By Austin Fernando –
At political discussions on devolution, a protest that is often highlighted is that devolving Police Powers to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) would ‘annihilate law and order‘.
Last week a leading lawyer went public on television that by devolution of Police Powers to Provincial Councils (PCs) would weaken central police investigations. He did not explain that offences related to the government, tri-forces, elections, money, stamps, state capital and assets, national security, international offences etc as mentioned in pages 29-30 in the 13th Amendment Appendix I are administered by the National Police only and do not fall within the purview of Provincial Police. He did the same with regard to additional items 11:2 (a), (b) 12:1, 12:2, 12:3 etc of Appendix I, which are vested only in the National Police. Hence, this statement would have given a twisted or half-baked interpretation for Police power sharing.
On the other hand, the Tamil political leaders behave as if they do not have any provincial politics without land and police powers. It appears that they had forgotten the experiences faced by the present Tamil political membership, Sinhalese and Muslim communities under the Police Force that was created by Chief Minister Vartharajah Perumal and Indian Peace Keeping Forces. Since Police Powers are shared by the Centre and Provinces, problems will arise if they do not act consensually. Due to engulfed hypocrisy and massive suspicion on each other issues are further made complex.
There are many engaged in politics and administration holding on to both these visions. Some others are mum on this problem. This article is not a commentary on the good and bad of police powers. It is a recollection of what I have heard and known about devolving Police Powers while in the public service. Through such experience I try to explain how political duplicity remains in devolution.
Though the 13th Amendment has devolved powers, history and present experiences show that all provincial authorities including the Provincial Governors, Chief Ministers, and even the central authorities are “servants” of the President. The Executive Presidency has created this status. If they do not act according to the wishes of the President they will be chopped. Therefore, they will not demand Police Powers if the President does not wish them to do so. If they yell against such, it will be most likely at the behest of the President again, or at least with concurrence!
Demanding Police Powers for the Western PC
On 6th January 1994 at the Western PC (WPC) Chief Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga moved that Police Powers be devolved to the WPC. There was active war in the north and east then. The main objective was to implement the provisions of the Police Commission Act No: 1 of 1990 through the President. By doing so she conceded that it would pave way for more democratic administration of law and order. (PC Proceedings Report of 6-1-1994, page 13)
Perhaps, she would have missed the point that this Police Commission Act was introduced by President R Premadasa not to appoint a Police Commission, but to avoid appointing.
After the passage of the resolution in the WPC she represented matters to President DB Wijetunga. To discuss this issue President DB Wijetunga invited me. I was the Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs and PCs.
“Just see Austin, Chandrika has addressed me demanding Police Powers to be devolved having passed a resolution in the WPC. Can we do it?” he inquired.
Having read the letter she has sent I replied the President with a query. “Your Excellency, do you want to devolve Police Powers to the WPC or don’t you?
“What nonsense? It will be pandemonium if police powers are given to the PCs. Is there any valid reason to deny this request?” he inquired.
“There is one way to convey agreeing to give police powers. If not required, there is another way of conveying denial!” I replied.
“How do we say that we do not want to devolve?”
“It is appropriate to say that the request will be considered after appointing the National Police Commission. Until it is appointed there is no way to appoint a Provincial Police Commission.” It was my solution.
Later when I studied this issue in depth, it was revealed that PC Member Susil Premjayantha has predicted this status at the PC discussion on the resolution. He has said “Though we have brought this resolution in the PC, we know your President will never gazette the day for operation” (Report page 44). Since he is a powerful Minister now and the Secretary General of the Alliance, one should not be surprised if he advises President Rajapaksa to act as I advised President Wijetunga. My prediction may most certainly come true if the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) wins the Northern PC elections.
By the way, President Chandrika Kumaratunga performed in office for around eleven years. During the period she never showed any keenness to devolve Police Powers to PCs which she demanded in the name of democracy. Was it that she had forgotten democracy?
Demanding Police Powers for the North Central PC
After WPC a similar request was submitted to President Wijetunga by the North Central Province (NCP). Having received the communication the President invited me to discuss it.
With a broad smile he said “Now Mahindasoma from Anuradhapura is also demanding Police powers!”
Thinking that he wished to share Police Powers with the NCP due to common party affiliation, I said “Excellency, he is from your party. Though you did not agree to share Police Powers with the WPC, there is no constraint to share with the NCP. In the Police Commission Act there is provision to appoint Provincial Police Commissions on different dates, after the National Police Commission is appointed”
“Are you mad, Austin? If we give police powers to Mahindasoma, it will be wonderful! I will tell him off!” the President said.
I believe President Mahinda Rajapaksa is in a similar troubled position. His mind must be reverberating on what would happen if Police Powers are given to some Chief Ministers. On the other hand if the power in a southern PC shifts to another party, he must be envisaging larger problems. Secretary Defense must be justly anticipating further concerns if the TNA wins the Northern PC.
Political Stances on Police Powers
My second experience highlights the political duplicity between the two time frames – 1994 and 2013. I base my interpretation on the discussion reports of WPC when the resolution was debated.
United National Party (UNP) Councilor Titus Wimalasiri stated “Sometimes we observe certain foreign elements helping terrorist groups through some Sri Lankans. Mr. Deputy Chairman, the suspicion arises due to these foreign influences and foreign actions, whether by submission of this resolution there is some contract undertaken to strengthen the hands of Prabhakaran in the north or whether there had been participation in a conspiracy.” (Report page 28)
Today, news makers like Ministers Champika Ranawaka, Wimal Weerawansa, Parliamentarian Ven:. Athuraliye Ratana Thera when highlighting the disastrousness of sharing Police Powers use words like “assisting terrorism” “foreign influences” “foreign actions”, “strengthening LTTE / Diaspora” since Prabhakaran is no more, “conspiring” etc. Perhaps this may be without any venom, but due to inherited Sri Lankan political culture! Councilor Wimalasiri did not have the “Non Governmental Organizations” as conspirators, which is a common addition at present! In reality what happened was that President Wijetunga’s stance was confirmed by Councilor Wimalasiri. If it was not done the head would have rolled! Whatever the party is, similar trait is observed. It is eternal.
