The plight of the national carrier | Daily News

The plight of the national carrier

The doings at the country’s national carrier, SriLankan, are gradually beginning to unravel with the testimony now being heard by the Presidential Commission appointed to probe the irregularities at the SriLankan, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka. The latest to give evidence before the Commission was President of the Airline Pilots’ Guild of Sri Lanka Ruwan Vithanage. According to him, since the termination of the Emirates partnership, the Chairmen, CEOs and boards of directors appointed had not contributed to the development of the airline. “Most of the Chairmen, CEOs and Directors appointed after the exit of the Emirates management were selected on the basis of family and political connections”, he told the Commission, as reported by an English Daily yesterday, as its main story.

The national carrier is and has been a happy milch cow for many with political influence, to milk dry. As a result, all successive governments had to shoulder a heavy financial burden to keep the airline afloat. The present government is still grappling with the problem of finding a suitable partner to bail out SriLankan.

All those guilty of bringing the national carrier to its present sorry pass should be punished and their ill-gotten wealth confiscated. The shenanigans at SriLankan, during the Rajapaksa regime, were disclosed in detail in the Weliamuna Committee report. Why no action was taken is a mystery. This, while disclosures in the Presidential Commission report on the bond issue even led to the resignation of a government minister.

Relatives of government politicians being appointed to top posts in government departments and corporation is nothing new in this country. However there should be justification for such appointments. To begin with, he /she so appointed should be qualified to hold the post. In this respect one can fully justify MR appointing his younger brother Gotabhaya as Defence Secretary, at a time of war. He (Gota) had the credentials to hold the post, being well acquainted with battle strategy, as an ex-soldier himself. However, the same cannot be said of the appointment of his brother-in-law as Chairman SriLankan. Here was an individual plucked from nowhere to head the country’s national carrier, no less.

The Weliamuna Committee report goes deeply into how the national carrier was plunged into a financial black hole in which it is still wallowing. It also unearthed the sleaze and the sex scandals that were the norm and how the country’s national carrier and its female staff were used as playthings, while billions of rupees of public money was being squandered to pander to the whims of the country’s first family.

We say this because there were well published reports of flights being diverted to fetch the chairman from pleasure sojourns in far off countries and also an empty plane dispatched to ferry a choice canine for a powerful member of the Rajapaksa family. Then, there was the famous episode where the refusal of the Emirates CEO to offload ‘first class’ passengers to accommodate a family entourage of the Rajapaksas, in a foreign destination, led to the exit of the premier airline and the beginning of the woes for the national carrier.

All this, while the government keeps on scoring own goals naming and shaming its own members who are paraded before various commissions and being penalized, and, what is more, affording the opportunity for its critics to point the accusing finger at the government when the guns should be trained in the other direction.

Those responsible for this national crime are today not even in the picture while the main topic is the bond scam and a so called list of names of politicians who benefited from Perpetual Treasuries.

We reiterated in these spaces that the government gets its act together and honour the pledge it gave to the people to rope in the thieves and plunderers. It should go after all those who drove the national carrier to the ground and recover the loot.

The fate of SriLankan is only one instance where billions were lost to the country due to the indulgences of the Rajapaksa clan. There are other acts of mega corruption which have escaped the attention of the public thanks to the government’s laissez-faire attitude in bringing the culprits to book. There was the infamous Hedging Deal which inflicted an astronomical financial loss on the country and the Greek bond issue which cost the economy dearly. The masterminds behind these swindles are today giving statements to the pro-Rajapaksa media on the parlous state of the economy, such as the individual who Governed the premier bank in the country and another who played a major role in the stock market manipulation, allowing the pump and dump artistes to have a field day.

It is strange that no investigation has been launched into stock market manipulations in the past, which constitute a financial crime, although at the time the UNP leaders were very vocal on this matter. At least some of those militant UNP backbenchers should agitate for action, even at this late stage, so that all those now pontificating on the economy will be unmasked.


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