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5th April 1998

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Front Page
Mirror Magazine

Were we taken for a ride?

The government has made yet an other hash of things. This time the privatisation of our national carrier, AirLanka.

What many people in authority don't seem to realise is that for many people in Sri Lanka, AirLanka means so much to them. It's a symbol of National pride more than anything else.

Ask tens of thousands of housemaids in Gulf, ask any Sri Lankan in European and they will tell you how comforting it is for them to see an AirLanka office, an AirLanka board far away form their homes. How re-assuring it is for them to fell that there is AirLanka to take them home in the case of emergency, in the case life gets too hazardous. How excited they get, how happy their hearts are when they get that AirLanka ticket to their hand.

But the sentimentalities apart, AirLanka has equally shown us very clearly, starkly, what bad managers we are. Despite all the human resources, skills and expertise a country like Sri Lanka produced, and has at its command and disposal it has been unable to run a commercial airline successfully.

At the root of all this evil is politics. Partly loyalists were though to make good directors. From day one. AirLanka top brass had their nose in the air and acted like pocket dictators. They were accountable to none. When they wanted money they were virtually asked to shut up and told to "just give the money, we are a private company operating under the Free Trade Zone, so we are not answerable to Parliament." When newspapers wrote critical articles they withdrew advertising - AirLanka was - for all intents and purpose a Sacred Cow.

So after 50 years of independence, all we can say of ourselves is that AirLanka has shown the leaders of this country in very poor light. That they are unable to run an efficient organisation sans petty politics. And this brings us to the question of privatisation in general.

It is not a question of selling the family silver; it is a question of how bad managers we are. With all the Institutes of Management, Accountants, Bankers etc., why can't we get our act together? Instead we go around privatising all out ventures to foreigners who have the dollars and think we have done ourselves a great favour.

While that is as extreme thing to say at least some oral releases to keep the people updated, would have been perfectly in order. Afterall it is the assets of those 18 million people- not the few at PERC and in Cabinet. Prof. G.L. Peiris and Minister Mahinda Rajapakse promised Parliament a statement before this signing of this agreement. It was not to be.

PERC says the law empowers them to give details within three months after signing the agreement. What real use is that. Our Special Assignment clearly shows PERC were in cloud nine regarding the perchance of six Air buses for AirLanka costing $550 million (Rs. 33,000 million) as a pre-condition by Emirates for the deal. It is indeed time that this aspect of the PERC law be amended.

Why was this deal so suddenly rushed through in such an indecent hurry?

While AirLanka was a hopeless, chronic case and someone had to bail it out, the way it was done leaves much to be desired. Were we taken for a ride?

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