By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing irregularities at SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering, and Mihin Air, former UPFA Aviation Minister had stated he had to face a lot of issues as the minister in charge of civil aviation because SriLankan Airlines did not cooperate with his ministry where certain issues were concerned (The Island October 24, 2018).
According to him, he had told the then President’s Additional Secretary to make aware President Rajapaksa of those issues, but in vain. He had also suggested the airline be brought under the Finance Ministry due to its dealings with the ministry.
The former minister had reportedly stated, although he as subject minister signed documents pertaining to the airline to obtain state funds for Cabinet approval, he had never been shown the five-year plan of the airlines mentioned in Cabinet papers and had never held discussions with the Boards of Directors.
Following is an extract from the Weliamuna Board of Inquiry (BoI) report, Executive Summary Page 3 Item 4: Blatant Interference and Abuses;
“The BoI observed that the former Minister of Aviation had been illegally granted fuel reimbursements of Rs 75,000/- per month from SLA. The former Chairman or the former CEO had approved such payments, totaling approximately Rs 2,853,935.04. The BoI observed that the petrol bills submitted had false serial numbers and therefore, such documents are fraudulent documents. The BoI concluded that these matters must be investigated in respect of criminal acts including committing fraud, misappropriation and fabricating false documents.”
“Payments have been coordinated by the Minister’s Private Secretary and made monthly from April 2011 to November 2014 to P. Rasiah, Lanka Filling Station, Irattakulam, Madampe.”
Full details are found in Chapter 5-Section 2 in pages 76/77.”
Despite the former minister’s laborious efforts before PCoI to distance himself from irregularities which took place in the said organizations, especially SriLankan Airlines, it is abundantly clear from contents in Weliamuna Report of fuel claims made in his name based on fraudulent petrol bills.
SriLankan Airlines is not a Ministry, Statutory Board or Corporation and there is no provision to pay fuel bills of any persons other than its staff and board members with valid justification if approved by a board resolution. The ex-minister must understand, irregular acts have consequences and being used as a mere signatory, if correct, is such an instance. Despite the minister’s claim, he could not have been wholly ignored by the airline and its board. If that be the case, his fuel bills would not have been reimbursed.
The former minister had also stated, the airlines had not obtained approval of his ministry for the purchase of aircraft.
Cabinet Paper No: 2013/07 dated March 27, 2013, Reference No: MCA/AV/04/100 titled Wide-Body Fleet Replacement was signed by the former Minister. Its recommendations include among other things; Purchase of six A330-300 aircraft, Purchase of four A350-900 aircraft, Lease of an additional three A350-900 aircraft and to make funding available of USD 80 million during the second and third quarter of 2013.
Any claim of ignorance of aircraft purchases must, therefore, be viewed from the context of the originator of the cabinet memorandum being the subject minister himself.
The former Treasury Secretary had subsequently informed the airline’s management, SriLankan Airlines is a Public Limited Liability company incorporated under the Companies Act with an independent Board of Directors nominated by GoSL did not require cabinet approval for any investments for its aircraft fleet.
The Cabinet Memorandum under reference should have contained supporting documents of a Strategic Business Plan prepared by an internal team of the airline and two re-fleeting proposals from international aviation consultancy firms InterVISTA and Seabury.
Signing cabinet memorandum blind without relevant supporting documents is an irregularity and would generally amount to criminal negligence.
Reimbursement of Rs 2.8 million over 43 months based on fraudulent fuel bills may have been the reward for blind signing.