Newly appointed Solicitor General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe was much remembered for her outgoing role as the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption. Known for her dauntless character being in one of the three independent commissions of the Yahapalana regime, raised the eyebrows of many when she suddenly decided to tender her resignation over a lashing comment by President Maithripala Sirisena that questioned the role of the Bribery Commission in October 2016. Without giving any explanation for her unexpected decision that became a hot topic in the political scene, Mrs. Wickramasinghe withdrew to the Attorney General’s Department, where she was quietly performing her duties until being promoted as the first officer of the entire government service recently. In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror and speaking to the media for the first time in three years since her unforeseen resignation, Mrs. Wickramasinghe says she will never bow down to any pressure in future.
- I am least worried about pressure. As a public servant my role is to serve the interest of the public. In fact, when I took over the DG post at CIABOC, I went to a post which was much junior to the one I held. It was almost like a demotion to me
- I have set out the reasons for my resignation in detail in my lengthy letter of resignation
- I had the opportunity to speak to one of the investigators and it is shocking to hear the way match fixing is happening in Sri Lanka
- The deterioration of moral standards of the people has led to the exponential growth of crime in the country
Q You were remembered as a public figure, more than a mere government servant. Has your latest appointment as the Solicitor General once again made you walk into the limelight?
No I disagree. I’m just a simple public servant. I don’t consider myself to be a public figure. If you say I am a public figure it is true to the extent that all public servants are public figures.
Q But during your tenure at the Bribery Commission you were much remembered as a popular figure because of your conduct and how frankly you dealt with the public and the media?
The main reason behind that is I am committed to my work. I have strong work ethics and a set of principles that I strongly follow. During my entire career I have followed the principles of good governance in discharging my duties especially when taking difficult decisions. So to me principles such as accountability, transparency, responsiveness, fairness and the rule of law are part of my DNA. The public and the media soon understood me to be a no-nonsense, honest public servant. I soon realized that the fight against bribery or corruption can be achieved only with the inclusiveness and support of the public and non-governmental organisations. Therefore, for the first time in the 21-year history of the Bribery Commission I actively engaged with the NGOs committed to eradicating bribery and corruption despite strong objections from the staff. So I think the public and the media were able to witness my frankness, my transparency, my vision and my commitment and they believed in me.
Being a woman I have never experienced any gender discrimination, especially at the AG’s Department. I have never been marginalized because of my gender
Q It is almost three years since your unforeseen resignation from the post of Director General of the Bribery Commission. What exactly happened for you to tender your resignation?
I’m sorry but I cannot disclose it as it is a privileged communication. I have set out the reasons for my resignation in detail in my lengthy letter of resignation.
Q Rumours spread then that you have opened files of powerful politicians linked to corruption, who had brought you under pressure in performing your duties unhindered. Were you under such intimidation?
That is a total lie. Neither the President nor the Prime Minister had ever told me to do this or do that. Not even a politician. Leave alone politicians, anybody who knows my character knew that I would never bow down to any intimidation at any time. As public servants we define our character from day one. It is like how you mould a piece of clay on the pottery wheel. To me honesty and integrity are the most important qualities I possess. In a basket full of government officers there could be a few bad eggs, I won’t say no. Politicians and even the public would always approach these ‘bad eggs’ to get things done but not a person like me. I will always go out of my way to do the right thing whenever I see injustice caused to people.
Q So that means the sole reason behind your resignation was the President’s lashing remarks on independent commissions?
I am sorry but I cannot make any further comment. (Smiling)
Q This incident happens during a coalition government where the President represents one party and the Prime Minister with many Cabinet Ministers from another. So when the President’s lashing out comments came, did any higher-up of the Yahapalana government intervene on your behalf to keep you from tendering your resignation?
No one intervened and it was entirely a private decision. To me honesty, integrity and my self-respect are number one priorities. I’m a public servant and I work because I love my country, not because of a wage. When I realized that the environment did not permit me to continue to perform my duties as Director General, I decided to resign.
Q Since nobody from the coalition government intervened on your behalf when you were tendering your resignation, do you believe that they too had believed the series of events should have ended like that?