Councilor Wimalasiri continued to say “ When the Police Commission Act which we discuss here today was debated (in the Parliament) what did the extremely responsible parliamentarians say? They said “We are totally against this Act; the unitary status will be erased in the country; especially, these police powers should not be given to PCs.” (Report page 27) Councilor Mahinda Samarasinghe has then argued similarly quoting parliamentarians SL Gunasekara and Dharmasiri Senanayake (Report pages 51, 53)
On these grounds even now Sri Lanka Freedom Party members opposing Police Powers is logical. The problem is that a party that demanded police powers at a time Prabhakaran was living, during an ongoing war, why obstruct Police Power sharing when Parabhakaran and his organization had been victoriously eliminated totally. Since political, social and security environments have changed, for reconciliation their stances have to be changed too. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission too wished so. On the other hand, why did the UNP that introduced the 13th Amendment to the country hold an adverse stance here, if not for political gain?
Minister Ranawaka and Weerawansa, Ven Ratana Thero and Secretary Defense were not in the group that demanded Police Powers. Therefore, their stances are untied to static bondages and their protests are timely objections. However, the Councilors who spoke in favor of the resolution cannot run away from their stances. It is observed that they keep mum on sharing Police Powers with the North, having rejected in the WPC the policy adopted in the Parliament as SLFPers when the Police Commission Act was debated.
I quote a few instances.
Councilor Susil Premjayantha has then said: “The Commission will comprise of the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the Province, a nominee of the Public Service Commission as advised by the President and a person appointed on the recommendation of the Chief Minister. The powers and duties are mentioned there. There is nothing to have grave fears on Police Powers. Once this Commission is appointed in a Province it will perform regarding appointments, transfers and disciplinary matters.” (Report page 42).
If these arguments are genuine and does not possess ulterior pretexts it is his duty to explain to Ministers Weerawansa, Ranawaka, Ven: Ratana Thera and Secretary Defense that there is no need to have “grave fears” on Police Power sharing. Is not it his responsibility to correct them if they are doing “wrong” by orchestrating and projecting that a very simple process has disastrous consequences?
Provincial Councilor Felix Perera pointed out that there are even conceptual differences. He maintained that the Police is not a Force. It is another department, he said. It is also true. He hypothesized that proper implementation of Police Powers in the WPC will be a lesson to other PCs to emulate. “If we think logically and consider that someday peace is to be achieved in this country, I see it as a problem if there is a need for Hon: Councilors in this House to oppose this House receiving Police Powers.” (Report page 48)
Even today it is necessary to establish peace in this country. Security authorities confirm that the north is peaceful. The future Councilors of the Northern PC who experience a favorable environment than in 1994 may say that they “see it as a problem if there is a need for Hon: Councilors in the House to oppose it receiving Police Powers.” It applies even if the demand not to share power comes from outside. Councilor Perera (now a Minister) will not wish to get his head chopped by arguing so. Further, he does not question why the government does not answer its critics by positively acting with reconciliation in view. By not questioning so he exhibits duplicity. He is dumb to revert to the stance he took as quoted above.
UNP introduced the 13th Amendment. But, we do not hear much of powerful statements demanding Police Powers devolution. What we occasionally hear is a murmur. Is it political hypocrisy? Nevertheless, some UNP representatives who crossed over can remain in the previous stance. Mahinda Samarasinghe , the then Chief Opposition Whip said then: ”That is why at the outset I said that we are not against the implementation of the Act. What we are saying is that the timing is not correct” (Report page 50)
Even today, if necessary, they can say so and “shape up matters” and join Weerawansa- Ranawaka- Ratana Thero group. Or else, join the other group saying that the proper time to implement the Act has dawned. They are lucky!
However, there are very few Ministers who do not dilly dally and openly express positive sentiments on devolution of power. Still, when a final decision is taken whether they would maintain their straight forward stature cannot be predicted, since they too are weaklings when facing the Executive Presidency, like the Chief Ministers and Governors. Some have already proved their weakness on other issues.
Draft Bill by the Jathika Hela Urumaya
If by chance the ‘brave’ draft Bill scheduled to be submitted to the Parliament is taken for a vote, it will provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on the devolution policies of the government, Opposition and the space available for independent political personalities to respond to issues of national interest. Its final decision will automatically reflect the majority Sinhala attitudes too. Has not this issue taken a ethnic twist? Since governments are formed by Sinhala majority political parties this will provide a good opportunity to international powers too to evaluate our politicians. It will provide for influencing discussions in the Commonwealth Conference and the future UNHRC dialogues. Therefore, it may be that TNA must be the happiest for the Bill! Because, this will expose the two tongue approaches on devolution by Sinhalese politicians.
Reaching a new approach
From the above discussion it is clear that there had been duplicity exhibited by all political groups on unknown pretexts. Political stances have been changed on political realities. They have shown different colors to suit the immediate political needs. The end result had been hiding of the truth.
The southern Sinhalese politicians playing nasty double games will convert the Tamil politicians and populations to promote underhand deals. It will block any consensual management. Therefore, to be straight forward and logical will be better means to handle this problem than trying to deceive. Such deception will create destabilization. Rather than to be repenting it can be said that for conscious action there is still time, which reminds the saying “Better late than never.”