17 April, 2024


Premadasa Era: Political Establishment, Underworld & Police

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Law Enforcement and the Security Services: Politicisation and Demoralisation – 2

By the early 1990s standards in the Police had reached their nadir. The country had been governed so much under emergency regulations that policemen had lost touch with normal law. Policemen were going into the STF where there was a lawless environment and coming back into the normal Police. Police complicity in the Athulathmudali killing, for one, showed something terribly malign in the Force.

We give one particular instance of close collusion between the political establishment, the underworld and the Police during the Premadasa era, which gives the general flavour of things. The UNP faced a crisis after Gamini Dissanayake and Athulathmudali split from the UNP and formed the DUNF in September 1991. The UNP apparently suspected the person we will refer to as MJ of funding Gamini Dissanayake through a religious organisation. One day a man came to MJ’s office in Rotunda Gardens, pulled out a pistol which he placed on the table and began talking to MJ. He told the latter that he must stop funding Dissanayake, and the next time it would not be he that would speak. “It is this that will speak”, he said, touching the pistol,

Some time later, MJ noticed in the rear mirror, a car following him. He passed on the number to a friend in the Police. This friend found out that the car belonged to the CID. Later MJ received a call from his wife asking him to buy food at a particular restaurant on his way home. A little after MJ left, a gang came to the entrance of his office and there was an altercation when they found that he had left. Then someone came from outside and shouted that he has gone to the restaurant named. The incident pointed to his phone having been tapped by the NIB – the unit responsible for tapping.

R. Premadasa

We give one particular instance of close collusion between the political establishment, the underworld and the Police during the Premadasa era, which gives the general flavour of things.

On another day, a cloth was flung over MJ’s head while he was loading some shopping into his car boot. He was then shoved into a vehicle, badly assaulted inside the moving vehicle, and flung out and left on a bund near Angoda. Upon finding his way home, MJ took his family and moved into a hotel, and then flew off to Australia. Some time later he saw the picture of the gangster Sothi Upali in a newspaper, and recognised him as the thug who had come with a pistol and warned him. Sothi Upali, described by Minister Sirisena Cooray as his supporter,

was employed by the same minister in his security detail and was reportedly also a sub- inspector in the Police Reserve. At that time, A.S. Seneviratne was DIG (Metropolitan), the CID was under A. Rajapakse and the NIB under Zerny Wijesuriya.

SSP Ronnie Gunasinghe is again a model of the UNP government moulding officers according to need. He was HQI Jaffna in 1979, and then in July 1983, he was as ASP Colombo North instrumental in Ananda Sunil’s disappearance. In February 1990, he was as SSP Colombo Central associated with Richard de Zoysa’s murder. In 1993, he died in the bomb attack that killed Premadasa. Thus when the new PA government assumed power in 1994 there were high expectations that standards would be enforced. But the public was in for a deep disappointment,

The powers possessed by the political authority following the 1972 constitution to meddle in transfers and promotions, and the executive president’s term being an unusually long six years under the 1978 constitution, have progressively eroded rules and made it difficult for a new president to trust the existing police force. This is one reason why the new PA government brought in six officers from outside, who were supposedly political victims of the UNP regime, and imposed them high up on the seniority list. Those who were pushed down resented this. The new government would have done far better to identify genuine professionals who had not been implicated in disappearances and other wrongdoing, and promote them according to seniority. That way it would have earned the goodwill of the Police and created the conditions for establishing a professional police force.

At present, the system is too much out of gear to maintain professional standards. In the old days an officer joining as sub-inspector had to do 8 years to become inspector and face an interview to become ASP after a further 7 years. It thus required a minimum of 15 years to become ASP. After 8 years as ASP, the officer would face an interview for promotion to SP. He would become SSP after 5 years as SP. Promotion to DIG would depend on availability of vacancies. An officer doing 5 years as DIG becomes Senior DIG. In general the seniority list was to be followed unless an officer was clearly unsuitable for promotion.

But today there are no fixed criteria. Interviews are suspect and rigging of interviews has been challenged and proven in some instances. The president has the authority to promote a favourite by a special cabinet resolution and it has been done. President D.B. Wijetunge was very generous with promotions and reduced the number of years required by an inspector to become ASP to 4 years and similarly for other ranks. It has now been made 6. Thus of the 271 ASPs in service in early 2000, nearly 150 were appointed by Wijetunge during May 1993 – Aug. 1994. This was an excess which would further aggravate promotions for some time. The number of DIGs has been progressively reduced to 31 after being swollen in earlier years. 15 is said to be the optimum number. Manipulation by successive governments had also made the seniority list contentious. For example SSP Mahinda Balasuriya who served in President Wijetunge’s security detail, was promoted by him to DIG over several dozens of others. Now he is a relatively young DIG, 18th in the seniority list (early 2000).

We will take a particular strand and examine what went wrong under the PA. The provincial council elections in the North-Western Province (NWP) held in January 1999 witnessed some of the worst election abuses in the 1990s. Thugs identified with the PA invaded polling booths at gunpoint, while election officers and policemen on duty were forced to stand by, feeling humiliated by the event.

Prior to the NWP elections, the Government is reported to have sent in more than 15,000 policemen to maintain law and order. Two specially selected SSPs were superimposed on the two normally assigned to the NWP. Camillus Abeygoonewardene, an experienced DIG in the NWP was replaced by a newly promoted DIG. The result was one of the biggest public scandals in the South under the PA government. Promotions were given to officers who co- operated with the abuses (see interview with SSP Nimal Fernando, Weekend Express 20.3.99). It was reminiscent of the Jaffna DDC elections of 1981.

These transfers had to be sanctioned by the IGP, Mr. Lucky Kodituwakku. The inference has to be that this reputedly amiable man whom few have anything against personally, had taken instructions from political bosses in ordering these transfers for, in effect, unlawful purposes.

It is in the nature of things today that the political bosses and their henchman want weak IGPs. Sometimes bizarre methods can be used to ensure that.

*To be continued.. Next week – The PA and the Administration of the Police

*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

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Any chance of Messers Jayatilleka and Mahindapala shedding some light on the Premadasa era?

  • 0

    Mahindapala was employed at Lake House by Premadasa in the 90s.He was provided accomodation at NHDA apartments by his catcher Sirisena Cooray.SC WAS A TICKET CHECKER in his salad days in cinema halls in Fort/Maradana somewhere in the 60s.Cooray became a somebody only after 1977 when Premadasa became PM. After he became President Cooray found himself to be a Minister! Sothi Upali an Underworld character was COORAYS sidekick.Both were Lumpen elements. The reason for the split in the UNP with Lalith and Gamini forming the DUNF was the way that this LUMPEN COORAY handled the affairs of the UNP!

  • 0

    All this is history. I would like to know the views of readers on a very basic question. Whose evil is more tolerable whether that of Rane’s (R. Premadasa) or Mara’s.

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