I had been invited to moderate a panel discussion on consumer rights in electricity, in the context of a recently issued charter of consumer rights and obligations. This was set to be a ho-hum affair, until the country experienced its third nationwide blackout within the last six months. This resulted in the shutdown of the 900 MW coal-powered plant, which means that the system will be in distress for 4-5 days until they get it fired up again. Since 2002, Sri Lankans have got used to uninterrupted power which they pay a lot. There is a lot of anger. And as usual, lots of unsubstantiated theories as well.
So I came up with these questions as a basis for discussion, announced that we would focus solely on consumer aspects and that no extraneous questions would be not permitted. Seems simple enough. But sadly, not all participants understand simple rules and the need for a moderator to manage time to ensure a productive discussion.
But anyway. Here are some insights gathered from the discussion:
1. It appears that the Charter does not actually include provisions for a nationwide unplanned outage. The objective is to avoid the recurrence of nationwide unplanned outages. But what use is a Charter that does not provide protection for such situations?
2. Until regulations drafted by the PUCSL are promulgated, there are no remedies for business/residential customers who suffer economic losses as a result of problems in the network or outages.
3. Only 20 percent of less customers have given their mobile numbers to the distribution companies so that information about outages can be communicated to them.
4. The difficulties that people reported about getting the electricity subscriptions transferred when we did our research several years ago continue.
Overall, not much to be happy about other than that fact that everyone in decision making positions seems to want to do the right thing. I’d like to see things actually getting done though.
As expected when I wrote the above last night, today there was some agitation in the social media and MSM. My responses in Sinhala and in English:
ඊයේ පවත්වන ලද විදුලිය පිලිබඳ පාරිභෝගික සම්මන්ත්රණයකදී ප්රශ්න අසන්නෙකු සභාවෙන් ඉවත්කිරීමට මම නියෝග කල බවක් කියන වාර්තාව අසත්යය. කරුණු මෙසේය.
සම්මන්ත්රණයක් මෙහෙයවන පුද්ගලයකුට වගකීම් ගණනාවක් ඇත. ඔහු සභාවේ සියලුම දෙනාට (එක් අයෙකුට නොව) උපරිම ලෙස තොරතුරු හුවමාරු කර ගැනීමට එමෙන්ම අදාළ අදහස් ප්රකාශ කිරීමට තිබෙන සීමිත කාල වෙලාව ඇතුලත ඉඩ සකසා දිය යුතුය. ආරාධිත සම්පත් දායකයින්ට සාධාරණව සැලකිය යුතුය. සංවිධායකයින්ගේ අරමුණු ඉෂ්ට වන අයුරින් කාලය හසුරුවා ගත යුතුය.
මෙම වගකීම් ඉෂ්ට කරනු වස් මම විෂයානුබද්ධ කරුණු ගොනු කර කලින් සුදානම් වන්නෙමි. සභාව මෙහෙයවන ආකාරය පිළිබඳව මුලින්ම පැහැදිලි කරන්නෙමි. විෂයෙන් පිට ප්රශ්න ප්රතික්ෂේප කර, තේමාවට අදාලව කාලය කලමනා කරන්නෙමි.
ඉරිදා රටපුරා විදුලිය කඩා වැටීම සහ සම්මන්ත්රණය පැවැත්වෙන වෙලාවේදී පවා සමහරක් ප්රදේශ වලට විදුලිය නොතිබීම නිසා සාකච්ඡාව උණුසුම් වීමට ඉඩ ඇති බව මම සිතුවෙමි. එනිසා ආරම්භයේදීම පාරිභෝගික විෂයට පරිබාහිර ප්රශ්න වලට ඉඩ නොදෙන බව ප්රකාශ කලෙමි.
මුලින්ම අත එසවූ පුද්ගලෙයකු ප්රශ්න හතරක් ඇසුවේය. එයින් පළමුවැන්න මොකක්දෝ කුමන්ත්රණයක් ගැන වූ නිසා මම එයට ඉඩ නොදුන්නෙමි. නමුත් ඔහුගේ අදාළ ප්රශ්නවලට සවිස්තර පිලිතුරු ලැබුණි. කුමන හෝ අයුරකින් මයික්රෝෆෝනය අතට ගත් ඊළඟ පුද්ගලයාට අවසර දෙද්දීම ඔහු කුමන්ත්රණ හෑල්ලක් ආයෙත් පටන්ගත් විට මම ඊට ඉඩ නොදුන්නෙමි. සභාවක විනයට ගරු නොකරමින් ඔහු දිගින් දිගටම කතා කරගෙන යද්දී, මම මයික්රෝෆෝනය ඔහු අතින් ගෙන වෙනකෙකුට දුන්නෙමි.
