President Maithripala Sirisena publicly warned that he would take action against the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) as well as the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) for ‘pursuing a political agenda’ at a function held on 12 October in Colombo.
The President irately said those institutions should not operate according to any political agenda at the expense of justice.
In response to this statement, then Director General of CIABOC, now Additional Solicitor General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe, tendered her resignation. After many rounds of discussion held with several parties, the President finally accepted her resignation on 19 October. Former DG of CIABOC expressed these comments during an exclusive interview with Ceylon Today on Friday.
Following are excerpts:
BY A Special Correspondent
Q: Did you tender your resignation in order to defy the comments made by the President?
A: Yes indeed. I have always given my utmost to the cause. I am a person who believes that we could fully eradicate corruption in this country. I still believe in that. All we need is a strong commitment. I associated a zero tolerance policy at the Commission when disbursing my obligation. Although the President’s comments were not made against me directly, he undermined the independence of the Commission in which I served as the Director General. Mind you, he is the first citizen of the country, making this comment on an independent Commission, and not any common man on the street. Also, I wanted to make this remark, during my tenure the President had never called me and interfered into any affair. I should give that credit to him. I believe that he was misinformed on certain facts.
However, I did not like to hold the position when the leader of this country is displeased with the turn of events or had an iota of doubt about the Commission.
The President had pledged to the people that he would establish good governance and fully eradicate corruption in the country. If the President feels that the existing investigative authorities are a hindrance to his cause, I honestly don’t think that I should hold that position. I had always lived by principles and here I am walking my talk.
Q: Did you divulge any information to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Cabinet spokesperson accused you of doing?
A: I fully deny this fabricated story. I see this as a cowardly act to divert the blame on me by the minster. There were so many politicians and others that knew this. I am sure even the Joint Opposition and the SLFP will not believe this concocted story that I gave info to the former President. If the minister thinks that the citizens of this country are fools, he is sadly mistaken.
Q: Criticisms arose from many corners of possible bias when probing into allegations against the members of the United National Party. What is your response?
A: I must make this very clear to you. CIABOC is an independent Commission. I always strived to foster independence when probing into complaints lodged at the Commission. I never extended any preference to cases handed over to me by the Commissioners.
Political affiliation of the accused was never a consideration to me when disbursing my obligation to the Commission. I read in the media the several comments made on the bond issue. I probed into the controversial bond issue the same way I probed into other cases. I must make this very clear that former Governor of the Central Bank Arjuna Mahendran was summoned before the Commission to record his statement. The inquiry is underway as we speak. Also, Minister of Health Rajitha Senaratne was summoned and presented before the Commission multiple times to record statements. Therefore, the so-called bias is a fiction created by some accused politicians for their personal gain.
There are a number of Cases under investigation at this very juncture. The Commission will definitely file action once facts are established. So, how can you frame me or the Commission as biased when we are duly and honestly fulfilling the requisites of the Commission?
Moreover, the investigations are forwarded to me by the Commissioners. I never ever take decision to investigate. That is the role of the Commissioners. My duty is to get the investigators to work, provide them with the resources to enable them to investigate. I have no discretion in selecting the complaints. It is a very transparent process.
Q: How do you describe your tenure at CIABOC until the time it came to a controversial closure?
A: Well, I assumed duties in my position on 12 February 2015 at a juncture when the reputation of the CIABOC was at stake. People had lost trust due to various political influences that surrounded the Commission. Therefore, much work needed to be done to bring it back to a socially accepted state. Also, it was a time when there was a heap of complaints lodged at the Commission just after the change of government. We found it extremely difficult to cope up with the number of complaints due to various constrains existed in the Commission.
CIABOC was virtually paralyzed during the last decade, so we needed to take appropriate actions to put the system back in place and to build the capacities of the existing staff. Also, we had recruited many new faces to the Commission and trained them in conducting discrete investigations. It is not like any other institution; we needed to assure the extreme virtues of integrity and efficiency of the recruits. Also, the process of employee induction was somewhat a challenging task.
However, we managed to gradually uplift the reputation of the institution to a higher state. We have managed to develop close coordination with the UN and other foreign institutions to coordinate with us when training staff and exchange of technology and new methodologies. I must tell you that some of the complaints lodged at the Commission were extremely complex in nature and we did not have required resources at our disposal when conducting inquiries. Therefore, we needed to equip the Commission with modern techniques and capacity building when investigating the virtually impossible inquiries.
