By Rajan Hoole –
The PA and the Administration of the Police
Following the election of the PA government in 1994, the public was witness to one of those Sri Lankan rituals. Those who had been politically victimised by the earlier government were asked to appeal. A number of persons who had left the Police were re-instated as Senior DIGs with back-wages. DIG W.B. Rajaguru was a person in this group who had faced victimisation of a sort. The Government under Premadasa used its option and the IGP had retired him at the age of 55. After the age of 55 all government officers are on annual extension and work at the will and pleasure of the Government. Earlier the age had been 50, and under Mrs. Bandaranaike’s Government of 1970-77, T.B. Werapitiya who became deputy defence minister after the elections in 1977, had been retired as DIG (Metropolitan) at the age of 50.
Of the six officers taken back, paid back wages and placed in the rank of Senior DIG, two had suffered victimisation of a kind that was not political. In Rajaguru’s case one of the main problems is said to have been ambitious officers junior to him who, eyeing the IG’s job, carried tales about him to the political bosses of the day. This ensured his retirement at the earliest opportunity. Another of the six who was in Administration is said to have been similarly refused extension of service after 55 through internal manipulation. He, it is said, had refused to co-operate in corrupt practices by some who were higher up.
The others, according to senior police sources, had no case for re-instatement on grounds of victimisation. They had resigned after refusing to serve in a conflict zone, retired or had been served with vacation of post for absence during the JVP insurgency. One of them had a reputation for being notoriously corrupt. Another was closely related to a PA cabinet minister.
From the early 1980s police officers were required to serve a compulsory 6 months in the conflict zone. Lucky Kodituwakku who was SSP had sent in his retirement papers when he was asked to replace Ignatius Canagaretnam who had completed 6 months in Jaffna, at the end of 1984. He then worked for Brown and Co. as a security consultant, and after being 10 years out of the service on his own volition, came back in 1994 as a political victim and was given the rank of Senior DIG with back wages. Mr. Kodituwakku had been in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s security detail when she was prime minister in the 70s.
In the case of the officer Dr. Dharmadasa Silva, he had about 1984 been given a temporary promotion to DIG and was posted to Batticaloa. At a meeting of DIGs he protested against this on the grounds that he had already served in the North-East and is said to have verbally lashed out at President Jayewardene. This was sneaked to Jayewardene by someone present and Jayewardene in turn wanted the IG, Rudra Rajasingham, to take action. The IG was forced to hold an inquiry and the fact of the matter was established beyond doubt. Dharmadasa Silva was given the option of retiring or facing charges to be framed for ‘unprofessional conduct’. He chose retirement.
Consequent to the reinstatement of these six, the Senior DIG cadre was filled and officers who had put in continuous service even during the most difficult times risking their life, had their promotions late or had to retire without their earned entitlement at reduced pensions. I.T. Canagaretnam for example should have been made Senior DIG in 1995 after 5 years as DIG. He retired at 60 in 1997 without obtaining his earned rank after serving in several departments including Crimes and Operations and conducting the 1994 elections with credit. The same happened to A.C.A. Gaffoor who retired after 8 years as DIG. Others (e.g. Anandarajah) got it later, but long after completing 5 years as DIG. This move of the new government created demoralisation in the ranks and did not augur well for a reformed Police Force. The move created bitterness, uncertainty and a new impetus to please politicians so as to move ahead.
The issue was addressed in his column Police Problems by Tassie Seneviratne, who was formerly Director, Special Investigations (Sunday Times 10.10.99). He pointed out that the practice was begun by the UNP in 1977. Officers punished or sidelined on disciplinary grounds rushed to join the UNP bandwagon. After the UNP’s election victory they were given promotions and double promotions by Political Victimisation Committees appointed under the Ministry of Public Administration. Subsequently toeing the party line unethically and illegally became the means to climb over one’s colleagues and seniors.
Despite higher standards being expected after the PA came to power in 1994, he says, “political promotions under cover of redress for political victimisation continued, regardless of facts or ethics, reaching the height of absurdity.” He added, “Not only officers within the force but several senior officers who had retired on their own and were lucratively employed also came back through the same opening, gained promotions and would retire again with enhanced pensions (from public funds). There is another category smart enough to benefit from both sides. This is proof that what many politicians want are experts in the game.” It is also interesting that while political promotions have denied some others of their rightful positions, and hence pensions, others with political clout who retired on a lower grade are said to be receiving pensions applicable to a higher grade.
