The ‘sudden’ removal of Lacille de Silva, former Secretary to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Serious Acts of Fraud and Corruption (PRECIFAC), shocked the public and raised questions by the vigilant public as to ‘Yahapalanaya’ or good governance was dealing with genuine public officers like the previous regimes did. At the same time, there were rumours that some politicians did not like Lacille and they were furious over his appearance in media and talking to journalists. On the other side of the coin, justifying Lacille’s removal as both legal and official, as some government members described he had completed the one-year contract and it was not renewed. Dailymirror spoke to Lacille to find out what exactly happened and what are his views about this whole issue. He shared the following with us:
Q Lacille, could you please share with us about your background?
Well, I started my career as an English teacher. My first appointment was in Embilipitiya. I joined the parliament in late 70s and had served for 30 odd years. I wound up my career, which was so eventful as I was sent on compulsory leave once, and even was charge-sheeted due certain important decisions I had made that had nothing to do with corruption or malpractices. I was the Director Administration of Parliament and on my retirement, the President appointed me to this Commission. So this is my history.
Q So you were serving in parliament where the MPs gathered to talk about people’s problems and governance. But today, corruption and malpractices are words closely dealt with politicians themselves...
Corruption is one of the major issues that had destroyed this county. I know it is not something that came all of a sudden. I would say it was there for a long time. There was a dramatic increase in corruption since 1970s. There had been instances in the 1950s where certain MPs were dealt with corruption. During the SWRD Bandaranaike regime, he came up with Bribery Act, and in 1958 the Bribery Commissioner’s Department was set up. What happened thereafter was, after 1970s, the allegation was only sprats were being netted but the sharks were still at large.
Q You mean the PRECIFAC is an institution that was set up to deal with corruptions. How and when it was initiated?
In 2015, the new President was elected and a mandate was given to the government to take steps to rectify most of these malpractices; take necessary steps to curb fraud and corruption etc. The former President also, almost at the tail end of the previous regime, openly said that he had a few files but he did not take all those cases up. I believe that might have been one of the reasons why the incumbent President appointed a very powerful Commission to probe frauds, corruption and abuse of power. Anyway this was for a particular period, from January 2010 to January 2015.
Q How many cases have you handled?
I was appointed in early March 2015 and it took some time to get the Secretariat organised. It was July when all was set up and we got a few good policemen. We had limited staff and limited facilities. By November we had received approximately 900 petitions and we seriously scrutinised everything whatever had been received. But around 600 petitions did not come under our purview and rejected about 600 of those. So, nearly 300 petitions were referred to police investigation teams to conduct investigations. Out of those 100 cases, there were about 50 percent more that did not contain any fraud or corruption. So there are about 50 plus cases are actively being investigated now. We had completed cases such as Negombo lagoon, Coconut cultivation, cases related to ITN, Rakna Lanka, Minister of Justice to name a few. These petitions pertaining to top people in the system in the former regime, so we had to take steps to call the relevant parties, including the former President.
Q Could you please describe what had happened and why were you removed?
I am not prepared to reveal all reasons, but the Presidential Secretariat appointed me as the Secretary to the PRECIFAC on the expiry of my one-year term. I believe they must have thought of bringing in a replacement. I don’t know what was the reason.
Q Do you see any justification on this?
Whether there is any, or not, is not my concern. They had decided to replace me, so they would have done that.
Q Why all of a sudden?
I don’t know why it had happened all of a sudden. I too have no clue till now. But we were so dedicated. It was not easy to set up an entire new office, recruit necessary staff, get the police personnel, assemble this unit and expedite inquires. Within one year, we have done quite a lot of work.
Q Have you had any internal issues with the Commission? Was anyone there unhappy over the task handled by you?
As far as I am aware, I had no problems because I know even the Commissioners. We were mutually cooperating with each other and there was no misunderstanding. But to my surprise, I certainly do not know what went wrong.
Q The cordial relationship that you had had with the media might have been a reason for your ejection...
I know that this was taken up by a number of politicians. I was unbiased and they viewed that I should not take up these issues with the public in the media. I was very sincerely able to tell them that I had never revealed anything controversial. I am not a person who is all out to tarnish the image of any one but had the duty to keep the public informed. This is a Presidential Commission and the people made inquiries as to what the progress was. In other countries, there are similar Commissions with a public spokesman. Commission of this nature is a must to put these things in order in a country like ours. In countries like Columbia and Nigeria there were steady and powerful Commissions to probe into corruption. Such Commissions gave the government necessary strength to come up with tangible improvement and good governance.
I have not done anything wrong; perhaps the reason was that I was close to the media.
Q If you could elaborate further...
The Presidential Secretariat might be aware of, and I was not there to find out what had really happened. The Presidential Commission Act stipulates a Secretary could be appointed and I was appointed. The Commission’s life span is one year. When they extended the period, they would have had reasons as to why I should not be given an extension.
