By Namini Wijedasa
A year-long effort by the Airline Pilots Guild of Sri Lanka (APGSL) to secure details of salaries, allowances and other benefits of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the Head of Human Resources and the Chief Commercial Officer of SriLankan has borne fruit, with the details being released to the Right to Information Commission (RTIC) this Tuesday.
Also released were the cost of personal flying training of the CEO; agreement for the wet lease of one of SriLankan’s A330 aircraft to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA); agreements cancelling leases on A350-900 aircraft taken by SriLankan from Aercap; and minutes of board meetings that discussed and approved the purchase and lease of several A350 aircraft.
The RTIC had directed SriLankan to redact what is sought to be withheld on the basis of commercial confidence sections of reports commissioned by the airline from aviation specialists Nyras Ltd, SeaWorks Training and Consulting, and Seabury Consulting. These will be submitted to the Commission to be scrutinised for conformity with the RTI Act after August 21, 2018. The RTIC will make its assessment by September 11.
The APGSL filed an RTI request in June 2017 for all correspondence and information, including profits, losses and damages, related to PIA’s entry into a lease agreement with SriLankan and the subsequent termination of that contract; and information related to the cancellation of orders for Airbus A350s from Airbus SAS. It also asked for all information related to the cost of personal flying training for the A320 jet conversion borne by SriLankan Airlines for the CEO Suren Ratwatte.
After the carrier’s information and designated officers refused the request citing exemptions, the APGSL lodged an appeal with the RTIC in September 2017. Later, Sri Lankan raised a preliminary objection that it was not subjected to the jurisdiction of the RTI Act which was dismissed by the Commission earlier this year, which dismissal was accepted by SriLankan.
Last month, the Commission ordered SriLankan to release the salaries of top management and disclose the cost of the CEO’s flying training. It also called for disclosure of all agreements entered into for the wet lease of its A330 aircraft to PIA and information related to the rental of several A350 airbuses from AerCap as well as subsequent cancellation of those leases as the matter is now concluded.
However, the RTIC upheld SriLankan’s decision to withhold information related to the cancellation of purchase of aircraft from Airbus SAS as the negotiations are still ongoing. But all minutes and board papers pertinent to the above were ordered to be released subject to any redaction that the public authority may establish in law as necessary regarding commercial confidence or excluded as coming within the ambit of information given by a third party which was treated as confidential at the time. However, SriLankan has opted not to redact any section of the minutes.
The release of information–with SriLankan declining to exercise its option to appeal to the Court of Appeal against the RTIC order–marks an important step for release of salaries of top officials and board meeting minutes and for release of agreements notwithstanding confidentiality clauses impacting positively on the growth of the emerging RTI regime in Sri Lanka.
According to the documents, CEO Suren Ratwatte was earning a basic monthly salary of Rs 3.27 million (net salary was Rs 2,140,884). His flying training cost the national carrier US$ 23,568 (Rs 3.74 million). He received a company-maintained vehicle and driver, actual fuel cost and reimbursement of one annual membership subscription at any club in Sri Lanka, among other benefits.
The information released also detailed the basic salary of the Head of Human Resources (HHR) and the Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) as LKR 998,004/- and GBP 9500/- respectively, along with similar benefits as the CEO with the addition of furnished accommodation of up to max Rs. 250,000 a month for the CCO.
The documents confirm that SriLankan agreed to pay a total of US$ 161,770,000 (Rs 25,698,782,200) to Aercap for the termination of lease agreements for four Airbus A350s.