Many, many years ago somebody said that the bikini is like a barbed-wire fence; it protects the property without obstructing the view. In more recent days there has been a new addition to female swim wear. It is the burkini – a word coined out of two others – burqa and bikini – which covers [...]


Please fasten your seat belts


Many, many years ago somebody said that the bikini is like a barbed-wire fence; it protects the property without obstructing the view.
In more recent days there has been a new addition to female swim wear. It is the burkini – a word coined out of two others – burqa and bikini – which covers everything below the neck.

The more I read of the self-gratifying achievements articulated by the head honcho of Sri Lanka’s national airline and his faithful Tonto the more I am reminded of the cover-up known as the burkini which continues to show the face but for how long one does not know.
Earlier this month Chairman Ajith Dias and the airline’s chief executive officer Suren Ratwatte held a media conference to tell the Sri Lankan public and anyone in the world outside who might have some ‘humanitarian’ interest in a national carrier, that was not too long ago signalling “May Day, May Day” as it headed awkwardly into the blue yonder.

Clouding the issue: Ajith Dias side steps issues raised by the media.


Armed with the most potent qualifications that today’s ‘mahaththaya’ class installed in highly-paid or influential positions in this yahapalana administration could hold, Chairman Dias and CEO Ratwatte faced the media to say how well they had wrestled with the gargantuan task they had been confronted with when taking on the job of getting the flaps down for a controlled landing.

Whether there were others armed with the same FRCS escutcheon that the two main actors sported, hovering in the background I could not of course say being so many kilometres from Colombo.

But as the chattering class frequenting Colombo’s numerous posh pubs and night spots which have escaped the attention of political progeny, sniggeringly say it is not a medical qualification though some of its holders are not beyond doctoring this and that and carving-up some parts of the anatomy when time and circumstances permit.

As one who had been invited to join Air Lanka when it had just got off the ground in 1979 and has been a passenger from the original Air Ceylon days I have had some interest in where the national carrier was heading even though some passengers have woken up to find themselves not where they expected to be.

Anyway from what I have read in various media the dynamic duo was ready to tell the people what a gladiatorial experience it has been so far and implied they would remain at the controls until they achieved a safe landing.

One report led its coverage of the media conference with the headline “Dias side-steps Weliamuna findings”. As far as I know Dias is no Mohamed Ali and he is unlikely to float like a butterfly let alone sting like a bee.

The Dias manoeuvre might have been a small step for man but seemingly a giant step for the airline’s management.
So, intrigued by what the headline suggested happened I said to myself ‘read on Macduff’ adapting that misquote from Shakespeare.
But then who cares about the twists and turns of language these days. There is so much abuse going on despite promises made and promises forgotten that abusing the language is but a minor infraction that would hardly reach the magistrate’s court.

All the same there are those still concerned about the decline in the use of language and jot down the abuses for their later delectation. Why not, after all it is one of the few things still free of VAT.

The other day I read that President Sirisena had departed for Thailand to attend the “Asian Coorporation Dialogue” meeting leaving behind his son (FRCS) who would surely have enjoyed that Buddhist country instead of another New York visit after his visible presence there last year.
Just the other day a Srilankan Airlines press release quoted Suren Ratwatte (FRCS) referring to ‘wide-body’ and ‘narrow-body’ aircraft. How much like those who ask for “dry fish” when we know, of course, that it is dried fish they want.

But all this talk about wide-bodies, narrow-bodies and other bodies was overshadowed by reports of the press conference and more details of the Dias side-step that seemed to come straight out of the TV series “Strictly come dancing”.

The news report went on to say that the chairman of the national carrier did not respond to allegations contained in a government commissioned report which had found that the airline illegally provided the services of an air hostess to a politician while the airline was also a “paradise for sexual predators.”

Apparently “Dias was irked when questioned on the action he had taken in respect of the Board of Inquiry” conducted by lawyer J. Weliamuna who had reported “massive corruption and sexual scandals” at the loss-making carrier.

The public had long known of the scandalous nature of mismanagement, abuse and financial profligacy at SriLankan Airlines in the past years especially under the Rajapaksa administration.

