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How political interference has made SriLankan wobble

30 December 2017 12:00 am - 4     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



The President cannot create an artificial sonic boom and blame only the previous administration

All Governments and the leaders since 1988 are answerable for the existing grave economic disaster and the debt trap that is plummeting the airline

SriLankan incurred millions in losses solely due to President Rajapaksa using SriLankan Airlines as his private jet

The findings added that the former chairman had ‘Inappropriate interest’ in certain members of the 
cabin crew




In the search for a private stakeholder for the Airline, the UNP-SLFP Government altruistically contributed to the National carrier’s accumulated losses bringing it to a staggering 200 billion rupees as at end of 2017.  

 The news says, ‘While expressing hope that the national carrier SriLankan would not be liquidated, State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana said the Government had successfully negotiated a long-term credit package worth US$ 150 million and a short-term loan facility of US$ 50 million with the Credit Suisse Bank on behalf of the airline.  

The Minister added that “the loan package of US$ 200 million (Rs. 32 billion) is expected to strengthen the Government’s guarantee for the ongoing discussions with several investors to run SriLankan as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP). Government did not intend to liquidate the national carrier under any circumstances, but the colossal US$ 702 million (Rs. 108 billion) act as an obstacle to the successful conclusion of the negotiations. We have obtained this loan package from the Suisse Bank and the Cabinet has decided to absorb the entire liability of the SriLankan Airlines running to US$ 702 million, which I hope would lead to a successful conclusion of negotiations with prospective investors.”  

Absorption of US$ 702 million by the State means to load the poor tax-payer with this amount. Can they make profits and settle the debt? Does this mean the Government privatizes profits and nationalizes losses?  

Big Bird is badly in need of a forced landing to prevent a crash, no matter where, let it be Katunayake or Mattala, due to a serious administrative failure. The President plans another commission, which announcement prompted [was it due to fear of the repercussions] the Captain to drop the ‘excess baggage’, perhaps to cushion the impact before crash landing or prevent flying in thunderstorms and turbulence.  

Merriam Webster defines ‘Flight’ as ‘an act or instance of passing through the air by the use of wings’  


Big Bird is badly in need of a forced landing to prevent a crash, no matter where, let it be Katunayake or Mattala, due to a serious administrative failure. The President plans another commission, which announcement prompted [was it due to fear of the repercussions] the Captain to drop the ‘excess baggage’, perhaps to cushion the impact before crash landing


President Sirisena has pronounced his intention to appoint a Presidential Commission to probe SriLankan and its off shoot Mihin Lanka by the first week of January, next year. Undoubtedly this is going to be a New Year bonanza for the poor taxpayer. Considering the large number of scams, scandals, swindling and frauds committed by the rulers during the past eight years, 2018 could be named as the Year of Presidential Commissions of Inquiry.   


Points to be included in the terms of reference 
With due respect to His Excellency, may we suggest a few things which he may find useful in drafting the Terms of Reference on Commissions that he intends to establish, specifically for the ‘two Big Birds’, and in common to all future ‘PCoI’s, as we see quite a few lapses in the Terms of Reference set to PCoI on CB Bond Scam.  

1. There should not be any special treatment for VVIPs; all witnesses be subjected to cross examination by the same panel of AG’s lawyers.  
2. The practice of forwarding written questions for reply through affidavits by some witnesses should cease.  
3. While assigning the prosecutions and punitive action to AG and Courts, the Commission should be powered to impose civic disabilities on persons found directly or indirectly involved in malpractices, forgeries and violation of rules and ethics.   

“O! for a horse with wings!” -Shakespeare, Cymbeline
Brief history of the national carrier.  

President JRJ in 1978, made an expert in the flying industry, Rakitha Wikramanayake, its Chairman, along with a few other members of high calibre to run the Airline. He refrained from interfering with its affairs in any manner. However, realising that there had been a few lapses on the part of the administrators, the President appointed a Commission in 1986, which reported financial mismanagement and other irregularities that were taken up immediately for remedial action.  

Political tornadoes caused bumpy rides as the Sri Lankan flag carrier flew through massive man-made air pockets for three decades causing the taxpayer a cumulative loss close to Rs. 200 billion. The Rajapaksas did contribute in a big way to the above devastation, but the rest of the Heads of State who allowed ticketless family members and cronies to barge into the cockpit since JR Jayewardene, should also take the responsibility for the disaster.

The President cannot create an artificial sonic boom and blame only the previous administration to pacify his cabinet at a time when the entire nation is enthusiastically awaiting the PCoI on Central Bank Bond Scam to drop a bombshell on the New Years Eve with its’ report. All Governments and the leaders since 1988 are answerable for the existing grave economic disaster and the debt trap that is plummeting the airline.  


Restructuring of the airline
 President CBK handing over its management to Emirates in 1998 was done when the majority in the cabinet, [perhaps they feared an end to privileges that they had been benefited with], and the entire opposition protested against the move. The former President had to search for funds to keep the Big Bird gliding in blue skies.   

Successive boards were appointed on the basis of loyalty to political parties, close connections with leaders, their families, cronies and supporters, ignoring the importance of relevant expertise, and with scant respect for merit and competence in commercial supremacy. During the Emirates managed 10 years the airline prospered independently, causing no burden to the State coffers.   

 In end-1988, with Ranasinghe Premadasa elected as President, saw the emergence of another ‘Common-man era’. The Air Lanka Board headed by a senior SLAS officer with a few other experts that included D.S. Jayasundera, the dynamic entrepreneur, who was in the vanguard of Hayley’s group’s growth was dissolved for no valid reason.  

