‘Govt. sat on repeated warnings over propane and butane composition ratio’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Former Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Thushan Gunawardena says a thorough investigation has to be conducted into the state-owned Litro Gas and Litro Terminals.
Gunawardena, who quit his post on 22 Sept. over a dispute with Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena and Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna following the exposure of the garlic scam at Lak Sathosa said that months before his resignation he brought to the ministers’ notice Litro suppressing the change of composition ratio of Butane and Propane in domestic LPG. The change of composition ratio posed a grave danger, Gunawardena said, pointing out that his repeated warnings were discarded.
In a brief interview with, The Island Gunawardena explained how both ministers as well as the CAA Chairman retired Maj. Gen. Shantha Dissanayake ignored his concerns as regards the grave danger posed by increasing the propane ratio in the composition. Gunawardena made available to The Island the entire set of e-mails exchanged among officials in this regard in the wake of Litro introducing what it called a new premium hybrid 18 litre LPG (9.18 kg) cylinder priced at Rs 1,395 in April this year. Litro withdrew the new product several weeks later in the wake of media outcry over Litro actually over charging hapless consumer Rs. 151.96 per kilo whereas the regular 12.5 kg gas cylinder at that time cost Rs.1, 493. In Oct the price of a 12.5 kg domestic gas cylinder has been increased by Rs. 1,257 and the major domestic cylinder sold at Rs. 2,750.
Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that when the CAA raised the composition of domestic gas cylinder, Litro deliberately deceived the regulator. Declaring that tests proved the Litro had lied to the regulator regarding the relatively sharp increase in the propane ratio in the composition at the expense of safety and security of the consumer, Gunawardena emphasized the failure on their part to take tangible measures.
In addition to the Cabinet minister and the State Minister, the unprecedented threat posed by change in Propane and Bhutane composition was also brought to the notice of the President’s Office, the Attorney General’s Department, Board members of the CAA, Trade Secretary and Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection State Secretary, Gunawardena said.
Had those responsible acted swiftly and decisively, the embarrassing spate of explosions over the past several days could have been averted, Gunawardena said, urging the relevant parliamentary watchdog committees and the Auditor General to subject both Litro Gas and Litro Terminals to comprehensive examination.
Noting that the government replaced the then Chairman and CEO of Litro enterprises Anil Koswatte with Viyathmaga activist Theshara Jayasinghe in July, Gunawardena questioned the rationale in Litro blocking mandatory government audit in spite of strong objections by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).
According to a statement issued by the Communications Division of the Parliament following a particular COPE meeting, Litro even ignored the Attorney General’s recommendation as regards mandatory government audit, Gunawardena said. Instead, Litro hired expensive lawyers to block the Auditor General, Gunwardena said, the government should at least now act on the matter.
Gunawardena said that he pushed for formulation of proper standards without delay as the Litro and privately-owned Laugfs couldn’t be allowed to dictate terms to the government. But, unfortunately, the CAA had been deprived of the much required political leadership.
In a letter dated June 17, 2021 addressed to CAA Chairman Maj. Gen. Dissanayake, Gunawardena reminded the Attorney General’s stand in that regard. Gunawardena quoted the Attorney General as having said the CAA as an independent government organization should stand up for the values of the organization. Gunawardena said that the Attorney General offered his assistance promptly and the CAA shouldn’t hesitate to seek his intervention.
Gunawardena said that the CAA and the Consumer Affairs Ministry owed an explanation regarding the action taken by them since the matter was raised in April. The Parliament should inquire into operations of both Litro and Laughfs, Gunawardena said, adding that the Propane and Bhutane composition had been re-arranged to 50:50 whereas from the time Shell ran the gas business it was 30 percent Propane and 70 percent Bhutane.
Gunawardena said that the Sri Lanka Standards (SLS) should be consulted and the regulatory measures taken to protect the consumers.
He asked whether the Treasury initiated an inquiry into a spate of serious allegations directed at the previous administration led by Koswatte. The former official noted that Koswatte, too, has asked for an investigation into claims made by his successor, Theshara Jayasinghe.
Gunawardena said that spate of gas explosions caused anxiety among the population. Referring to the import of contaminated coconut oil, garlic scam, and a number of other rackets, including the import of liquid fertilizer from India and allegedly contaminated carbonic fertilizer from China that had been exposed by the media, Gunawardena alleged that the government instead of going after the crooks targeted him and the media. Gunawardena said that the Parliament couldn’t turn a blind eye to what was going on in the country as waste, corruption and irregularities harmed the national economy.
Gunawardena said that the very existence of the CAA was questionable now as the government did away with price control on essential food items, including rice and sugar.