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Why did Wild Life Department chief resign?

9 June 2016 11:35 am - 33     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya a leading environmental specialist in the South Asia Environment, Water Resources and Climate Change Unit at the World Bank office who was appointed as the Director General of the Wild Life Conservation Department (WLCD) in April made a promise: “ As an environmental professional, during my tenure as director general I will not violate the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance or do anything detrimental to wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka. I would rather resign than be instrumental in causing a negative impact on wildlife conservation.”

Many environmentalists extended their gratitude for appointing such an ecologist who had the academic knowledge as well as extensive experience in the World Bank managing its wildlife projects.

Dr. Pilapitiya bade goodbye to his job as the lead environmental specialist for the South Asia Environment, Water Resources and Climate Change Unit at the World Bank office, and undertook this post to work on his passion of wild life specially elephants and to protect this country’s wildlife and fauna and flora.   

However, on Monday in a controversial manner he tendered his resignation to Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera. The Daily Mirror in an attempt to findout the real reason for his sudden resignation came across some serious issues which needed more clarifications by the relevant and responsible authorities. 

According to a WLCD official, a doctor who wished to remain anonymous told the Daily Mirror that there were serious incidents which prompted Dr. Pilapitiya to resign his post.

Dr.Pilapitiya was branded as a ‘stubborn’ officer: Wlcd official

After Dr. Pilapitiya started his work, he has been branded as a ‘stubborn’ officer since he had not complied with any illegal directions of politicians or other higher authorities.

The official said so much pressure was placed on Dr. Pilapitiya over various issues and they had allegedly disrupted his work. 

There were issues; one had been regarding the release of some illegally detained elephants and more recently about a raid where a dead tiger and 46 kilos of animal meat found in the Yala National Park. Both these incidents made  Dr. Pilapitiya to rethink about his job.

“In a previous  instance, a person,  representing all private elephant owners who was also holding a religiously and culturally important position of the country, had contacted Dr. Pilapitiya and asked him to release elephants to their private owners claiming they needed to be used for processions in temples. Subsequently, Dr. Piliapitiya had sought the advice of the Attorney General who had intimated that the elephants could not be released. The AG had also said that if the DG sends a request in writing [which can be interpreted as being against the law] , it can be done. Dr. Pilapitiya had refused to do so and had informed the AG that as long as he serves as DG of the Wild Life Department, he would not allow such things to happen,” the WLCD official said.

However, this incident had been reported to the President who had directed Dr. Pilapitiya to issue permits to capture the required number of elephants from forests which are under the administration of the Wildlife Conservation Department.

Dr. Piliapitiya has not agreed to initiate that directive either. 

Real Reason for resignation 

However, this had not been the main reason for the resignation of the WLCD chief. According to the departmental official, an incident when Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera had exerted pressure on Suranga Ratnayake, Warden of the Yala National Park  to apologise to Minister Sajith Premadasa was the main reason that Dr. Pilapitiya found disagreeable. It had been one of the main reasons for his resignation. 

Wild Life Conservation Department’s employees on Tuesday protested outside the Department Office in Battaramulla against the resignation of WLCD’s Director General Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya and ‘political interference’ within the department. 

Speaking to the , Suranga Ratnayake confirmed that the particular WLCD official’s claims and said since the day he was appointed as the warden of the Yala Wildlife Park, Minister Sajith Premadasa had allegedly pressurised the then DWC Chief Chandrasiri Bandara and the recently resigned DWC Chief Dr.Sumith Pilapitiya to remove Sunranga from his post.

Suranga Ratnayake had been appointed as the warden of the Yala Park in February 2016. 

Before that he had been the park warden of Kumana where he worked freely without any political pressure.

“Political pressure was exerted not only on Dr. Pilapitiya but also on all former DG’s of the department. During the previous regime, MP Namal Rajapaksa had also meddled with issues in Yala. It had been a Jeep Owners’ Association comprising some of his supporters that handled the administration of the Yala, not the Wild Life Department.

