By Tassie Seneviratne –
This was no courtesy call of the Police officers on the Mahanayakas (Chief Buddhist Prelates). No, the visit of these senior-most Police officers to the Prelates of the Asgiriya Temple in Kandy and also the Buddhist temples in Anuradhapura, this time, was with some other serious intent. The purpose of this visit was to discuss matters Departmental. To be specific: to inveigle the Mahanayakas to intervene and help to quash pending criminal/disciplinary action, in Courts as well as Departmental, in respect of these particular officers. The gravity of this whole exercise is seen in the massive public outburst it has created. It is without precedent for serving senior Police officers to indulge in such deplorable conduct of canvassing the Mahanayaka’s influence for a sinister purpose such as this. It also points to the low esteem in which the Buddhist Prelates have been held by these Police officers by expecting them to do something so reprehensible. It is even more deplorable that a communal and religious twist has been given to this Departmental matter publicly, by these Police officers.
The conduct of these Police officers has given rise to a string of public condemnations due to the betrayal of public trust that is reposed in the Police which the public have been accustomed to for over 150 years.
There has been only one instance in the long history of the Police when a senior Police officer had sought outside assistance on a Departmental matter. In that instance it was DIG Sydney de Zoysa (SdZ) who transgressed the Establishments Code (EC) by holding a press briefing to clear his name, without due reference to the IGP and the Ministry. That was in 1959 following the assassination of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike when rumours were afloat implicating various people including SdZ. Being impatient and over-zealous to preserve his dignity, he called a press conference and briefed the media on what he termed ‘the facts’ as against ‘the rumours’ that he had listed. However well-intentioned this was, and factually correct as later established, he had transgressed the EC, and had to be punished. He was sent on compulsory retirement. This meant that the administrative arrangement and the rules and regulations which prescribed for internal conduct and discipline of serving Police officers in the EC, stood well.
In the case of SdZ, the offence was in holding the press briefing without reference to the IGP and the Ministry – a technical offence. In the case of these Police officers visiting the Mahanayakas, it was to use unlawful means to quash serious charges already pending. This has been a singular, atrocious and glaring disregard for the rules of good conduct as directed in the EC, which are meant to secure the Police Service and thus serve the people as directed by the EC; also disregard for the law of the land. In the eyes of the public, their expectations of the police as long accustomed to, had been blatantly belied to them.
The lie this action gave the public is embodied in the Establishments Code (EC). The administrative arrangement, so given in the EC, is to secure the Police Service and thus serve the people as it then could. The need for these rules in the EC was none other than to serve the people. The breach of these regulations in this instance, was then not merely an administrative lapse, but a deviation from serving the people that the EC was to achieve, and a deprivation of the service the people are entitled to. The action of these Police officers in blatant disregard of the rules and morality, was at the same time a sabotage of the whole system that was expected to work through these rules.
The EC raises, in these terms, an issue of loyalty of police officers which commands their steadfast allegiance to the task entrusted to them. This arrangement cannot allow for other loyalties and other influences to weigh down on the work of these police officers acting in this manner, in the public glare. Loyalty of these police officers is thus displaced despite their oath of office solemnly taken. In other words, there can be no trust reposed in these particular police officers. Apart from breach of rules, these police officers have, in effect, surrendered their moral worth in the process. This violation fails not only the public but also the other police officers who have not so forfeited their values, nor compromised their personalities in their public office. This misdemeanor on the part of the particular police officers reflects a weakness and incapacity in their character; and that is unfortunate.
In short, these particular police officers are unsuited for retention in the police service any longer. They should be retired under Sec. 12 of the Pensions minutes forthwith pending formal inquiry against them under the EC.
Under the EC the conduct of Police officers is closely regulated. Such regulations have come down over the years with good intent. As much as these EC rules and regulations are to prescribe conduct of Police officers, such prescription has a further purpose. Police officers, function within a whole legal framework. They perform their role in the eyes of the law and in the view of the public. Within the law courts the specific task of police officers is to give evidence in courts. This job of the police can be seriously undermined by questions relating to their conduct. In other words, evidence of these Police officers in courts, can be subject to substantial discredit. In this respect these Police officers would have failed the courts and the law process and in effect their due service to the public.
To guard against such untoward possibilities, the EC has enacted a charge of Discreditable Conduct. Police Departmental Orders (DO) A 7 Appendix “B” 1 refers. Blatant misconduct which can seriously undermine this role of the police is the mischief that the EC seeks to guard against. The discreditable conduct of these particular police officers, in this particular instance, goes beyond all bounds of decency and propriety, in brash and unrestrained in manner. Apart from their bearing on the law courts and the public, their effect on their subordinates in the police is dishonorable and disreputable. For this reason, subordinates can no longer look up these, their superior officers, not even perhaps to heed their commands. Discredit is then from within the police service, as much as it has been from outside.
Another serious charge that these particular Police officers have placed themselves liable by their visit to the Mahanayakas is one of Disobedience to Orders. But a charge of Disobedience to Orders could be viewed as a mere disciplinary charge of a technical nature. In other words, there is no moral turpitude included in the definition of this offence. But the fact is that, in practice, disobedience to orders has another dimension to the misdemeanor. This is a proneness to a tendency of habitual conduct of high magnitude – seeking outside influence.
Apparently, the pending charges against these Police officers over the Easter incidents and the findings of the Commission of an adverse nature against them, are for contravention of orders and breaking of the rules. Furthermore, failure to obey orders is easily evident in their other action situations, too. That being so, this charge of Disobedience to orders: (DO A7 Appendix “B” 3 refers), has ominous eventualities.
There are still more charges these officers have placed themselves liable to under the EC: e.g. DO 6: Breach of confidence. That is to say that they, without proper authority communicated to the public press or to any unauthorized person any matter connected with the Service.
To cure the malaise that the Police Service has been driven to, it is imperative that charges be framed against these particular Police officers who have contributed to the degradation of the Service in no small measure.
If appropriate action is not taken against these police officers, the irresistible conclusion will be that which has been heard from the grapevine; and that is – these officers were sent to the Mahanayakas with the blessings of the powers that be.
All in all, the conduct of these errant Police officers, points to how inconsequential they consider the IGP to be.
*The writer is a Retired Senior Superintendent Police. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org