Frank de Silva, who was appointed IGP in his turn by President Wijetunge, retired at 60 in July 1995. The next in line was Senior DIG Mitra Ariyasinghe. The Government appointed W.B. Rajaguru. Rajaguru had been DIG in the North during and before the July 1983 violence. M. Sivasithamparam MP had complained in Parliament on 28th June 1983 that although 6 homicides by the Security Forces in the North had come up before magistrates, no arrests had been made. Again on 24th July 1983, when the Army on a rampage killed 50 civilians, the Police did little or nothing.
With Rajaguru as IGP the atmosphere in the Police Force became one of intrigue and political manipulation. To begin with the Tamils were moved out of significant positions. All Tamil OICs in Colombo are said to have been moved out. DIG Canagaretnam was moved out to Welfare. A senior Tamil officer, T. Perinpanayagam was DIG. At the root of the investigation into Perinpanayagam’s alleged misconduct was an anonymous petition claiming that Rajaguru’s predecessors had favoured some Tamil officers. It is said to be the kind of petition that should have been thrown into the waste-paper basket. Rajaguru and Dharmadasa Silva, Senior DIG (Admin), decided in their wisdom to launch an investigation.
Perinpanayagam’s case is instructive for the reason that it reveals how the system can and does victimise persons through calculated procedural improperties against which the victim is helpless. The anonymous petition in which he was named was dated 16th May 1995. The decision to investigate was taken by Rajaguru six months later in November. In a preliminary investigation, a statement from Perinpanayagam was taken by Senior DIG Support Services on 21.11.95. A report on this was sent to the IG (Rajaguru) on 5.12.95.
Then on 18.9.96, the IG informed Perinpanayagam of the order from the PSC (Public Services Commission) placing him on compulsory leave. On 1.11.96 he received a letter from the IG dated 31.10.96, informing him of the PSC’s order retiring him from that very day (1 Nov.). Despite the PSC and Defence Ministry ordering the officer’s retirement on the IG’s advice, the charge sheet from the PSC was prepared much later and was dated 22.11.96. It was served on the officer on 7.12.96 after he was retired, and more than a year after the IG had received the report on the preliminary investigation. Further, the IG had furnished the charges to the PSC only in November ’96.
In representations made to the PSC, Perinpanayagam’s contention was that his rights had been infringed by not giving him the 3 months notice of retirement required by the Public and Judicial Officers (Retirement) Ordinance. He moreover contended that, had the charge sheet been served early, he would have had the opportunity of facing an inquiry and clearing himself before his retirement.
The main charges against him were lack of integrity in respect of: 1.) Using his official position to purchase cement from two companies and deriving an improper income by selling part of it, 2.) Deriving an improper income by delivering lectures on traffic discipline and accident prevention, and 3.) Violating the conditions under which he imported a duty-free vehicle, by transferring it to another person. These charges were evidently not in the original petition.
Having answered the first charge sheet on 27.2.97, a second charge sheet was served on the officer by letter dated 22.7.97. The latter was the last day on which the officer could have been reinstated, since the next day he was to reach the mandatory retirement age of 60. In replying to the second charge sheet on 14.8.97, the officer
protested that the two charge sheets were the same and violated a fundamental principle of law by placing a man in peril twice over the same alleged offence.
He moreover protested that the charges were not specific and were not sourced to any relevant sections of the Establishment Code or the Police Disciplinary Code. Further, no evidence of improper conduct was produced in respect of charges 1 and 3. With regard to the lectures, he said, they were given at the request of public bodies made through the IG himself and the honorarium of Rs 400/- an hour paid to him had been declared for taxation purposes.
The officer was denied a formal inquiry where cross-examination was permitted. But eventually the PSC exonerated him of all the charges. This is a reflection on the administration of the country as a whole. The head of an establishment who is in a favoured position with the political authority could arbitrarily penalise anyone below, particularly those close to retiring age. This is done by serving a multiplicity of charges which either cannot stick, or have no place in law, and then by dragging matters along by delay or by repeatedly serving charges, until it is too late for the victim. The favoured position of the head ensures that he is called upon neither to explain nor to face a formal inquiry. These are signs of administrative breakdown.
