SriLankan Airlines had been drained by unusually high commissions paid to general sales agencies operating in several countries owned one person, amid interference by a former chief executive and chairman in agent appointments, a commission of inquiry heard.
Agencies controlled by one Dilan Ariywansa, had been given the General Sales Agency (GSA) for SriLankan Airlines in key revenue markets and contracts extended in some cases despite failing to meet targets, a Presidential commission investigating irregularities at loss-making state-run carriers SriLankan Airlines and now-defund Mihin Lanka was told.
Then Chief Executive Kapila Chandrasena, and then-Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe interfered in the appointment of GSA’s in many territories against regulations, a witnesses said.
A board of inquiry headed by lawyer J C Weliamuna had earlier said there was a ‘clear violation’ of procedures in appointing GSAs.
“Special attention was paid to theGSA appointment in Russia and Australia, especially since there was a clear attempt toconceal the real beneficial owners of such GSAs,” the report of the Board said.
“The BoI observed the involvement offormer Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga’s with the GSA in Russia, and Dilan Ariyawansa’s involvement in both Russia and Australia questionable and suspicious.”
Anna Korolkova, listed as General Manager for the agency, was an employee of the Russian Embassy, the report said.
At the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Industry Affairs Manager Shiromi Cooraysaid GSAs owned by Ariyawansa had enjoyed higher commissions than allowed in company manuals.
Cooray said that Ariyawansa’s Sri Lankan LLC, the airline’s GSA in Russia, had received 5.5 percent commissions on passenger tickets and 5 percent cargo commissions, initially, which was much above the 2.5 percent ceiling for passenger commissions and 3 percent for cargo set in the 2009 manual.
In 2014, the terms were changed to 4 percent commission and fuel surcharge fees, as well as 1 percent online sales commissions, despite fuel surcharges and online sales commissions not being a part of the 2009 manual, Cooray said.
She said that the GSA agreement was extended for 3 years in 2014, despite Sri Lankan LLC performing below targets given by the airline.
“I personally would not have recommended to extend the agreement if the performance was so bad,” Cooray said.
She had not been in charge of Industry Affairs during this period.
Cooray said that the national carrier had not considered switching to another GSA prior to continuing with Sri Lankan LLC.
Then chief executive Kapila Chandrasena had approved the extension, violating regulations which state
that a review panel should decide on extending a GSA contract or calling for a new round of bidders, Cooray said.
She said the Russian GSA had prematurely cancelled the agreement in January 2015. There was also a letter in the file stating Ariyawansa had wanted to sell his shares in the GSA, she said.
When Sri Lankan LLC cancelled the agreement, a parcel of required documents was sent through the Sri Lankan embassy in Russia, signed by First Commercial Secretary ChandimaKiriwandala, Cooray said.
Ariyawansa had also operated the North American GSA for the US, Canada and the Caribbean since 2005, Cooray said.
Cargo revenue from the North American GSA had been 74 percent below targets in 2010/11 and 72 percent below targets in 2011/12, she said.
Passenger revenue targets for Canada were not reached although overall, passenger revenue targets for the three regions were achieved, she said.
However, after the Canada GSA was separated from the North American Ariyawansa’s Sri Lankan Travel Inc. was re-appointed as the GSA in 2012, she said.
Cooray said the Canada GSA was split off as SriLankan wanted to appoint another GSA for the country if and when required.
She was not aware of the reasons for the decision.
Prior to 2009 Ariyawansa’s North American operations had charged 75 US dollars per ticket sold and after the practice was stopped, Sri Lankan Travel Inc. had attempted to reinstate the charge later, she said.
However, this request was denied, Cooray said.
Sri Lankan Travel Inc. had enjoyed 5.5 percent commission rates for the US and the Caribbean, and 7 percent for Canada between 2012 and 2015, she said.
A re-negotiation in 2015 saw the commission rates fall to 5 percent despite a request from Ariyawansa’s company to increase commissions to 7 percent, she said.
Yasmin Majeed the former Industrial Affairs Manager, testified that Ariyawansa’s Sri Lankan Aviation Ltd was appointed the GSA for Australia in 2014 by Wickremesinghe against both the 2009 manual as well the amendments which were not approved by the board of directors.
Majeed said the Australia GSA received a 5 percent commission initially, which was increased to 7 percent within months, without a cost-benefit analysis. She said as far as she was aware, no evaluation was done on Ariyawansa’s GSA before increasing the commission.
A new board of directors appointed in 2015 had directed the airline to readvertise and appoint GSAs for Far East, Australia and Dubai using proper procedures.
Despite Ariyawansa’s GSA scoring the highest marks, the second place travel agency was given the GSA as it had a better distribution network, Majeed said.
However, she said with SriLankan starting direct flights to Australia, the winner had terminated the contract, and Ariyawansa’s GSA was reappointed and continues operations to this day.
It had then agreed to a 4 percent commission inclusive of fuel surcharges, as well as 2.5 percent commission on online sales, Majeed said.
This was against a 3 percent commission and 1 percent online commission ceiling set in the 2015 manual, she said.
The manual was amended to give 2.5 percent commission on online sales if such sales made up more than 30 percent of total revenue, however, this wasn’t included in the new Australia GSA agreement, she said.
She said that the US, Canada, Russia and Australia markets were heavy revenue generators for SriLankan Airlines.