14th December 1997

47, W. A. D. Ramanayake Mawatha Colombo 2. P.O. Box: 1136, Colombo 2.
Telex:21266 LAKEXPO CE
EDITORIAL OFFICE Tel: 326247,328889, 433272-3 Fax: 423258, 423922
ADVERTISING OFFICE Tel: 328074, 438037
CIRCULATION DEPARTMENT 10, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 2. Tel 435454, 548322

Hanky panky business?

Two on-going projects — the sale (privatisation) of an airline, and the purchase of locomotives — have shown up the government in a rather poor light when seen in the context of the openness and transparency promised in the 1994 manifesto.

The locomotives tender appears to have changed tracks in the strangest way. First, a Cabinet appointed tender board comprising senior officials headed by the widely respected Treasury Secretary B. C. Perera decides to split the tender — giving five locomotives to a Canadian firm and five to a South Korean. There is a representative of the Presidential Secretariat who gives a dissenting report. Then there is a Presidential outburst at a Cabinet meeting. She tells how wrong the officials were in awarding the tender to the two firms. Then a Cabinet sub-committee is appointed to straighten matters, so they say. The President is quite correct they all say to award it to the French firm on the basis that the other two don’t even conform to the specifications and in limine those two are disqualified.

Now we are told the French trains actually have ship engines and they cost Rs. 500 million more. What more is in store, we don’t know.

The problem is why the entire government is so hush-hush about this. Only the tenderers who lost are coming out with their version.

The winners are not to be found, fuelling speculation. The officials are frightened to speak and the Cabinet sub-committee has neither made its report public nor is willing to say how and why it comes to the conclusion that the President is correct.

The committee looks as if it was merely rubber stamping a Presidential fiat. All this means billions of rupees in public money being spent on ten trains with ship engines and new planes being offered in the privatisation of AirLanka.

As we said last week the Kremlin in the former Russia was more transparent than those who are engaged in the privatisation exercise here.

What we like to know is — why all this secrecy?

Is some hanky-panky business going on? These are legitimate questions one must raise but those handling negotiations are not willing to even name the airline (Emirates) with whom they are negotiating.

From the inception AirLanka has been plagued with high-flying extravagance and secret board room deals which prompted many to ask whether AirLanka was taking Sri Lanka for a ride. Now we know that it was and that the national carrier has no money to modernise and expand. AirLanka is public property and no high official must be allowed to do any secret deals with it.

This is a sorry state of affairs — no different from the UNP days which this government condemned so vehemently. What they all must realise is that this is not a family concern; they are dealing with public projects and the people’s collective cash.

Go to the Political Column

Return to the Editorial/Opinion contents page

Go to the Editorial Archive