The national carrier had been virtually turned into a private taxi service. A story in circulation at the time when Sri Lanka was making a bid to stage the Commonwealth Games was how a SriLankan Airlines flight took a plane load of fun-loving officials, cronies and friends to the Caribbean with a virtually hand-picked female cabin crew, spending enormous sums for the joyride. Though the flight did not go all the way to St Kitts where the venue for the games was decided the partying apparently went on for a week or more according to a report in The Economist amid strong criticism from the Colombo media and the public.

This story tells only a fraction of what went on at SriLankan Airlines where the management ran amok as the Weliamuna report states. But long before Weliamuna and his three-member team were picked to investigate the goings-on, the presidential election campaign saw allegation after allegation thrown at the national carrier and those who ran it – to the ground one might say.

So with all the strictures made by those in the government who put Dias and his crew into place and the findings of the Weliamuna inquiry delving deeper into some of those allegations with the help of ex-staffers and current employees, the public would have expected the holders of office at the airline to make a more determined and exhaustive effort to examine the findings of the inquiry without shunting much of it aside as lacking in evidence or the tales of discredited or disgruntled individuals.

That is being disingenuous. Even if it is claimed none of those in top management and below were guilty of misappropriation as claimed by the current holders of office, it is a matter that should rightly be decided by court if it ever gets there.

In the meantime there are other issues that cannot be swept under the carpet or simply wished away. The media report cited earlier said that Dias was “irked when questioned on the action he had taken in respect of the Board of Inquiry” conducted by Weliamuna.
Dias claimed the latter allegations were “personal matters” and not “within our purview.”

When the journalist persisted and asked him who released the female cabin crew member to go to do political work for Namal Rajapaksa, Dias is reported to have replied “You know, you know, I mean personal things of that nature, I don’t think it is appropriate at this (press conference), air hostesses and things like that.”

Now that is what is worrying. The attempt to dismiss these charges as “personal things” is what is not appropriate, not the fact that the question was asked at the press conference.

Perhaps Dias and his management cronies need to be reminded that they cannot steer the media conference in the direction they want. If they subject themselves to questioning at a media conference they cannot say what should be asked and what should not.

No doubt the intention of the management in calling the conference was to inform of the improved performance of the airline in the last one and a half years or more under their wing. Of course it might have been more appropriate if it was also clearly stated how much lower oil prices contributed to it.

But as Dias has stated in an earlier interview with the DailyFT, SriLankan Airlines is a state enterprise. It has been constantly infused with public funds to keep it in the air. Its board of directors has been appointed by the government and those like Dias also by government.
The functioning of SriLankan Airlines is therefore a matter of public interest as it is public finance that permits its existence. Anything that happens or does not happen in a state institution is of interest to the people.

The cabin crew member and others specifically referred to in the Weliamuna report and the charges levelled against them are a matter of public interest as they are employees of a state-owned institution.

It is strange therefore that Dias with Ratwatte by his side claim the matters raised were “personal things” especially when the report says that the crew member seemed to have drawn two salaries and even received cabin crew allowances when her feet were firmly planted on terra firma or wherever. It all amounted to an overpayment of Rs. 4.2 million and the report recommended that the airline recover the money.
The question for Mr. Dias and his crew is whether this money was recovered or the person concerned was even asked to pay back the excess. If not why has it not been done? Moreover who in the airline authorised the payment of the crew allowance?

Also what has happened to the three houses in Ja-ela, Andiambalama and Seeduwa leased for the use of the then chairman when he is ‘working late’?
In an interview in August Chairman Dias was quoted as saying that “Nowhere in the world are the internal problems of a company reflected in the newspapers. This seems to happen only here and that too in respect of SriLankan Airlines”.

Wrong Mr. Chairman unless of course you inhabit a different world. There have been instances often enough where a company’s internal matters have appeared in the media when it is of public interest as in the recent case of a private company running surface trains out of London. Earlier there was the issue of the possible shut down of the steel works at Port Talbot.

It is surprising that SriLankan Airlines is engaging in this side-stepping exercise falling back on two phrases “not within our purview” and “personal matters” when the very press release the airline issued states that “stringent cost controls underscored by heightened accountability and transparency have been the cornerstones of the new strategy.”

If avoiding simple questions represents the “heightened accountability and transparency” said to be the cornerstones of this new strategy, the public surely has a right to know the whizz kids who thought up this strategy.

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