By Basil Fernando –
Reports of a series of killings attributed to underworld elements have sent shockwaves amongst all Sri Lankans, whether living in Sri Lanka or outside. Almost everyone was speculating as to what these killings aimed to achieve. Some thought the killings were mainly directed towards witnesses of serious crimes being investigated, or already brought to court. There was also speculation that the rise of the underworld could lead to further crimes, including attacks by various political factions against their enemies, and also that it could spread into the economic realm, as well as to illegal businesses such as the drugs trade.
President Maithripala Sirisena himself, a short while ago, spoke about the demand for illegal payments from those involved in the transport trade. He mentioned this was a serious problem that needed to be addressed soon.
The Government’s own admission in this area, coupled with daily experiences of very serious crimes, has put to test its promise to bring about good governance throughout the country. The Government promised to end the period of bad governance prevailing in Sri Lanka for many decades, and to bring about orderly governance that will ensure accountability and transparency. The present situation demonstrates however, that there is a serious governance crisis in Sri Lanka, and the spread of disorder has not been altered.
While the Government’s attempt to develop various units of the police to deal with this issue should be welcomed, such measures alone cannot hope to effectively address the problem of lawlessness, which is a breeding ground for criminal elements.
Despite being fully aware of a 40-year legacy of uncontrolled criminality and disorder, the present Government did not give serious attention to developing a policy to undo this situation and bring about the enforcement of law within a rule of law framework. In fact, rule of law was nearly absent in the vocabulary of the leaders. Thus, criminal gangs and those who exploit them were not dealt with in the manner of overcoming the problems left over by the previous government in the area of law and order and the protection of the people.
The only policy that could answer the level of the collapse of all the protection mechanisms in the country is serious reform of the Sri Lankan police service. It is publicly admitted that the Sri Lankan police was dragged into military work, and used for causing disappearances, illegal arrests, detentions and other illegalities. The issue now, is when the police will begin to be restored as a credible institution in Sri Lanka. That question has not been answered; in fact, the Government leaders are silent about the serious reform of the policing service as a first step towards the development of good governance within Sri Lanka.
This issue must be squarely placed with the government think tanks. It is hoped that such think tanks do exist, and that the President and Prime Minister are encouraging them to come up with ideas to solve the problems bedeviling all aspects of life in Sri Lanka.
In particular, it is time for the President and Prime Minister to speak out about the future of the policing service in Sri Lanka, and answer whether the government intends to modernize the policing force as befits a modern democracy. This is an issue on which the Government has no right to remain silent. We urge the Government to speak out, and to let the nation know what plans for modernization of the police are being envisaged, as well as the time frame within which such reforms will be put into effect.
The Government thus has to think in terms of providing human and financial resources for the running of a modernized policing system in Sri Lanka. It is only when the Government can explain its plans to allocate resources for developing an institution capable of dealing with the law and order crisis that people will believe the Government is taking their protection seriously.