ECONOMYNEXT – Security lapses at state-owned SriLankan Airlines operations, including through controversial Rakna Araksha Lanka (Rakna Lanka) had taken place without any punitive action, a commission of inquiry heard.
Senior Security Manager Titus Kannangara, currently Acting Head of Security, testifying at a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into irregularities at SriLankan, Mihin Lanka and SriLankan Catering, said that on five occasions since 2014, weapons such as knives and knuckledusters were found in the possession of staff.
On two of these occasions, the weapons were found on aircraft mechanics leaving the ‘security control area’ of an aircraft hangar, he said.
Security at the airport is divided into four sections, at the perimeter, security control areas, restricted areas and the aircraft, with increasing levels of security, he said.
The other three incidents had occurred when baggage handling staff were found leaving the restricted area near an aircraft with knives, he said.
Kannangara admitted that the baggage handling staff may be using the knives to rip open passenger bags and remove valuables.
Senior State Counsel Fazly Razik questioned whether Kannangara had heard of accusations that there was a major racket to pilfer baggage.
Kannangara said he had heard of "small stories".
In one of these instances, the baggage handler had stolen a knife from a passenger bag, Kannangara said.
In three of the instances, the state-owned Rakna Lanka, which employs ex-service men, were found responsible for not detecting the weapons, he said.
In 2009, after the end of the war, SriLankan outsourced many security functions to Rakna Lanka to cut costs and provide employment for ex-servicemen, Kannangara, who is an ex-serviceman, said.
In one of the other instances, SriLankan staff was found responsible, and another, SriLankan and Airports and Aviation Services security staff were jointly responsible, Kannangara said.
However, SriLankan were ultimately responsible for any security lapses in flights, he admitted.
"There have been absolute oversights," he said.
The Civil Aviation Ministry had not limited SriLankan from using only Rakna Lanka, but costs made it the most viable, Kannangara said.
He said he was not aware of who were the directors of the security firm at that time.
All five weapons carriers were detected due to the mobile ‘Security Strike Teams’ (SSTs) which conduct random security checks. One SST has three members working per shift, compared to over 110 internal security staff per shift, he said.
None of the normal security officers were disciplined, Kannangara said. He said he was not aware of what actions Rakna Lanka took."They (Rakna Lanka) have not done their job. We’ve taken up the matter with Rakna Lanka," he said.
The staff members found carrying weapons were not subject to disciplinary action, and continued to work at SriLankan, Kannangara admitted.
He said the incidents were not referred upwards to Human Resources for action, as a committee made up of the line division, the investigation division and the security division had not decided to discipline the staffers.
He said the internal security officers were not disciplined, and the books carried the incidents as ‘human error’.
Under questioning, Kannangara initially said that calling the lapses ‘human error’ was acceptable.
"Probably accept that there was total failure and we didn’t take adequate action," Kannangara later admitted.
An SST member by the name of Manjula Priyadarshana had made three of the five detections and was appreciated for the efforts,Kannangara said..
However, under Razick’s questioning, Kannangara admitted that Priyadarshana was later disciplined and let go for being involved in a traffic accident.
Questions were raised whether it was fair for the most exemplary officer to be disciplined so strictly for a motor accident when those who do not do a proper job are kept on service.
Kannangara admitted it was not fair. (Colombo/Nov29/2018)