The Sunday Leader

Storm Clouds Hover Over National Carrier

  • Allegations that Rajapaksa loyalists are still ‘ruining’ the show
  • Controversial appointments
  • Non-implementation of Weliamuna recommendations
  • Failure to appoint the best to critical stations

by Nirmala Kannangara

Board of Inquiry Chairman J. C. Weliamuna handing over the report to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, while Minister of Ports Arjuna Ranatunga looks on

There is much concern in SriLankan Airlines circles as to the manner in which the national carrier is being pushed into becoming a further debt-ridden institution.

It is alleged that the Board of Directors have divided into two groups and do not see eye to eye over certain decisions that have adversely affected the national carrier. Reliable inside sources who wished to remain anonymous told The Sunday Leader that it is disheartening to know that the Director Board is allowing Rajapaksa loyalists who mismanaged the airline during the previous regime with the then infamous Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe, to further ruin the institution.

Further, questions have been raised as to why the SriLankan Airlines Board of Directors have so far failed to implement the recommendations of the Weliamuna Report which would greatly help the cash-strapped national carrier to gain profits once again.

“We expected the yahapalanaya administration to remove the inexperienced Rajapaksa loyalists recruited and given promotions during Nishantha Wickramasinghe’s administration and bring back the experienced officials to run the airline. Dashing all our hopes, only the faces in the Board of Directors changed after the January 8 victory, but the people who have so many allegations against them have been given a free hand to ruin the national carrier further,” sources claimed.

 

A military officer

“The controversial appointment of the former Head of Inflight Services as General Manager (Airport and Ground Services) on February 8 is one example as to how Rajapaksa stooges is well looked after by the Board of Directors. This particular employee was a military officer and walked into the Human Resources Department of Sri Lankan Airlines with a letter from the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, to get the position of Head of Inflight Services.

The only qualification he had to get that position was Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s letter that instructed Sri Lankan Airlines to offer him the post. However after he assaulted one of his managers he was transferred to the Security and Investigations Department but interestingly, no disciplinary action was taken against him. Instead, the present administration gave him a promotion as General Manager (Airport and Ground Services),” the sources claimed.

According to the sources, six highly experienced applicants within the institution applied for the same post although it was given to the applicant who had neither the experience nor any idea of how to discharge duties in the new post.

“Since the new General Manager (Airport and Ground Services) does not have any experience, a former senior airport official who went on retirement a few months ago was re-recruited as Consultant (Airport Services) early this month to assist the new General Manager (Airport and Ground Services).

Addressing a certain section of our staff, CEO Suren Ratwatte has said the most experienced person was selected for the said post. If he is the most experienced person for the post, then why was a consultant recruited to assist him? Isn’t this an additional burden to the already debt-ridden airline?” the sources alleged.

According to the sources, during Nishantha Wickramasinghe’s administration, it was this same person together with then CEO Kapila Chandrasena that awarded the General Sales Agencies (GSA) to nine far eastern countries out of tender procedure. “This had an adverse impact on the airline, and they were planning to give China, the third largest market, to one of their stooges as well. Luckily the government changed before this was given,” the sources further claimed.

It is also now expected that the airline will in May this year appoint as Chief Marketing Officer, SriLankan Airlines, a senior officer currently working for Emirates Airlines, heaping more loss upon the institution. “This particular Emirates official is a senior person who has the expertise and knowledge, but our question is what made SriLankan Airlines  appoint a Chief Marketing Officer carrying a salary of more than one million rupees when a Chief Commercial Officer has been appointed? We understand that it is a very senior minister in the government that had wanted the airline to reserve this post till May as the Emirates official is expected to go on retirement in May this year,” the sources said.

Speaking about the appointment of Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) SriLankan Airlines, the sources said employees were surprised as to why a salary of a staggering Rs. 3.8 million is paid per month to this new appointee.

“In addition to the monthly remuneration, he is being given a two hundred and forty thousand rupee housing rent plus other perks. Half the Board members were against paying such a high salary to the CCO but the Chairman, the CEO and a few members of the Board went ahead to pay him this salary when other Board members were strictly against the idea,” the sources added.