As you know, the State has recognized the international treaties and conventions on corruption thus it had been included in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution under Section 156A (1) C. Therefore, as a Commission, we had to take appropriate measures to comply with the guidelines stipulated in the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). UNCAC is a multilateral convention negotiated by the members of the United Nations, including Sri Lanka. It is the first global legally binding international anti-corruption instrument. We had to redefine the conventional methodologies to comply with the stipulated standards.
It was a hard task but I was able to pull it through with the immense support extended to me by the Commissioners and the staff.
Q: You were referring to the qualitative aspects of the Commission. What can you say about the quantitative aspects during your tenure?
A: I must state this very clearly. These qualitative aspects have produced what is termed as the quantitative outcomes of the Commission. If you go through the past records you may see the Commission had filed only around 60-70 cases a year in Courts. With the commendable support extended by the staff, we managed to file 87 cases during the first 10 months of this year.
We successfully managed to bring the Rs 125 million bribery probe related to some Customs officials before justice. This is historical as this is the biggest raid conducted by the Commission. Both Kumara Welgama and Wimal Weerawansa went before Courts seeking orders to prevent the Commission from investigating them. Namal Rajapaksa has refused to come before the Commission, which led the apex court of this country to issue charges on contempt. Why did they have to do it if the Commission itself is a dead duck? As you said, we have proved in both qualitative and quantitative aspects.
Q: Some media reported that you had no plan to spread the financial allocations throughout the year. What‘s the validity in this statement?
A: I honestly do not like to comment on these bogus news. The Commission had at its disposal a sum of Rs 123 million at the time this report was published in the media. The person who wrote the web article never questioned me. Had I been questioned, I would have given documentary proof to them.
Q: Also, there were concerns with regard to claims of rigidness of your administration. Did you intentionally victimize employees?
A: I agree that I am a tough administrator. When I took office, people were used to a lethargic life. The output by almost all the divisions was minimal. So, I needed to take several administrative steps to wake them up. Their grouse was about leave. Not that they were not given leave, if they wanted more than 5 days leave within 3 months, they needed to get approval from me. One web media report said I did not allow a cancer patient to take leave for her treatment. Do you really think I am that inhuman? I do not do such things even to my worst enemy, if I ever had one.
A very senior incompetent legal officer, who was constantly in the habit of taking leave, had initiated the story to cover her incompetency. As soon as I learnt that a staff officer needed treatment (actually periodical checkup after her cancer treatment), I immediately called her to my office and granted leave. I also did not fail to call the senior legal officer and confront her on the issue.
People who know me know that I am a person with a big heart; do you think I lack moral standards or empathy? I have supported all my staff at the Commission during their difficult times. That’s exactly what my religion has taught me too.
Q: Don‘t you think that you had underutilized the media to make people aware of what is happening in the process of investigation at the Commission?
A: I am a great believer of people’s rights. In terms of Article 13(5) of the Constitution, every person is presumed innocent until such person is proved guilty, which means any individual accused of any allegation must be treated as an innocent person until they are convicted in a court of law. Also, remember, had I told the media that this person and that person is before the Commission, I would have directly violated the ‘innocent man’ principle. The Commissioners and I strived hard to protect, preserve and uphold the law at all times.
Apart from the legal position, we considered it as a moral obligation too. They have children and families. When individuals come before the Commission their image is tarnished. This affects the kids, family and the kith and kin. I did not want to let them walk in society as criminals unless they’ve been convicted in a court of law.
Apart from that, some clouted media organizations reported that I paved the way to relax the overseas travel ban on Chairman of Avant Garde Nissanka Senadhipathi. See, it’s the Magistrate who had lifted the travel ban and released the passport for him to travel overseas. It’s a judicial affair, so how can I intervene into that?
We had conducted many events to stimulate public awareness on preventing bribery and corruption. Seminars, walks and public displays are a few of them.
Most importantly, we work under an oath. We cannot disclose any information relevant to investigations to the media. I clearly know that the Commission and I could have captured public attention if we had gone after cheap publicity. But, we didn’t do that considering the duty before fame. I kindly request you to go through our annual report so that you would know what I mean.
Q: Do you regret the decision to tender your resignation, considering that your name was not even mentioned in the President’s speech?
A: I was on a mission to totally eradicate bribery and corruption from this country. But, I had to comply with my conscience at the given situation. I wrote a 4-page resignation letter and explained how the President had forced me to tender my resignation. The citizens want good governance. My resignation is part of that process that the intelligent fully understand.
However, what worries me is that the President had, by accepting the resignation letter, sent a strong message to all public servants of the outcome of standing up for principles and good governance without being subservient to politicians.
I do not have to harp on the pressure exerted by politicians on public servants. Only a few like me can withstand it. I do not think this would augur well. That’s my only regret.
(Source: Ceylon Today)