By Rajan Hoole –
One officer in the Police, despite the baneful history of the last two decades, made a mark as an honest and impartial investigator. He was SSP Nimal Fernando. As Director, Special Investigations Unit, Police HQ, which performed the difficult task of investigating complaints against fellow officers, both high and low, it fell to him to look into one against Nihal Karunaratne, ASP, PSD. During 1996, the IGP, W.B. Rajaguru, entrusted to him the investigation of alleged corrupt practice by this very powerful officer of the PSD concerning certain questionable transactions involving a bus.
SSP Fernando did his duty, and in November 1996 submitted an adverse report against ASP Karunaratne and certain other police officers, along with the recommended charges to be framed. The IGP forwarded the file to Mr. Victor Perera, DIG, PSD, and a reminder was sent in April 1997. Nothing appears to have happened. There were many officers with a grudge against Nimal Fernando and even Rajaguru seems to have turned sour. In early 1998, he was asked to report in Vavuniya on 15.1.98. There were 35 SSPs above him who had to do a turn in operational areas, and SSP Fernando was moreover being sent to work in a dangerous area under persons he had investigated and recommended charges against.
His immediate superior, Dr. Dharmadasa Silva, Sen. DIG, Administration, protested against this transfer, but to no avail. Nimal Fernando resigned, having two more years to serve and having served 35 years with an unblemished record. He had also excelled in athletics. He bettered Duncan White’s 20-year record of 56 .0 seconds for 400 metres hurdles with a timing of 54.08 seconds which remained unbroken for 15 years.
As SSP Negombo during early 1996, he earned public acclaim for cracking down on illicit liquor and gangsterism at the Airport taxi stand by supporters of Deputy Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. The latter complained to the President and SSP Fernando was transferred out after 2 months in Negombo. It was then that the IGP accommodated him in the Special Investigations Unit. It fell to him to investigate the conduct of police officers in connection with the Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry into the Vijaya Kumaratunga assassination, Lalith Athulathmudali assassination and the torture camp at Batalanda.
In the course of his work, he submitted adverse reports against Sen. DIGs Merril Gunaratne and A.S. Seneviratne, and against DIG Lionel Karunasena (former commandant, STF). It trivialises the serious charges gone into by the Special Presidential Commissions, if in the end the investigation of a commonplace charge against the ASP in charge of the President’s security triggered off a conspiracy against the SSP, who spurned political patrons and did an honest job.
There was something disquietingly vindictive in the manner in which Nimal Fernando was hounded out. He was Secretary, Police Athletics, at the time he left and was awarded the Knolley’s Shield for the best athlete in the Police in 1963 and 64. An invitation was not extended to him for the Police sports meet held a few months after his retirement.
Such had to be the fate of an SSP who showed the same zeal for duty even when it brought on him the displeasure of a deputy minister and a key official of the President’s office. There was considerable public protest on his behalf, but to no avail. Nimal Fernando complained to the President, but nothing happened beyond an acknowledgement from Secretary, Defence, in June 1998.
Another case with similarities to Nimal Fernando’s, particularly as concerns illicit liquor barons in the Negombo-Wattala area with well- placed patrons in the UNP as in the SLFP, was given by Tassie Seneviratne (Sunday Times 2.4.2000). Chief Inspector Neil Hettiarachchi was put in charge of Wattala Police in June 1989. He solved serious cases of crime and cracked down on illicit liquor and smuggling rackets, disregarding signals to go easy. As Seneviratne puts it, “He was harassed and hounded from place to place on frivolous allegations until he was dismissed from the Service in September 1996 by the IGP”. This is said to have resulted from false charges made by senior officers with vested interests. Seneviratne adds, “The Public Service Commission as usual rubber-stamped the decision of the IGP, without going into the facts of the case when he appealed”.
The CI Hettiarachi went to the Supreme Court for redress. With a view to limiting the damage from court exposure, he was recalled to the Service with back-wages. But his promotion to ASP was in April 2000 overdue by about 10 years! The fate of Nimal Fernando and others like him is a sad comment on the quality of governance. He has retired to a modest home in his birthplace of Moratuwa. The lack of ostentation is characteristic of one who has been an honest government servant during his working life. By contrast, Morris Amarasinghe, a humble police sergeant in the PSD, was reported to be living in style, building a three- storey apartment with several jeeps and vans at his disposal.
The way things are, the decline of honest investigative talent in the Police is alarming, but not surprising. The PA government too has continued the tradition of mendacious investigations into attacks on opposition figures and protesters. It has sometimes resulted in pushing groups that were not unfriendly to the Government into a hostile position. Such was the result of the attack on members of the Sri Lanka Solidarity Forum in November 1995. On 10th December 1998 – the Golden Jubilee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – persons from the Samurdhi, the SLFP’s social arm, who were protesting about conditions of employment, were attacked. The victims even knew which PA minister’s thugs the attackers were. The Police were unhelpful. As time wore on, uninvestigated attacks on the opposition increased.
*To be continued.. Next week – The Ponnambalam Affair
*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