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By Rathindra Kuruwita

SriLankan Airlines must be restructured as a whole, and privatising only its profit making sections like ground handling and catering would only undermine the sustainability of the airline, President of the Nidahas Sevaka Samgamya (SLNSS) branch of the national carrier, Janaka Wijayapathiratne, told The Island.

Wijayapathiratne said that they have informed of their stance to the committee appointed to restructure the airline. He said that the committee has not called for expressions of interest from parties interested in buying SriLankan.

“The committee said that they will only call for expressions of interest in two months or so. Therefore, no one can say that there are no buyers for SriLankan. However, in recent weeks, there were media reports saying there are no buyers for SriLankan. Policymakers, too, have parroted this. Are some powerful people looking for a buyer outside the standard procedure?” he asked.

Wijayapathiratne said that in 2015, the Yahapalana government appointed a committee to restructure SriLankan. That committee called for expressions of interest locally and internationally. The interested parties had eight weeks to send in expressions, and six companies submitted their applications, he said.

“Three of them had fulfilled the necessary criteria. These companies were given the chance to study SriLankan. However, the Yahapalana government ultimately decided not to go ahead with restructuring of SriLankan. This is the practice that is to be followed this time, too,” he said.

The SLNSS President said that there are powerful groups that are trying to create the impression that no one wants to invest in the airline.

“They also try to convince the people that there is very low productivity at the airline. There are no surplus staff at SriLankan; in fact, there are many vacancies,” he said.

He said that when selecting an investor, the government must find a company that can enhance the capacity of SriLankan. There is no point in working with a regional airline that is a direct competitor, Wijayapathiratne said.

“Such an airline would only have a parasitic relationship with SriLankan. They will use our network and traffic rights to become stronger. In recent times, there are reports that some Indian airlines would like to invest in SriLankan. SriLankan tag line is to be ‘the most preferred airline in South Asia.’ If that’s our vision, can we work with another airline that has a similar objective?” he asked.

A number of policymakers, too, have been badmouthing SriLankan, he said. They are claiming that the airline is worthless, at a time the government is making a pitch to attract investors.

“Is this how you make a successful pitch? We must build up the image, so we can get a good deal. The problem in Sri Lanka is that the guilty have become accusers. For decades, the airline was undermined by policymakers who appointed unsuitable people to run the airline. Their henchmen were allowed to embezzle money and misuse assets. Now the same people, who authorised these activities, are telling us that the government can’t run the airline and that the company is bleeding money,” he said.

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