By Arun Kumaresan –
To the urgent attention of National Economic Council (NEC)
A Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) chaired by the Prime Minister has seen an hour long presentation by the Malaysian budget carrier Air Asia staking claim under the cover to fill the gap of our own failed MIHIN AIR to operate a budget carrier with an Airline Operating License (AOL) from Civil Aviation Authority, Sri Lanka. This comes at a time when Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) is scouting for an investor to fund the National Liability and White Elephant – ‘SriLankan’
GOSL has been upbeat in particular after a successful state visit by our President to Qatar, which had willingly agreed to check the feasibility to revamp the ailing SriLankan. As a mark of honor to our President, the Government of Qatar sent an expert team within couple of hours, whilst our President was still in Qatar, to Sri Lanka to commence negotiations with SRI LANKAN. It is to be noted an earlier attempt by Qatar in 2016 did not materialize due to the indifferent attitude shown by the officials in Sri Lanka. Less than two weeks into the above process, GCEM – a subordinate body to the NEC – has listened to the unsolicited proposals by Air Asia.
Nothing seemingly wrong on paper but to the surprise once again; subject Minister for PPP initiatives Mr Kabir Hashim has been kept in dark. He had stated, quote “Minister Hashim is a member of the CCEM; he said he had neither been informed such a pitch would be made nor sent any background information. It had, however, been included in the agenda. He did not attend the meeting. ‘I am not opposing it but I am concerned,’ “Proposals of this nature have to be carefully evaluated to determine the viability and ramifications on the bleeding national carrier.”
The phrase “viability and ramifications on bleeding national carrier” becomes significant as the GOSL is in the midst of hunting for an investor to partner our beloved National Liability –SriLankan. We have already have had the experience; all probable investors have left the negotiating table due to factors ranging from ‘Low return on investment … to the sabotaging attitude of the leadership of SriLankan during PPP discussions”. The latter is a well known secret as the same Minister who was blindsided in this particular meeting has complained earlier to the President at a Cabinet of Ministers meeting with regards to the arrogant attitude displayed by the leadership of SriLankan in taking suicidal decisions sans his (subject minister’s) concurrence. The same leadership too was recently reprimanded by the Prime Minster and had been advised to work under the directions of the subject minister.
Hence, the question arises whether the said unsolicited proposal by Air Asia is being floated by interested parties to discourage the investors in coming forward to partner with SriLankan; In short, no investor will come and takeover SriLankan, which is in dire financial state unless there is volume of passengers; the vital ingredient of passenger airline operations. A budget airline is bound to eat into this as volume as the national airline too is dependent of air travelers from the low income category.
The only beneficiary of this sabotage will be the few who are on high payroll; paid by the rank and file of the public, whilst the losses of this airline continue burn the exchequer. SriLankan leadership has woken from deep slumber of two years and now talk of restructuring and will continue to talk for another couple of whilst being funded by the state. This should stop and come to an end.
The proposals by Air Asia intentionally or otherwise sabotages President’s initiatives resulting from a successful visit to Qatar. May the NEC take due cognizance into above and;
- Shelve the proposal by Air Asia due to its’ inappropriate and suspicious timing.
- Appoint an independent negotiating team outside the current leadership of SriLankan to avoid conflict of interest to evaluate and finalize Private Public Partnership (PPP) initiatives (Reporting directly to NEC).
- In an event the PPP initiatives are not forthcoming; Air Asia option may be considered, which invariably see the demise of our National Liability.
Over to you Mr President!!