Saturday 11 April 2015

Gajalakshmi Paramasivam – 11 April  2015

Captain Ranatunga  or  MP Ranatunga?

Yesterday, I read the full report of the Board of Inquiry (BoI) on Sri Lankan Airlines – published at  We were introduced to the Report as follows:

[The board, headed by Attorney-at-Law J.C. Weliamuna found instances where SriLankan Airlines lost billions of rupees due to the manipulations of service contracting, recruitment of unqualified staff and major security breaches.]

The Executive Summary states:

[The BoI’s mandate in the investigation into SLA was, inter alia, to assess whether there was prima facie evidence of (i) abuse of power by the Board and the Senior Management of SLA; (ii) whether there was evidence of irregularities in the procurement and/or leasing of Aircraft; (iii) whether due process has been followed in the procurement of goods and services by SLA valued at over Rs. 25 Million; and (iv) whether there has been external interference adversely affecting the smooth functioning of Sri Lankan Airlines.

The BoI found prima facie evidence of all four aspects above, reaching appalling proportions

I commented as follows:

[Gajalakshmi ParamasivamApril 10, 2015 at 4:20 pm
A detailed report and a genuine one. Highly commendable – given the time limit. But does not provide real solutions. Most of it was already common knowledge even though the specifics were not known. The transformation needs to be bottom-up through self-managing Business Unit approach rather than on program basis.]

The investigative framework by the Board of Inquiry into the National Airlines of Sri Lanka could also be used in relation to the Sri Lankan Governance – irrespective of personalities concerned. In fact as per my assessment – this could be applied to any Government Body in Sri Lanka – including the Provincial Government of Northern Sri Lanka – to lead citizens towards self-governance.

Given my experience with Air Lanka and my ongoing investment through observations, thoughts and analyses – I was able to identify with many of the issues raised – as being ongoing – and not particular to the last Chairman and the last CEO.

In this regard – I identify very much through the following message forwarded by a fellow Sri Lankan:

Fortunately, some are born with spiritual immune systems that sooner or later give rejection to the illusory worldview grafted upon them from birth through social conditioning . They begin sensing that something is amiss, and start looking for answers. Inner knowledge and anomalous outer experiences show them a side of reality others are oblivious to, and so begins their journey of awakening. Each step of the journey is made by following  the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance – Henri Bergson on – 

Intuition vs Intellect 1907

To my mind, it was no coincidence that I received the above message from a fellow Sri Lankan at this point in time.  Natural identity with a value at the time we are in need of direction confirms to me that the direction as stated by someone else  is also part of the root of the solution that would satisfy the need. Only a believer would identify with that true pathway.  I am a believer in Sri Lanka at the level of Air Lanka. My response to the Board of Inquiry includes directions to true solutions for the National Airlines and therefore Sri Lanka itself.

On that basis today’s response covers the question:

1.      Does one need prior  Airline Experience to lead the Airline?

(i)                 Under  Introduction  section of the Report  by the BoI – states:

[The BoI found prima facie evidence of all four aspects above, reaching appalling proportions.

This trend was more evident from the year 2011/2012 and was seemingly propelled by the former Government through the appointment of former Chairman, Nishantha Wickramasinghe on a full time basis and the appointment of Kapila Chandrasena as CEO.

(ii)               Under  The Former Chairman and the Former CEO   section of the Report  the BoI states:

[Their introduction to SLA on an executive level appeared to have been clearly orchestrated for a collateral purpose. The BoI did not see the justification for a full time Chairman, especially considering the fact the said full time Chairman did not have experience in the Airline Industry.]

That brought to mind the comments by the First Prime Minister of Singapore – the Honorable Lee Kuan Yew who states that he did think about the decision by the First President of Sri Lanka – his Excellency J R Jayawardene who initiated the Air Lanka project. In this regard I wrote and published yesterday at

[The question by the Hon Lee Kuan Yew – ‘how could an airline pilot run an airline?’ raised the parallel in my mind as ‘How could an Academic run a University?’ ]

The core purpose of a  University is Research and Teaching. Likewise the core purpose of  a National Airline is Global Communication  and  Provision of  Air Travel Services. To the extent Government owned University / Airline  makes profits through the latter – those profits go back to the Government as the parallel of  Income Tax by an individual.  Like the Teacher – the Pilot is the one who physically delivers the final part  of the latter Service.  If a teacher can therefore run a University – a Pilot can run an airline. In both instances commitment to Equal status for all other operations is needed towards becoming Total Quality Service.

The Governance Section requires belief in all those who established the system. This is hierarchical in structure – and is based on blessings by the senior and respect by the junior. Where there is a big gap between two position requirements – the Governance Section needs to be recognized – however profitable the performance section make be.

The above Report states in this regard:

[ The BoI did not see the justification for a full time Chairman, especially considering the fact the said full time Chairman did not have experience in the Airline Industry.]

The Officer concerned did not need Airline Industry experience if s/he were to remain strictly within the Global Communication portfolio. I joined Air Lanka from Prima Ceylon Ltd. Most in our group of first Commercial Executives did not have any Airline Industry experience. Yet, we delivered satisfactorily – to provide services of global standards. I believe I continue to contribute to this aspect of Air Lanka/Sri Lankan Airlines – including through this response.  I believe this was possible due to Singapore International Airlines recruiting us. Except for Keble De Silva – there was no other executive from the predecessor of Air Lanka - Air Ceylon  - in our Commercial Team. That was the separation of Powers needed between the old and the new. Keble was both – Governor and Performer.

To my mind, Keble was not racial at all. This discovery by me – a Tamil about a Sinhalese is policy feedback for the Global Communication / Governance aspect.

