The Sri Dalada Maligawa is a place of utmost importance to Buddhists and the Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa is highly respected. The 10- year tenure of Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dala ended on June 30. Currently, he is serving as the acting Diyawadana Nilame until elections are held to choose a new Diyawadana Nilame. In the light of the upcoming elections to fill this post, Mr. Dala spoke to the Dailymirror regarding his intention to run again for the position. He was also featured in the media recently as he was asked to report to the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) regarding certain allegations that had been made against him. During the interview, he also spoke about these complaints.
QYou were recently requested to report to the FCID. What was the reason?
Anyone can make a complaint to the police against an individual. This particular one was made against me by a person called Nihal Ferdinando who worked at the Dalada Maligawa for one and a half years and as my personal secretary for less than a month. As an ordinary citizen, I went to the FCID to give a statement.
Q What were the charges made against you?
One was that I sold three plots of land owned by the Maligawa. Another was that I utilised Maligawa finances to repair my car. He [Ferdinando] had also alleged there were financial irregularities in the production of souvenir CDs. Another charge was that I gave a sun of USD 10,000 to bribe to the British High Commissioner. Finally, he had claimed that I was attempting to flee the country.
All these are baseless allegations. They have made the same complaints against me on previous occasions to the Buddhist Affairs Commissioner, the Human Rights Commission and the Bribery or Corruption Commission. These allegations were given publicity and were investigated.
Q You are saying that an individual made the complaint; in your opinion, what could be the reason?
It could be a personal grudge against me because he lost his job. There are hands directing his actions. My tenure ends on the 30th of this month. Individuals who are waiting to grab my post and those who held my post previously are using him.
QDon’t you think such complaints against the Diyawadana Nilame of the DaladaMaligawa are hurting the reputation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka?
Yes, indeed. It is the lowliness of the people making allegations for their own gains. There was a Devadaththa during The Buddha’s period as well. There are some people who would stoop to any level; it is not the fault of society.
"If your next question is about the allegation that I painted my car in pure gold, let me explain; it is not painted in pure gold. But I got it gold plated in Maradana. And no real gold is used in it. It’s electro-plated gold"
QCan you guarantee that no financial irregularities have taken place at the Maligawa?
I can guarantee that no such irregularities have taken place. A Diawadana Nilame or a lay caretaker is appointed in accordance with the Temporalities Act (Vihara Devalagam Panatha). According to this Act, there are procedures we have to follow. The chief caretakers and protectors of the Dalada Maligawa and the Sacred Tooth Relic are the Malwathu Asgiri Mahanayaka Theras and the Diyawadana Nilame. So apart from abiding to the legal framework, we are also responsible for the continuation of age-old rituals of worship and traditions in taking care of the Maligawa. Another responsibility is to manage properties belonging to the Maligawa. Every year, we prepare a budget, stating expenditure and revenue that has to be approved by the Buddhist Affairs Commissioner.. We issue a receipt for any donation, whether it is in the form of cash, gold or anything else and we maintain an inventory for these donations. Every six months we have to keep the Buddhist Affairs Commissioner informed of our financial position through a report that is signed by the Mahanayake Theras and the Diyawadana Nilame. We also conduct an internal audit every six months. The donation boxes in the Maligawa are opened and the money is counted by representatives of the Buddhist Affairs Commissioner. These procedures will show you there is absolutely no room for any corruption or irregularities when handling the finances and properties of the Maligawa. It is a transparent process.
"Anyone can make a complaint to the police against an individual. This particular one was made against me by a person called Nihal Ferdinando who worked at the Dalada Maligawa for one and a half years and as my personal secretary "
QSo you are saying that the allegation that you used the gold belonging to the Maligawa is false?
Well, as I explained, there is no room to take anything belonging to the Maligawa for my personal use. When gold and jewellery are donated, it is not given to me personally. There are other responsible members of staff who are aware of these donations. So I cannot just take it [gold] home with me.
If I did, bad karma will follow me. If your next question is about the allegation that I painted my car in pure gold, let me explain; it is not painted in pure gold. But I got it gold plated in Maradana. And no real gold is used in it. It’s electro-plated gold. It is something anyone can do to their vehicles.
QThere was an allegation that you sold lands belonging to the Maligawa, including land named Udagedara Watta. Is that true?
Let me explain.There are two types of land belonging to the Maligawa. Those that directly belong to the Maligawa are called ‘Bandara’ lands and they cannot be sold at all. The other type is ‘Rajakari’ lands which were given to various people in exchange for providing a service to the Maligawa. These lands have been changing hands for generations. The owners of ‘ Rajakari’ lands have the right to sell them, but there is a procedure that should be followed. The land that you are talking about was one such land.
When I got to know that the land was being sold by Prime Lands company, I notified the relevant parties and our legal advisers. With regard to this issue, the Buddhist Affairs Commissioner issued a letter and the heading of the letter read ‘Selling Udagedara Watta belonging to the Dalada Maligawa.” The allegations levelled against me were based on that line. It went on websites claiming we were selling off Maligawa lands. After investigations that followed, it was concluded we were only trying to get back the Maligawa land.
QDuring your tenure, did you experience any type of political influences, especially from the previous regime?
No, no such attempts were made and even if there were any, I would not have bowed to them. This is not a position that can be politically influenced. However, we do have to work closely with the leader of the country.
QAre you satisfied you served the Maligawa well as the Diyawadana Nilame?
Yes, I made some great changes in the administration of the Maligawa. With the blessing of the Mahnayaka Theras I started a programme that provided welfare to those who need. I started a local Buddhist affairs division and a foreign Buddhist affairs division to develop Buddhism in the country and strengthen our ties internationally.
Apart from this we started a university called Sri Lanka International Buddhist Academy (SIBA) for Buddhist studies. We also built an auditorium for the Maligawa and a Buddhist Museum.
QFrom where did the money come from to provide these services? Is it in your purview to spend money on such projects?
Everything was done legally. I did everything with the revenue of the Maligawa; I did not touch the existing fund of the Maligawa. Today, the Sri Dalada Maligawa occupies first place among top tourist and heritage spots according to the UN.
QWhen you were appointed in 2005, what kind of support did you receive from the outgoing Diyawadana Nilame, Mr. Neranjan Wijerathna?
His support was only limited to his words. I did not need his support because I had the support and blessing of the Mahanayaka Theras.
QAre you planning to run again for the upcoming elections for the position of Diyawadana Nilame?
Yes, definitely. I was planning on retiring but I see there is no suitable candidate to continue the welfare work I started.
There are also attempts to bring back those who have already contested last time. There are grave allegations against me brought by four or five individuals. But, I want to prove they are false by winning the election.