The Board of Inquiry into the misappropriations of Sri Lankan Airlines has revealed the former President’s brother-in-law Nishantha Wickramasinghe in his capacity as the Chairman of SLA, misappropriated funds of the institution to lease three houses which he had used for ‘other purposes’.
The BoI report notes that Wickramasinsghe first appointed as a Director who was then appointed as the Chairman by PB Jayasundara, had been paid a monthly allowance of Rs. 500,000 along with other perks although his conduct has been described as ‘appalling’ in several aspects even by the CEO Kapila Chandrasena.
The BoI team states that there was no apparent justification for the former Chairman to have engaged on a full-time basis. The Chairman however had said that it was the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who wanted him to be in SLA on a full-time basis but that the CEO and other officials have not been able to give any reasons as to why he was appointed on a full-time basis.
Wickramasinghe had been paid a monthly housing allowance which had not been specified. Investigation has revealed that he exploited this loophole to the maximum through which he had required the SLA to lease three houses in Ja-Ela, Andiambalama and Seeduwa, justifying the leases stating that since he visits the SLA office at night he has to live in those houses.
When he was confronted with the electricity bill of each house, he had said he lived in those houses alone. However, Major General Chandrawansa’s statement has made it evident that Wickramasinghe was lying since he had stated that the Chairman was using the houses for ‘other purposes’.
The former President’s brother in law had also been provided with a company car (Mercedes Benz bearing no: KL 4449) but he had also assigned for himself two other vehicles through loan agreements SLA entered into with certain other financial institutions. A Montero (no WP KV 3836) had been secured by submitting fraudulent documents and a Prado (no: WP CAB 707 ) had also been acquired.
He had also been provided with a driver, fuel allowance and a company mobile. However, apart from the entitled allowances, he had obtained a phone connection an Apple iPad and six other phones, which he still hasn’t handed over despite resigning on January 9.
The inquiry team also notes that there is prime facie evidence to support complaints of the Chairman’s ‘personal interest in certain members of the cabin crew’ and he had personally participated in the interview of the cabin crew. There have been complaints of favoritism and inappropriate association between him and certain cabin crew members and the inquiry team has noted that evidence pointing to such behavior has exposed SLA to abuse of power and has even caused reputational risks to the airline as well as financial losses.
The report contains details of one such inappropriate association of Wickramasinghe with a cabin crew member named Chathurika Muhandiram. He had appointed her, without any authority, as a brand ambassador of the SLA.
There has been no such appointment or recognition of such a post officially known to SLA and the CEO as well as the Head of HR have been unable to provide details as to how such a position was created.
Upon inquiry, the cabin crew member in question had said that she was appointed by the SLA but had been evasive and had not wished to speak on how she received her appointment. Wickramsinghe had however justified it crediting it to her competence, talents and had also said that she was related to him and that he knows her since her childhood.
Investigations had revealed that she with Wickramasinghe, travelled to Vietnam for the APOT Asia Forum in 2014 on two business class tickets, which were purchased by the SLA as revenue from another airlines.
BOI team has also noted allegations of sexual harassment that have not been keenly dealt with. The report notes that representations made by victims who made complaints of sexual harassment particularly against persons holding top managerial positions had not been adequately dealt with. The Head of Human Resources Kakulawala had said that in order to find an employee guilty of sexual harassment, the evidence should be proven beyond reasonable doubt and had said that it’s as difficult as proving rape.
The team has noted that such an approach is unacceptable especially when female employees can become vulnerable in the airline industry.