කිසිදු වෙලාවක ඔහු සභා ගර්භයෙන් ඉවත්කරන ලෙස මම ඉල්ලුවේ නැත. ඔහු අවසානය දක්වා සභාවේ සිටි බව මම සියැසින් දුටුවෙමි.
මා සභාව මෙහෙයවූ ආකාරය නිසා විදුලි පාරිභෝගිකයන්ට අදාළ විෂය ගණනාවක් පිළිබඳ ගැඹුරු සාකච්ඡාවකට ඉඩ සැලසුනි. මේ අතර විදුලි උච්චාවචන නිසා පාරිභෝගිකයන්ගේ ගෘහස්ත උපකරණ වලට වන හානි වලට වන්දි ලබා ගැනීමේ ක්රමවේදයන් වැනි පාරිභෝගිකයන් හට ප්රයෝගික වැදගත්කමක් ඇති කරුණු විය. නමුත් අවාසනාවකට ඒ වෙනුවට එක් මාධ්ය ආයතනයක් වාර්තා කිරීමට තෝරා ගෙන ඇත්තේ සභාවේ රීතීන්ට පටහැනිව කටයුතු කල පුද්ගලයෙකු සම්බන්ධ තොරතුරකි.
මාගේ කාල වේලා කළමනාකරණය නිසා සභාවේ දහ දොළොස් දෙනෙකුට අධික සංඛ්යාවකට ප්රශ්න ඇසීමට ඉඩ ලැබුණි. එපමණක් නොව මාගේ ක්රියා කලාපය විවේචනය කිරීමටද ඉඩ ලැබුණි. මුලදීම සාකච්ඡාව අයාලේ යාම වලක්වා ගත්තේ නැතිනම් විෂයානුබද්ධ ප්රශ්න ඇසීමට මෙන්ම මා විවේචනය කිරීමටද ඔවුනට වෙලාවක් නොලැබෙන්නට ඉඩ තිබුණි.
And in English:
A report is being circulated that I was responsible for throwing out a member of the public from a Consumer Forum on Electricity yesterday. This is untrue. Here are the facts.
As the moderator of a panel discussion I have responsibilities to the participants (all, not one or two), the panel members and the organizers. I take these responsibilities seriously, by preparing questions for the discussion, by laying out the rules of engagement at the outset (and reinforcing them as required) and enforcing some kind of discipline on the use of the scarce resource which is time.
Because a major nationwide power outage had occurred the day before and certain areas were without power even while the event was going on, I expected the discussion to get heated. I announced at the outset that our focus was on consumer issues, not extraneous matters, and that I would disallow extraneous questions.
One of the first interventions had four questions, the first being one on some conspiracy theory that I disallowed (but the questioner got substantive response to the permitted questions). Immediately after this a participant who had grabbed a mike (who I then recognized) started on a long harangue on conspiracies. He would not stop when I asked him to. At this point I took the microphone from him and handed to another who had indicated a wish to intervene.
At no point did I ask him to be removed from the auditorium. I saw him in the room right until the end.
As a result of my actions, we had a focused discussion on issues that addressed a range of consumer issues in the electricity sector including those of practical application such as how consumers could obtain redress for damages caused by surges and so on.
Despite the scarcity of time, two participants made statements criticizing my actions regarding the person from whom I took away the microphone. But there was time for even their criticism and their substantive questions, only because I managed the time judiciously as moderator. Had I allowed the discussion to be hijacked by conspiracy theory speculations, they probably would not have had time to voice their concerns.
While I appreciate the forum being conducted and findings / learnings you have outlined, I wish to raise the issue of the points highlighted so there is a balanced view on this.
The video evidence suggests that the participant was removed from the room. Are you saying the video evidence is false and he was there in the room until the end?
Video evidence here – https://www.facebook.com/waykkiya/videos/1664561830474560/?pnref=story
And are you condoning the actions of the person escorting him out in a heavy handed manner even if you weren’t the person who instructed him to be removed?