Meanwhile, it is also learnt how the Head of Cargo who was taken on contract basis during the previous regime was made permanent on January 1, 2016 despite his failure to make the cargo division accrue profits. “He was brought to the airline by Namal Rajapaksa as this Head of Cargo was in Nil Balakaya. The cargo division began losing over Rs. 100 million per month since his appointment. In addition he was given a warning letter for obtaining a vehicle allowance despite being given a company maintained vehicle. Despite all this, we are surprised as to why he was made permanent,” the sources claimed.

The sources further accused the management of failure to appoint experienced staff to critical stations to prevent losses, as at present most of these critical stations are incurring losses. “If the government appointed people that have experience in the airline trade to the Board of Directors, this situation would not have occurred.

 

Critical areas neglected

Since they do not know what the critical areas are and how to minimise losses, they do not know the importance of appointing the best officials to the right positions. The previous regime sent a Grade 11 (G11) Senior Manager to Singapore where only 19 flights are operating every week. This station makes only US$ 12 million per annum, and there is no necessity to send a senior manager to such a place. The former Head of World Sales who was the Campaign Manager of Sajin Vass Gunawardena appointed all his friends to critical stations although they did not have the experience. No one could question these appointees. After the fall of the Rajapaksa regime, we briefed the new management of this but to no avail. These complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Although Colombo is the main critical station with a monthly turnover of over Rs. 1.5 billion, still the inexperienced officer who was appointed by the former Head of World Sales is given the freedom to carry out his duties. Under these circumstances, cash-strapped SriLankan Airlines will incur further losses,” the sources alleged.

Meanwhile there is also concern over why SriLankan Airlines is still considering going ahead with the controversial air bus deal made by the previous regime.

“A country such as ours does not need to have A350 aircraft that can fly for more than 14 hours continuously. Public Enterprises Development Minister Kabir Hashim is on record stating that the State owned carrier is making losses on its long-haul routes. If so, why does the government still want to go ahead with the deal to purchase aircraft that are manufactured for long haul journeys?” the sources queried.

However refuting these allegations, a SriLankan Airlines Spokesman said some of the recommendations in the Weliamuna Report had been implemented and the recommendations that cannot be implemented internally are now being investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID), Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption and the Presidential Commission of Inquiry for Fraud and Corruption (PRECIFAC).

“When we informed the 11 member committee appointed by the Prime Minister what we implemented out of the Weliamuna Report recommendations, the committee was satisfied with the implementations. Hence, no one can say that we did not implement any recommendation of the report,” the Spokesman said.

He further said the appointment of the General Manager (Airport and Ground Services) was made on the recommendation of Minister Kabir Hashim and Deputy Minister Eran Wickramaratne. “This particular officer is a highly decorated war veteran and is the most suitable person to stop the human smuggling that is taking place at the airport. Those who are levelling allegations do not want to stop the human smuggling racket but to continue it. Although there were allegations levelled against the newly appointed General Manager, the Minister and the Deputy Minister after going through the investigation reports, cleared him of all the allegations,” the Spokesman said.

 

Consultant

The Spokesman, however, said he was not aware as to whether a consultant had been recruited to help out the newly appointed General Manager (Airport and Ground Services).

According to the Spokesman, there are three vacancies to be filled at the Marketing Division but added that since it is not necessary considering the present financial crisis, the airline will not fill the vacancies.

“We have never reserved the Chief Marketing Officer’s post for someone who is presently working for another airline. As claimed by your sources, the airline did not recruit the Chief Commercial Officer for a monthly salary of Rs. 3.8 million. He is paid a very much lower salary. It is interesting that the questions your newspaper is posing had been raised at COPE as well. It is an organised group that is spreading all these rumours,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Spokesman confirmed to this newspaper that the airline had made the Head of Cargo permanent. Speaking of appointments to stations, he said new appointments were made to all stations six months ago and added that those who were incompetent were re-called and those who are competent appointed in their place.

In regard to the A350 airbus deal, the Spokesman said the airline is making every effort to cancel the contract. “At the moment we have enough of aircraft and do not need any more. We are legally obliged to go ahead with the deal but are trying to get this cancelled which is not an easy task,” he said.

