Colombo Telegraph

Why Limited Police Functions Should Be Devolved

By R.M.B Senanayake –

R.M.B. Senanayake

The devolution of police functions to the Provincial Council is highly controversial. The Government apparently wants to repeal this provision in the 13th Amendment. But the power over the police function given to the Provincial Council is very limited. The Central Government will continue to exercise substantial control over the police function exercised in the provinces. The Provincial Police will be under the authority of a DIG.

The 13th Amendment provides that whilst the D.I.G. himself ‘shall be responsible to and under the control of the Chief Minister’, all Police Officers in the Province shall function under the direction and control of the D.I.G. of such Province. This is required in the interests of good management for it will not leave room for interference by the Chief Minister and Ministers.

The D.I.G. ‘shall be responsible to and under the control of the Chief Minister’ but the D.I.G. shall be seconded from the National Division and selected by the I.G.P., and if the Chief Minister disagrees with such selection, appointed by the President.

The D.I.G. ‘shall be responsible to and under the control of the Chief Minister’ but the D.I.G. will be under the disciplinary control of the I.G.P. and will be employed on terms and conditions determined by the Central Government.

There is a Provincial Police Commission which will deal with appointments, promotion and discipline in the Provincial Police. This means that the Chief Minister cannot interfere unnecessarily with the discretion and decision making power of the DIG as we see today in the police which has become the police of the Executive President and the Ministers rather than a national institution enforcing the law and implementing the criminal justice system.

The subject of ‘Public Order’ is effectively retained in the hands of the President and the I.G.P. who may act either through the National Police Division or the Provincial Police division.

A Proclamation under the Public Security Ordinance declaring that the maintenance of essential supplies and services is threatened or that the security of Sri Lanka or any part of the territory thereof is threatened by war, or by external aggression, or by armed rebellion may be made before the actual breakdown of supplies and services, or the actual occurrence or war, of any such aggression or rebellion, if the President is satisfied that there is imminent danger thereof:

Provided that where such Proclamation is in operation only in any part of Sri Lanka, the power of the President to give directions under this Article, shall also extend to any Province other than the Province in which the Proclamation is in operation if, and in so far as it is expedient so to do for ensuring the maintenance of essential supplies and services or the security of Sri Lanka”.

So there are adequate safeguards for the Central Government to act where there is a possible breakdown of public order.

Leaving aside the subject of Public Order where the Central Government has adequate power to maintain public order there is the role of the police in the implementation of the criminal justice system. It should be possible to draw a distinction between the policing function in the province and in the Central Government. The trend in policing seems to be to set up specialist units at the center to deal serious crime, terrorism, public order, large-scale fraud, and other national or international problems. The Provincial Police provide services to the people in the area falling within the province. The policing function in the rural areas and the urban areas differ. During the colonial period the police generally went into a village to apprehend suspects only with the Village Headmen. This scheme broke down when Grama Sevakas were appointed from outside the village for the Grama Sevaka could no longer play any role in assisting the police.

The policing function in the rural and urban areas is different. Rural and urban areas often have different policing priorities, Isn’t it more appropriate that these purely local watchman duties and investigation of simple crimes be done at the provincial level by police officers who know Tamil and are better acquainted with the ways of life and the customs of the local communities. The crime patterns and crime rates will differ between the urban cities and the rural hinterland.

If,  it is accepted that the broad hypothesis is correct, namely that rural areas generally have different policing needs from urban areas, there is a case for devolution of the police function particularly the general policing function to the Provincial Councils. The rural areas do not require a sophisticated police force and hence there is a case for a separate police unit recruited at the provincial level as distinct from the national police. This argument goes beyond local need in so far as it recognizes that there are policy, constitutional and language requirements that are unique to the Northern Provincial Council. A provincial police force unlike the national police force will not be transferable over the whole island. A provincial police force is best equipped to serve the needs of the local communities in the provinces. Of course such a provincial police force cannot cater to every policing need. It will be possible to have a provincial police force which could be paid less than the national police force. A less costly police force would reduce the financial burden of the provincial police. The normal routine of investigating crimes and charging the suspects in court could be done more expeditiously with a provincial police force.

It is this Provincial Police Division recruited by a Commission which has a majority of members appointed by the Central Government and which functions under a D.I.G. who is under the disciplinary control of the I.G.P., who is answerable to the President, which is clothed with the responsibility of preserving public order in the Province and there is no cause for the opposition of the Sinhala nationalists to an eminently reasonable and cost effective arrangement

The Sinhala nationalists are creating a false sense of fear about the devolution of police powers. These matters were dealt with by that eminent leader President J.R Jayawardene and his brother H.W Jayawardene who were men of high intelligence and possessed of wisdom.

Related posts;

Political Duplicity And Devolution Of Police Powers by Austin Fernando

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