By Rajiva Wijesinha –
In visits to the North and East over the last couple of years, I have been most impressed by the Community Policing commenced by the present Inspector General of Police. This is a worthy initiative, which must be encouraged and developed further. It would be helpful if senior police officials all over the country noted that, as indicated in the very systematic instructions given in the Eastern Province, this is in accord with one of the basic ideas of the Mahinda Chintanaya.
Though the President has made it clear he is deeply committed to consultation of the grass roots and swift responses to the needs that are expressed, unfortunately I do not know of any other government departments that have acted to institutionalize this policy. The IGP therefore deserves double commendation for his imaginative work in this regard.
However I should note that the idea of Community Policing is not new. Its first exponent was Mr Osmund de Silva, the first Sri Lankan to become IGP by promotion from the force – though I should note that he would have preferred the term Police Service to Police Force. Unfortunately Mr de Silva came under suspicion from politicians, who were just establishing themselves as central decision makers on all subjects. Naturally they felt threatened by the symbiotic relationship between police and people that Osmund de Silva was trying to develop, and wanted to stop such threats to their own increasing control of all aspects of life.
This is a pity, because politicians cannot solve all problems. They function at too great a distance for this to be possible, whereas the police can ensure close contact at all levels as well as conveyance of problems that cannot be resolved locally to the next decision making level. Sadly politicians tend to dislike alternative sources of satisfaction being developed, though if they thought more carefully they would realize that they could take advantage of such practical mechanisms.
Thus I am regularly told, at Divisional Reconciliation meetings, that matters brought up at Divisional Development Committee meetings are thereupon ignored by the politicians who chair these meetings. This leads to strong criticism, which I believe is misplaced since, in defence of my colleagues, I should note that it is physically impossible to remember everything they are told.
Indeed, I have noted as a general principle in life that the person who asks for something remembers the request and grows more resentful with every day that passes during which it is not fulfilled; whereas the person asked has forgotten the request totally. Thus, at COPE, we find that one institution claims it has informed another which denies such information. This does not mean either is lying, rather it means that the less concerned institution has forgotten – and given that we are not very good at reporting and maintaining records, the needs that were expressed can easily pass into oblivion.
Community policing would then help to focus attention where it matters on local problems. Sadly, Osmund de Silva’s vision was not shared by either his predecessor or his successor, who were not policemen, but administrators, so they stuck to the old British system of administration and policing. That was paternalistic, government officials being at the top of a hierarchical view of society, and the villagers, about whom Osmund de Silva cared so passionately, being at the bottom.
Sadly, while British administrative practices have changed, to promote greater accountability, we are still stuck in some respects in a colonial mindset. Thus I believe it was only one of the best IGPs of recent times, Rudra Rajasingham, who studied and wrote about what Osmund de Silva had attempted – though given the terrorist problems that were developing in the early eighties, IGP Rajasingham was not able to innovate as perhaps he would have wished.
It has been left then to the present IGP to finally work towards entrenching this important idea. His determination to allocate at least one police officer to every Grama Niladhari Division was the first recognition of the central nature of the role of the Grama Niladhari, the first interface between government and people. A dedicated policeman was the first government officer allocated to the GN Division, though now thankfully the Ministry of Economic Development has now followed suit.
In both cases good training and clear instructions are vital though, in the case of policemen, one assumes their basic training will help with the range of tasks arising from their responsibility for a particular GN Division. What was most heartening though was to see that, at least in the Eastern Province, clear written instructions have been issued as to how coordination should be developed. Even more importantly, there are clear instructions too about the need to maintain records, and to pass information on to the next layers of the administration.
A welcome innovation in the East is the Advisory Committee that has been set up for every police station. This means 45, the same number as there are Divisional Secretariats, though unfortunately these are not identical in area. I think this is a great pity, and I have indeed written more than once, with regard to the North as well as to the East, to the IGP about changing this.
This is essential if we are to work in terms of the teams that the idea of Community Policing entails. Though it is argued that police stations have to be organized in terms of courts, in the first place the placing of courts too needs to be reviewed – given for instance the absurdity of people living in the Divisions of Mullaitivu that lie west of the A9 having to travel to its Eastern extreme to attend courts. More importantly, the vital functions of the police should be recognized as being keeping the peace and preventing crime, not punishing it. For this purpose their relationships with the communities in which they function, and the other government officials who can contribute to security of all sorts, are more important than their relationships with the courts.
In this regard, the core components of the team of Advisers for each police station are impressive. In requiring that educationists and medical personnel and religious dignitaries are included in the Police Advisory Committees, the police have recognized that health and education and spiritual needs are vital for promoting the personal security that people need. That in turn improves the possibilities of consultation and cooperation, without which small problems are apt to fester.
Incidentally, while I believe this sort of team will help with what might be termed protection needs, we should also develop at the grass roots teams that look at development and livelihoods. One of our biggest problems in this country is the incapacity of government institutions to work together, which is why it is essential to institute mandatory consultation mechanisms at least at Divisional Secretariat level. Training needs in each division, planning for greater agricultural productivity, the promotion of small enterprises, all require greater coordination than government now provides.
To return to the systems that have been instituted, they could be improved if even the local committees have mandatory representation of the health and education sectors, as well as of religious bodies and non-governmental organizations providing substantial services. These individuals would constitute the core team that an administration requires for advice as well as for monitoring of the ground situation.
In the days of my grandfather, who was the first Sri Lankan Government Agent, there were regular informal meetings between the GA, the local police chief (who was usually just a Superintendent in those days), the Magistrate, the MoH. I believe that later on, with Kannagara’s seminal education reforms, the local Director of Education was also seen as a worthy.
Of course as time passed the level at which such consultation was meaningful moved from the Province to the District. Now it should be at least the Division, though sadly that sort of team building no longer operates. If and when it does, perhaps we should move to Grama Niladhari level too, while recognizing that making decisions at that level might be difficult, so greater concentration on the Division would make sense.
I believe that would help solve many of our problems. It is good that the police have taken the lead in working cohesively at this level, with statutory input from community representatives. These efforts deserve all success, and I can only hope they will be replicated all over the country.