I have absolutely no clue what they thought. I don’t think it’s even a question to be looked at in that fashion. I wrote a letter and said the things that I had to say and left it as it is. I don’t want to comment on it beyond that.
So many allegations have been made against public servants throughout the history of this country including against officers of our department. But we are unable to go before the public or the media and defend ourselves
Q But if you strongly believe that your self-respect was harmed don’t you want to correct it by coming out with the truth, at least now after three years?
We are public servants. That is the difference between public servants and private citizens. So many allegations have been made against public servants throughout the history of this country including against officers of our department. But we are unable to go before the public or the media and defend ourselves. We are governed under the Establishment Code and the E Code prohibits us from making statements to the media or the public. Even to do this interview I had to obtain the permission of the Attorney General.
Q Do you think you did justice to the post of CIABOC DG when performing its duties?
I will leave it to the general public to answer that question.
Q What is the role of a Solicitor General and the difference to an Attorney General?
The Attorney General is the Chief Law officer of the State and the Head of the Bar. Under the Constitution, it is the President who appoints the AG, upon his nominee for the post being approved by the Constitutional Council. The AG is the Head of the AG’s Department. The Solicitor General is the most senior officer in the department and is appointed to the post by the Public Service Commission. The SG assists the AG in the performance of his functions and duties and also assists in the administration work of the department. I am also currently the head of the civil division of the AG’s Department. The new AG Mr. Dappula De Livera also recently established several new sub-divisions within the department to serve the public expeditiously without delays. The International Legal Affairs Division is one such division which was recently established for the first time in our department’s history and I am heading that division too. In addition, AG has also established an ‘Advice Division’ (headed by Senior Assistant Solicitor General Sanjay Rajaratnam PC), a “Bills division” (headed by ASG Indika Demuni de Silva, PC) and a “461 Notice disposal Unit” (headed by Senior Deputy Solicitor General Mayadunna Corea). The department also provides legal services to public corporations and statutory bodies and the “Corporation Division” is headed by ASG Farzana Jameel, PC. Through these new sub-divisions the new AG has a vision to render our services to the public without delay. As you know the AGs department is constantly under attack regarding delayed files.
Q A serious dilemma in the Sri Lankan judiciary system is the delay in delivery of justice. What is the chief reason?
I think the deterioration of moral standards of the people has led to the exponential growth of crime in the country. As a result, so many cases are added to the courts system on a daily basis. During the past decade the number of files that we have received at the AGs department on a yearly basis has increased tremendously, evincing that the crime rate in the country is increasing. So if we are to reduce delays, the first step would be to find ways to reduce the crime rate in this country. To me this can be achieved only by developing the moral standards of the people. It’s a long term strategy but it’s the answer. The government cannot keep on increasing the number of judges and courts to hear the ever increasing number of cases. Every citizens and clergy has a duty to follow the law and obey it.
Q Many people charge that most probing cases getting delayed or postponed due to incompetence of the AG’s Department. Especially the lack of staff to handle such a large number of cases. Is this true?
We have a little more than 200 State Counsel working for the department at present. About 97 of them are attached to the Civil Division and the others are attached to the Criminal Division. So these 200 officers have to serve a population of 21 million people in the country. Obviously there is going to be a delay in delivering justice as the number of officers is insufficient. This has been a perennial problem.We are in the process of recruiting more staff. We have already absorbed 50 officers as State Counsel and will shortly recruit 70 more. We have to train them and then we have to provide them office space. Right now a new building is being built close to the Superior Courts Complex. But notwithstanding the difficulties we are experiencing, the AG is seriously committed to reducing the backlog of files and cases. He has given explicit instructions to all officers to reduce the number of pending files by this December.
Q Do you believe the clergy could play a vital role in developing moral standards of the people especially when they ignore the law for their own comfort?
This is a society based on traditions, culture, moral values and spirituality. Every village has a Buddhist temple, a Catholic church, a kovil or a mosque. People go to these places to worship and it is a starting point where their ideologies could be changed for the better. It’s a question of changing the mindset of the people to do good and not evil. Religious leaders therefore have a responsibility to ensure that their teachings would promote peace and harmony in our country and eradicate all forms of violence, hatred and destruction.