 

11 Comments for “Storm Clouds Hover Over National Carrier”

  1. Banda

    This army officer was not permitted to do any work at the inflight as there was the power struggle by the manager pimp service of crew who arranged crew for the former chairman his relation then! Now he says he is not a relation! Time service! This department too needs a white wash, all the former chairmans providers are still there. The training school too has nil balakaya people.

    • Lucky

      Yes very true , the general manager at the IAA ,pumping cash to nilbalkaya ,to maintain his position ,srilankan cabin crew strike lead by this person during emirates regime and the damage for that one day strike was more than 100m ,it is up to the senior management to decide to keep him at the present post?….

    • Saman

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      This is equivalent to looking up and spitting onto your own face. The very act of sending this so called letter to the management on the part of the FAU simply highlights what level of thinking these shoddy opportunists have. Surely they are of the view that that they have dealt a massive blow to the airline and thus shown their power and their wit. More like their lack of wit, while this issue warrants a proper checking with regard to taxability of allowances, these donkeys seem to forget that there is a 10% employee contribution, fair enough it is a saving but in the short term flight attendants and pilots would most likely have to cough up the due contribution on said allowances if deemed taxable. Another jolly good fact is, these allowances would become eligible for PAYE tax deductions.

      I dare anyone able to contact UL and demand information with regard to the ridiculous collective agreements signed by FAU and former CEO CHAIRMAN. Under these conditions, the cabin crew were able to sleep their way to fixed annual increases in salary over a period of time regardless of performance. Further perhaps worth noting only Cabin Crew, Pilots and Engineers get a set of confirmed tickets in addition to their free of charge sub load ( can fly only when free seats available on flight). Under this scheme, these crew are entitled to book a free ticket on any flight they choose and would be recognized as equal to any paying passenger therefore there is a huge opportunity cost for heavy flights by honoring these deals. The rest of the staff in UL are paid well below industry standards and enjoy very little in terms of benefits. These staff could be considered the life blood of the airline and yet are paid a mere pittance in comparison to the crew.

      It is common knowledge how several individuals received promotions over the past few years, performance appraisals in the sheets and the infamous NivasiPura residence of Sudu Maama. How can there bot be any action taken on these gross violations of conduct and procedure.

      How can nobody question the remuneration paid to Manoj Gunawardena while he sits pretty in London doing diddly squat. Or question why he was allowed to restructure the commercial division of the airline as he saw fit, conveniently ensuring he retains his approximate 1.5 million monthly payday with luxury house and vehicle in the UK. Is UL responsible to ensure he is in London to be eligible to apply for PR or citizenship perhaps? How to justify air headed women such as Mrs. Rodrigo being promoted as senior manager to only head up a Frequent Flyer Program and that too without any focus. A former politico campaign manager to Sajin Vas, formerly heading sales and now banished to Mihin Lanka.

      When will somebody realize that Mihin has become the little sister that nobody needs and yet continues to throw the family fortune away. The logic of having this lousy Mahinda namesake still in operation and that too in competition with the national carrier is dumbfounding. Clearly action is needed. whether it will be taken is a good question.

      Basically the hardworking ground staff and head office staff are left standing with their pants down, jocks hanging the balance and a set of clippers swaying perilously to and fro from the jewels..

  2. What about over 260 million USD taken as Commissions on sales of Airbus Aircraft by Nimal Cooke undeclared and taxes not paid and the funds in offshore accounts?

  3. anonymous

    Enough evidence to arrest ‘Gota’.

  4. Manuelpillai

    Why there is fear in arresting Gota?

    • Das

      Gota has the “goods” on important persons of the new regime. Hence, he cannot be arrested.
      He is the man who also incarcerated hundreds under the PTA without any proof of wrong doing.

  5. Shaul

    In 2010 a barrel of oil was trading at $100 and today the price of oil is $30 a barrel. Most International carriers are reaping record profits due to low oil price. If Sri Lankan Airlines is not able to operate profitably due to inefficiency and politicization of it’s operation, it is time to privatize it. It is sad, but that the only way you are going to save the taxpayers money.

