By Malinda Seneviratne –
UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake claims that Sri Lanka has become a main drug distribution center in Asia and warns that it could soon become a center for the entire world. The dark predictions do have a tinge of exaggeration, understandable because Attanayake is in the Opposition. Understandable too is the fact that he keeps mum on the key role played by his party way back in the seventies to open the country’s doors to ‘the robber barons’ (JR’s famous green light term) and all kinds of ills including drugs. The term ‘kudu’ came into vogue during that UNP regime.
These things do not in any way legitimate non-action on the part of the current regime to pull things back. Even if Attanayake is exaggerating a bit, he does have a point. We have had the Prime Minister knowingly or unknowingly facilitating large scale drug trafficking. We had the Officer-in-Charge of a police station personally trafficking drugs. There are whispers that other drug barons have found favor with the high and mighty of the regime.
It is not just drugs. For all the rhetoric about reining in substance abuse, mathata thitha in policy documents included, little seems to have changed on the ground. Regulations about selling liquor in the proximity of schools are routinely flouted. The Minister of Health himself declared that it is clear that the tobacco industry is more powerful than health authorities. The list goes on.
Attanayake makes another, pertinent, observation. He points out that if the Government is unable to arrest this trend, then the President would find it hard to deliver on a promise made, ‘We will erase the term “youth unrest” from the dictionary’. A high level of alcohol consumption and widespread substance abuse do not paint a picture of a happy, contented population. It speaks instead of deep seated disjuncture, social fracture and frustration.
While certain actions can be taken to discourage trafficking and while education about the ills of substance abuse can help, these necessary but not sufficient measures. If it is not one drug it will be another. Substitutes will be found. And the abuse of equivalents would point to the same issues not being addressed. We are not talking about some disgruntled young (or old) people resorting to the easy (but temporary) memory-erasing method of losing their minds. Substance abusers are not just a curse to themselves but to their families and communities as well.
So far the Government has totally failed to gain any noticeable ground in what can be called a war on drugs. This Government did the unthinkable; it comprehensively defeated the LTTE, widely described as ‘invincible’. In this case, no one says the war on drugs cannot be won. And yet, the drug barons continue to reap in profits while poisoning the country’s youth and wrecking families and communities.
Is it a problem of legislation? No. The laws exist. Enforcement? We have to conclude at this point, ‘yes!’
If there’s a problem of enforcement, it means enforcement authorities are inept or have adopted a ‘look the other way’ policy, catching someone here and someone there but leaving the big guys alone. In a country where all state institutions are heavily politicized, we have to conclude that these inabilities can be sourced to political interference.
In the case of the Pakistani national who embarrassed the Prime Minister, the ‘point-politician’ was a member of a local government authority from the Premier’s hometown, Gampola. That’s a lower-rung politician but a politician nevertheless. Are there others? Any parliamentarians? Ministers?
We know for a fact that there were high-ups and indeed ‘very high-ups’ that helped the LTTE. There were enemies within. It has to be the same with drug trafficking. It’s a dangerous business. Operators need insurance and the best insurance policies come from powerful political personalities. There’s a lot of money in this business and politicians need a lot of money.
Attanayake’s politics aside, the man is articulating a general public concern. Something needs to be done.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa whenever he speaks to school children or speaks at school functions underlines the importance of values. He speaks of wholesome education. He speaks of wholesome lifestyles. The drug menace that is gripping the country is at odds with his stated vision. Indeed, it is threatening to rip to shreds his overall stated master plan.
The nation awaits some concrete action on both the symptom (substance trafficking and abuse) and the malady (discontent of one kind or another).
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com