A particular episode under Rajaguru was surely unique in the annals of the Police. On 13th March 1997 Mitra Ariyasinghe, Sen. DIG (Security & Intelligence) was sent on compulsory leave pending charges to be framed. He was exonerated and reinstated on 20th July 1997. He reached 60 the next day and went home on retirement. It is said by fellow officers that Rajaguru had his telephone tapped and Ariyasinghe’s brother who resided in California had telephoned Ariyasinghe’s wife and asked for an old police uniform to be sent through a Tamil lady doctor, a friend of theirs, who was visiting Colombo. It was for use at a fancy dress party. Ariyasinghe, according to these sources, did not know about this. When this Tamil lady went to check in at the Airport, officers were there to search her bag and found what was an old uniform with pips not then in use. It could have been bought in a shop selling fancy clothes in the Pettah market.
On hearing about it, Ariyasinghe told the officers at the Airport to let the Tamil lady go and that he would take responsibility. The Press duly carried the story about a Tamil lady doctor carrying a Sri Lankan police uniform to California. One was left trying to figure out what ‘Tamil terrorists’ wanted to do in California with an outdated Sri Lankan police uniform. Rajaguru did not waste time. The Press reported on 15th March that Ariyasinghe was on compulsory leave.
The point of the whole exercise was not revealed in the Press. Rajaguru, being over 60, was IGP on annual extension. When the year was complete, he had to be given another extension or Ariyasinghe would normally have become IG. It appears that this drama was staged to smoothen the way to Rajaguru getting an extension. Had Ariyasinghe not been on compulsory leave, it would have been difficult to overlook him and once made IG, he would have got an extension on reaching 60. Intrigue of this shameful kind could hardly have been carried out without political connivance at the highest level.
The possibility of getting quick promotions or extensions by courting politicians has become the bane of the Police Force and the ruin of many a good officer. The career of W.B. Rajaguru, came under a cloud when he tried to get extensions by bending to the will of PA politicians. Senior DIG A.S. Seneviratne was described by one of his seniors as “one of the best officers in the Force and a man with a head on his shoulders”. Had he kept his balance, this senior added, he would undoubtedly have become IG one day. His ruin, this senior said, was to compromise himself badly by getting close to the ‘Premadasa – Cooray clique’ to jump places and get to the top. It may be noted that A.S. Seneviratne’s conduct as SP, Jaffna, at the commencement of the 1977 communal violence was highly questionable (see Sect. 2.7-8).
The Southern Zone Disappearance Commission Report highlighted the notorious career of Premadasa Udugampola who rose from IP in 1977 to DIG in 1988 over 180 others senior to him. This part of his career covered the span of Jayewardene’s reign. Former IGP Cyril Herath who said in his testimony that Udugampola was promoted from SP to DIG over 15 others, added: “I saw plans to use the Police Force in the narrow interests of politicians. It was clear to me that alternative structures of command were being put in place within the Police Force for that purpose.”
Thus the former IGP identified political abuse and irregular promotions to be complementary. He retired before his term was out. Under the PA government, SSP Punya de Silva was pushed over several others and made DIG, CID. In the matter of jumping over the others from SSP to DIG, de Silva joined the same league as Udugampola. Some of those overlooked were promoted later. But this raises awkward questions, as someone overlooked is deemed unsuitable for promotion. According to police sources, in former times when it came to promotions, seniority was generally adhered to. A case of exceptional merit had to be made to bypass those higher on the seniority list.
On 27th June 1983 the case against 5 well- known Tamil PTA detainees was called, and ASP Punya de Silva who was to give evidence in court sent a medical certificate to say that he had suffered a heart attack and was in the intensive care unit. The hearing was postponed as a result of this opportune indisposition. If merit were an issue, the heart condition of the officer, then aged 38, ought to have raised concern about his medical fitness for the onerous job of DIG, CID, at 55. He is a close relative of the President’s secretary, Mr. K. Balapatabendi (Sharminda Fernando, Island 11.2.98).
It was difficult for Lucky Kodituwakku, who succeeded Rajaguru in mid-1998, to be a strong IGP. He had been out of the Police ten years during the worst periods, and it was open to doubt that he would command the respect of the men. It was again giving the men the message that it was not respect for the Law that mattered, but being favoured by politicians and looking for patrons among them.
*To be continued.. Next week – The CID
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here