Q What is your opinion about religious extremism and Sharia Law, do you think the prevailing laws should be amended to face these new crises?
I’m a firm believer that we are all Sri Lankans. It is one Sri Lanka with one Constitution that applies to everyone living in it with nothing less and nothing more. Of course, we need to respect the different religions, cultures and traditions and ensure that all citizens have the right to practice their religion and enjoy their culture. In fact, our country has a rich heritage of personal and customary laws. However, the rights of the Citizen must always be exercised in a manner that does not contravene the laws of Sri Lanka.
Q Do you believe bringing in the Death Penalty would help?
I don’t believe in an eye for an eye. In Canada they have abolished the death penalty and the rate of crime has come down. It is because they have inculcated strong social norms in the society. But in the USA in certain states they have implemented the death penalty and the crime rate is increasing. If you look globally you will get different data and statistics. Therefore, in Sri Lanka we have to consider the death penalty in a different context because of who we are and our traditions and culture. We have to do a study about this according to our values and ascertain whether it would have a positive impact on reducing the crime rate by introducing it.
We need to respect the different religions, cultures and traditions and ensure that all citizens have the right to practice their religion and enjoy their culture. In fact, our country has a rich heritage of personal and customary laws
Q You are the third female SG in the country. How freely can you carry out your duties being a woman?
Yes, after retired Justice Eva Wanasundera and Mrs. Bimba Tillekeratne. Being a woman I have never experienced any gender discrimination, especially at the AG’s Department. I have never been marginalized because of my gender. I’m firm as firm can be, fair as fair can be and friendly as friendly can be. I feel that my fellow officers have always respected me for these qualities.
Q Unlike many other attorneys you had access to foreign education and the opportunity to work in England /Wales Bar and as a Judge in Fiji. How did these opportunities help you?
At the age of 17 I won an American Field Services scholarship to study in the USA for one year and graduated from High School. I also served as the Chief Legal Officer of the Sri Lanka Air Force. Then I served as a High Court Judge in Fiji. I also lived in Australia for two years when I did my Masters in Law. So to me all these opportunities have helped me to be what I am today. I like to follow our traditions to date. In fact, from childhood to the past 33 years of married life I make most of the sweet meats at home during New Year time including ‘kavum’. It gives me a great pleasure to see the formation of the head of the kavum and it’s definitely an art. I always keep time for my family. I love cooking and going for movies. I always like to learn new things. This is apart from my daily meditation practice. The only thing I hate to do is physical exercise. But I was the law medical queen once upon a time. (Giggles)
Q You have contributed towards enactment of legislation in several dynamic developing areas of the law?
I’m currently advising on the act of political financing. It’s a project I started when I was the DG CIABOC. Also, I’m currently working on a Bill on illegal sports manipulation and match fixing with a team of officers. This will be a very important Bill for Sri Lanka. I had the opportunity to speak to one of the investigators and it is shocking to hear the way match fixing is happening in Sri Lanka. A team of officers headed by me are also currently considering the proposed law for the Colombo Port City.
Q Pressure from the political authority over government servants is nothing new in this region. Do you believe you will be able to perform duties unhindered as SG?
Even at CIABOC I had no such issue and I have a proven track record of not succumbing to pressure. So I am least worried about pressure. As a public servant my role is to serve the interest of the public. In fact, when I took over the DG post at CIABOC, I went to a post which was much junior to the one I held. It was almost like a demotion to me. But I took it over because I as a citizen wanted a corrupt free country. That is what the people of this country also want. I will do anything within my power to serve the public and uphold the rule of law. So in the future if any one says anything to me where I will not be able to serve the public first, I will not care two hoots about it. So I will never bow down to pressure.
Q A common aspiration of any solicitor is to be appointed as a SC Judge. You resigned from your post of CIABOC DG over the President’s lashing comments. Will you accept if he appoints you as a SC Judge one day?
If I am given the opportunity to serve the people of this Country as a Judge of the Supreme Court, I will seriously consider accepting it. But I will not go behind anyone to get it. That I will never do. As I said in the beginning I am a simple dedicated public servant serving the people of this country. My destiny and karma will determine my future.