‘Failed contractor chosen to build flight kitchen at Mattala’

Former SriLankan Airlines (SLA) Chairman Nishantha Wickremesinghe, despite the objections from the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC), had selected a contractor who in the end had failed to complete the construction he undertook to build a flight kitchen at the Mattala International Airport in November 2012, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on irregularities at SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka was told yesterday.

Nalaka Sanjeewa, Finance Manager of SriLankan Catering told the PCoI that although the TEC had selected one successful party out of the four bidders for this project, Wickremesinghe wanted to hand over the contract to another party called ‘Gunatilake Constructions (Pvt.) Limited.’ for Rs. 201 million. “The decision was based on that this contractor had the lowest bid.”

The Mattala International Airport was opened in March 2013. Through the building of this flight kitchen at Mattala, the airlines had expected an average of 2 flights a day and to serve 10, 000 pax a day.

Rs. 51 million had been made in advance to the contractor by the SLA in January 2013 even without a contract agreement between the airline and the contractor.

When asked by the Senior State Counsel Fazly Razik how they released money to the contractor in the absence of a contract agreement, the Finance Manager said it based on several facts such as the availability of the letter of award, a bank guarantee given to the company by the contractor, and the recommendation of the consultant architect Nishantha Munasinghe.

Later it was proved that the former Chairman’s decision was incorrect as the selected contractor was not successful with the project.

According to the witness, only 75 per cent of the wall of the flight kitchen has been constructed by the contractor when the project was stopped in 2013 due to the warnings given by the architect on the poor quality and the delay in the implementation.

Luckily, the airline regained the advanced payment given to the contractor as there was a bank guarantee to the value from the contractor.

Later the Chairman Wickremesinghe in a letter had informed the contractor to vacate the construction site, the commission was told

Neither the SLA nor its main shareholder, the General Treasury, had taken any action against Wickremesinghe for deviating from the due process and taking a wrong decision.

Finally, Mattala has no flight kitchen and the expected number of flights had not flown to Mattala except a few, the witness said.

A stock of kitchen equipment worth Rs. 55.3 million ordered by the SriLankan Catering for the proposed kitchen have been stored at company’s warehouses in Aviriwatte.

Sanjeewa told the commission that thje SriLankan Catering used half of the equipment and the other half is still to be sold off.

They were bought at that time as the architect had told them that the equipment should be ready by a particular time.

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