COLOMBO (AFP) - An anti-corruption watchdog on Wednesday criticised the appointment of Sri Lanka's navy chief as head of the country's shipping company, calling it a further sign of the military's growing influence.
Vice Admiral Jayanath Colombage took over as chairman of the state-run Ceylon Shipping Corporation (CSC) on Tuesday which he will run along with the navy, the navy said in a statement.
"With his vast knowledge and professional expertise, his contribution to the new portfolio will be of immense importance... for Sri Lanka to be the 'wonder of Asia'", it said.
Transparency International criticised the appointment as a conflict of interest, and said it reflected the military's growing involvement in business.
"There is a clear message in this appointment. That is, the government wants to expand the defence ministry's authority into civilian areas that are coming under other ministries," said the watchdog's chief in Sri Lanka, J. C. Weliamuna.
The navy carries out some policing functions in Sri Lankan waters, where the CSC competes with other companies to run commercial maritime services, posing a conflict of interest, he said.
"As head of the navy, he would have access to navy intelligence that would impact commercial shipping operations," Mr Weliamuna said.
"If they want him so badly, then ask him to quit the navy and take up the civilian job, but he can't have both." Mr Weliamuna said it was unprecedented for a serving military commander in Sri Lanka also to head a state-run commercial enterprise.
The CSC does not operate any ships at present but plans to buy from China two bulk carriers of 64,000 tonnes each in the next two years, said its general manager Sunil Obadage.
"At the moment we take space on foreign vessels and retail it to shippers," he said.
International rights groups and the UN Human Rights Council have urged Sri Lanka's military to relinquish some operations following the end of a decades-long Tamil separatist war in May 2009.
However, the military has expanded its operations since the end of the war and the government has raised the defence budget.
The military already runs hotels, passenger flights using military planes, whale watching tours, farms and retail stores. Soldiers have also been deployed at various times to sell vegetables and fish as part of a strategy to force retailers to reduce prices.
The government last week raised defence spending to a record 253 billion rupees, despite international pressure to scale down the military.