Another war well worth fighting

Colombo is no Chicago, and Sri Lanka is no Colombia, but a wave of crime over the past few weeks have captured headlines in no uncertain manner.

Sri Lankans who would have wanted to believe that violence was on the wane, after the end of the war against terrorism, have been in for a rude shock. There were several incidents of school girls being abducted in broad daylight, only to be found sexually abused and murdered a few days later. We also watched horrified, as a triumvirate of triple murders unfolded within less than a fortnight.

We were then told of how underworld figures were threatening politicians and demanding ransom. The latest in this saga is a series of gangland killings in and around Colombo, in which, one gang leader M.K. Imtiaz, better known by his nom-de-guerre, ‘Anamalu Imtiaz’, was found hacked to death with his body dumped in the streets.

These events must necessarily lead to the question on the status of law and order in this country. Such issues have been pushed to the periphery for three decades, owing to the separatist war, which captured headlines throughout those years. But, as we emerge from the shadows of the ‘Eelam War’, there appears to be other monsters lurking in the shadows.

Clearly, the Police have been caught napping, while the menace of crime has been growing exponentially. To be fair by the law enforcement authorities, theirs is a force that had been stretched to the maximum during the years of terrorism, where providing public security occupied a huge share of their workload.

But the Police Force is not without its problems. We all know that appointments, transfers and promotions in the Police are heavily politicised. This is mostly seen at the grassroots level, where the local Police station is the local MP’s kingdom - the MP’s word is law, and anyone who dares to flout it is gifted with a ‘punishment’ transfer!

With such a reputation, Police Officers quickly learn to adapt by adopting the Darwinian maxim of ‘survival of the fittest’: they fathom the art of serving their political masters and turn a blind eye to deeds that they would have otherwise intervened in. This cancer of lawlessness grows rapidly, resulting in the creation of underworld gang-lords who direct networks of organised crime, which are usually linked with the illegal drug trade for good measure.

Fresh from his success in combating terrorism, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has now decided he would wage war on this nexus of crime and drug trafficking. It is a huge challenge, but we know that will not deter the President.
Significantly, President Rajapaksa has stated that he would not only seek the help of the Police in this exercise, he would be entrusting most of the task to the Army. Obviously, while this is a compliment to the integrity of the Sri Lanka Army, it is also equally an indictment on the Police.

The President being the pragmatic politician that he is, has now realised that political interference in the workings of the Police are so extensive and complicated, that using the Police Force to weed out crime and drugs would be striving for the near impossible. Hence, the delegation of some of those tasks to the Sri Lanka Army.

It is an extremely far-sighted move, and we hope the Army achieves the kind of success it accomplished in defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The handicap though is that, while they were given a free hand in their war against terror by the President, they may find different politicians trying to tie their hands in their war against crime and drugs.
Nevertheless, considering the horrific events of the past few weeks, we believe, it too, is a war well worth fighting for.

Right man needed for the right job

President Mahinda Rajapaksa must be a busy man these days. Not only is he the Executive President of the country, he is also the Head of State, Head of Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. But that has not stopped him from becoming, every now and again, a mere Cabinet minister.

Just last week, the President had to intervene, to have a strike by government doctors stopped. And there were no major policy decisions involved- the doctors wanted an appointment list squashed, because they believed it was irregular, the Minister of Health and his Ministry was refusing to budge, and so the matter went to the President.

In such circumstances, we must ask why we should have a hundred plus cabinet of ministers. Ministers are a dime to the dozen, and they go about as if they are God’s gift to government, yet, when it comes to a simple procedural matter, such as an appointment list, this has to take up the valuable time of the Head of State.

We have had Presidents who were more authoritative and dictatorial in the past. The names of J.R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa come readily to mind. They have governed with a much smaller cabinet of ministers. Yet, they have had to rarely intervene in the day-to-day running of ministries or in simple administrative actions. But today, this is what President Rajapaksa is compelled to do, because of the incompetence of some of his ministers, some of them occupying the front benches of his government.

We know the President is now looking at the prospect of elections, both General and Presidential. Therefore, the possibility of a reshuffle looms large. We believe that, when this happens, the President will do the needful, to find the right man or woman for the right job- because some of his ministers are obvious misfits in their ministries right now.