On June 05, I as the warden of Yala Park, sent a group for a raid that was launched on information we had received. During the raid we arrested a man who had 46 kgs of animal meats, an illegal weapon and a dead tiger whose jaws had been removed in his possession. As WLCD officials, we have the power to arrest poachers and produce them before courts. So we produced the arrested poacher before court and he was remanded. On that day, Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera called me and admonished me for producing the suspect  in court without producing him before the police. But, we have the powers to produce suspects directly before a magistrate. Poachers have been killing animals as a practice in Yala for a long time.”

Sixty per cent of  appointments in the Yala Park were Allegedly made by Minister Sajith Premadasa: Suranga rathnayake

Suranga spoke  how Minister Sajith Premadasa who was not related to the ministry got involved in the issue.

“Sixty per cent of appointments in the Yala Park were made by Minister Sajith Premadasa. I was not allowed to do my duties by the minister. He kept visiting the park as he wished, without following Wild Life Department’s regulations. One day, I  spoke directly to the minister [about it]. In response Minister Premadasa said that he had a habit of visiting the park and that just because I had been appointed as the new park warden, such habits could not be changed. 

Minister Jayawickrama asked me to apologise to Minister Premadasa over this incident. But, I didn’t do so, because I had done no wrong. However, after that incident, much pressure was placed on the then DWC Chief Chandrasiri Bandara and the recently resigned WLCD Chief Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya  to remove me from this post. But, Minister Premadasa had never  spoken to me directly regarding these issues. However by coordinating work with Dr. Pilapitiya I was able to solve a lot of issues in the Yala Park. After this recent raid we carried out, Minister Jayawickrama asked me to come to Parliament on Tuesday (June 7). In front of many government officials he verbally abused me for carrying out the raid and producing the suspect before court and not before the police. He also asked me to apologise to Minister Sajith Premadasa, but he (Minister Premadasa) was not present in Parliament at that time. I phoned DG Pilapitiya and told him what happened. He told me that as the WLCD Director General, if he could not defend his officers he was not suitable to hold the post any longer and that he would resign from the post. The DG told me that it was a time I should have been commended for catching the poachers. I later submitted my request for a transfer to the ministry, “Suranga said.

“These allegations are absolute rubbish: Minister Sajith Premadasa

Responding to the claims, Minister Sajith Premadasa said that he refuted all these haphazard allegations, because he was an animal lover from childhood and that he frequently was to Yala sanctuary for the purpose of wild life photography.

“These allegations are absolute rubbish. As an animal lover and I stand against anti-animal activities. I was the one who advised on controlling poaching activities in the Yala National Park. I only want to encourage Wild Life officials in order to protect wild life in our country,” Minister Premadasa said.

He went on to say that he had never violated or intervened in any established rules and regulations of the Wild Life Department of Sri Lanka.

Speaking about the apologising incident, he said he was not even aware of such a thing. 

There was no pressure exerted by me or any minister; Wildlife Minister 

While refuting all the claims levelled by the Yala Park warden and the WLCD official who spoke to the Daily Mirror, the Minister had a different story to tell.

“There was no pressure exerted by me or any minister on the Wild Life officials. Dr. Pilapitiya was an honest and straight forward officer capable of working as the head of the WLCD. I refused to accept his resignation also. I informed the Prime Minister about this. He assured me that he would have a word with Dr. Pilapitiya,”

When asked about the ‘main reason’ for the resignation of Dr. Pilapitiya, the minister said he only

asked the Yala Park warden to meet him on Tuesday at the Parliament Complex to advise him over not producing the suspect in the June 5 raid to the police before presenting him to court. 

