The Sunday Leader

SriLankan Staff Up In Arms

by Nirmala Kannangara

Kabir Hashim and Nishantha Wickramasinghe

Employees of SriLankan Airlines are up in arms against Minister of Public Enterprise Development Kabir Hashim, for accusing the airline trade unions for their failure to protect the national carrier from lavish spending by its former Chairman Nishantha Wickremasinghe, without pointing a finger at the Management for their failure to take action against the wrongdoers whose names have been highlighted in the Weliamuna report.

Minister Kabir Hashim, when visiting SriLankan Airlines Katunayake on Wednesday July 19 had made these remarks to which the employees had been taken aback. “Instead of passing the ball on to the employees, the Minister could have reprimanded the present management for their involvement in many deals that have brought further losses to the company over the past two and a half years.

Minister Hashim lost a golden opportunity to show a plan for the way forward to the employees and give an assurance to them about the airline on behalf of its main shareholder, the Government of Sri Lanka. Had the present Board initiated inquiries into the Weliamuna report findings and removed those found guilty on charges levelled, the airline could have been improved up to a certain standard by now,” a highly reliable SriLankan official said.

According to sources, when the Minister made these remarks, none of the top management had come forward to speak on behalf of the airline. “The Minister accused the Trade Unions for their failure to object to the disastrous actions taken under Nishantha Wickremasinghe’s tenure that had left the airline bleeding to death, but said not a word against the present management who too are responsible for the present state of affairs at SriLankan Airlines (SLA). The airline staff volunteered fearlessly, to spill out the manner in which the company was run by the former regime with all proven documents and evidence.

Unfortunately those who are accused in the Weliamuna report are still holding high positions or have even been promoted to higher grades by the present management. This has left frustration, discontent and loss of faith on the management in particular and the good governance administration in general,” sources who wished to remain anonymous told The Sunday Leader.

According to the sources, although Minister Hashim remembered only how Nishantha Wickremasinghe misused the airline funds for his personal benefits and how a female cabin crew member was sent to work for Namal Rajapaksa’s ‘Nil Balakaya’, the minister had completely forgotten as to how the same old guard that aided and abetted the then-Chairman and the then-Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kapila Chandrasena are still working at the national carrier without facing any inquiry with the blessings of the present Chairman Ajith Dias and the Board of Directors.

“If the good governance administrators really want to bring all the crooks to book and recover the public wealth they have plundered, the Prime Minister could have instructed the SLA Chairman, who is a close ally and the Board to initiate inquiries based on the Weliamuna report and clean up the institution.  Its two years and four months since the report had been submitted to the Minister but not a single action had been taken against those who were involved in abuse of power that had led to a loss of colossal sum of public money,” sources added.

According to the sources, it has now come to light as to why Chairman Ajith Dias does not want to implement the Weliamuna report findings because of his business partner’s close relationship with the former CEO Kapila Chandrasena.

“Chairman Dias’ business partner is a reputed former Sri Lankan Cricketer whose wife and Kapila Chandrasena’s wife are twins. Because of this relationship, the Chairman does not want to initiate the investigations where Chandrasena is accused of many frauds in the airline. The Weliamuna report has exposed how unqualified the former CEO was to hold the post when his qualification and experience was in the field of telecommunication. Furthermore his appointment as the CEO was void of any competitive interview process and the appointment was not motivated in the best interest of SLA but was for a clear collateral purpose which was a major contributing factor for the colossal losses incurred by the airline,” sources added.

According to the sources, in line with the good governance concept, the present management’s failure to allow the airline’s own accounts department to handle the salaries of the senior management that had been outsourced from Emirates administration period, which had been brought to the notice of the subject Ministers on many occasions, had not been raised but only the trade unions that came under severe criticism.

“In order to conceal top management’s salary details from rest of the staff, during Emirates time handling the top managements’ salaries were outsourced. Since there is no transparency in this procedure, we wanted the new management to allow the airlines own accounts department to handle the salaries of all its employees irrespective of their positions. This could save millions of rupees monthly from the cash-strapped airline. The minister would have accused the management for their failure to act in line with the good governance concept rather than accusing the trade unions saying that it is good to bury this airline which had never been stated by any other politician,” sources added.

Meanwhile it is learnt how the Weliamuna inquiry report had observed that there were clear irregularities propelled by the Head of Human Resources (HHR) Pradeep Kekulawala where certain promotions and key appointments had affected the morale and productivity of the airline.

“Kekulawala who is accused in the report had been given more responsibilities and even further to make his own decisions, even if they are against the company regulations. Staff Vacancy Notices (SVN) are displayed in the office, but the employees have lost faith in this system as the interview panel blatantly violates the company regulations and standards. The management pre-selects their friends, and political buddies, for the most vital positions. The recent appointment of Manager Thailand, without even facing an interview despite his poor past record, is one such disgusting example of the abuse and barefaced disregard for policy and procedure flaunted by the key decision makers of the Airline. Most of the employees now prefer to avoid applying for these biased, one-sided interviews, since the selections are made prior to the interviews on the recommendation of the HHR. A military officer who had no knowledge in HR was recruited during the former administration and due to a disciplinary issue he was transferred to another section. During the present administration this officer had been promoted as Head of Service Division. It was the same with Dimuthu Tennakoon, against whom there are allegations but recently he was promoted Head of World Sales under whom the entire commercial division comes. Tennakoon who was the Regional Manager – Asia Pacific is accused of disregarding the appointment procedure under the General Sales Agents (GSA) manual completely in regard to the Appointment of GSAs in the territories of Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore and Thailand. Although the employees have lost faith in HHR, still Chairman Dias wants him to handle the grievances and harassments the employees undergo,” sources alleged.

