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Peter Hill back in Sri Lanka to run privately-owned airline profitably



By Sanath Nanayakkare

Peter Murray Hill, who was CEO at SriLankan Airlines when it was under Emirates management and ran the now loss-making airline profitably from March 1998 to December 2007, is now back in Sri Lanka to propel FITSAir – a truly Sri Lankan Airline owned by Sri Lanka’s Aberdeen Holdings Group.

Announcing FITSAir’s starting with Colombo- Dubai journey – three times a week from 5th of October- the Airline has already scheduled its flights to the Maldives and Trichy also, and has plans to expand its services in a sustainable way as the demand evolves, taking one step at a time.

Speaking at a press briefing to announce the Airline’s plans, what it offers and its goals, Hill said, “FITS is not a new airline. Sri Lanka’s Expo Aviation which was founded 25 years ago as a privately owned carrier is the beginning of this story. They operated international cargo charters to the Maldives, Pakistan, Thailand and a number of other places. They were pretty successful at that. It was a small operation which was profitable. During the northern conflict, it was difficult to get to places like Jaffna and FITSAir came along and they provided a unique link between the North of the country and Colombo. Expo Aviation gave way to a rebranded operation under the name of FITS Aviation Pvt. Ltd in March 2013 and that’s where FITS Air came to be as part of Aberdeen Holdings Group which operates unique businesses within the group.

“FITSAir continued to operate successful cargo operations during the Covid period which provided a vital link predominantly between Colombo and the region. They catered to their export markets and also brought in medical supplies from countries such as Hong Kong and Thailand. They are still doing that today.”

“In fact, we spent last 12 months developing a regional scheduled passenger airline. We are aiming to provide affordable travel between SAARC nations, the Gulf Council Countries (GCC) and South East Asia, all based here in Colombo. Our mission is to provide sustainable, affordable air travel on a no-frills basis to customers wanting to travel, within the region for work, for pleasure, leisure, business, education and the list goes on. Today everybody is looking for affordable air travel. The key driver here is affordable fares. We will make sure that we provide reliable schedules to destinations which have constant demand that enable us to sustain our services throughout the year. We won’t be going to one-off places on seasonal demand. That is not our focus. Our team today comprises a rare breed of seasoned professionals working alongside a new generation of fresh faces. They are fully qualified, ambitious newcomers. One key thing I want to stress here is; all on the team are Sri Lankans with two exceptions including myself and another one who has been in Sri Lanka even longer than me. And he will be running the engineering department. We are both pretty well-known in the industry. FITS Air is a truly Sri Lankan company and a true Lankan product because the key market for us is the local market; Sri Lankans travelling to regions and people coming to visit Sri Lanka within the region. We want to show that in these very challenging and difficult times, the private enterprises in Sri Lanka are still capable of achieving remarkable results by dint of honest, hard work, proper resources and exceptional team work. Anybody who has known me over the years would know that I am very good at developing passionate and hardworking teams. That will drive this airline too. I am very confident about that. When you travel with us you will see the efficiency of our team work. There is nobody special on our team. I am also an ordinary member of the team.”

“We are starting with Dubai three times a week which begins on 5th of October. We are travelling to the Maldives three times a week- starting on 10th of October. Later in October we will be starting our first flight to Southern India. We have decided on Trichy three times a week from 28th of October.

“Our main line flights will be operated by Airbus A 320, which will offer economy class seating. And for a few people who want to have a little bit better comfort, we offer a small cabin which is called Economy Plus. Anyway Economy is the word here. We are not going for business class. We will be offering a no-frills product at very competitive prices. We are restricting ourselves to basically SAARC, GCC and South East Asia. We are not looking to fly to exotic destinations outside of the region. The airline is 100% privately-owned, and no funding from the government whatsoever.”

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SLPP dissidents ask govt. to bring back USD 35 bn ‘parked’ overseas



underscore need to amend Exchange Control Act

By Shamindra Ferdinando

MP Gevindu Cumaratunga, who represents the SLPP dissidents, yesterday (27) alleged that the incumbent government was yet to bring enough pressure to bear on those who had parked as much as USD 36 billion overseas to bring the money back.Cumaratunga said the government’s failure to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017 should be examined against the backdrop of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Budget proposal to draw more loans in 2023.

The leader of the civil society group Yuthukama, Cumaratunga, who represents the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, one of the breakaway factions of the ruling SLPP, said that two of his colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa, had, during the ongoing Budget debate, had raised the issue of forex stashed away overseas.

Cumaratunga said that he couldn’t comprehend why the government delayed making it mandatory for exporters to bring back much required foreign exchange.Responding to The Island queries, lawmaker Cumaratunga emphasised that though the vote on the Second Reading of the Budget was approved on Nov. 22, with a majority of 37 votes, it failed to address even the basic issues. Cumaratunga was among 84 MPs who voted against the Budget whereas it received the backing of 121 lawmakers.

The other Yuthukama MP in Parliament Anupa Pasqual, now a State Minister, voted for the Budget.The parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for taking immediate measures to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017, the MP said, pointing out in terms of Article 148 that dealt with public finance this issue should have been addressed long ago.

