Paradise lost; now let it be paradise regained - EDITORIAL

ith former ministers being remanded and several VIPs being questioned on charges of corruption and fraud, it also appears that the spotlight would turn on the national carrier as well.
Last month, an alleged supersonic fraud was disclosed by a Board of Inquiry headed by lawyer J.C. Weliamuna. The report made some revelations and allegations about cockpit corruption and deception.
The 136- page report released to the media by the Prime Minister’s Office has revealed alleged misdemeanors of former Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe and Chief Executive Officer Kapila Chandrasena.

Mr. Nishantha Wickramasinghe, the brother of former President’s wife Shiranthi, could face legal action along with CEO Chadrasena and other top officials for the alleged abuse of power in a US$ 2.3 billion re-fleeting move, the award of tenders for duty-free deals and the appointment of General Sales Agents.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in releasing the report lamented it was a case of paradise lost because the national carrier, after flying for about 40 years, did not own even a single aircraft.
Instead, it owned luxury buses, vans and cars.
The Weliamuna report also spoke of strange bedfellows in the sky. It was indicated that Mr. Nishantha Wickremasinghe and Mr. Chandrasena did not see eye to eye but protected each other.

The report also refers to a tryst of a higher up with young air hostesses. The report alleges Mr. Nishantha Wickremasinghe and Mr. Chandrasena had falsified documents to lease a luxury Sports Utility Vehicle for the use of the ex-Chairman. This was in addition to a luxury Mercedes Benz and Prado super luxury vehicle that he was given.
Mr. Chandrasena, was paid a minimum monthly salary of Rs. 1.5 million, besides other perks from other appointments.
The most serious indictment on the former management was the colossal capital commitment of US$ 2.3 billion (Rs. 290 billion) on the re-fleeting and financing of new aircraft during 2010 – 2013. This was at a time when the airline had substantial accumulated losses and there appeared to be no real hope of breaking even and moving to profitability in the short term.

Another finding of the Weliamuna Committee is that an air hostess was released from the airline to work at the Presidential Secretariat and she was engaged in the political work of MP Namal Rajapaksa, the former President’s son.
The report questioned as to why the former Government, through the Treasury or otherwise, allowed such a large purchase of aircraft to be made when the airline was going through storm clouds of  losses, estimated now at Rs. 105 billion of accumulated losses and Rs. 65 billion of negative net losses.
The report also praises two senior pilots, Patrick Fernando and Ranga Amadoru who had resigned in protest of attempts to lower the pass marks of recruit pilots.

Their resignations effectively prevented the selection of unsuitable candidates in the 2013 Cadet Pilot intake. Such an issue assumes importance in the aftermath of the recent German Wings airline tragedy where the co-pilot, apparently suffering from a mental imbalance, locked the pilot out of the cockpit, pressed the descent button and smashed the plane into the French Alps, leaving only bits and pieces of the passengers and the plane.
We hope the new Government and the new management would lift Sri Lanka’s Flag Carrier to be a model of Sri Lanka’s hospitality and culture.

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