“Allegations are baseless. I should categorically say that an involvement of Minister Sajith Premadasa as alleged did not happen. As a Cabinet Minister and Hambantota being his electorate he has a right to visit the Yala Park. One reason for that is because he is a wild life lover. I don’t think it is fair to point fingers at him based on that. That is not wrong,”

Poaching Mafia operational in wildlife parks

Commenting on the racket of animal poaching, the Minister Jayawickrama also said such a mafia is in operation in forests belonging to the WLCD and that he was concerned about the issue. He also said he spoke to the Acting IGP S. M. Wickremesinghe and requested him to carry out an investigation into the June 05 incident through the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to apprehend those behind the racket.

Secretary, Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife R.M.D.B. Meegasmulla said the ministry is to discuss with Dr. Pilapitiya and a decision to re-appoint him to the post is yet in abyance.

A protest urging the authorities to re-appoint Dr. Pilapitiya to the post was launched yesterday by the WLCD staff in Battaramulla. A meeting with the Prime Minister and Dr. Pilapitiya also took place yesterday at the Prime Minister’s residence. Attempts to hear the outcome of the meeting Dr. Pilapitiya’s views failed because he had switched off his mobile phone and was not willing to speak to the media regarding the issue.

  Comments - 33

  • Tikiri Thursday, 09 June 2016 07:33 PM

    I left Sri Lanka; my motherland and government service 36 years ago due to similar dirty political interference including that of the highest responsible authority in the country. Since then it seems the deplorable situation has exacerbated by 100 times.

    sobers Thursday, 09 June 2016 04:46 PM

    A true son of the soil. We can replace politicians but not persons like DR.Pilapitiya. He was a thorough bred gentleman. We have lost aquality, honest professional at this vital hour. Good luck sir!

    SL Thursday, 09 June 2016 04:49 PM

    If you are a genuine person, you can not work in gvt. sector and give your total to the public sector.We have no policies. We have boot licking policies.better be Wedda,they have better policies than Kalu Sudda has

    Lanka Thursday, 09 June 2016 05:56 PM

    Very sad!! This is just one example! This is exactly what is going on in every sector, exactly why this country cannot go forward. Development doesn't mean sky rises, development means ccivilized society first!

    Dinesh Thursday, 09 June 2016 06:00 PM

    I will never vote for SLFP, UPFA or UNP in the future. I had faith in the current president....But now that is gone. He is slowly becoming another rajapaksa.

    Deepal Thursday, 09 June 2016 06:05 PM

    Quite a few good comments on this article from SL, rosebud,Bala, Dumbo, Marie very well appreciated.This Government is no better than the previous Government., regret for supporting this Government to come into power.

    novice Thursday, 09 June 2016 06:14 PM

    Less than during MR's time for sure.

    Eng. Sarath Wijesekara Retired Charted Civll Engineer Thursday, 09 June 2016 06:17 PM

    Very good PUBLIC OFFICER .......Example to all other DGs....

    Vidhvatha Thursday, 09 June 2016 06:54 PM

    Dr Sumith Pilapitiya has demonstrated his caliber as an exemplary professional. If Sri Lanka had many more public officials like him, the country would have been in much better shape. Shame on you Yahapalanaya. Minister Sajith Premadasa is not above the law to visit Yala outside of the visiting hours. The Prime Minister should convince him to come back and guarantee that there will be no more political interference.

    stardust Thursday, 09 June 2016 02:09 PM

    Here again.....Banana Republic ! Shame !!

    Lanka Thursday, 09 June 2016 07:43 PM

    Make Mr.Pilapitiya the Minister. .

    Hiran Thursday, 09 June 2016 07:47 PM

    Dr. Pilapitiya said 60% appointments came from Sajith! So, Dr. Pilapitiya, pls let us know from where those minority, who picketed (40%)?

    Hubert Thursday, 09 June 2016 10:00 PM

    This proves educated committed persons have no place in the government Govt trying to protect who signed the vouchers to misuse government funds restore dignified people we are no friends of politicians

    Citizen Silva Friday, 10 June 2016 05:58 AM

    Very true. I left for the same reason.

