The creation of Mihin Air, the "budget airline" of Sri Lanka was shrouded in secrecy, with none other than the Minister of Aviation himself unaware of the true story behind it. While there are many alarming questions sans answers regarding the need, financial and operational viability of the whole exercise, the concentration of this post is not necessarily Mihin Air. Rather, it is the recently formed habit of President Rajapaksa to charter airplanes at his fancy to glob-trot -- apparently at the advice of his astrologers.
The first point of concern is this business of chartering aircraft. President Rajapaksa is the first president to do this on a consistent basis. President Premadasa did this a couple of times (to India & back) during his impeachment motion. I would assume President Kumaratunga did so as well, although I don't remember anything specifically.
As everybody knows, all government purchases are done through tender. Tenders are placed, service providers bid, the tender evaluated, and finally awarded based on the evaluation. The question I have is whether there was any sort of tender published for "providing aircraft charter services to the president?"
Of course, it is understandable that this cannot be done for every single trip he undertakes (especially at the current frequency of travel). However, it would be practical to call for such a tender and grant services, say for example, for five years. The charges then could be based on miles flown, or hours hired, and/or combination of such factors.
From all information I have been able to gather, this does not seem to be the case. The cost of chartering seems to be a private agreement between the Rajapaksa administration (i.e. presidential secretariat) and Mihin Air. A private deal, in other words. Considering the people behind Mihin Air, and the personal interest shown by President Rajapaksa no less, this is indeed not surprising.
The ownership of Mihin Air and who its investors are not very clear. What is clear is that Mihin Air is not a government enterprise. This makes the President brushing off SriLankan Airlines (partially owned by the government) for a totally private enterprise without calling tender even more bizzare.
That said, it was President Rajapaksa who submitted the papers to the Cabinet to get Mihin Air approved. That too after it was exposed that Mihin Air was about to fly without Cabinet approval. That story will be highlighted on LWB next week, which was originally exposed in the Sunday Leader (who else?).
For now, the thought to ponder is -- does the President have the right to call for and purchase services bypassing available state services, without calling for tenders?