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Sri Lanka terminates air force chief after shortest tenure

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President has appointed a new air force commander effectively terminating incumbent Gagan Bulathsinhala who enters history books as the man who held the post for the shortest period.

Air Marshal Bulathsinhala had attended an official event along with President Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday, but there was no hint of the decision not to grant him an extension of service.

Bulathsinhala was given the top job in June last year. There is no other commander who had been at the helm for such a short period. His immediate predecessor Air Chief Marshal Kolitha Gunatilleke held the post one year and four months, but was thereafter elevated to the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

Air Vice Marshal Kapila Jayampathy, who had been sidelined during Bulathsinhala’s tenure, was being made the new air force chief.

With the new government deciding to scrap the post of CDS, there is no prospect of Bulathsinhala getting that job.

It was not immediately clear why the government decided to ground Bulathsinhala, but air force sources said the political establishment was worried after a political decision they had taken in May.

The government had to step in after military commanders announced through defence secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi in May this year that they will boycott the eastern province chief minister Naseer Ahamed who had a spat with the navy.

A subsequent replay of video footage showed that the chief minister was only reacting to a navy officer who had tried to stop the politician from getting on stage at a school function and the navy officer was the person who had provoked the incident.

President Sirisena stepped in to overturn the decision of the service chiefs and there were reports that Bulathsinhala had played a key role in the service commanders’ boycott call that surprised the political establishment.

"When the military takes such an unprecedented step to resort to trade union tactics, naturally the political establishment gets worried," a source close to the military said.





There was intense speculation about the fate of the defence secretary too. He is expected to be eased out.

The source added that army chief Chrishantha de Silva was not involved in the boycott call and was granted a one-year service extension by the president last month in sharp contrast to the fate of the outgoing air force chief.

Bulathsinhala also came to the attention of the president after his daughter darted on stage and embraced Latino pop icon Enrique Iglesias after some fans threw women’s underwear at him.

The president said he was outraged by the "vulgar display" and wanted the organisers of the event whipped.
(COLOMBO, Sept 12, 2016)

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