|Police inaction must come to
Time and again Sri Lanka’s Police have been
the focus of attention for its various acts of commission and
omission but, recent events have shown that the Department has
hit a new low. So much so, that the courts of law have been
compelled to comment on the performance of certain police
officers in specific incidents.
For instance, the Police are alleged to have turned a blind eye
and deaf ear when ruling party hooligans allegedly torched the
property of Anuradhapura’s United National Party district
organiser Raja Johnpulle, reducing the much respected medical
practitioner’s residence to ashes.
A few weeks ago, police were again seen looking the other way
while the irrepressible Mervyn Silva indulged in his favourite
pastime of bashing media men and snatching their photographic
equipment at Kelaniya.
In both incidents, the courts of law inquiring into the events
made adverse remarks against the Police and in the latter, they
were questioned as to why they were dragging their feet in
apprehending and producing the suspect minister in court.
Then, in a separate court action, two police officers of the
Commission against Bribery and Corruption have themselves gone
to courts alleging that attempts were made to influence them,
when they were investigating the assets of a minister and that
they were discriminated against when they resisted these
These events point in one and the same direction: the Police has
been politicised at all levels. Many officers in the force are
mere lackeys serving their corrupt political masters. It is also
a two-way process: the policeman ignores the politician’s
misdeeds and politician rewards him by way of offering
And the rot starts at the very top of the system. The
appointment of the Inspector General of Police is at the
discretion of the Executive President. Therefore, when there are
several contenders for the top job, the President, who is
essentially a politician, veers towards the man who could be
most amenable to his own political agenda.
Honest officers, from the top brass to the reserve police
constable, graduate through the ranks seeing their colleagues
who serve politicians well, rise in rank and riches while they
themselves languish in oblivion or are posted to a ‘difficult’
area in return for their integrity. Obviously, many officers
succumb to the temptation and join their unscrupulous brethren.
And so, the cancer spreads.
This is not a new phenomenon that has emerged during this
administration. Both major political parties, the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) have
used and abused the system during their respective tenures of
office—perhaps for nearly four decades now-and, with each
successive regime, the trend appears to grow exponentially.
Obviously, when a particular system is manipulated by one
political party, it leaves behind many grievances. Then, when
the opposing party finally grabs the reins of power, it is their
turn to make amends with a vengeance. They set out to ‘correct’
the ‘misdeeds’ of their predecessors and punish their detractors
and so begins a spiral of unending political rivalry and
retribution. Sadly, the Police Department seems to be
particularly vulnerable to this malady.
What is of concern now - and what recent events indicate
convincingly - is that politicisation of the Police appears to
be the norm rather than the exception. Even in the rural hamlet,
the policeman is merely an agent for the local Member of
Parliament, the Provincial Councillor or the Member of the
The end result is that the Police force has become a mere
extension of the political apparatus and yet another tentacle of
the ruling party - whatever party it may be. And the
consequences are disastrous, as the above mentioned incidents
show; they indicate a complete disruption of law and order and a
blithe disregard for societal norms where persons believe that
as long as they have political clout behind them, might is
There is no easy solution to this. The more this trend is
tolerated, the more it will flourish. And, it can be predicted
with near certainty that politicians and policemen alike will
abuse the ‘system’ to their own advantage.
It is indeed encouraging that the courts of law have intervened
to caution the Police that their conduct has been found wanting.
There were precedents in the past where police officers were
ordered by the courts to personally pay compensation for their
misdeeds and that was a step in the right direction. But that
alone does not appear to be a sufficient deterrent.
The creation of an Independent Police Commission that would
oversee all police appointments and transfers was a breath of
fresh air in this context. But with that process now being
stalled due to the non-functioning Constitutional Council, it is
back to square one.
It would be naive to expect the ruling party to have a change of
heart overnight and order that the police are free of all undue
political influence. That simply will not happen. Therefore, it
has now become the prerogative of the judicial system to police
And, as recent events show, the judiciary has not been found
wanting. They have acted with a degree of fierce independence
that is all the more laudable in the context of the many
pressures the judiciary itself is subjected to.
But one cannot expect each and every incident to be brought to
justice for the judiciary to intervene. And that is why an
Independent Police Commission is fast becoming an absolute sine
qua non for this country.
After all, even the current ruling party must realise that
someday, some time, it will be sitting in the opposition.