SriLankan Airlines ignores COPE summons

by Namini Wijedasa
The management of SriLankan Airlines last week failed to appear before the Committee of Public Enterprise (COPE) for questioning, COPE chief Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said yesterday.

Cecil Amerasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation, turned up in their stead and declared that SriLankan did not come under the purview of COPE, parliamentary sources observed.

On the instructions of the committee, however, Amerasinghe undertook to bring the SriLankan management before COPE on July 24.

COPE Chairman Jeyaraj Fernandopulle confirmed the report. He said that if SriLankan did not turn up on the next date, COPE will consider taking them before the Parliamentary Privileges Committee.

A spokesperson for SriLankan said that the airline had communicated their position to COPE on the given date. "We communicated to COPE that we didn’t have to answer any of their questions as we were not a public enterprise," she said. "But since COPE insisted, we will file our answers by the fresh date given."

Forty per cent of SriLankan shares is owned by Emirates while employees received ten per cent of the shares with the government retaining the balance. However, Emirates have bought up some employees’ shares, raising their stake.

Fernandopulle said that COPE had wanted to see SriLankan’s accounts. However, the latter had maintained that institutions registered under the Companies Act (such as they) were not obliged to show their accounts to parliamentary committees.

"They (the management) are free to take up any position they want but they must appear before us," Fernandopulle said. "Even to maintain that they don’t come under COPE purview, they must appear when summoned and convey it to us in the appropriate manner."

He said that under section 148 of the Constitution, parliament has control over public finance. Also, under sub section 124 of the Standing Orders of Parliament, they could summon any institution in order to go through their reports, he claimed.

The SriLankan management had maintained that even during the tenure of the previous government, of which Fernandopulle was a member, SriLankan never appeared before COPE.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met members of COPE last week and discussed a proposal to amend existing legislation with a view to increasing the powers of the committee. The changes envisaged give COPE the power to summon before them any institutions where the government has majority or minority shares, even those registered under the Companies Act. Wickremesinghe also agreed in principle to allow members of the media to take part in COPE proceedings.

A sub committee comprising the prime minister, leader of the opposition, chief government whip, Milinda Moragoda, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa and Fernandopulle was appointed to formulate necessary amendments to existing standing orders. A report is due within a month.

Wickremesinghe also met members of the Public Service Commission, along with COPE.