BusinessCMN-LATESTCMN-WORLDCMN ANALYSIS : Controversy of Thilak Weerasinghe & Diedre De Livera’s appointments to the Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd!

Chief Editor11 months ago14 min

During the last presidential election SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa vows to appoint panel experts to select suitable resources to drive state enterprises operating under government.

In his election manifesto, then presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa has clearly mentioned that “All appointments as heads of State institutions, corporations and statutory boards, and appointments to Boards of Directors will be based on merit and leadership abilities. A new selection process to these positions will be rigorously pursued, taking into consideration subject matter knowledge, competencies, experience, and the track record of potential appointees. ” (Page – 7, Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour   – Gotabaya Rajapaksa)

As promised as soon as he assumed duties as President of the country, appointed a committee and made it public that in order to maintain transparency. It was a four-member selection board to screen the persons nominated by ministers to head state enterprises operating under the Government of Sri Lanka.

Panel consisted of former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, former John Keells Holdings Chairman Susantha Ratnayake, Prof. Jagath Wellawatte, Dr Prasanna Gunasena and the Cabinet Secretary Sumith Abeysinghe to select suitable people to drive government institutions.

The appointment of Lanka Sportreizen Chairman, Thilak Weerasinghe, and Diedre De Livera in the board of directors of Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd, has received flak in recent days with allegations that these appointment was political due to the link with the Mahinda Rajapaksa family.

MP Namal Rajapaksa’s Father-In-Law Thilak Weerasinghe Chairman Lanka Sportreizen (LSR) and Rohitha Rajapaksa’s Mother-in Law Diedre De Livera were appointed earlier as Directors of Airport and Aviation (Services) Sri Lanka Ltd.

When contacted, Committee member, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa told CMN NOW that the committee had made recommendations to the posts of Chairmans and directors based on the credentials of the applicants and the experience they possessed.

Mr Godahewa also denied allegations that the committee was pressurized to nominate certain individuals with political connections and said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had warned against any such political appointments. “All the recommendations the committee has made to date, is based on the applicants’ qualifications.

However, to evaluate their subject matter knowledge, competencies, experience, and the track record in line with these appointments, our agency had decided to do a detail ground research on these two controversial individuals.

Namal’s father-in-law Thilak Weerasinghe and Rohitha’s mother-in law is Diedre De Livera.

Lanka Sportreizen Founder and Chairman Thilak Weerasinghe has been recognised for his massive contribution in pioneering sports and adventure tourism in Sri Lanka, with his company winning the Presidential Award for the ‘Most Outstanding Leisure Sports Provider in Sri Lanka for 2015’.

Few years ago, exactly in year 2017,  a new high-profile task force was established by the government under the Prime Minister Ranil Wikramasinghe to drive Sri Lanka’s 2025 vision for the Tourism Industry and Mr. Weerasinghe has been appointed as a member of the said task force.

Also, from 2017 to 2019, Mr. Weerasinghe served as a Board Director of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority under government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wikramasinghe.

From the inception of Lanka Sportreizen (LSR) in 1982, Thilak has pushed the boundaries of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, diversifying into numerous niche markets and placing Sri Lanka firmly on the map for adventure, sports, conventions, and other areas.

Today, LSR  is the country’s fourth largest inbound tour operator by revenue, counts more than 40 countries as its markets, and provides employment for more than 600 people, with subsidiaries such as LSR Europa GMBH handling its European operations; LSR India Ltd. bringing in business from India; Tropical Destinations Ltd. which specialises in MICE tourism; and other marketing companies in China, Japan and France.

Mr Weerasinghe is justifiably proud of having strongly supported the country’s tourism industry during the years of the nation’s conflict, which caused havoc for the industry. Most importantly, Mr Weerasinghe placed Sri Lanka firmly on the global map for adventure and sports tourism, launching and partnering major international sports events. LSR is currently involved in seven major annual national events. These include the LSR Colombo Marathon, now in its 17th year, which last year attracted 7,000 runners from 39 countries. Not surprisingly, LSR is one of just 58 Voting Members of the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS). LSR has also quietly become a significant player in the hotel industry as well (www.lsrhotels.com), and now operates nine hotels in strategic locations of the country with a total capacity of 400 rooms. These include Passi Villa and Marina Passikudah, Catamaran Beach Hotel in Negombo, Rangiri Dambulla Resort, Kuda Oya Cottages, Marina Bentota, The Riverside Marina Hotel in Aluthgama, Water Garden Hotel in Belihul Oya, and FarCry Resort in Wasgamuwa.

He is a well reputed and established entrepreneur in Sri Lankan hospitality industry today whose vision and business acumen are combined with his spirit of contributing towards the development of Tourism sector in Sri Lanka.  Over the past 27 years, Mr. Weerasinghe has successfully piloted the LSR Group and its highly diversified tourism and sports related activities with a range of services which include Inbound Tour Operation.

As we mentioned earlier in this report, he was a member of high-profile task force which was established by the previous government to drive Sri Lanka’s 2025 vision and he was a member of Board Director of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, even during the previous government he was able to server the country with many government portfolios.

Sri Lanka’s previous government also has identified Mr Thilak Weerasinghe as reputed and established entrepreneur and offered him with privileges to work for the country with his knowledge, competencies and experience.  It is therefore no surprise present government also appoint him as director of one major state agency (Airport & Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (AAASL)). President Gotabaya’s four member committee surely have done detail assessment of his skills and competencies to manage Airport & Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (AAASL) and drive it to attract more and more customers through Tourism. His decades of knowledge in the inbound tourism sector, naturally qualifies him to be a Director of AASL. Besides, inbound tourism ranked among the top 3 foreign exchange earners for the country, his experience certainly helps. And once again, his ties to the Rajapaksa family is irrelevant.

Diedre De Livera’s profile says she is a business development specialist at EXEL Holdings (Pvt) Ltd.

She started off as an airline executive with Delmege Air Services (Pvt) Ltd.

She was also actively involved in Sales & Marketing for the Thai airline which operated 3 fights per week on the route, Colombo – Bangkok – Colombo

And she was a part of the team that coordinated the Airline’s 20 years Celebration.

Also she was one of senior sales manager at Jetwing Group and acted in the capacity of Sales Manager for the outbound Travel division of the company working closely with corporations and individual clients to meet their travel needs.

She has traveled widely and traveled enough to know how airports operate in developed countries. From her determination and her success Travel industry, we believe her appointment as Director AASL is justified.

Sri Lanka being a small country and everyone being related to everyone, it really does not matter those individual’s relationships to the Rajapaksa family. Accordong to the analysis conducted by CMN NOW, appointments were purely based on these individual’s experience and qualifications and not due to link with the present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

Therefore rumors of these appointments being political are false.

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