate” the projects to the Adani Group as it had agreed to make “substantial” foreign investment in the country.
Re a statement made by the #lka CEB Chairman at a COPE committee hearing regarding the award of a Wind Power Project in Mannar, I categorically deny authorisation to award this project to any specific person or entity. I trust responsible communication in this regard will follow.
— Gotabaya Rajapaksa (@GotabayaR) June 11, 2022
The Adani Green Energy’s proposal for “investment in renewable sector” was a matter of discussion, “where in pursuance of directive of HE the President, joint inspection was carried out” with representatives of CEB and the corporate group, said the letter. “As per this joint inspection, followed by the meeting with Hon. Prime Minister (Mahinda Rajapaksa)… it was the direction to me by the Hon. Prime Minister to recognise the proposal of M/s Adani Green Energy as a proposal from Indian Government to the Government of Sri Lanka, as both heads of countries are in agreement to realise this investment in Sri Lanka, to meet the present day FDI crisis,” it said.
“Immediately after the progress review meeting on renewable energy with HE the President held on 16.11.2021 at the Presidential Secretariat, I was directed by HE the President to facilitate M/s Adani Green Energy to develop 500 MW wind and solar, renewable energy project in Mannar and Punarin, as he has already agreed to invest substantial amount of FDI in Sri Lanka. As per the directive, I assumed that this is a proposal of an investor backed by the Government of India on the basis of the bilateral discussion between two heads of states,” Ferdinando said in the letter.
Based on the “directives” from the President and Prime Minister, he wrote, he recommended the Treasury to proceed with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for the project. The letter was addressed to Treasury Secretary “S R Atigala” (S R Attygalle).
Responding to the controversy, an Adani Group spokesperson said on Monday: “Our intent in investing in Sri Lanka is to address the needs of a valued neighbour. As a responsible corporate, we see this as a necessary part of the partnership that our two nations have always shared… We are clearly disappointed by the detraction that seems to have come about. The fact is that the issue has already been addressed by and within the Sri Lankan government.”
Rajapaksa had issued a swift denial over the weekend when Ferdinando’s statement first became public. His office “vehemently denied” influencing anybody in awarding the project. The statement said Rajapaksa “categorically stated that he had not at any time given authorisation to award a wind power project in Mannar to any person or any institution.”
The controversy comes just days after Sri Lanka changed its laws to do away with competitive bidding for energy projects. The Opposition Samagi Jana Balwegaya party alleged in Parliament, during the passage of the amendment, that the change was made with the intention of regularising the award of the Mannar contract to the Adani Group.
Last year, the Adani Group bagged a contract to develop and run the strategically significant Western Container Terminal of Colombo Port, with a 51 per cent stake.
In May, protests broke out across the country against the ruling Rajapaksa family for their mishandling of the economy, forcing Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya’s brother, to step down as Prime Minister. India has provided US$ 3 billion assistance since January, through credit lines, currency swaps and other mechanisms.