    Emil van der Poorten Friday, 10 June 2016 07:45 AM

    Another glimmer of hope removed from the public service of Sri Lanka.It is one of the less well kept secrets that, during his father's tenure, Sajith Premadasa had a privileged position at Yala and used it as his wildlife studio. It is not inconceivable that this could be the cause of his ire!

    Ratnam Friday, 10 June 2016 10:28 AM

    Dr.Pilapitiya stick to your guns and look after the subordinates who carried out your orders. You are powerful enough to shove the minister guys, but poor honest officers will suffer in the hands of the goons in your absence. WRH.Perera was a fearless Conservator who kept the politicians away from forests, worth emulating. You should have known the ground situation and sat on that hot seat.

    aru Friday, 10 June 2016 12:38 PM

    Hats off to Dr Sumith Pilapitiya for upholding his values and acting like a gentleman. They say he was stubborn and quite rightly so as he could not be influenced by a so-called aging university professor who wags his tail in front of a UNP relict who knows next to nothing about wildlife although he heads the Ministry. I sincerely hope that the PM would give a piece of his mind to Premadasa and Jayawickrema Perera and insist that Dr Pilapitiya stays on for the betterment of DWLC. Jayawickrema Perera should also have at least an ant's knowledge of the subjects that come under his Ministry instead of talking nonsense like having a butterfly park in a Botanical Garden.

    ANTON Thursday, 09 June 2016 11:09 AM


    banji Thursday, 09 June 2016 02:03 PM

    its the great Banana Republic... only crooked ppl will survive.. from the top all fart with no crap.. via DM iOS App

    Manjula Thursday, 09 June 2016 02:04 PM

    Mr Prsedient why are you silent? haven't you read the news papers yet to know about this?

    Realist Thursday, 09 June 2016 01:49 PM

    This country is doomed, nothing will change.

    rosebud Thursday, 09 June 2016 01:33 PM

    Careful, Mr. Sumith... they'll deny all wrongdoings and try to blame you! via DM Android App

    Bala Thursday, 09 June 2016 01:18 PM

    Given the choice I believe Dr Pilapiitiya and Suranga. Never will I believe a politician. When do politicians lie - whenever they open the mouth.

    Dumbo Thursday, 09 June 2016 01:08 PM

    Once a capable public servant is appointed, the politicians should not meddle. However this seems to be happening in all areas, not only in wild life matters.....ultimately nothing happens properly, and honest public servants and other appointees get disheartened and demotivated. The President and Prime Minister should seriously take note, and make sure this does not happen at whatever level..

    Marie Thursday, 09 June 2016 12:44 PM

    What a loss to the country. The Prez is pleading with the SL expatriates to return. This is what happens when they come back. Will things ever change ?

    Coconut Republic Thursday, 09 June 2016 12:37 PM

    Mr President, this is your loving area. What are you doing about this loss?

    Ashroff Thursday, 09 June 2016 12:34 PM

    Sir, Wrong is always wrong even everyone is doing it. Right is always right even if no one is doing it. Your decision to upheld the Rule of Law irrespective of political interference and thuggery is very very highly commendable. Set an example to others. Bravo.

    Sharon Thursday, 09 June 2016 12:30 PM

    How many good officials resigned during last 1.5 years??? Anybody has a count???

    MP Thursday, 09 June 2016 12:28 PM

    If what is said is true, my greatest salutation to Dr Pilapitiya. We need more public officials of this caliber.

    7stars Thursday, 09 June 2016 12:19 PM

    The brightest flame burns quickest. via DM Android App

    Sanath Thursday, 09 June 2016 12:08 PM

    Whether it is Yahapalanaya or otherwise, the same political antics are in force. The honest and straight forward do not have any place among these corrupt practices. The country will ultimately get the beating.

    suda Thursday, 09 June 2016 11:53 AM

    Good gentleman , dirty politicians , this is why people leave Sri Lanka.

    Be Fair Thursday, 09 June 2016 11:37 AM

    So sad, this is unacceptable by the so called [dishonorables

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