The UNP and the JVP yesterday hit out at the government, accusing it of failing to obtain prior approval either from the Cabinet or Parliament when launching the controversial budget airline `Mihin Air`.
For the second time, Parliament debated the issue yesterday as an adjournment motion proposed by UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake who asked as to how public funds were released from the Employees` Trust Fund, Employees Provident Fund and the Foreign Employment Bureau for the project without Parliament sanction.
Mr. Karunanayake said the government should realize the gravity of the matter as people`s money had been disbursed without Parliament`s approval.
`The 2007 budget was passed in Parliament last December without any allocation for a company named Mihin Air.
Furthermore, there was no supplementary estimates presented in this House, nor has this matter been discussed at the Ports and Aviation Ministry Consultative Committee since the last debate three months ago,` he said.
The UNP MP said this was a clear case of misuse of public funds and those responsible should be held accountable.
He said that during the previous debate the government had informed that the Cabinet had not granted approval nor had a board of directors been appointed to such a company.
`But, it was reported in Sunday papers on March 11 that Mihin Air was trying to obtain a Civil Aviation License using a Fokker aircraft belonging to Expo Air,` Mr. Karunanayake said.
He charged that the BOI had approved this project within 24 fours without the knowledge of its directors though even a barber saloon could not be started that soon.
Mr. Karunanayake said the total investment for this project amounted to Rs. 3.6 billion.
UNP`s Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella asked how the government had invested public funds in such a venture when it could not use money from the President`s Fund in an arbitrary manner.
JVP MP Wasantha Samarasinghe said it was a grave violation of Article 148 of the Constitution to allocate public funds from the EPF and ETF. Mr. Samarasinghe said a colossal sum had been released for this purpose and therefore the details should be disclosed to the House immediately.
`The Finance Ministry Secretary is also covered under Section 126. How did he come to approve this huge expenditure?` he asked.
In reply Chief Government Whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said the government had not used money from the EPF and ETF in this case, but Rs. 250 million had been released by the Finance Ministry Secretary using his powers to do so for an urgent matter in terms of the Appropriation Bill.
He said the Finance Secretary had the authority to do so without getting a supplementary estimate passed in Parliament.
At this stage, the JVP and UNP ruled out the existence of such a law challenging the Minister to prove it.
However, the Chief Government Whip stood his ground while stressing the reasons for starting a budget airline.
`Though, 53 percent of shares of Srilankan Airline belonged to the government, the decision making power lies solely with the Emirates authorities. They do not recruit Sri Lankans as pilots despite the country having youths trained in the US and Russia. Instead they recruit pilots from US and Russia,` he said.
He said Cabinet clearance was obtained on December 20 by the then subject Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Mr. Fernandopulle said such budget airlines existed in other countries as well and even amid opposition Mihin Air would make its maiden flight next Tuesday to Bodhgaya in India.