by Shamindra Ferdinando
Lacille’s removal reverberates
High profile investigations into setting up of an International Arbitration Centre (IAC) as well as thwarting of an alleged attempt by Lanka Sathosa Limited to release a consignment of rice rotting in storage facilities are widely believed to have influenced the controversial government decision to remove Lacille de Silva, Secretary to PRECIFAC (Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges).
The IAC project was launched in 2012 by the then SLMC leader and Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem, who now holds Urban Development, Water Supply and Drainage portfolios in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. The IAC was established in the West Tower of the World Trade Centre (WTC).
About Rs. 140 mn was spent on the IAC project according to documents with the PRECIFAC.
Having recorded a series of statements in respect of transactions regarding the IAC, the PRECIFAC recently directed the Justice Ministry to remove Anusha Munasinghe, Senior Additional Secretary (Legal) over her alleged complicity in the wrongful project.
Minister Hakeem switched his allegiance to Maithripala Sirisena in the run-up to January 2015 presidential election.
Minister Hakeem has recently inquired from Lacille de Silva about PRECIFAC leaking information pertaining to IAC project.
The PRECIFAC directed the removal of Ms Munasinghe after having examined transactions involving the Justice Ministry, Board of Investment (BoI), Overseas Realty (Ceylon) Private Limited, a Singaporean Company and the Handicraft Board. The Justice Ministry fully cooperated with the investigation.
Minister Hakeem is expected to be summoned by the PRECIFAC soon.
Asked whether he had complained to government in this regard, Minister Hakeem told The Island that he didn’t complain to anyone. The minister said that he considered filing action for defamation.
The former PRECIFAC Secretary also incurred the wrath of some government leaders be over his refusal to release part of the detained container-loads of imported rice rotting due to improper storage and exposure to moisture. Lacille de Silva has strongly opposed a move to release part of the consignment to the market.
Lacille de Silva also called for wider powers for PRECIFAC to inquire into all petitions including those that dealt with irregularities, waste and corruption during the present regime. The outspoken official also urged investigations into complaints directed at the Parliament.
PRECIFAC investigated over a dozen politicians and top officials including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
De Silva told The Island yesterday that a statement issued by the Presidential Secretariat in the wake of his dismissal had jolted him. A disappointed De Silva said that the statement had justified his removal on the basis that senior retired civil servant H.W. Gunadasa had been brought in to conduct PRECIFAC investigations successfully and efficiently. De Silva said that in other words whoever who had drafted that statement had questioned his efficiency.
The former official said that he struggled for nearly five months to secure the required number of police to assist the investigation. "In spite of PRECIFAC being brainchild of President Sirisena, the police contingent wasn’t made available. PRECIFAC managed to secure required contingent in late July last year. Securing of vehicles for the team, too, hadn’t been an easy task. It took nearly three more weeks", he said.
Asked whether the powers that be had been upset over his relationship with the Rajapaksas, De Silva said that he wasn’t influenced by the marriage of his cousin, Pushpa to Basil Rajapaksa. Government leaders were aware of that and it hadn’t influenced the decision to remove him, De Silva said.
"Former President Rajapaksa, too, inquired from me about my unexpected removal from PRECIFAC."
Asked whether he was satisfied with the progress made by the PRECIFAC, De Silva emphasized that the outfit’s performance could be compared with that of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) and the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID).
The former PRECIFAC Secretary said that he briefed the media in respect of investigations involving former President Rajapaksa, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as well as members of yahapalana government. "As far as the media was concerned in my capacity as Secretary, PRECIFAC, information was released."
De Silva stressed that he couldn’t identify any particular investigation as the one that prompted the government to terminate his services. He said that during his tenure as Director General (Administration) of Parliament he was suspended. De Silva said that the then Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara felt that he was responsible for various media reports in respect of malpractices in parliament. "I had to move the Supreme Court to regain my position." Lacille de said that the media largely ignored his plight during the UNP-led UNF administration (2002-2004).
He said some people must have been upset by some of his articles to both state-run and private media over the past several months. "I genuinely felt the need to take tangible measures against waste and corruption. No institution, including parliament should be exempted from investigations", De Silva said.