By Basil Fernando –
The debate on who should be the next Inspector General of Police (IGP) is part of the public debate these days. The focus of this debate is more on who should be the ‘person’ rather than what is the expectation from the new IGP in terms of the challenges faced on the one hand concerning the rule of law system in Sri Lanka, and on the other, in terms of the challenges faced by the Police Department. Perhaps, also a relevant factor is how can the Police Department meet the challenges of playing an effective role in the administration of justice in Sri Lanka, as the Police Department is one of the core partners of the project of the administration of justice.
The Constitutional Council should set the criteria for the selection
The Constitutional Council will have the duty of doing the final selection of the person who would play, either for the good or for the bad, a vital role in the future of this all important Department, for several years to come. It is not an exaggeration to say that in the recent past, the performance of those who held this post has been one of disappointment. Some have even been subjected to punishments by the highest Court in Sri Lanka. Therefore, there should be a clear difference at this time and at least a beginning should be marked of an attempt to recover the institution’s ability to perform its fundamental duty of the enforcement of law, the providing of security and above all, the protection of the people.
Having such objectives in mind, we suggest that the Constitutional Council will develop its own criteria for the assessment of the candidates whose names will be submitted to the Council. As a matter of public interest, we suggest that this criterion should also include the following.
A firm commitment to uphold the rule of law
That the person who is selected to this post has a thorough understanding of the philosophy of the rule of law as a foundational principle of Sri Lanka’s legal system. That the notion and the principles associated with this all important principle, are familiar to the candidate and that the candidate is firmly committed to the upholding of this principle at all costs. This can be judged by the performance of the candidate in terms of his/her past experiences.
The will and the capacity to end extrajudicial killings
The Supreme Court in Sri Lanka, on several occasions, has seriously criticised the issue of ‘extra-judicial killings’, that has been taking place in various Police stations, at various times. There is a public allegation that ‘extra-judicial killings’ are being used as a tactic for many purposes, and this matter came into scrutiny in a recent case before the Supreme Court when the Supreme Court, expressing its serious concern on this matter, went on to even state “that Sri Lanka’s Police has ceased to be a professional force.” This is an extremely serious criticism and also public concern too has been expressed on this matter in the Parliament, in the media and almost everywhere in the country. Thus, it would be one of the major tasks of the new IGP, not merely to be making statements condemning this practice, but to examine thoroughly, the causes which have made this possible and to take firm actions in order to ensure that this practice is stopped forthwith. This will be one of the major tests of the performance of the new IGP which will be tested within a very short time by the people of the country.
The dealing with the inefficiency of the police system
The inefficiency of the policing system is a further concern for over a long period of time. The major reasons for this may not only be the problems that exist within the policing system, but also other factors which have arisen outside the policing system. For example, the obtaining of adequate funding for the proper running of the Department, is one of the major challenges faced by the Department. While a large part of the national Budget is allocated to the security sector, the funding allocated to the Police does not match with the numerous duties that are imposed on the Department. Thus, resolving this problem in a firm manner with the support of the public, will be made a challenge for the new IGP.
The Will and the capacity to assert the independence of the police system
The most serious criticism against the policing system is that it has become subservient to ‘outside masters’, particularly to ‘politicians’. This maybe a result of the governance processes which went wrong for several decades. However, for whatever the reason, there is a serious loss of confidence in the Department, mainly due to the perception that this institution, which is a ‘monolithic institution’ which should be run from top down, on the principle of command responsibility, is not in fact functioning in this manner. Outside forces undermine the internal command structure, and those in charge of the internal command structure, have given into these ‘interferences’. Therefore, finding ways to overcome this problem will be perhaps the most important ‘political challenge’ that the IGP will have to face. For that very purpose, the person selected should be a type of person who would be able and willing to meet with this overall challenge to the institution.
Protecting Human Rights
One of the major challenges for the policing system at present times, is to respect human rights. Many of the cases which are coming by way of ‘fundamental rights’ applications and also decisions of Court, and also other criticisms, centre round the issue of the violation of human rights by the policing system. The issue of illegal arrests, illegal detentions, and torture, and also, the finding of fault in reports in court, the unprincipled and illegal applications on the prolonging of bail, are among the ‘criticisms’ which are made constantly. Some of these allegations of illegal arrest and illegal detention, and similar problems, may be rooted in the problem earlier discussed, which is the politicisation of the system. However, it may also be due to incompetence and the lack of ‘organisational development’ within the policing system itself. Therefore, a comprehensive study on these matters and an immediate action plan of countering these practices are needed for the health of the organisation. And also, for the well-being of the Police staff themselves, who are unnecessarily exposed to bad practices, as these practices have not been reviewed and changed from time to time.
