The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 25

Complimentary with The Nation
Sunday, October 20, 2013 8 pages
Sandun Jayawardana
According to the Sri Lanka Police, each
letter in the word ‘POLICE’ comprises different
interpretations:
P - Politeness
O - Obedience
L - Loyalty
I - Intelligence
C - Courtesy
E - Efficiency
This is how the Police Department defines itself
on its website. However, for many members of the
public, the letter ‘C’ in ‘POLICE’ may well stand
for ‘Corruption’ as for years, the Sri Lanka Police
has grappled with the problem of corrupt officers
within its ranks tarnishing the image of the entire
department. Reports of officers who frequently
engage in such acts of corruption have created a
massive image problem for the department, with
public perception of the Police at a very low ebb.
In the latest such case, four police personnel,
including a Sub Inspector and three constables
attached to the Kalutara Police Station were
recently arrested for soliciting a bribe from a
bootlegger not to file a case against him.
According to a survey conducted by
Transparency International (TI) earlier this year,
64 percent of the public believed the Police to be
a corrupt institution. In addition, 43 percent had
reported paying or having a household member
who paid a bribe to the police over the past year.
While the perception of the police force being
corrupt is valid, the extent of this perception
may well be clouded by the high visibility of the
police and their interactions with members of the
public in their day-to-day lives, said Transparency
International Sri Lanka (TISL) Spokesman Shan
Wijethunga.
“There are far bigger incidents of corruption
that are carried out by various officials and
individuals, but the fact that the police are far
more involved in affairs of members of the public
in a day-to-day basis means that even extremely
petty cases get reported,” he pointed out. As such,
the perception of the police being the most corrupt
public institution may not be valid, he observed.
However, there are various factors that fuel
corruption within the police, Wijethunga
explained.
“The entire department is highly politicized. In
addition, the salaries of most police officers are
extremely low. The department lacks personnel.
This means most officers are forced to do more
than one shift without getting any rest, meaning
they are up for 24 hours at a stretch. There is little
time for relaxation. The lack of a transparent
promotion system within the police is also a
demotivating factor for most officers,” he stressed.
There was no question that officers need to be
paid and a more transparent promotion scheme
implemented as part of efforts to minimize
corruption within the police force. “There needs to
be drastic changes. Mental, physical and economic
factors all need to be taken into account,”
Wijethunga added.
Corruption within the police was a
consequential result of corruption of politicians,
the United National Party (UNP) MP and Attorney-
at-Law Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said.
Speaking to
The Nation
, he said there were
police officers who went behind politicians for
their promotions and transfers. “These officers are
involved in corruption to the hilt,” he alleged.
On the other hand, politicians also depended on
police to turn a blind eye to their illegal activities,
and this meant that they would bring pressure not
to take action against corrupt officers.
Things have deteriorated to such a level where
police officers have to obtain the ‘consent’ of the
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) organizer of
their area if they’re to obtain a transfer to that
area, he further alleged.
The salaries of police officers were also
extremely low, and not enough for them to support
their families. “This is a problem plaguing
the entire public sector, not just the police,”
Rajapakshe observed.
He also echoed Wijethunga’s views that
compared to other sectors, there was more
opportunity for police officers to fall into corrupt
practices due to the nature of their work.
There were only two remedies for the problem,
according to the MP. “The establishment of a
completely independent Police Commission devoid
of political interference is warranted. Police
officers should also be given a reasonable increase
in salaries and allowances,” he said.
While one could not fully eradicate corruption,
it would at least be possible to bring it down to a
minimum level where the trust of the public would
be restored once again in the police, Rajapakshe
opined.
With more than 84,000 personnel in its ranks,
the Sri Lanka Police is a professional unit, and
allegations that it is plagued by corruption are
untrue, insisted Police Spokesman SSP Ajith
Rohana.
Speaking to
The Nation
, SSP Rohana claimed
less than 30 officers had been arrested for
soliciting bribes within the last five years. “Even
this year, the number of those arrested for bribery
is less than 10. When compared to the large
number of officers in the service, this number is
minimal,” he said.
With regard to results of various surveys
indicating the police to be extremely corrupt, the
police spokesman said surveys that only cover
selected public institutions were not a reflection of
events on the ground.
“A comprehensive survey should cover all public
institutions. There has been no such research
indicating the police to be more corrupt than
others.”
When queried whether the police had an image
problem with regard to the widespread perception
that it is a corrupt institution, SSP Rohana said
many members of the public, who complained of
police being corrupt, were also part of that cycle.
He pointed out offering a bribe was also a
criminal offense and said members of the public
who did so were just as guilty as the officers who
accept it.
“Whenever people get caught for some offense,
their first instinct is not to accept it is their fault.
Most then try to do whatever they can to avoid
the hassle of paying for that offense and it is then
that they offer bribes to police. They then go and
complain that police solicited bribes from them,
but they are just as guilty for offering that bribe.”
As such, society had a responsibility to obey the
law instead of looking for the easy way out, SSP
Rohana emphasized.
He added other cases of corruption within the
police, such as the disappearances of evidence in
certain cases, were all interconnected, and claimed
the police was determined to put a stop to such
wrongful conduct.
The police department is now at a turning point
four years after the war. It is taking stringent
measures to eradicate corruption within the
force. At their induction training, newly recruited
officers are warned of the consequences of
engaging in corruption and all senior officers
are also briefed on investigations into acts of
corruption, he explained.
It may well be that public perception of the
police being the ‘most corrupt’ public institution
in the country is wrong. However, corruption is
an issue, and it is encouraging to learn that police
are taking action to eradicate it. The arrest of the
officers at the Kalutara police is an indication
that such acts will not be tolerated. However, as it
was pointed out, simply arresting officers will not
help end the bribery menace. Much more needs to
be done, both at Government level, and society at
large, if a corruption free ‘POLICE’ that truly lives
up to the interpretation of its name, is to become
a reality.
Police in tough battle
to clear ‘corrupt’ tag
The Police Department is now at a turning point four years after the war
Speaking to
The Nation
, SSP
Rohana claimed less than 30
officers had been arrested for
soliciting bribes within the last
five years. “Even this year, the
number of those arrested for
bribery is less than 10. When
compared to the large number
of officers in the service, this
number is minimal,” he said
Police charge that members of the public, who
complained of Police being corrupt, were also part
of that cycle.
(File photo)
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