"Trying Ladders For Jumping Monkeys"

by S.L.Gunasekara

(September 01, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) There is a Sinhala saying which states “PANINA RILAWUNTA INIMANG BANDINAWA WAGE”, a literal translation whereof would be “LIKE TYING LADDERS FOR JUMPING MONKEYS”. This saying comes to mind when considering the violence that one has now, most regrettably, been compelled to get accustomed to in the run up to, and often during any election for about the last 35 years [i.e ever since the Dedigama By-Election of 1973], the rhetorical question posed by a loquacious Minister at a propaganda meeting for the recently concluded election for the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council when he queried why, the UPFA could not win when IT HAD the President, the Government AND THE POLICE, and the demand of Chief Ministers led by the Chief Ministers for the North Central and Eastern Provinces, namely, Berty Premalal Dissanaike and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan, for the vesting of Police Powers in the Provincial Councils !!!

While a judicial or quasi judicial inquiry into the conflicting [and often self-serving] allegations as to who was responsible for the several acts of violence that occurred in the `run up’ to the recently concluded elections for the Provincial Councils of the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces would take several months of Sundays to conclude, there are certain facts that are so notorious that no such inquiry is necessary to determine them. The first is that the all important `run up’ to those elections were marred by violence. The second is that all three major parties that contested them, namely, the UPFA, the UNP and the JVP, their allies and `hangers on’, have proven track records of having previously engaged in and caused such acts of violence at previous elections, and possess a manifest ability to do so. The third is that except in the case of the JVP, the violence experienced in the past was LARGELY violence that was caused and/or instigated by and/or `benefited’ the candidates of the party in power in the Country. It is pertinent in this connection to observe that even those thoroughly obnoxious/uncivilized `Ministerial brats’ as well as some of their doting parents who broke the law with `impunity’, assaulted patrons of Night Clubs, Police Officers and Journalists did and do so only while the parents of those `brats’ held/hold ministerial office and become as quiet as new born sheep [or goats] when such parents become Ministers `Emeritus’ !!

Clearly those notorious `Ministerial Brats’ and some of their parents could never have behaved in such outrageous manner unless they knew or rightly believed that the Police Force would turn a blind eye to their flagrant breaches of the law because of the positions their parents held/hold for the time being.

This, of course, falls perfectly in line with the above cited statement made by that loquacious Minister that the UPFA HAVE the Police. These facts together with the indisputable fact that the house of Dr Johnpillai of the UNP was destroyed by a mob of arsonists in the presence of about 30 armed Police Officers, and the fact that apart from the self evident fact of the dereliction of duty by those Police Officers, the very fact that the mob went about their contemptible exercise in the presence of those Police Officers leads to the inescapable conclusion that they knew or had reason to believe that the Police would not take any action against them. There can be no doubt that no mob would even have thought of `torching’ the house of Berty P. Dissanaike or any member of the UPFA in the presence of such a contingent of Police Officers while the UPFA was in power. By the same token it would be a foolhardy gambler who would bet on the Police having taken a different course of action if the house which was attacked was that of Berty P. Dissanaike while the party in power was the UNP !!!

All this goes to show that our once `proud’ Police Force is, today, not in fact, the Police Force of the Republic obeying that cardinal and all important principle of civilized government enshrined in Article 12(1) of the Constitution that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law”, but an `arm’ or `possession’ of the Political Party that constitutes the government at any time, whether it be the UPFA, the UNP or any other. The tragedy is that not one Party has raised even a whimper of protest at this outrageous servility of the Police Force to the Party `in power’ when such Party was `in power’.

It is here necessary to advert to the responses of the respective Chief Ministerial candidates who could not have been unaware of who the perpetrators violence were, at least when such perpetrators were their own supporters. Not one of them admitted that any of their supporters were ever guilty of any such acts, but always sought to shield them on the unspoken premise that “My supporters and I are as pure as new born babies incapable of wrongdoing, while my opponents and their supporters are thugs, goons, murderers and arsonists who constantly oppress us”.

