Colombo Telegraph

The Collapse Of The Police Administration

By R.M.B Senanayake

R.M.B. Senanayake

Dr Frank De Silva retired IGP has written a very forthright and diagnostic article on why the administration in the Police Department has collapsed. He quotes from various media reports regarding the malpractices and criminal activities of the police officers who are enjoined to prevent crime and bring criminals to book and not to indulge in crime themselves. A DIG is presently being charged in courts for serious crimes. Why is it that the police officers of such high rank are indulging in such crimes?

He faults the Police Commission set up under the 17th Amendment for undermining the authority of the IGP who is the Chief Executive. Any organization requires to be headed by a Chief Executive. The British established these sound principles of public administration. The danger in a  popular democracy is that the politicians would interfere in the running of the  administration and under the Soulbury Constitution the independent Public Service Commission was set up to protect the public officials from interference from politicians in matters of recruitment, transfers and discipline.   The Police Department was also under the Public Service Commission prior to 1972.

The former P.S.C delegated full power to the Heads of Departments including the IGP. They reserved to themselves only the appellate powers and even appeals from employees or ex-employees were required to be sent through the Head of the Department. The Head of the Department was treated as the Chief Executive and he was answerable to the PSC and not to any Minister regarding appointments, transfer discipline etc. The Head of the Department was responsible for the internal administration of the Department and no one else, not even the Minister or the Prime Minister was expected to interfere with his decision. He was the Accounting Officer as well recognizing the need for total power and responsibility for the for all aspects of administration including the financial administration of the Department although he was required to comply with the Financial Regulations of the Treasury which were enforced by the Permanent Secretaries who were the Chief Accounting Officers. All these sound principles of public administration were scuttled by the governments after 1972. The PSC was brought under the control of the Cabinet of Ministers and it opened the way for Ministers to interfere in appointments, discipline etc in departments, disrupting the internal administration of departments.

The 17th Amendment sought to rectify this situation but unfortunately the Police were not brought under the PS.C but instead under a new Police Commission which seems to have lost its way. The sweeping delegation of authority and responsibility to the Heads of Departments seems to have been abandoned. But by failing to do so the Independent Commissions have blundered. They have undermined some fundamental principles of public administration. According to Dr Frank De Silva the 18th Amendment has delegated the administrative and disciplinary authority in respect of officers above the rank of ASPs to the Secretary of Defence instead of the IGP as it should be. Only the comparable powers over the subordinate officers like the Police Constables have been left with the IGP who is  the head of the Department. And responsible for its proper functioning.  The principle of a unified authority and responsibility for the whole operation or function as exemplified in the concept of a Chief Executive has been undermined. Such division of authority and responsibility is an administrative monstrosity not available in any country democratic or otherwise.

This splintering of authority has undermined another sacred principle of public administration called “unity of command”. From the earliest of times it has been recognized that nothing but confusion arises under multiple command. The Bible says “A man cannot serve two masters at the same time. It has become a principle of human relations. In administration this is called the principle of unity of command. A worker subject to orders from several superiors will be confused, inefficient, and irresponsible. But a workman subject to order from one superior alone will know his instructions well enough and conform to them. He can thereby be efficient, methodical and responsible for his actions. Otherwise he can plead conflict of instructions when things go wrong. Unity of command thus refers to those who are commanded and not to those who issue the commands. But those who issue the commands can also plead that they are not responsible if the whole process is not under their control.

The theorists of Public Administration have stressed these principles over a long period of time and they have always characterized good administration. So unless these principles are observed we cannot expect police administration to improve. It is more likely to reflect the division and lack of responsibility. Police performance cannot be improved unless these principles are restored. There was no centralized public administration before the British. Power was farmed out too nobles under feudalism and each noble had his own fiefdom. But it is not necessary that all governmental functions should be centralized. As Dr Frank De Silva points out there were different Police forces from 1802 -1865. In 1865 the Police Ordinance was enacted. The British were slow to centralize realizing the strength of local sentiment. So they continued with the system of Chieftains like Dissaves and replaced them with Divisional Revenue officers later.

Even then they drew a distinction between the Kandy and DROs and those from the low country. This is because the bureaucracy must be representative as well as merit based. We have to undo a lot of administrative changes we have made to the system of Public Administration that prevailed under the Soulbury Constitution. Otherwise we will end up as a failed state.

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