Fiery Baptism

Jan 10, 2009 (LBO) – A former chief executive of Sri Lanka’s Shell gas unit who has turned around Malaysian Airlines has termed his experience in the island as a ‘baptism of fire’. In December 2005 Idris Jala took over state-run Malaysian Airlines, in a year the firm lost 1.3 billion Malysian ringgit.

In two years, it had reported profits of 851 million ringgit, much higher than the level promised by Jala’s original turnaround plan.

During his tenure in the Indian Ocean island, Idris Jala ran Shell Gas Lanka, a privatized gas monopoly whose prices were controlled by the government.

Like many ‘poor’ countries, critics say the benefit of public utilities are only available to a few ‘haves’ in Sri Lanka as politicians use utilities to buy the votes of people who already enjoyed the services and deny profits for expansion to the rest of the population.

Before Shell took over the then Colombo Gas Company, the state firm deliberately cut the supply of new cylinders as the cash strapped firm was unable to expand storage to meet demand.

Gas shortages were also common.

In Sri Lanka around 20 percent of the poorer and rural population do not have power, water