"A team of highly reliable higher officials has already been appointed to inquire into the alleged scam"
The trustee of the Seenigama Devalaya (shrine) is alleged to have converted to other uses funds in the shrine to the tune of one million rupees in the guise of a donation towards the COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund, it has been revealed.
The trustee of the shrine Sarath Disenthuva-handi on two occasions in the year 2020 has issued two People’s Bank cash cheques amounting to Rs.500, 000 each, towards the COVID Fund as a donation in order to provide relief to the people battling from the pandemic. But this money hasn’t been credited to the said fund according to the Presidential Secretariat.
Although, as per the copies of the two vouchers, this newspaper is in possession of, it is now revealed that the two donations made towards the COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund were encashed by two parties at the People’s Bank branches at Mt. Lavinia and Town Hall.
"The Trustee of the Shrine Sarath Disenthuva-handi said that he had handed over both cheques in April and June respectively last year to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana as the governing body of the shrine"
Letter from Presidential Secretariat with regard to not receiving funds
Letter to the COVID fund from Buddhist monks
According to the first voucher dated April 27, 2020, Rs. 500, 000 from the shrine’s trust fund has been donated towards the COVID Fund initiated by the President and the second voucher dated June 28, 2020, to the COVID fund initiated by the Sri Lanka Administrative Service.
When contacted the Trustee of the Shrine Sarath Disenthuva-handi as to why these two cheques were given to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana instead of to the COVID Fund at the Presidential Secretariat the Trustee said that he had handed over both cheques in April and June respectively last year to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana as the governing body of the shrine.
“I handed over these cheques to the Prime Minister who is the Minister of Buddha Sasana. I have photos to confirm this. It is my duty to hand over our donation to our ministry and it is they who will remit the cheques to the COVID account,” he added.
He further said that he came to know that the two cheques have been later handed over to the Prime Minister’s Coordinating Secretary (Buddhist Affairs) Ven. Agrahera Kassapa Thera.
“The Prime Minister has handed over these cheques to this monk and I was told that the cheques were remitted to the COVID Fund,” the Trustee said.
However, he failed to disclose as to why he could not check with the COVID Fund whether they received the two cheques as he did not get an acknowledgment for the donation made.
When asked as to why he had given cash cheques as it is the practice to write the receiver’s name, Disenthuva-handi said that one of the Secretaries at Ministry of Buddha Sasana insisted that the donation should come either by way of cash or through cash cheques. However, he failed to reveal the identity of this Secretary he was referring to.
“I was asked to bring money or cash cheques by one of the Secretaries but I cannot remember his name. If I am not mistaken it is the Ministry Secretary,” he said.
When contacted Secretary Ministry of Buddha Sasana Kapila Gunawardene, to find out as to why such a request was made to Disenthuva-handi, he said that he was not the Ministry Secretary at the time these two cheques were given to the Ministry, but added, that no one will ask a donor to give the donation either by cash or a cash cheque.
“I have no idea about this donation and I totally refute these allegations levelled,” Gunawardena affirmed.
Team appointed to probe alleged scam
Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs Sunanda Kariapperuma told the Daily Mirror, that he too has received complaints against this Trustee and added that a team of highly reliable higher officials have already been appointed to inquire about the alleged scam.
Kariapperuma further said that he is vested with powers from the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance to remove any trustee found guilty of any fraud or misdeed.
“These trustees are appointed by me under the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance for a period of five years. Although this trustee has few more years to serve, based on the outcome of the investigation, I will take the decision and appoint a new Trustee,” Kariapperuma said.
Although Disenthuva-handi claims that he was told that the cheques were remitted to the COVID fund, Chief Financial Officer of the Presidential Secretariat and the Chief Financial Officer of the COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund, Ravindra J. Wimalaweera by letter dated December 8, 2020, to Ven. Meewanapalane Dhammaratana Thera has informed that the fund has not received these two cheques.
The letter further states, ‘this is to inform you that the COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund has not received Cheque Nos: 522358 and 522366 cheques dated April 27, and June 28, 2020, respectively.
‘I kindly request you to inform this to the Board of Trustees of Seenigama Devalaya and take necessary action’.
According to members of the Devalaya Board of Trustees, who wished to remain anonymous, they had had their suspicious regarding the ‘donation’ because they didn’t receive any acknowledgment from the COVID Fund.