Resurrecting the police investigative capacity
The further serious concern is the investigative capacity of the policing system and its various branches. In recent years, the failures in the investigative aspect have become all too glairing. A vast number of clients are either not investigated or such probes have not been completed, and often, there is also criticism that for extraneous reasons, some of these investigations have been suppressed. Many well-known cases are often cited as examples of these failures. When the investigative capacity of Police stations is judged from the point of view of the past, it becomes quite clear that some decades ago, there was considerable development of the capacity of the policing system to deal with crimes at the local level, while crimes which often end up in the Criminal Investigations Department are crimes of a serious nature. In all these instances, in the past, the policing system has shown considerable integrity and capacity, in dealing with these problems within a very reasonable period of time. This tradition has been lost and therefore, the causes of the loss need to be examined, understood and remedied.
Providing the department with a better communication and digital capacity
We are living in a vastly changed ‘communication world’. The internet facilities, information technology, and digital facilities, all are today a part of the administration of any institution. However, the Sri Lankan policing system remains backward from the point of view of digitalisation and the adaptation to information technology for its work, and that is a part of the reason for its many problems. A quick plan for the improvement of the technological aspect at all levels from the local Police station, up to the various relationships in the area Headquarters, as well as for the central leadership of the policing system, is needed for the whole ‘system’ to develop technologically, so that the workings will be much more orderly, information will be very much more preserved and not tampered with, and also efficiency will be improved. This central aspect, if approached quickly with the help of the experts in the field, could contribute a great deal towards solving the earlier problems which are also affected by this ‘backward system’ that exists at present.
Improvement of staff technical skills
This will mean the improvement of the technological skills of the staff of the Police at all levels. Beginning at the very top level and particularly at the levels of Officers-In-Charge, Assistant Superintendents of Police and the like. Communication skills development should be given priority. The testing of the capacities of persons in these matters can be exercised through the help of experts in this field. Once this skill training is introduced, it will soon catch up and enter into the ‘mainstream’, of the system, and the system will also be able to exercise this function with other branches of governance, particularly with the branches of the administration of justice, better and more efficiently and also with greater accountability.
Modernize police training at all levels
Another ‘major problem’ that the next IGP will have to face is to completely revise and change the Police training methodologies within the Department. Short training programmes have clearly shown to have no effect in creating a kind of Police force that can be the respect of the people and also to perform their duties with a ‘sense of dignity’ and also with professional pride. This would mean that dividing various types of trainings depends on which branches they were from and giving special trainings for ‘special tasks’ and if necessary, providing the training abroad, so that experiences from other countries could be brought into the experience of the Sri Lankan policing system, are all matters that need very urgent consideration.
Moral and ethical development of the police
The moral and ethical development of the Police is a very serious need within the policing system. The use of language among each other by the officers, higher-ups and the lower ranks, should reflect the respect that exists within the Department and particularly the basic notion of equality which is at the heart of the constitutional system of Sri Lanka. The same applies to dealing with the public, where drastic changes are needed in the use of language and in behavioural patterns, where politeness, courtesy, and respect for each other should dominate these relationships. The population of the country has improved greatly from the point of view of their education, and they expect a higher level of moral and ethical behaviour from all institutions and of course, particularly the institution that deals with the protection of the people which is the policing system.
These are some of the matters that could be included in the criteria for the selection of an IGP. This clearly shows that the person who comes into the job should carry a certain vision for achieving changes in an institution that desperately is in need of changes. That is not just an institutional need, it is a need of the country. The stability of the country will depend very much on the stable functioning of the policing system that is able to do its functions at all levels, particularly at a time when a massive economic crisis has hit the country and the levels of challenge to law and order have become more severe than ever. The requirement today is for a well-functioning system that could win back the confidence of the people. As poverty increases, there is likely to be an increase in thefts, robberies, simply because of dire need. Under these circumstances, developing strategies on not only of dealing with crime but also social problems like assistance to people who are faced with malnutrition, by providing various types of services so that the other authorities who are dealing with these matters are able to deliver their services more efficiently, should be a part of the training on the outlook of the Police officers regarding social concerns. The helpful approach to those who are in need, like to those who are old, and also the people with various disabilities, must be inculcated into the policing system, so that people will begin to see a changed approach to dealing with social stability and law and order.
In short, the person needed as the IGP at these crucial times is a visionary leader with integrity and courage.