By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
According to media reports, Minister of Public Enterprise Development and subject minister for the national carrier SriLankan Airlines, Kabir Hashim, responding to a question from JVP Parliamentarian Dr. Nalinda Jayathissa is reported to have stated, he had written to President Sirisena requesting investigations by the recently appointed Special Presidential Commission should be based on the J.C. Weliamuna Report. The Weliamuna Board of Inquiry was hastily appointed, shortly after the installation of the Yahapalana government.
Minister Hashim has supposedly further stated, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) should investigate SriLankan Airlines and now defunct Mihin Lanka. He had expressed his willingness to testify before the COPE on the two airlines, should an investigation be initiated.
Minister Hashim has been the subject minister of both SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka till its amalgamation with the national carrier since August 2015. He failed to direct the Chairman of the airline to conduct internal inquiries based on the findings by Weliamuna and his associates. The report highlighted issues related to Man Power (HR) including recruitments carried out before Presidential elections, Tenders associated with Duty-Free Services besides alcohol for onboard service and General Sales Agent appointments abroad. The mothballed report for which the subject minister must be held accountable cost taxpayers over Rs 3.5 million. Having neglected his duties during last two and half years, the sudden urge for an investigation by COPE in the wake of the appointment of the Special Presidential Commission is suspect of sinister motives.
The mandate issued to the Special Presidential Commission is to investigate wrongdoings at SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka during the period January 01, 2006 till January 01, 2018. The Weliamuna investigation report did not go as far back as January 2006. It also did not cover wrongdoings between January 10, 2015, until January 01, 2018.
No doubt, an in-depth investigation is required to establish the truth relating to the purchase orders of six Airbus A330-300 and eight A350-900 aircraft by the previous administration. That said, a thorough investigation into mismanagement in many other areas including recruitment, especially to critical positions, promotions and service extensions is equally necessary. Also required is the examination of procedures and processes. Such an in-depth investigation is bound to provide answers to the airline’s continuing abysmal financial results.
An investigation by COPE as suggested by the subject minister will serve no purpose at this juncture. Lessons must be learned from the two COPE investigations into the Bond scam in which the SLFP and other members were on the offensive and UNP on the defensive, resulting in findings being watered down with footnotes to reach consensus. Members of the Yahapalana government were found to have had hundreds of phone/Viber/ WhatsApp conversations with those accused.
A COPE investigation into the national carrier will not be similar to the two Bond investigations by COPE. UPFA members and their acolytes committed wrongdoings before January 2015. Yahapalana members and their acolytes have taken their turn since January 2015. Any report is bound to end up with more footnotes than content.
As for the offer to give evidence during a COPE investigation, the less said, the better. The public is aware of the ‘invaluable’ evidence given by Minister Hashim and another Yahapalana minister during the Presidential Investigation into the Bond scam. There is no reason to believe, evidence during a COPE investigation of SriLankan Airlines relating to matters pertaining after January 2015 would be any less ‘invaluable.’ It would be an utter waste of public funds.
Consequent to the SriLankan Airlines Board meeting held on January 25, 2018, the public came to know, a majority of Directors had requested the resignation of the Chief Executive Officer within one week or face dismissal. At the end of one week, a statement from the Prime Minister’s office stated, such a course of action is not possible without the approval of the subject minister, thus making the Board of Directors irrelevant.
Directors demand the resignation of CEOs under extenuating and compelling circumstances. Reasons for a majority of Directors to demand the resignation of the airline’s CEO needs investigation. Unfortunately, this issue cannot be investigated by the Presidential Commission as it falls outside the mandated period.
The transformation of SriLankan Airlines Limited to the Department of SriLankan Airlines going back in time to the Air Ceylon era of 1947 – 1979 is now complete.