According to a massive cache of documents released by Sri Lanka’s national carrier, SriLankan Airlines to the Right to Information Commission this week (July 17th), SriLankan had incurred a gargantuan loss of LKR 25,698,782,200 to Aercap as a result of the termination of lease agreements entered into for four Airbus A350s, a few years ago.
Also among the information released were salary particulars of three top officials of SriLankan, the CEO (LKR 3, 270,000/-), the Head of Human Resources (LKR 998, 004/-) and the Chief Commercial Officer (GBP 9500/-). All three were given a host of other benefits in addition, with the national carrier footing a hefty bill of the former CEO Suren Ratwatte amounting to USD 23, 568 for the cost of personal flying training. On Saturday (21st), trade unionists at SriLankan protested following the information release, pointing out that a gross injustice had been caused as the salaries given to other employees of SriLankan were paltry in comparison.
The information released by SriLankan Airlines was on Order of the RTI Commission (RTIC) handed down on 12th June 2018. The Commission, comprising M Gammampila, Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, Rohini Walgama, S. Thiruchandran and SG Punchihewa had observed that; ‘…where the public purse is concerned, and the alleged financial irregularities of a particular Public Authority are under scrutiny in an Appeal before us, this Commission will be particularly watchful of the public interest.’
The Order was after the Commission considered an appeal filed by the Airline Pilots Guild when SriLankan refused its information requests last year. Former Chairman of the Board of Directors had announced in public in December 2017 that the Board will not release the information as privacy concerns of top executives would be infringed. Later, SriLankan pleaded before the Commission that the RTI Act did not apply to it, which objection was dismissed.
Following detailed hearings thereafter, the national airline released the information. Sources from SriLankan Airlines informed CT that it had wished to appeal against the Order and had asked for time to respond to the RTI Commission last month. However, the decision had been taken not to appeal on the very day that it was due to report back to the Commission (17th July). CT learns that the twenty-five page Commission Order dealing equitably with various legal aspects of the information challenge was one consideration that had influenced the decision not to appeal.
Also released were Minutes of Board Meetings held on 1 March 2013, 14 March 2013, 9th September 2014 (including at then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa’s residence) and on 9th March 2016, 28th September 2016 relating to; Purchase of 4 A350 aircraft, lease of three A350 aircraft, cancellation of lease of 1 A350 aircraft (due to have been delivered in Nov 2017 and termination of lease of3 A350 aircraft due to have been delivered in October and November 2016. In addition, 2 wet lease agreements with PIA and termination agreements with AerCap were released.
The RTI Commission will consider, in early September, the release of the final tranche of documents comprising reports of aviation consultants Nyras, Seabury and Seaworks relating to, among other things, the restructuring of the struggling national carrier. SriLankan has been plagued with mismanagement, financial profligacy and inefficiency during both the Rajapaksa and Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Governments and is currently kept afloat with injections of colossal funds from the Treasury.