Interference in the administration of the flag carrier thrived during the period between 1989-1993. Most of the board appointees during the Premadasa and D. B. Wijetunga eras were chosen from ‘flying without wings’ variety. Premadasa’s political office handled appointments of pilots and managers for overseas offices. As a prelude to assist the Presidential security to screen passengers listed to fly along with the Premadasas, bookings of flights to Indian destinations would be held back for several days. General Sales Agents for two competing operators who were Premadasa’s cronies were successful in winning Air rights for their principles, [two under-cutting Air lines], causing tremendous losses to the national carrier.   

 Under CBK in 1994, the tradition that continued since its inception, where the Chairman reported to the President, was broken and it was assigned to the Minister of Tourism.  

SriLankan incurred millions in losses solely due to President Rajapaksa using SriLankan Airlines as his private jet demanding special flights and not using scheduled ones. He of course needed a charter for his massive holidaying entourage. The present Head-of-State is usually accompanied by comparatively a few, but his travel frequency is much higher; cannot blame him as he has made a genuine effort to make friends with almost all world leaders including Putin who banned our tea until the Abestos ban was lifted. They say, ‘There are no permanent friends or foes in politics, but permanent interests’. Does thisapply to foreign relations as well?


Why Emirates was discarded
Sri Lankan flag carrier Air Ceylon [1947-1979] ended its operations to pave way for Air Lanka in 1979- subsequent to its partial acquirement by Dubai-based giant in 1998. The airline was re-branded SriLankan Airlines. Emirates Group invested heavily on the carrier under an agreement signed by the Kumaranatunga Government for a ten-year strategic corporate venture. Emirates bought a 40% stake investing US $ 70 million, which was later increased to 43.6%. Full control of  investment and management and the ground handling at Colombo airport became the exclusive right of Emirates for ten-years. Under the agreement refurbishing the airline’s image and fleet was a task entrusted to Emirates. This partnership ended abruptly due to political maneuvering by the Rajapaksa regime, when Peter Hill the CEO refused to abide by a request by the big man for an unethical disembarking of passengers to accommodate part of His Excellency’s party. Rajapaksa abrogated the agreement and sent Peter Hill home. Hill had over 30 years of experience in the industry, with British Airways and Gulf Air and Emirates. Planter Nishantha Wickremasinghe, who succeeded Hill, had just one qualification which happened to be that he was the brother of Madam Shiranthi. Wickremesinghe. He lacked the experience or formal learning to meet the criteria to run an airline, but took over the reins triggering the second round of destruction which proved to be more grave than pre-Emirates years.

Bollywood stars were flown down for the Carlton Super Rugby Tournament courtesy SriLankan Airlines in 2012. In the latter stages of the regime the airline management under the President’s Brother-in-Law allowed one of the favourite stewardesses to fly one short duration flight per month and released her to work at Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa’s office. The Weliamuna Commission, appointed three years ago to investigate, found evidence of serious corruption. It reported a $2.3 billion deal to buy Airbus aircraft during Rajapaksa’s Presidency Poor Corporate Governance and neglect or willful dereliction of duties by top men in Human Resources and other vital areas; partiality towards political loyalists, and cronyism.   

The Committee recommended, among other matters, criminal investigations into the purchase of the new fleet. The findings added that the former chairman had ‘Inappropriate interest’ in certain members of the cabin crew. It has discovered that the CEO, who was paid a basic monthly salary of 1.5 million rupees, simultaneously drew salaries as CEO of Mobitel and Mihin Lanka.  

 Gross abuse of power, Deception, Racketeering, Mistresses, and Fraud were reported in the findings.  

The Unity government, in 2015, appointed a Chairman and a CEO drawing millions a month, but lacked any knowledge of running an Airline.   

The national carrier that earned a profit of Rs 12 million a day under Emirates in 2008, suffered a loss of whopping 80 million a day in 2016 and 2017.  

 ‘What’s that as flies without wings, your ladyship? Time! Time!’
 -D. H. lawrence, [Lady Chatterley’s Lover]   

  Comments - 4

  • Thiyagi Velupillai Saturday, 30 December 2017 06:59 AM

    Srilanka need to look qualified

    Sambo Saturday, 30 December 2017 08:09 AM

    It is the politicians who has brought down the airline because of their stupid decisions and actions. Not the public. They have ruined the entire country. Not only Sri Lankan.

    Suranimala Saturday, 30 December 2017 08:51 AM

    It will be cheaper to close down the airline and issue free tickets to all Srilankan travelling abroad. I am sure that will cost less to the taxpayers.

    Ajit Kanagasundram Saturday, 30 December 2017 08:54 AM

    This was a very perceptive, informative and timely article on our loss making foray into civil aviation. But the author is totally wrong in absolving former president J R Jayawardane. Far from appointing an “expert” in civil aviation in Rakitha Wickremenayke ( A crony of his Son) who was a mere pilot who started the rot by leasing Lockheed 101 planes whet the only other customer was All Nippon airways in Japan. The then prime minister of Japan Kanye Tanaka was convicted of bribery on this particular deal and went to jail. What Rakitha got we can only Guess. Lee Kwan Yew in his memoirs stated that he advised JR not to expand Air Ceylon as we lacked the management resources to run it . How right he was ! Singapore airlines was advising Air Lanka at the time of the Lockheed deal and advised against it and when their advise was ignored pulled out in disgust as did Emirates and UTA when they partnered usAs with many other things wrong with us the rot started with JRAjit Kanagasundram

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