Cumaratunga was not an MP at the time the Yahapalana administration introduced that controversial legislation.The first-time entrant to Parliament said that the government was on its knees before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for USD 2.9 bn spread over a period of four years, whereas exporters deliberately denied the country more than 10 times that amount in much needed forex.

Addressing the Parliament during the debate on the Budget, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the role played by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in introducing the questionable piece of legislation.  Cumaratunga slammed Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, who previously held the Finance portfolio for ignoring the contentious issue of massive amount of money ‘parked’ overseas by exporters.

Declaring that Sabry hadn’t been involved with the then Joint Opposition following the 2015 change of government, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the circumstances under which the prominent President’s Counsel entered politics. The activist asked whether it was fair to accommodate Sabry on the SLPP National List in return for his role as leading lawyer for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his current role.

During two speeches in Parliament, MP Cumaratunga dealt with several contentious issues, including an alleged move to deprive farmers of their land. The outspoken MP warned the government of dire consequences of a decision regarding state land that was to be taken soon, while appealing for Premier Dinesh Gunawardena’s intervention.

Referring to a steep increase in the allocation made to the President at the 2023 Budget, MP Cumaratunga said that the President received Rs 2,467 bn last year, Rs 3,044 bn this year and a staggering Rs 7,888 bn next year.

Appreciating a significant drop in the allocation made for the Premier, MP Cumaratunga said that the ministerial staff received Rs 132 bn last year, Rs 217 bn this year and Rs 263 bn next year. Such allocations should be studied taking into consideration the state of the national economy, lawmaker Cumaratunga said, alleging that the Budget didn’t reflect the actual situation.

The MP said that having received the executive presidency, through a vote in Parliament on July 20, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, the UNP leader was pursuing an agenda contrary to what he preached as Premier (May 12-July 13, 2022).

Referring to statements made by Wickremesinghe during that period pertaining to the then proposed 21st Amendment to the Constitution, MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in the President holding onto the Finance portfolio. The MP said as Premier Wickremesinghe continuously expressed the view that the President shouldn’t hold any Cabinet portfolio. The MP said that they were of the view that the President should hold the Defence portfolio. Having vowed to strengthen Parliament, President Wickremesinghe could justify his role as the Finance Minister. The President holds several other ministerial portfolios for want of an agreement with the SLPP pertaining to sharing of portfolios.

Referring to the Budget declaration that the government intended to procure Rs 1,000 bn in loans and settle loans amounting to Rs 440 bn, MP Cumaratunga said that the bottom line is the increase in debt. “Aren’t we getting further embroiled in a debt trap?” he asked.

MP Cumaratunga strongly criticized the government for planning to open Mahaweli lands to outsiders. The declaration that profit-making Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance would be privatized, on the pretext of restructuring, came under fire by the MP, who also expressed serious concerns over the proposed privatization of Hilton as well as profit-making sections of SriLankan Airlines.

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Security stickers on bottles of liquor: The corrupt make a killing – Buddhika



More than 100,000 bottles of liquor with fake security stickers are currently in the market, says SJB Matara District MP Buddhika Pathirana. Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s office in Colombo, recently, Pathirana said the security sticker racket has deprived the state coffers of billions of rupees in taxes.

“Leading liquor manufacturers are carrying out this racket with the help of some corrupt Excise officials. The business of counterfeit security stickers is far more lucrative than producing dud notes.  The QR codes printed on the so-called security stickers cannot be read by QR reader apps in mobile phones. Now, a lot of people know how to use mobile phones to scan QR codes to access information contained therein. Many software companies as well as open sources offer QR reader apps free of charge to be downloaded to the mobile phones.

“We have been warning of this security sticker project since inception. We have also warned that the company selected for printing QR code stickers for liquor is under a cloud.”

Pathirana said that State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya too had admitted that artificial toddy is for manufacturing arrack. “Minister Siyambalapitiya has stated that the country’s liquor industry needs at least 150,000 liters of toddy a day but only 45,000 litres can be produced from the coconut palms in the country, and the shortfall is met with artificial toddy. I know that he too is now in a position where he cannot fight against the racketeers because the Finance Ministry officials do not support him,” Pathirana said.

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Channa sees Ranil as night watchman playing ‘Dil Scoop’



SLPP MP Prof Channa Jayasumana yesterday said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe should try to realise the task entrusted to him and must pave the way for an election.Addressing a public rally in Meerigama, Prof Jayasumana said that Wickremesinghe had been given the presidency for an interim period to stabilise the economy and political crisis. “He was brought in as the night watchman to stay put until the crisis was over. Instead of doing that job, he is now playing Dil Scoop.”

Prof. Jayasumana said that he would bring a Private Member’s Bill before Parliament shortly to provide for a snap presidential election. Prof Jayasumana said the Bill would propose a constitutional amendment requiring a presidential election to be held within one year after the appointment of an Acting President.

“According to the Constitution, a President can call for a presidential election after four years, but it is unclear whether a successive President is entitled to it. Therefore, the opinion of the Supreme Court must be sought in this regard,” the MP said.

“We hope to get it passed so that it will apply to Wickremesinghe as well. This would allow for a presidential election to be held in July 2023. If he wins this election, he can implement the political, economic and defence reforms he is planning,” Prof. Jayasumana said.

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