Testifying before PCoI: Ranil slams Mattala Airport
Posted on October 23rd, 2019

By Mirudhula Thambiah Courtesy Ceylon Today

Rejecting allegations that the Government had damaged the reputation of the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport by storing paddy in some of its storage buildings in 2015, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said  the Mattala Airport was a white elephant.

He was testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) to investigate into alleged corruption of the current administration yesterday (23).
The Premier said, “What reputation? It has no prestige. It is known as  the world’s emptiest Airport. The unnecessary construction of the Airport is a massive misuse of public funds.”

Premier Wickremesinghe went on to say that inquiries by the Auditor General’s Department and the Committee on Public Enterprises had proved that the decision to build an Airport in Mattala was a disaster. “A PCoI on the SriLankan Airlines also made similar observations in its report,” he said.

He noted that moreover in 2014, the then Government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa had forced the SriLankan Airlines and other airlines to use the Mattala Airport.

“Thus, there were over 2,900 flights to the Airport in that year but once the Government stopped forcing airlines, they stopped using the Airport altogether. SriLankan Airlines incurred a loss of Rs 740 million during the use of the Mattala Airport. We are not preventing people from using the Airport. In fact, we have been trying to encourage people to use it,” he said. He added that the Mattala Airport was built at a cost of USD 209 million and that the Government pays around Rs 2.95 billion per year as loan payments. “This is a big loss and if this was not carried out, the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake could have been well developed.”

Denying any personal involvement in the storing of paddy, he said that a committee comprising of Ministry Secretaries in 2015 was appointed to deal with a high paddy yield from the Yala season.

“These committees are appointed at times when such incidents occur because even in the past, Sri Lankan Governments have tried to protect the farmers by preventing a drop in prices,” he added.

Meanwhile, State Counsel representing the Attorney General’s Department questioned Premier Wickremesinghe whether he was aware that two of his senior Advisors, Charitha Ratwatte and R. Paskaralingam, had participated in some of the meetings of the said committee.

Wickremesinghe replied: “I’m unaware. The committee might have asked them to come in and help. They don’t need my authorisation to take part in Government meetings.”

At an earlier occasion, former Chairman of the SriLankan Airlines, Ajith Dias told the PCoI that Ratwatte had called him and requested permission to store paddy at the Mattala Airport. However, Premier Wickremesinghe noted that he was not aware of this, adding that Ratwatte probably was acting on behalf of the said committee.

“I went through the reports and there were damages of Rs 600,000 to the equipment, and Rs 500,000 was spent on cleaning and another Rs 20,000 was spent on an air compressor.

It had cost Rs 60,000 to transport this compressor. The Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) had informed officials at the Mattala Airport to remove any valuable items from the storage units.  If they now claim that there was valuable equipment, they should have told the PMB that they won’t allow the storage of paddy,” he said.

 Wickremesinghe also said: “This shows the way they do things there. A whole bunch of people responsible for the construction of this vanity project and running the Mattala Airport down, are now trying to blame us.

Please get these people back so that my lawyers too can cross examine them.”
Accordingly, over 4,000 metric tons of rice was stored at the Mattala Airport in 2015 by the PMB.

Recently, former Head of the PMB, Bandara Dissanayake stressed that Premier Wickremesinghe personally instructed him to store paddy at the Mattala Airport.

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