MR Using Sri Lankan Airlines As His Private Jet
By Nirmala Kannangara
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is using Sri Lankan Airlines as his private jet forcing the airline to face financial losses, officials at the airline allege.
Well informed sources claim that the airline is incurring millions of rupees in losses solely due to President Rajapaksa not using regular flights as was done by all previous Presidents..
“It is disheartening to see the manner in which Sri Lankan Airlines aircraft are used by the First Family as if it is their own property. It was shocking that President Mahinda Rajapaksa came back to the country in between his official visit to Thailand recently to attend the wedding of the Livestock and Rural Community Development Minister Arumugam Thondaman’s daughter. He is suing planss as if it is a cab service. We want to know whether the president paid for this personal tour or whether it was borne by the Presidential Secretariat or by the national airline. Further we want to find out as to why the flight in which the President and his entourage flew to London a fortnight ago came back empty without carrying back passengers from Heathrow. These are the losses that the airline incurred, thanks to Rajapaksa family,” the source said. Officials further alleged that attempts to obtain information from the airline management on who was paying for the aircraft in which the President and his entourage travels abroad had failed.
“The management is silent when these questions are raised. President Rajapaksa is the first Head of State who flew in a separate flight with such a huge entourage. We have seen as to how Presidents J.R. Jayawardene, R. Premadasa and Chandrika Kumaratunge took regular flights when they were President. We are even suspicious if some Bollywood stars were flown down for the Carlton Super Rugby Tournament recently courtesy Sri Lankan Airlines,” sources said.
Officials claimed that it was unfair by the staff who work on 13 rosters (28 days per month) without casual, weekend and Poya leave and lesser annual leave to provide uninterrupted service to the passengers but are not paid for the additional work owing to losses.
“This cannot be continued as although we work hardly without any leave we are not paid for the additional days. Pilots, Cabin Crew, Ground Staff, Technicians and Engineers work 28 days per month. When these days are multiplied by 12 months it clearly shows that these employees have worked for 13 months during a calendar year. Why aren’t we paid for that extra month? The simple reason given was that they cannot afford to pay one month additional salary as they do not have money. If so how can they afford to allow the President to trot all over the world spending SLA money,” sources said.
President Rajapaksa had meanwhile informed officials to pay the airline staff an incentive in December 2009 prior to the 2010 presidential election, sources added.
“We were paid this extra payment as an election gimmick in order to get votes for President Rajapaksa. We termed this payment as ‘General’s Salary’ as if not for Sarath Fonseka we wouldn’t have got this. However we were surprised as to why the other staff categories that do not work 13 rosters too were paid an additional one moth salary. If they were paid a bonus we too would have paid a bonus other than the 13th month salary,” sources added.
Meanwhile the cabin crew is up in arms against the airline management for allowing Sri Lankan stewardess Senali Senanayake to fly one short duration flight per month and the rest of the days to work as the Personal Secretary of Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa.
“In addition to these benefits, she is also given all the VVIP flight work as well. Who has given her this authority when the rest of the cabin crew has only 8-10 off days per month? However she is paid by the airline and her service is provided to Namal Rajapaksa. Who has allowed the airline to pay a stewardess to fly only a short duration flight,” sources said.
They further accused the airline management of not taking any disciplinary action against Senanayake after she was found guilty for trying to influence the Human Resources Department to get one of the failed Cadet Pilot applicants recruited.
“She was found guilty for trying to influence the HR department pretending the call was from Namal Rajapaksa’s office. She has u rged the HR department to re-consider the matter. However it was only later that the HR department identified who the caller was. Had this happened to anyone else in the airline, strict disciplinary action would have been taken but in this instance the airline management is silent,” sources added.
The Sunday Leader contacted Lalith Fernando of the airlines Corporate Communications Division on Wednesday for comment on these allegations but no response was received by the time the newspaper went to print.