Levelling allegations against the Head of Commercial Division who is drawing a monthly remuneration of over Rs. 3 million, the sources said as to what made the Chairman to appoint such a person who has so far not performed well in the post. “When there was a proposal to start a daily flight to Melbourne from October, the Head of the Commercial Division should have outlined what the end result would be once the daily operation is started. He should have been aware whether this would be a viable project or not. At a recent board meeting, this officer was asked to submit a report to the Board justifying the operation to Melbourne. When the Commercial Division informed the Board that they have sold 8,000 tickets to Australia from the inaugural flight up to March 2018, the Board was thrilled and surprised assuming that this is a record number.

There are 300 seats and during the inbound and outbound journeys 600 seats have to be calculated and for one month this amount should be multiplied by 30 days which comes to 18, 000 and for the six months it should be multiplied by 6 which comes to 108, 000. Out of the 108, 000 seats, how can the Management be proud of selling 8, 000 seats to date for the entire period? It was a good number for the Commercial Division and surprisingly that number became ‘extremely good’ for the management which shows their ignorance,” sources claimed.

The sources further alleged the present management for pulling out SLA from certain viable European destinations.

“SLA should never have pulled out of Europe. Before pulling out from these European destinations the Chairman said that going to Europe is a dead loss. In fact, the airline should have increased the frequency of flights, bringing in more tourists, enhancing the snow ball effect of benefits to the tourism industry, right down to the grass-root level hotelier and the people in indirect enterprise attached to the industry. The dynamic behaviours of different markets with stiff competition is overlooked and often the delay in reacting nor taking rapid, effective and proactive measures, results in an abysmal financial performance for SLA,” sources alleged.

However Minister Kabir Hashim rejecting the allegation levelled against him said that he never accused the trade union members, but made the allegation to all employees for being silent when blatant corruption was taking place during the previous regime under Nishantha Wickremasinghe.

“None of the employees had the guts to stand up against the losses amounting to billions of rupees at that time. I pointed out the lapses that had occurred during the previous management and what happened subsequently under the new management. Their failure to implement the Board of Inquiry (BoI) report submitted by the four member committee chaired by J. C. Weliamuna was also raised at this meeting,” Minister Hashim said.

When asked whether instructions have been given to the SLA Management to initiate the investigations based on the Weliamuna report, Minister Hashim said that no such instructions have been given but his ministry will be initiating an inquiry.

“I cannot tell as to when the Ministry will hold these inquiries, but it will be done sooner rather than later,” the Minister said.

5 Comments for “SriLankan Staff Up In Arms”

  1. ed

    Mr.Kabir Hashim should not cover up and forget the damages incurred by the airline. He should point out that Mr. Welliamuna’s report should be followed and clean up the airline immediately because we need people who are productive to run the state owned airline. these people are so politicized during the former regime NOW is the time to get back to square one and get the airline gaining profits. We are a bankrupt country due to former regime mishandling the monies which belonged to the airline in order to compete with the world best airlines.
    Next, we should not look into family connections as if we need to run the airline then some drastic actions should take place. There is no place for favoritism .Everyone gets a pay and everyone should complete their job to the airline standard. If the management has to fire someone they should do it NO EXCUSE!

  2. Srilankan Airlines fly daily to and from London. The fares are high compared with even Emirates. Despite this the airline is losing heavily. In Europe we have this chap called Manoj, some sort of Director. Do we really need this chap in Europe and for what. I understand he is paid £8,000 per month salary plus house rent and other perks. Manoj was the ex CEO of the airline and step brother of Sajin. If we keep these sort of people in various part of our net work how can you expect the airline to make money. Look at Kapila, the person who was involved in various issues, still holding a top job at the airline. To me both SLFP and UNP are the same when it comes to ruin our country.

  3. Birds of a feather flock together ,
    The top people of all the political parties,join together when it comes to protecting each other,
    This is corruption at it’s worse.

  4. This type of corruption is like a Cancer,kill it or the company would die.

  5. Mangala

    Kabir is just a clown. Current CEO and Chairmen appointed and get back support by PM Ranil. Kabir took 2 years to visit SLA. That proves he cannot do anything. Active ministers will act fast and correctly, if they are tied hand, better give up the institution and clean own hand. He also sent his supporters to SLA with letters of recommendations. Kabir can’t blame on employees, He should blame on himself coz UNP still couldn’t address political victim cases against SLA. Nearly 3 years gone, nothing but bullshit talks. I won 13 year long court case against former SLA management, but still that former management is up and running and they took me back to work and terminate my service again insulting court order. UNP higher ups relations are enjoying.

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