SriLankan chief sweeps salacious allegations under the carpet
ECONOMYNEXT – The head of Sri Lanka’s national carrier on Wednesday side-stepped allegations contained in a government commissioned report, which found that the airline illegally provided services of air hostesses to politicians, while it was also a paradise for sexual predators.
SriLankan Airlines’ Ajith Dias was irked when questioned on the action he had taken in respect of the Board of Inquiry conducted by legal luminary J. C. Weliamuna who reported last month on massive corruption and sexual scandals at the loss-making carrier.
The United National Party (UNP) came to power promising a clean-up of the national carrier and scored political mileage by making allegations of sexual misconduct as well as huge corruption under the former management of Nishantha Wickramasinghe, the brother-in-law of former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Despite making allegations of sexual peccadilloes of SriLankan management during the August 2015 parliamentary elections, the new management team of the national carrier appears to be distancing itself from the allegations by saying they were “personal matters…not within our purview.”
Asked who has been held accountable for releasing a stewardess to provide unspecified services to MP Namal Rajapaksa during the regime of his father Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dias, an appointee of current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, said: "You know, you know, I mean, personal things of that nature, I don’t think is appropriate at this (press conference)…air hostesses and things like that."
A minute earlier, Dias said a few new senior managers were inducted to the already over-staffed SriLankan Airlines to improve management.
"We went through the (Weliamuna) report then…there were a few changes that were made on the organisational structure, and we also took in new management at a senior level.
"That was also something that was lacking in the company, and thereafter there was a committee set up by the PM’s office to look into what has happened based on the Weliamuna report and we have submitted everything to them and essentially they came back and they were satisfied with what had been done."
However, Dias said it was "not within our purview" to hold those responsible for ordering long-haul aircraft the airline is struggling to get rid of. In fact, the carrier is paying almost the price of a brand new aircraft to renege on four lease contracts entered into by the former regime to acquire four A350 aircraft.
Dias argued that they had no option and could not invoke "corruption" as a reason to abrogate the deal despite the UNP government itself maintaining that former president Rajapaksa’s $2.3 billion re-fleeting in 2013 was highly corrupt.
"Our purview was to negotiate it (the lease agreements) as it was. It is not in our purview to look into such details (corruption). There are various other bodies doing that. That is the decision of the government."
Asked who would be held responsible for pushing Sri Lankan into a financial abyss, he said: "That really is something that does not comes under our purview.’
In April last year, the Weliamuna report said SriLankan Airlines was a paradise for sex predators, with the top management demanding sexual favours from cabin crew and young employees, leading to a breakdown of discipline at virtually all levels.
The Board of Inquiry found that Pradeepa Kakulawala, the head of Human Resources, adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards sexual harassment that allowed perverts a free run.
The BOI said complaints of victims have fallen on deaf ears.
"Many representations were made by victims regarding complaints that have fallen on deaf ears, The BoI is not naming such victims due to the sensitivity of the issue."
"However, the BoI observed that there were many complaints of sexual harassment, especially against persons holding top managerial position that were not adequately dealt with.
On enquiry, HHR Kakulawala expressed a view that in order to find an employee guilty of sexual harassment, there needs to be evidence beyond reasonable doubt, and not on a balance of probability.
"He further suggested that it is as difficult as proving rape. The BoI is of the opinion that such an approach is unacceptable especially when female employees can become vulnerable in airline industry."
The BoI also recommended criminal prosecutions of then-chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe and then-CEO Kapila Chandrasena for allegedly defrauding the state in addition to abuse of power and soliciting sexual favours.
Some stewardesses were chosen for jobs outside the airline, but provided full pay and perks, including flying allowances, for services rendered. One such woman employee worked for Namal Rajapaksa, MP and eldest son of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The new management of the airline had not taken any action to recover monies paid to her in excess of her entitlements. She was arrested by the police recently in connection with a money laundering charge brought against her associate Namal Rajapaksa. (COLOMBO, Oct 5, 2016)