By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
Not long ago, the people of Sri Lanka looked up to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to present public explanations pertaining to police action related to alleged or threatened breaches of the law. In these times, the minister in charge of public security, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, acts in reverse. For even with respect to nuts and bolt issues in law and order administration minister Weerasekera speaks up. Minister wants to be the public face of the Sri Lanka Police Force disregarding the head of that force-the IGP.
If it is a question raised in parliament then the minister must speak up; but on day-to-day eruptions it is best if he be silent and allow the officials in the police force to give the public the status quo. Why? Because if he intervenes where he should not the minister would be doing the work of the IGP and the police forces. No official in the echelons of the public service would like to find his legitimate duties and responsibilities usurped. That is demoralising and, therefore, bad and insensitive management. If minister Weerasekera had a basic idea of what professionalism meant in administration he should realize this.
Role of the IGP
The position of IGP had been from inception an exalted office. The incumbent had, typically, been an officer who had climbed through from the middle to the senior echelons of the service to reach the top. We had the exception of DBIPS Siriwardena, one of Sri Lanka’s best-regarded Civil Servants. But that was probably the only exception and there were justifiable reasons for that.
The IGP is one of the toppest positions in the Sri Lankan Public Service. Having come through the rigid discipline of the ranks, the IGP had had what is known as organizational memory that was a great resource for him in the performance of his duties. This consideration should be enough for the minister to respect the office of the IGP. The IGP is not a minister’s hireling or private secretary. He is the symbol of the large police service we have. Rankers look up to him and out of natural respect obey his command. This linkage must be maintained if we are to run our police service efficiently. Traditionally policemen and women developed loyalties around the IGP who to the latter was their master and their symbol of service -pride.
On the other hand, the minister has a different responsibility. This is not related to the day-to-day operations but to policy -level changes. The 19th Amendment even safeguarded the security of office of the IGP by having the latter selected by an Independent Commission appointed under the Constitutional Council. So, the Minister cannot make the IGP run for his life. That is how it should be. In developed countries that is the practice.
Goon Attack on Ragama Medical Faculty Students
The reason for my decision to write this paper was a news report a few days ago in The Island, relating to an assault on Ragama medical faculty students by an outsider gang. I quote that report here:
Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera yesterday (02) confirmed that following an attack on medical students within the Ragama Medical Faculty premises on the previous night, a vehicle belonging to a government institution and its driver had been apprehended by those targeted and handed over to the police.
University sources told The Island that goons stormed the premises following instructions issued by the fourth year students to the third year students. Sources alleged that goons moved at the behest of one of the third year students who opposed interventions made by the seniors.
Spokesperson for the Parents Union of Medical Students, Wasantha Alwis said that undergraduates captured D.K. Samaratunga, a member of State Minister Arundika Fernando’s personal staff, who carried an identification card issued by the Ministry of Lands and Parliamentary Reforms. Unquote.
Charges are flying about that the minister and his son had also been associated in the episode. A plush Benz car belonging to the Ministry of Lands and Parliamentary affairs had been seen in the vicinity.
Why Not The IGP? Why The Minister?
My question is why did the IGP not make an official statement and why did the minister grab that job from the IGP? The minister didn’t even cite an IGP’s report to base his statement. The head of the force was cast aside- in the shade. The politician took over.
If the IGP is ignored and bypassed like this, it gives the signal that the police force is an appendage of the political establishment. It is not a public service meant to conduct themselves with the dignity that independence brings. In short, the dignity and status of the force is belittled.
The minister seems to be laying a direct-rule pathway here. This pathway is contagious as the rest of the rank and file will ignore the police hierarchy established under the office of the IGP and resort to political settlement of grievances and internal disputes. This will bring into play the whole rot of MPs, Pradeshiya Sabha members and minor political catchers. And of course the Saffrons.
Even for petty internal transfers all officers will run behind the minister or his catchers. In the past, the IGP had a firm disciplinary hold and had a willing obedience coming from below. The Weerasekera pathway would, as it is already happening, bring the police service into total subservience of politicians. An MP who dislikes an OIC will got to Weerasekera directly or through a local powerful politico. The service crumbles! MPs would tremble before attempting to interfere in transfers like this.
Secondly, in the pursuit of public breaches of law and order and acts of criminal conduct the official hierarchy will be ignored and the corrupt force of political play will prevail. This trend will be socially undermining and dangerous.
In the specific case of our reference here can you and I have faith that the particular breach of law at the Ragama Medical faculty would be handled at the minster’s level impartially? Surely, no. Another minister is involved in the incident and that is Arundika Fernando who has been associated in the past in episodes of breach of order. Wasn’t this man associated with the rowdy hooliganism near the Speaker’s chair three years ago? I am aware he wasn’t the chili powder man.
Minister Arundika is supposed to have tendered his resignation. If this act is not something like minister Ali Sabry’s, the resignation will be upheld. Even if it is done, I notice that in a video Arundika pleads that once the investigations are completed he be allowed to return to the portfolio. This means, although no longer a current minister, Arundika is virtually minister-in-waiting. The political clout that can influence the investigations remains undiluted.
As an aside, I like to mention that the minister in the video states he wants the portfolio back “for the sake of the country.” Arundika is joking!
In the circumstances, therefore, can anyone expect that the inquiry would be pursued with impartiality to bring the culprits to book? I would bet my residential property in Australia for that.
Conclusion: The Base of Our Justice
A government’s commitment to good governance and the welfare of the country rests to a large extent on how it manages law and order and justice for the citizen. In Sri Lanka the base of justice starts not with the judiciary but with the police investigations and the filing and referral of cases by the Attorney General. Both the latter institutions being under political control, justice would be a daydream in the island. A minister running the police undermines this situation further. The command line of this service begins with the IGP. On the other hand minister Weerasekera has taken over the command line.
*The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org