The immense powers that will be vested in Chief Ministers over the Police in terms of Clauses 11 and 11.1 of Appendix One to the Schedule of the “Provincial Council List” if Police Powers are in fact vested in them in compliance with the Thirteenth Amendment read as follows:-

“11. All Police Officers serving in units of the National Division and Provincial Divisions (sic) in any Province shall function under the direction and control of the D.I.G of such Province.

11.1 The D.I.G of the Province shall be RESPONSIBLE TO AND UNDER THE CONTROL OF THE CHIEF MINISTER thereof in respect of the MAINTENANCE OF PUBLIC ORDER and the EXERCISE OF POLICE POWERS as set out in this Schedule.”

Particularly having regard to their experiences in the `run up’ to the Provincial Council Elections concluded on the 23rd August, would any `reasonable man’ want to live under a regime in which Berty P Dissanaike or Maheepala Herath [or for that matter any of their opponents if they had won] have legal control over the Police ???

The question of vesting such `Police Powers’ should not be assessed or evaluated on the basis of theoretical concepts of devolution, but purely and solely on the basis of whether such vesting would be conducive to enhancing the maintenance of law and order in the land which can only be done on the basis of strict impartiality. There can be little doubt that none of the incumbent Chief Ministers who demanded the vesting of `Police Powers’ in them did so because of a desire to achieve that objective, but purely to acquire more powers for themselves for their personal aggrandizement.

Can any such Chief Minister be safely entrusted with the Police Powers they demand or reasonably be expected to exercise such powers impartially if vested in them ??

Today, the Police Force is subject to the control of the Minister of Defence who is the President. The Police Force in Sri Lanka [whatever the position may be in any foreign country/countries], is an integral part of our Defence Establishment of which the President is the Head, and he is, hence, necessarily the person who should be in control of the Police Force.

The President is, indisputably a politician, and there is now, and has been in the past, an enormous amount of political interference with that Force resulting in several conscientious, brave and `selfless’ Police Officers who sought to withstand that interference being `side-lined’ and those “Public Enemies No.1”, namely the sycophants receiving preferred treatment.

Would the position become better or worse if Police Powers are devolved on the Provinces ?? With the Head of State possessed of manifold duties being in control of the Police Force, the political interference therein must necessarily be less than if any powers over such Force are vested in Nine Chief Ministers, each of whom would, having regard to past experience, interfere and keep interfering with the execution by them of their functions to serve the interests of himself, his supporters and his party in that order of priority.

The members of the government must realize that just as much as they are, today, the `beneficiaries’ of political interference in the Police, they would be the `victims’ of such interference in the event of a change of government. Likewise, those who cry `foul’ at such interference and long for the day when they can exercise such interference must realize even now, that there is no benefit to any citizen in a continuing cycle of such political interference, and that if the avenues of such interference are enhanced by the vesting of `Police Powers’ in Provincial Councils [i.e. in the Chief Ministers] they may not even live to see the day when any of their parties are vested with such rights of interference !!!

The maintenance of discipline and law and order with strict impartiality is a matter of vital importance to the Country and all citizens without distinction. It is not a question of a theoretical concept of the desirability or otherwise of devolution; nor of the aggrandizement of any politicians or their parties; nor a question in which `political one-upmanship’ has any part to play.

Accordingly, it behoves all parties to get together without more ado and amend the Constitution by deleting the provisions relating to the devolution of `Police Powers’ to Provincial Councils; and to thereafter engage in the truly Herculean task of evolving and implementing practical mechanisms to ensure that while the Minister of Defence continues to be in charge of the Police, law and order is maintained with strict impartiality and no political interference, so that we will never again countenance outrageous spectacles such as that of about 30 armed police officers being idle spectators to acts of arson and rioting.
- Sri Lanka Guardian