SriLankan airlines, a haven for power abuse

Apr 08, 2015 (LBO) – The board appointed to inquire Sri Lanka’s national carrier, SriLankan Airlines said, the airline lacks a proper human resource policy which in turn creates opportunities for the abuse of power.

Human resource is an integral part of any industry and SriLankan airline, a service industry is heavily based on manpower.

“There is a serious lack of consistency in Human Resource Policy and its decisions thereby affecting the morale and productivity of the institution,” the report said.

“This has also created opportunities for a culture that was conducive for the abuse of power,”

The panel headed by anti-corruption advocate and senior lawyer J. C. Weliamuna found instances of gross abuse of power by former Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe whose penchant for young air hostesses cost the debt-ridden airline more problems.

The Weliamuna report says that there was a clear inconsistency in the application of the rules and regulations in the Airline and this was propelled by the influence wielded by the former Chairman, Nishantha Wickramasinghe, former CEO, Kapila Chandrasena, COO, Capt. Druvi Perera and HHR, Pradeepa Kakulawala.

The report also says that there were certain irregularities in promotions and key appointments, including the appointment of former CEO, Manoj Gunawardena as Director Sales and Promotions, Europe, a previously non-existent post.

He was originally appointed on a two year contract on a grade 13 salary of 825,510 rupees and other allowances.

His service period was later extended to five years and was based in London, with a salary of 1.5 million rupees a month with increased allowance.

In another issue a cabin crew member had been released from the airline to work at the Presidential Secretariat following a request from the then Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, but she was actually released for Namal Rajapaksa’s political work.

She had been paid by the airline, including allowances for cabin work although there is no explanation of what services she provided except that she had been paid more than 4.2 million rupees.

The BoI recommends that Sri Lankan airlines take action to recover the overpaid amounts from this staff member who has been identified in the report and direct prosecutions of those who authorized misappropriation of public finance.

The BoI also found that several applicants who repeatedly failed entrance tests were eventually recruited on verbal requests from the management.

The former chairman had also created a post of “SLA Brand Ambassador” and appointed his known companion, an airhostess even though no such designation was earlier known in the national carrier. The couple had travelled abroad on tickets bought by Sri Lankan from other airlines too.

“In our investigation, we can conclusively hold that the former Chairman’s association with cabin crew members exposed Sri Lankan Airlines to abuse of power, causing reputational risks as well as financial losses.”

“BoI can also hold that there was no corporate culture in the board or the top management to raise such issues when a senior officer or the chairman was involved in such behavioral issues adversely affecting the company”

The BoI has found CEO Chandrasena unsuitable for the job and was surprised to discover that he was paid a minimum monthly salary of 1.5 million rupees on top of other perks and he had also enjoyed salaries simultaneously from his other appointments.

There had been a time when he drew a salary as Mobitel CEO as well as Mihin Lanka CEO. The BoI recommends criminal prosecutions of Chandrasena as well as Wickramasinghe, among other senior management staff.

The BoI also found that a London station manager who tried to stop the illegal practice of sending motor spare parts for the use of former president’s son Yoshitha had been suddenly transferred following a directive from the former President Rajapaske.

The airline had also tried to hush up two serious flying mishaps involving the Chief Pilot Druvi Perera and Captain U. A. V. Pathirana.

The two staff members involved in alleged human smuggling had got off lightly raising serious concerns whether few employees continue to support a criminal human smuggling ring.

The BoI also raised questions about the suitability of appointing a retired army major general, P. Chandrawansa, who did not have aviation security experience on a salary of 450,000 rupees, without following recruitment procedure and accused him of engaging in political activities while in the employment of Sri Lankan airlines.

The BoI recommends the termination of services or immediate disciplinary action for breaching company rules. The airlines Security Department was among the most politicized.

The BoI praised two senior pilots, Patrick Fernando and Ranga Amadoru for resigning in protest against attempts to lower pass marks for recruiting pilots.

“Their resignation effectively prevented the selection of unsuitable candidates in the 2013 Cadet Pilot intake. In view of their bold stand taken to protect professional standards, BoI recommends that they be commended.”

In conclusion the Board of Investigation recommends that the human resource policy, attitude and culture be comprehensively re-evaluated as a matter of priority.