  6. Saman

    This is equivalent to looking up and spitting onto your own face. The very act of sending this so called letter to the management on the part of the FAU simply highlights what level of thinking these shoddy opportunists have. Surely they are of the view that that they have dealt a massive blow to the airline and thus shown their power and their wit. More like their lack of wit, while this issue warrants a proper checking with regard to taxability of allowances, these donkeys seem to forget that there is a 10% employee contribution, fair enough it is a saving but in the short term flight attendants and pilots would most likely have to cough up the due contribution on said allowances if deemed taxable. Another jolly good fact is, these allowances would become eligible for PAYE tax deductions.

    I dare anyone able to contact UL and demand information with regard to the ridiculous collective agreements signed by FAU and former CEO CHAIRMAN. Under these conditions, the cabin crew were able to sleep their way to fixed annual increases in salary over a period of time regardless of performance. Further perhaps worth noting only Cabin Crew, Pilots and Engineers get a set of confirmed tickets in addition to their free of charge sub load ( can fly only when free seats available on flight). Under this scheme, these crew are entitled to book a free ticket on any flight they choose and would be recognized as equal to any paying passenger therefore there is a huge opportunity cost for heavy flights by honoring these deals. The rest of the staff in UL are paid well below industry standards and enjoy very little in terms of benefits. These staff could be considered the life blood of the airline and yet are paid a mere pittance in comparison to the crew.

    It is common knowledge how several individuals received promotions over the past few years, performance appraisals in the sheets and the infamous NivasiPura residence of Sudu Maama. How can there bot be any action taken on these gross violations of conduct and procedure.

    How can nobody question the remuneration paid to Manoj Gunawardena while he sits pretty in London doing diddly squat. Or question why he was allowed to restructure the commercial division of the airline as he saw fit, conveniently ensuring he retains his approximate 1.5 million monthly payday with luxury house and vehicle in the UK. Is UL responsible to ensure he is in London to be eligible to apply for PR or citizenship perhaps? How to justify air headed women such as Mrs. Rodrigo being promoted as senior manager to only head up a Frequent Flyer Program and that too without any focus. A former politico campaign manager to Sajin Vas, formerly heading sales and now banished to Mihin Lanka.

    When will somebody realize that Mihin has become the little sister that nobody needs and yet continues to throw the family fortune away. The logic of having this lousy Mahinda namesake still in operation and that too in competition with the national carrier is dumbfounding. Clearly action is needed. whether it will be taken is a good question.

    Basically the hardworking ground staff and head office staff are left standing with their pants down, jocks hanging the balance and a set of clippers swaying perilously to and fro from the jewels..

  7. Saman

    Maybe people should look into how Mr. Dilan Ariyawansa, a close aide of MR himself is still holding the GSA contracts to Australia and even USA, CANADA if not mistaken. These are highly lucrative contracts which rake in millions in commissions and incentives. However the management turns a blind eye. The focus is yet to cater to the Golden Oldies of the airline, giving them all the vital roles in the company and watching them further run it into the ground. This Airline has managers who are only with A level qualifications, The need of the hour is to revise the retirement age and enforce such. Get rid of old lethargic staff who are drawing salaries amounting to multiple lakhs due to years of service and compulsory increments. Imagine the cost saving when there are young blooded graduates, talented qualified staff in the company who are capable of handling these operations and draw a fraction of the salary of these ridiculous outdated individuals. Why bother spending money or scouting and recruiting high performers ,obtaining their skills at comparatively low cost only to just sideline them and continue to pour tonnes of cash into the pockets of a range of expired potatoes. New retirement age should be 55 Years, plain and simple. When will management realize that reducing this excess workforce which has become a huge burden would not only lead to higher productivity and performance but would also garner in the new thinking that has long been the need of the hour. Much to be done. Hopefully the readers of Colombo Telegraph can do us a favour and highlight these to people of decision making caliber.

  8. Mahen

    Srilanka had a national airline since the 60s, long before many of the airlines of the Middle East and even Singapore and Malaysia. However, in spite of having a large diaspora who regularly fly to Colombo in addition to a significant tourist population we are still an incompetent loss making air line! What a shame!

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