Interestingly – in the BoI report – under the heading Procurement Contracts is the first subsection of General Sales Agent [GSA] Appointments. This was within my portfolio when Air Lanka was first structured. The current officer in charge of that position Mrs Yasmin Majeed (who was interviewed by BoI) was trained first by me and continues to attribute credit to me whenever she gets the opportunity.   Yasmin often said that when she saw me walking from one office to the other while she was waiting for the ‘interview’ she thought to herself ‘I want to be like her’. Yasmin still remembers what I wore on that day.  This resulted in a belief based hierarchy in our work relationship.

Every new Management and Government has the responsibility to protect such belief based values so that the consolidated value of our work go back to the Public. This belief based value added should be beyond the reach of current players and investigators.

It’s interesting that of the two countries covered by BoI in relation to appointments of GSAs – one is Australia which is also my home nation now.   Back in 1979/80, when it was time to appoint a GSA in Australia – I was allocated the task of evaluation and I did the preliminary work. I believe Yasmin would be doing the parallel of that currently.  Given that I was the Middle Manager in charge – it would have been quite in order for me to expect that I would accompany the Senior Manager – Mr. Colin Martinus – the Commercial Manager - when traveling to Australia for the interviews relating to Australian GSA appointment. But Mr. Martinus – my guru in Commercial Administration - chose Hershal Gunawardene who was in charge of another subsection,  to accompany him.  I shared my dissatisfaction with  Keble who was like a big brother to many of us. Keble said about Mr. Martinus - ‘He would have been concerned about the reputation’ . I said words to the effect ‘I am not concerned about my reputation for this is job related.’  Keble smiled and said ‘Not yours! His reputation!’.  That confirmed the reasons for gender based discrimination! Given that I was around 30 then – and had not been required to  practice  Equal Opportunity principles - I accepted Keble’s explanation and was satisfied that it was NOT due to any fault in my performance.  But I did not travel to Australia at all during my Air Lanka time. I do however believe that because I  did not react but accepted the reason by my professional elders – I eventually came to Australia – through my husband who was recruited by Australia on the basis of his employment with the University of New South Wales. I believe that had I remained in Sri Lanka – I would have done at Air Lanka – what I did at University of New South Wales – ie – implemented Activity based bottom up management accounting systems in Public enterprises. To my knowledge – Yasmin has not visited Australia to date  and hence I conclude that the systems remain more or less the same with the top manipulating the workers. When GSA is an area covered by BoI – it is natural that all staff in that Activity group would be adversely affected. Yet – like me back then – they also would be lacking in courage to question their seniors directly.

To my mind, this report itself is through an exertion of power top-down and is therefore without the leads needed for solution through a democratic management system. Employees are the key to success of the Operational side of the Airline.

This BoI  Report must therefore be used by the Sri Lankan Government on the same basis as it expects the United Nations to use the Darusman Report on Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem – especially in relation to the actions of the Sri Lankan Army at the last stages of the war against the LTTE – the parallel of the Rajapaksa Regime in this instance.

I discovered and wrote about the excess credit taken by current staff –  in 2004 when I intuitively felt that the current management was  failing  its pioneers/gurus. On that basis I declined with much sadness to accept the plague that Yasmin was to handover to me at the special ceremony – even though Yasmin had always demonstrated that respect for me as her guru. It was about the Common Position. I gave the reason as credit not being attributed to Mr. Martinus the Commercial Manager, Mr. Kulasekeram the General Manager and the Chairman Capt Rakitha Wickramanayake. The CEO at that time – in 2004 - was Mr. Peter Hill and not Mr. Kapila Chandrasena. To my mind – it was NOT about the individuals but about the Positions through which I invested in top management level of Air Lanka which was inherited by my successors. I sensed serious damage being done to that heritage.

Going back to the question of appointment of CEO Mr. Kapila Chandrasena who is a key figure being investigated by the BoI – it did not matter that Mr. Kapila Chadrasena did not have demonstrated Airline experience. What mattered was that there was no clear demarcation of duties between Governance and Business and Mr. Chandrasena seems to have responded to the ‘Business side’ with little commitment to ‘policy’- especially National Policy.

The BoI was appointed by the current Minister of Ports, Shipping and Civil Aviation, the Hon Arjuna Ranatunga who is also without demonstrated experience in Aviation or Politics. As per this report :

CEO as a Director of SLA:

The above mentioned Article 82 confirms that the intention of the founders of Sri Lankan Airlines (SLA) was for there to be NO collusion between Shareholders and Employees. But it is not uncommon for CEOs of Businesses to be part of the Governing Board. It’s the parallel of a Ministerial position in democratic government and that of a Vice Chancellor in a University governance structure here in Australia.

The elected side of the position is on the basis of belief and the appointed side is on the basis of performance based merit. But unless the structure is strong and particular in its framework of authority the stronger side takes over both. Where such takeover is through the belief side – as happens often in family – when children are young, it promotes internal strength.  Where the takeover is by the appointed side – there is often over-performance to impress outsiders. The way to prevent this is for the two to be separated – with the Belief side using the hierarchical system and the Performance side using the Equal Opportunity system of two sides of Equal status  - as in the two teams playing cricket – the activity that elevated the status of the Aviation Minister the Hon Arjuna Ranatunga in Sri Lanka. He is now in the group  parallel to the Board of Cricket and NOT in the team as captain. The CEO is the Captain of the Airline team and if he did not resign from the Governing Board – the fault lies first with the Chairman and the shareholders – which is virtually the Government  that Mr. Ranatunga is now a part of.

The BoI needs to recommend as a priority  - pathways through which the Board would not elect itself to play cricket.

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