Kandy’s Sinister Diyawadana Nilame
By Nirmala Kannangara
The Diyawadana Nilame of the Temple of the Tooth, Pradeep Nilanga Dela Bandara has come under severe criticism for draining colossal sums of money from temple funds since his election to office in 2005.
Dela Bandara is accused of selling temple lands to private parties contravening the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance, misusing temple funds and collecting money from private parties for the annual pageant, the Esala Perehera held every year in August.
His Personal Assistant, Nihal Ferdinando was sacked from office on January 5, 2011 following his (Ferdinando’s) request to Dela Bandara to stop engaging in fraudulent activities and thus disgracing his post.
When contacted, Ferdinando confirmed to The Sunday Leader that he had been sacked last year because of the warnings he had given to Dela Bandara.
“Seeing Dela Bandara misusing Temple funds and its properties as his personal assets I warned him not to engage in illegal businesses. Instead of listening to me he sacked me immediately,” Ferdinando said.
Asked if it was true that Dela Bandara got the buffers and the four door handles of his Mini John Cooper car gold plated, Ferdinando said yes and that Dela Bandara had used the Maligawa gold for it.
“The car was brought down from the UK and he got it assembled at his official residence which is behind the Temple of the Tooth. A British Motor Mechanical Engineer Mr. Brown came down to Sri Lanka to assemble the car while Rohith de Silva a Sri Lankan racing car driver living in the UK was also brought down using Maligawa funds,” he said.
According to Ferdinando, the car was assembled and gold plated in time for him to use it for his honeymoon in 2010.
“The British Engineer and the Sri Lankan race driver lodged at Dela Bandara’s official residence for two months and a painter was specially hired from Ratnapura to gold plate the two buffers and the door handles,” Ferdinando said.
The Sunday Leader is in possession of two documents signed by the Diyawadana Nilame to sell two plots of land that belonged to the Temple of the Tooth – Udagedarawatte and Polgodahena, to two companies namely, Commercial Credit and Prime Lands (Pvt) Ltd.
According to the documents, the Udagedarawatte land in Peradeniya is two and a half acres in extent and the Polgodahena land in Megoda Kalugamuwa is one acre, one hundred and twenty nine perches in extent.
Prime Lands (Pvt) Ltd, in turn re-sold this land at a later date to 29 parties. Dinusha Fernando, Legal Officer for Prime Lands confirmed to The Sunday Leader that they resold the Udagedarawatte land situated in Peradeniya but refused to disclose the name of the original seller.
Dela Bandara has also been accused of obtaining money from 18 companies for the annual Esala Pageant held last year. An official from the Temple of the Tooth speaking on condition of anonymity said it was pathetic to note how the custodian of the Temple of the Tooth went begging from public and private companies to conduct the pageant.
“He requested funds from the People’s Bank, Bank of Ceylon, National Savings Bank, Economic Development Ministry, Dialog Telecommunications, Maliban, NOLIMIT and Laugfs Gas to name a few. According to the Esala Perahera Trust, it is illegal to obtain money for the pageant; but last year Dela Bandara went after these institutions begging for funds as the temple coffers have run dry for the first time ever,” he said.
NOLIMIT confirmed to The Sunday Leader that the Kandy Diyawadana Nilame had made a request for funds to hold the pageant for which they contributed over Rs.1 million. “For the past two years we have been approached for funding,” an accountant at NOLIMIT said.
Refuting all allegations, Diyawadana Nilame Dela Bandara said he had not sold any lands belonging to the Temple of the Tooth.
“There are two types of lands which belong to the Temple. One is Bandara lands which belong solely to the temple and cannot be transferred to anyone. The other is Rajakaree lands given to those who provide their services to the temple, for example, a drummer or a dancer etc., These Rajakaree lands can be sold to any party by the person who occupies the land on condition that the buyer in turn provides a service to the temple, failing which it could be taken back by the temple. It is these lands that are now being disputed, where two respective parties attempted to block the lands and sell them without our knowledge. I immediately informed the Buddhist Affairs Commissioner and stopped them from being sold and requested the parties to deposit the monies in our account as security, in the event the people who buy the lands fail to provide their service to the temple,” Dela Bandara told The Sunday Leader.
Dela Bandara denied gold plating his car buffers and said that they had been electroplated and not gold plated.
“Why should I get my vehicle plated in gold? I am not rich to get the car gold plated,” he said.
Asked whether he requested money from 18 institutions to hold the annual pageant and whether it was true that the Maligawa coffers have run dry since he took office, Dela Bandara said he was able to increase the Maligawa funds from Rs. 230 million to Rs. 260 million.
“I have not misused Maligawa funds nor have I sold any property that belongs to the Temple. I am the custodian of this sacred Temple of the Tooth and therefore I am bound to not engage in any fraudulent activities,” he added.