"The Trustee said that he came to know that the two cheques had been later handed over to the Prime Minister’s Coordinating Secretary"
“Whenever we made any contribution or donation from the Devalaya fund we received acknowledgments. In the recent past, the Trustee has adopted a new method to give cash cheques. He is accused of spending Devalaya funds at his whims and fancies without maintaining any records. Even in July last year, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Buddhist Affairs, K.D.S.K. Kuruppu sent him a letter seeking an explanation as to why he has exceeded expenditure regarding construction work of the shrine when referring to the approved amount.
"Two donations made towards the COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund were encashed by two parties at the People’s Bank branches at Mt. Lavinia and Town Hall"
Considering all these facts, when we did not receive an acknowledgment for the donation made in April, we informed the Chief Prelate of the temple Ven. Akurala Manjulathissa Thera of Kusumarama Purana Maha Viharaya, Seenigama. It was during this time the second ‘donation’ too was made. The Chief Prelate wanted us to wait till the end of November and then wrote to the Secretary to the Fund and inquired whether the fund has received the two cheques,” sources from the Board of Trustee told this newspaper.
Meanwhile, Ven. Meewanapalane Dhammaratana Thera of Dodanduwa Patuwatha Sri Seelakkandha International Buddhist Center too has written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa seeking his intervention to unearth as to whether the COVID fund has received the two cheques to the amount of Rs. 1 million.
"The Southern Province Police maintain that an inquiry cannot be conducted into the alleged scam as this is a civil case and add that the grieved parties must institute legal action against the Trustee of the shrine if necessary"
“I received a letter dated December 8, 2020, from Ravindra J. Wimalaweera Chief Finance Officer of the COVID Fund, confirming that the fund has not received these two cheques,” Dhammaratana Thera said.
According to Ven. Dhammaratana Thera, although he had lodged a complaint regarding the financial scam with the Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (Southern Province) Rohan J. Silva on November 19, 2020, he was surprised as to how the Senior DIG by letter dated December 10, 2020, informed him that an inquiry cannot be conducted as this is a civil case and further instructing him to institute legal action against the Trustee of the shrine if necessary.
"An official of the COVID Fund has confirmed that the fund had not received these two cheques"
“In his letter he has stated that an inquiry was held at the DIG’s office and since there was another complaint from the Trustee the police cannot hold further inquiries. I was advised to complaint about this either to the Commissioner General Buddhist Affairs or take legal action against the fraud. Is this the way the police are acting when complaints are lodged with them? How can they say that they cannot hold further inquiries since the accused party too has lodged a complaint? They should have conducted a proper inquiry,” the Thera alleged.
According to the Board of Trustees the first cheque (No: 522358) dated April 27, 2020 had been cashed on May 11 from the Mt. Lavinia branch and the second cheque (No: 522366) dated June 28, 2020 had been cashed on June 30 from the Town Hall branch.
"Prime Minister’s Coordinating Secretary said that the Ministry of Buddha Sasana hasn’t opened a fund to deal with the COVID pandemic hence the cheques were given to temples in Kurunegala"
Meanwhile, local politicians in Hikkaduwa who had participated at the President’s ‘Gama Samaga Pilisandara’ programme in Galagoda, Rathgama recently, told this newspaper how some of the Buddhist monks in and around Hikkaduwa had wanted to inform this fraud to the President, but was stopped by Galle District Member of Parliament Mohan P. de Silva. “These monks came to this meeting with all the relevant documents to hand over the file to the President. But this MP stopped them from making complaints against this Trustee who is alleged to have political clout,” the sources added.
De Silva however said that he was not aware that the monks wanted to complain the devalaya trustee to the President. “I assumed that they wanted to propose the former trustees name to the post. That’s why I stopped them. Even all the villagers in the area want this trustee to be removed as he is alleged to have misappropriated the devalaya collection,” De Silva said.
Meanwhile when contacted Prime Minister’s Coordinating Secretary (Buddhist Affairs) Ven. Agrahera Kassapa Thera to inquire whether the two cheques the Ministry received from Seenigama Devalaya were remitted to the COVID Fund, the monk said that the Ministry of Buddha Sasana hasn’t opened such a fund, hence that money was given to a few temples for their ‘use’.
"A letter has been written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa seeking his intervention to unearth as to whether the COVID fund has received the two cheques to the amount of Rs. 1 million"
“If we have not opened such a fund what can we do with that money. I gave the cheques to the temples in Kurunegala,” the monk said.
When asked as to why he did so, as this money was meant to be donated to the COVID fund to provide relief to the people during the lockdown, Kassapa Thera said there is nothing wrong in giving the money to temples.
“There are monks in the temples. So what is wrong in giving this money for their use?” the Thera responded.
"The Trustee is accused of spending the funds of the shrine at his whims and fancies without maintaining any records"