And there were legitimate reasons to question the highjacking speculation considering that military personnel were deployed to base stations to protect equipment. Why was this necessary if there was no threat? This would also fall under the consumer’s right to information about the issue rather than the narrow definition of consumer rights that you are employing with regards to redress and direct communication.
‘The video evidence suggests that the participant was removed from the room. Are you saying the video evidence is false and he was there in the room until the end?’
Yes. He was in the room until the end. Perhaps even partook in the refreshments. There are others who can speak to that.
The video clip provides you with the information Hiru decided you should see. They excluded what happened before the specific event they showed and what happened after.
While you have stated that Hiru has not provided context around the event, which I appreciate, it still does not clarify if the event (i.e. him being removed as evidenced in the timeline 1.53- 1.50 in the video ((reverse timeline as the video is counting down)) happened or not, as the video evidence shows otherwise.
In your post, you have also stated ‘these are the facts’ when, like you insinuate of Hiru, it is just your side of the story. The fact is actually the evidence in the video that he is being escorted out of the room. The question is under what circumstances did that happen. Was that clip taken after the forum and video has been made to look like it happened during? Was he removed and then allowed to re-enter? Did he do something else that warranted his removal?
You cannot deny that he is being escorted out. To do so would be to dispute that actual ‘fact’ despite the clear evidence which has been presented in the video. One can, however, dispute the circumstances of it though based on the editing of the clip.
I would like to know – a. if you are disputing that he was removed or not as it appears that are you in the posts, and b. what circumstances you believe it was that he was removed under.
I was doing my job as moderator which this person disrupted. I was not watching him. I did not know what happened to him in the immediate aftermath.
I stated what I saw.
When I went over to the right side of the auditorium to give the microphone to a woman journalist in the last 15 mts or so of the event,I saw that he was seated in the third or fourth row.
As I was looking around for a journalist who was to talk to me after the event, I again saw this person.
‘I stated what I saw’. Absolutely correct. That does not mean that you know the whole story. As I mentioned you are only stating your side of the story, just like you mention of Hiru.
Not that you are required to but as you decided to comment and elaborate in this piece, and advocate transparency, you still have not answered the questions put forward that are quite straight forward and it appears you are dodging them. I will state them again –
1. Are you disputing that he was escorted out, despite the evidence being shown to the contrary as per the video clip? (To be clear – I am not asking if he was let back in even if you saw him later. I am stating that he was escorted out and if you are disputing this? Even if you did not see it in person, the video evidence is there for everyone to see.So I am asking you to comment on the video evidence.)
2. Are you condoning the action of the person taking him out? Or do you know why he was taken out? (I am not asking you to defend anyone. Just an explanation)
We should know if he was taken out, even if it was temporarily, and for what reason, for the sake of transparency. No one is saying he didn;t deserve to be taken out, but if he was we should know why. Otherwise, it appears that this action is being condoned.
I was in the audience and can attest to the fact that the person was not escorted out of the premises. The PUCSL personnel took him out with him and I believe made him cool down by talking to him outside the hall to ensure that the proceedings were not disrupted.
I hope you understand that media ethics in our country is non existent and Hiru reported to create a sensational story to attract viewers and get better rating rather than report the truth!
Saying that, I do not believe Rohan’s decision to aggressively cut him off was a nice move because however stupid and irrelevant the question was, still the audience was invited to the event and not just the panelists. Further it was a soft forum and not any legal hearing.
He also assumed that the panelist were the experts and only Questions to them will be allowed with no any possibility for the audience to give their view points.
He also only gave 30 minutes rather than the 60 minutes he promised at the start of the session for Q and A.
Saying that we must be thankful and be understanding the fact that as an expert in the field he was willing to come there and dedicate his skills and time to make the event better. His passion carried him away and that was the reason that this incident happened and not any malicious intent from him! He has learned from this and I am sure he will come back stronger!
I have answered your questions based on what I was in a position to observe. I am responsible for my actions. Looking back, I sure wish my actions had been different.
But I am not responsible for what others do. I was invited to serve as a moderator. I had no formal authority over the actions of any person, other than what is customarily accorded to a chair/moderator. The person in question did not recognize that authority, which is what led to the unfortunate incident partially depicted by Hiru.
I have answered all questions within the scope of my knowledge. You may wish to ask the PUCSL or whoever who is the video for clarifications.
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