SriLankan's investigation unit comes under fire; questions over probes
The Investigations and Document Checking section of SriLankan Airlines had not maintained systematic records of reports and documents until 2015 and had never been subjected to an internal audit over the matter.
This was revealed during evidence presented this week before the Commission of Inquiry appointed to investigate alleged irregularities in SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering Ltd and Mihin Lanka (Pvt) Ltd.
Senior State Counsel Fazly Razik, who was leading evidence, pointed out that records maintained by the Investigations and Document Checking section were entered only after 2015.
Confirming the claim, Sajith Vinodahewa, Head of SriLankan's Investigations and Document Checking section, said records should have been maintained systematically but they were not. He, however, said there were instances when reports were recorded.
Asked whether the section was ever subjected to an audit, the witness said that to his knowledge, an audit had never been carried out.
Commenting on M r. Vinodahewa's response, Mr. Razik said: “An auditing process is important as it doesn’t just deal with figures. It also looks at the processes that were followed.”
The information was revealed when the witness was questioned by the commission over an incident in November 2010, where a family of five had travelled to Paris from the BIA on forged Schengen Visas.
The German Embassy had issued a notification stating that the visa numbers beginning with D39 were counterfeits as a range of D39 blank visa stickers had been stolen from the embassy. However, the passengers were let through and SriLankan had to pay a huge fine.
The commission was told that this was because the SriLankan officials who were checking passenger visas at the airport gate were two newcomers on probation. Contrary to the standard procedure was to put those on probation under the supervision of a senior official.
Mr. Razik asked the witness whether video footage available from the camera at the gate was used in the investigation.
Mr. Vinodahewa said that there was no mention of it in the report and he was not too sure about it because he was not directly involved in the particular investigation.
The manner in which SriLankan Airlines dealt with officers accused of misconduct came under criticism during this week’s hearings.
The commission was told that security official Samantha Kalyanarathna was alleged to have leaked confidential information related to SriLankan but no conclusive evidence was submitted to this effect.
In another case, Mr. Kalyanarathna and two employees were reported for allegedly possessing and transmitting pornographic content using company computers.
One of the employees pleaded guilty and was sacked. But he was reinstated with a demotion and then promoted back to his old post after about two months. The other employee was transferred from the security division but not sacked.
Te s t i f y i n g b e f o re the Commission, Mayuka Ranasinghe, Head of Group Legal Affairs at SriLankan, said the employee was not fired because it was not prudent to move a security officer. It would neither help the division nor the company as a whole, he said. “I recommended at the panel that he be given a suitable punishment that wouldn’t terminate his services as a security official,” Mr. Ranasinghe said.
The commission was told, Mr. Kalyanarathna, after being sacked filed a fundamental rights case in the Supreme Court, and thereafter he was reinstated with a demotion. He too was subsequently promoted to his old office. When this case was submitted to a disciplinary inquiry, Titus Kannangara, Senior Security Operations Manager at SriLankan, had appeared as a witness to give evidence against Mr. Kalyanarathna and he had later sat on the committee that decided on the punishment.
When the matter was raised when Mr Kannangara appeared before the commission this week, Commission Chairman Justice Anil Goonaratne remarked that a witness could not sit on the judging committee and asked Mr. Kannangara if he had not sought legal advice on this.
Mr Kannangara was also questioned why he hadn’t taken disciplinary action against another security officer identified as Tissera. In evidence given before the Commission earlier, it was claimed that this security officer had not been disciplined for being careless when frisking an individual identified as Romesh Fernandopulle who carried on his person five kilograms of gold biscuits, though his pockets were bulky and protruding. The gold was valued at almost Rs. 60 million. However, the gold biscuits were later detected by security officer Udaya Wijetunge when he searched Mr. Fernandopulle on suspicion. Mr. Fernandopulle was a former Aircraft Ground Dispatcher at SriLankan.
Mr. Kannangara had first described the incident as ‘a human error’ and later as ‘gross negligence’.
Commission member and Retired High Court Judge Piyasena Ranasinghe questioned Mr. Kannangara on why he had not taken action against Mr. Tissera.
Mr. Kannangara responded saying that they accepted that it was negligence. Judge Ranasinghe observed that it could not have been mere negligence to miss out on bulging gold biscuits.
Mr. Kannangara went on to say that it was the ‘best practice’ to wait till the court case and the customs inquiry concluded because, should their domestic inquiry find him guilty while the court later rule in the opposite, they would not be able to take action.
Chairman Justice Goonaratne remarked that a domestic inquiry could have been held unless there was a bar set to prevent this. “Action could have been taken on the grounds of his incompetence,” he said.
“I put it before this honourable commission that Mr. Kannangara’s ‘best practices’ varies according to the officer in question,” Mr. Razik charged.
In later testimony, Mr. Razik also questioned Mr. Vinodahewa on the report that the Investigations section had prepared on the gold detection case and asked whether there was any mention of Tissera’s failure in it. The witness replied in the negative and reasoned that this was because it was only an interim report. “Mr. Fernandopulle was the main culprit in the case; so we limited it to him.”
“And how can you rule out Tissera from this?” asked Mr. Razik. “What about the possibility of abetting the crime?”
Mr. Vinodahewa then responded saying they waited for the customs report and that he had not even included Mr. Udaya Wijetunge ( the officer who ultimately detected the gold) in the report.
Mr. Razik pushed for an explanation on this and demanded to know why all parties kept passing the ball and tried their best to suppress information on Tissera.
“I put it to you that you and the other parties involved were party to a collusion,” Mr. Razik alleged.
Mr. Vinodahewa said that Tissera’s role was not a matter to be revealed as an investigation had already been carried out by them.