By Arun Kumaresan –
A news item appearing in Daily FT dated Monday 28 November 2016 relates to an address by Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) at ‘Viyathmaga’ (Professionals for a better future) held at Palatuwa, Matara. GR’s own acknowledgement of the role played by him in the takeover of Sri Lankan Airlines needs a further evaluation in the context of the eventual outcome of the takeover.
GR contends, quote “It was I who facilitated the meeting between the pilots union and President Rajapaksa. In most probability it was on their recommendation that President Rajapaksa did not extend the Emirates contract.” Due to his own admission, there can be no debate on his role. The implication this decision had on the airline and the Nation needs to be told ‘LOUD AND CLEAR’ to the ‘Professionals for a better future’, intelligentsia and the common man of Sri Lanka.
Air Lanka was established as the flag carrier of Sri Lanka, as the then government closed down the bankrupt Air Ceylon in 1980. Air Lanka, which was state-owned, was partially privatized in 1998, with the investment made by Dubai-based Emirates Group. Emirates and the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) signed an agreement for a ten-year strategic partnership. This agreement included exclusive rights for all aircraft ground handling and airline catering at Colombo for a ten-year period. Emirates purchased a 40% stake worth US$70 million (later increased up to 43.6%) in the then Air Lanka. It also sought to refurbish the airline’s image and fleet. Whilst GOSL retained the majority stake in the airline, the investment and management decisions were left to Emirates. In 1998, Air Lanka was re-branded as Sri Lankan Airlines.
There are two noteworthy events that are relevant and needs mention; Government of Sri Lanka held majority stake and the rebranding by Emirates gave it the most befitting name – SRILAKAN- that made all Sri Lankans to emotionally own and value even to date. To cut the long story short as stated by GR due to his intervention, Emirates handed over the control of the national carrier to the GOSL in 2008. The economic benefits of this ten year partnership were as follows. Sale of 40% stake yielded Rs 7 Billion (Assumption: USD in 1998 was at Rs 100). Accumulated profit at the time of hand over in 2008 was Rs 9.25 Billion. The country benefitted and filled its coffers with the 57% of GOSL share holding amounting to a tune of 5.27 Billion. It should be noted that during this partnership of 10 year period from 1998 to 2008 with Emirates. GOSL did not dole out a single cent to the airline.
Then we come to post 2008 when GOSL took full control and managed the airline on the advice of some pilots to GR and later to his brother MR. The cash flow to manage the airline was pumped in by the Treasury. The balance sheet tells the rest and the resultant accumulated loss for the period from 2008 to 2015 is Rs 128 Billion. The amount would have gone up by another couple of billions to date (Rs 10 Billion plus to cancel the unwanted Airbus 350 deal due to economically untenable on a functional business model. Another few Airbus 330s’ ordered was released to another airline due non viability as best option to minimize potential loss. A Swiss inquiry into Airbus Consortium’s ethical practices may reveal some beneficiaries who benefitted under the table!!!!)
Total earnings to GOSL: from Emirates partnership – from 1998 to 2008 – Rs 12.7 Billion. Total Loss to GOSL: Rajapaksa era management – from 2008 to 2015 – Rs 128 Billion.
***NB Excludes operational loss from 2015 to date and cancellation of Airbus order.
On reading the Daily FT article, it appeared that GR was advising the “Professionals of the future’ emphasizing the fact that one should not listen to the ill gotten advise given by some ‘fools’ (in this case pilots) who make the rulers ‘bloody fools’ . But, further reading into it appears he is still listening to a pilot (a guy who must be in a default setting with the current airline management). Quote “When I met this pilot recently he said that every aviator values an alternative aerodrome. He also said that even though the union had recommended to SriLankans’ board that the Mattala International Airport be used as an alternative during the period the BIA was undergoing repair it was not happening simply because the present Government wanted to prove that Mattala was an unwanted investment and a white elephant.”
I would like to respectfully advise GR, these pilots have lot of dreams and they have time for such dreams. They earn a mean of USD 7000 a month whilst the wage earner in Sri Lanka earns an average around USD 100 a month. They are the highest paid government servants as they were paid by the public from 2008. The ‘loss’ their advice cost the nation amounts to Rs 128 Billion as at 2015. Now they have the audacity to give their foolish mind again. Mattala Airport is absolutely a white elephant. No one constructs airfields and go in search of activities to make it operational. The government is struggling to do even the basic maintenance and it has now been tasked with debt servicing of Rs 20 Billion of Chinese loans. World over runways are upgraded reducing operational hours for a limited period. Only ‘fools’ and ‘bloody fools’ make this an excuse to cover their sins for building a runway for peacocks!! (Hope, we won’t now hear a MS International Airport in Polonnaruwa now.)
The address by GR to the ‘Professionals of the future’ will be beneficial at least in this sense. An aspirant who intends to become a ruler should have a level of minimum intelligence to differentiate wise advice from those coming from fools. Professionals must demand current rulers who made the foolish decision be made accountable: It is the common man’s money. Pilots who earn in USD do not understand the cost of these colossal blunders. One thing is certain those who gave these pseudo advices are not professionals. They will lick anyone’s back to attain momentary ecstasy of rubbing shoulders with bloody fools. They are traitors of the highest order who ruin the socio economic landscape of the nation whilst living in a lap of luxury.
Fools and Bloody fools made country to lose around Rs 200 Billion due to the above two decisions. A good eye opener for the ‘Professionals of the future’ – Don’t be fooled. May ‘Viyathmaga’ group come to the forefront to challenge such bloody fools, may it be from UNP or SLFP.