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Won’t be able to offer SriLankan to investors even for free – Minister

Ports, Shipping, and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva yesterday (26) spoke firmly on the national carrier – SriLankan Airlines, stating that the airline’s disruptive employees and tarnished reputation would deter potential buyers in the privatisation process.

Speaking at a media briefing yesterday, he said  “We cannot run an airline with disruptive employees. This is a critical moment for SriLankan Airlines. We cannot afford to entertain employees who fail to handle situations under pressure.”

“The deadline for the Expressions of Interest (EOIs) is set for 5 March and in the present scenario, according to the information I received some of the bidders want to withdraw. With the negative reputation plaguing the airline, we will not be in a position to offer it free-of-charge even,” the minister claimed.

However, SriLankan Airlines Chairman Ashok Pathirage’s views had contrasted starkly with that of Minister de Silva.

The discussion saw a disagreement regarding ground handling. Minister De Silva advocated for immediate privatization of the service, citing shortcomings. Chairman Pathirage, while acknowledging areas for improvement, argued that the lack of aircraft, not ground handling, was the primary issue. He blamed lengthy government procurement procedures for hindering fleet acquisition.

De Silva justified his push for privatization by citing the airline’s struggles and reports of potential bidders withdrawing their interest. While not inherently opposed to privatization, Pathirage emphasized the ongoing process and the lack of control the airline has in the decision.

Meanwhile, trade union representatives commended Pathirage for his leadership whilst blaming political interventions and its past management.

“We all undoubtedly praise the Chairman for his leadership and unwavering commitment to operate this airline amidst all odds. Neither the employees nor the current management of the SriLankan Airlines are responsible for the cancellations and bad reputation, but the political intervention,” they stated.

They also slammed the former COPE Chairmen and MPs Dr. Harsha de Silva and Dr. Charitha Herath for disrupting the lease procedure of the airline when the aircraft were at a lower price. “They are responsible for all the operational delays the airline is facing at present,” they claimed.

(Excerpts: DailyFT)

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