SriLankan's in­ves­ti­ga­tion unit comes un­der fire; ques­tions over probes

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS - By Ab­dul­lah Shanawaz

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka

© PressReader. All rights reserved.