ECONOMYNEXT- The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into irregularities at the state-owned SriLankan Airlines this week questioned the senior security official at the airline over years of delay in complying with European standards and missing documents which led to refloating a tender for security scanners.
Senior Security Manager Titus Kannangara, currently acting as Head of Security, testified that SriLankan had pledged to comply with the European Union’s (EU) ACC3 regulations on security in 2012, as noncompliance would increase the time and cost of exports for Sri Lankan manufacturers.
Compliance with ACC3 regulations was the choice of a country, and not mandatory according to international or national regulations, he said.
However, he said that since the EU did not distribute the regulations to compliant members, the SriLankan country representative in the UK was responsible for collecting the regulatory documents and sending them to the head office in Sri Lanka.
“The London Station Manager had to go and get them. We got the hard copies on our flights in January 2014,” Kannangara said, as commission members questioned the two-year delay in complying with ACC3.
By then, SriLankan’s security department was in the middle of a tender for two x-ray baggage scanners, and one heavy cargo x-ray scanner.
The airline had selected Nimrod Systems (Pvt) Ltd to supply the Rapiscan brand of scanners, since Nimrod had scored the highest in technical evaluation.
Kannangara confirmed that the technical evaluation committee had selected Nimrod due to SriLankan and its predecessor Air Lanka having 25 years of experience with Rapiscan, Nimrod’s good after sales service, and compatibility with ACC3 regulations.
However, Kannangara said that he was instructed by then Group Head of Security P. Chandrawansa to form a committee to cancel the tender.
He said that the order was verbal, with no meeting minutes or documents existing as evidence.
Kannangara and two other security managers had decided to cancel the tender based on their understanding that SriLankan had only in early 2014 received the ACC3 regulation books, and the equipment selected through tender which was floated in December 2013 would have been in violation of ACC3 standards.
The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH-370 had increased concerns over global terrorism at that time, weighing in on the decision, he said.
Further, the shooting of a police constable in Jaffna during the period had also worried the committee over a resurgence of the LTTE, he said.
When the commission questioned Kannangara on how the tender was cancelled on the basis of not adhering to ACC3 standards, when the technical evaluation committee had chosen the Rapiscan machines specifically due to this requirement, he said that he was at the time not privy to the reasons for the machines being selected.
However, he confirmed that Kosala Kariyawasam, a Security Manager, had sat on both the technical evaluation committee, as well as the tender cancellation committee.
Further the Ministry of Defence had not briefed the airline on increasing security threats as per normal procedures, and the security department had made the call on its own, Kannangara said.
He said that Chandrawansa had forwarded the recommendation to cancel the tender to the senior tender board, and it was approved by the board via e-mail,. He confirmed that there is no meeting minute of the senior tender board agreeing to cancel the tender.
The security department had then refloated the tender for the three x-ray scanners, as well as for two explosive trace detectors (ETDs). Kannangara said that the ETDs were procured to comply with ACC3 standards for heavy cargo.
The technical evaluation committee had selected Exel Trading International (Pvt) Ltd to supply the equipment, which had in the first tender been the third in the running based on technical evaluations.
Nimrod and two other companies too had been found to have technically feasible equipment for the second tender.
However, documentary evidence showed that members of the technical evaluation committee and the financial evaluation committee had taken a trip to Thailand to evaluate the machines offered by Exel, before the tenders had been sent for financial evaluation.
Kannangara insisted that the visit was made after financial evaluation. He said that the inconsistency in documentary evidence was due to ‘human error’.
Exel had initially quoted a price of 117 million rupees for the five scanners. Kannangara said that following negotiations, Exel had agreed to supply the equipment for 84 million rupees, compared to Nimrod’s 102 million rupees. He was not able to provide original prices for the other bidders, but said that Exel had the lowest prices, and therefore it was selected.
The ETDs purchased were in a list of equipment which had failed field trials, which usually results in their prices being reduced. The ACC3 certification agencies recommend countries not to purchase such equipment. The commission questioned Kannangara why the tender awarded for such equipment when the security department was seriously concerned over the threat of terrorism at that time.
Kannangara said that no brand of ETDs had been qualified as having passed the field trials at that time.
However, replying to questions of Deputy Solicitor General Shanaka Wijesinghe, Kannangara confirmed that the airline could have chosen other types of equipment to remain ACC3 compliant. (COLOMBO, 01 August, 2018)