Q Did they give reasons for not extending your service?
No, I feel I should have been given the reason for not my service being extended. In my case, there were no apparent reasons to believe this. I believed it would be granted and we were planning dedicatedly with the current year’s programme regarding the 550 plus cases to be taken up. We were contemplating to expedite more cases. At that time only it came as a surprise. Being a person who is sensitive, I was a bit hurt.
Q According to the Commission, the period to probe serious acts of corruption ended in January 2015. Do you think it should have been extended to the present period where ‘Yahapalanaya’ is in power?
Actually that is not my job. People always made inquiries when they came to handover petitions, and I said that we didn’t have the authority and the scope that did not cover or give us power to inquire into complaints after January 10, 2015.
Q You are related to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. What made you to act against him?
My sister is married to Basil Rajapaksa’s brother-in-law. But I must tell you that I had nothing to do with that. I respect him. But honestly, I would have spoken not more than a few words with Basil over the past 20 years. But I like MR more than Basil. I would say I am a one- master dog. I don’t have allegiance while holding a position in this government. We had nothing to do with politicians and we treated all politicians alike whether they were from the government or from the Opposition. When we were handed a job, we respected it and the rule. I had earned a good reputation. I don’t want to lose it at any cost.
I know various media institutions had made allegation that I had hidden around 25 files. I must tell you, if they want to, let them probe and find out the fact. I am not a person of that nature. It is nice for them to find out my track record over the past years. I am proud of myself an have not resorted to that kind of habits.
Q On the other hand, were there any allegations among your family circles that you are going against your family members?
One of my sisters once called and asked me why I was doing this. I told her not to interfere with that. It was my job and I had to do it. I have to do my job properly. She is married to Basil’s brother-in-law but never grumbled and never spoke to me either.
Q It was also in the news that there were some issues with regard to an investigation into certain corrupt practices that had taken place within Parliament?
Actually yes, I sent that letter on January 23 and we wanted a report six days from that date. From Parliamentary circles I understood that certain authorities (in the parliament) have approached our Commission. I know that they would not contact me knowing my nature. I can’t say whether the Commissioners had been approached. These are not allegations against politicians by the Parliament Secretariat. Moreover, some politicians too were against this.
Q You have been writing to the Daily Mirror about the corrupt practices by politicians and were campaigning in favour of good governance...
I have been associating with politicians for nearly three decades. Honestly, I know their true sentiments and behaviour. They were at times opportunistic and were circumstantial captives at other times. I believe it was good that I wrote to the newspapers, that in turn triggered changes to the whole system. We have to upgrade the parliamentary ethics. Here or anywhere in the world, a parliamentarian’s job does not have a job description. Tax payers pay a lot of money.
When we talk about Parliament, there is a lot to be corrected. We had even mentioned that millions are spent for a day’s sitting in Parliament. So what do you get in return? At the same time, we have to be cost-effective. When you visit the hospital or when you are on the road, you face all types of problems. The poverty rate is rising day by day. These indications caution us. Countries like Zambia in the 1960s were highly developed. But today, after half a century, Zambia has became one of the worst and most poverty-striken countries. According to media, Mugabe had spent an amount equal to Rs. 14 billion for a birthday party. The 92 kg cake was made to celebrate his 92nd birthday. Still there are supporters who adore him.
The President came to change this system but it is not so easy when the country is so corrupt. That is one of the reasons how the Presidential Secretariat dealt with me because stablishing good governance, you can’t deal with the politicians, but you may deal with the officials and then symmetrize. I know what had happened, and as a person with sincerity, I have to say that I am a bit hurt.
Q When one sees what has happened to you, do you think there is hope for Yahapalanaya?
This is a turning point. The President and Prime Minister have got together to put the country on the right track. This is mandatory. We should strengthen their hands as they have to solve other problems too. With more issues that have come up, they don’t want investigations of this kind. They have to be conducted slowly and steadily to see that the system is cleaned up. But that does not mean they have to take steps to deal with me and change the course. There had been pressure I guess. So owing to those reasons, they have taken this step.
Q Are you happy overall about what you have got in return?
I can’t be unhappy, because I know there are a number of calls from various quarters and they have been appreciating me for what I have been doing. I feel the majority of the people and even the media are asking me about the latest meeting.
Q Now that you have been removed from the Commission to probe corruption, do you think Sri Lanka is a country that cannot control corruption?
This is one of the luckiest countries. We have been receiving all sorts of assistance. We can solve all the issues. But we have to put the house in order. PM Wickremesinghe just before the parliamentary election said he would form a National Government. I recall what Sir. Winston Churchill did before World War II. He invited to form a national government to fight war. But I would say fighting corruption here is an even difficult task. Politicians are not geared or dedicated collectively to eradicate corruption. The National Government’s goal should be to uplift the country and elevate the economy and expedite development.