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Police powers to the provinces & complacency

| by Gamini Gunawardane
Rtd, Snr. DIG.

( August 12, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I wish respond to Mr. K. Godage’s enquiry in his article in ‘Sunday Island’ of 4th Aug. after studying the relevant sections on provincial policing in the 13th Amendment. Since Manohara de Silva PC has already dealt with exhaustively, the dangers of these provisions, looking at it from a legal angle, I do not need to restate them. One has to give some credence to his analysis as no one so far has contradicted the points he made out.

In this assay I will try to deal with briefly what will happen to the police under provincial policing system.

The present unitary policing system has functioned efficiently over 125 years in this country. It has withstood the 1915 riots the riots of 1958 through 1983, run Elections successfully despite the politcians. It has withstood three insurgencies, has quite a good criminal investigation record comparable with other countries who have not suffered that degree of organizational damage. Even after extreme politicization that it had to contend with, police are still surviving, trying to recover from these ravages. Some parts of its history, such as where 600 policemen were ordered shamelessly by the government to surrender to Terrorists, are covered with disgrace, demoralizing the entire force. Currently, it is still in the process of recovering itself from the debris. Perhaps, there may not be many police services in the world that may have taken so many blows and still survived.

My personal view is that the secret of its survival even in this form, is basically its unitary structure. If there had been provincial system in place during these crises of last 30 years, the police would have crumbled quite sometime ago. It is my belief that it is its unitary model that held it together and is still holding. Therefore, it is my contention that when we try to replace such a time tested model, we need to be careful not fall from frying pan to the fire. It cannot be a decision made for political advantage or appeasement, but for the benefit of the people and therefore, has to be a people oriented decision.

One has to be doubly careful because it is sometimes a human failing that one takes one’s good things for granted and over time, fail to realize its value. Therefore I say, when we think of replacing an existing system with another, we need to think through carefully rather than be opportunistic, selfish or shortsighted. For instance, when the time tested Village Headman system was replaced with a Grama Sevaka system, what did we beget? A mere powerless, colourless government operative. Did it fit our social matrix?

Another point that we need to bear in mind is that this unitary police service is founded on an excellent piece of legislation named the ‘Police Ordinance’ of 1867, complimented by a document called Departmental Orders and a Constable Manual which we can only marvel at. This Police Ordinance sets out the fundamental policing power that any police officer lawfully exercises in any part of the country and is on duty at all times, day or night. The ‘devolution ‘of policing power under the provincial policing system will undermine this basic power by subjugating it to the consent of the Chief Minister of the Province. The police officers of the Central Government operating in the provinces will need to be in civilian clothing. What does all this mean in effect? Disempowering the police officer, confining his operational functionality to a geographical area subject to a political authority. Is that what we want for an efficient and impartial police service to the people?

Furthermore, once the basic police power is exercised by the local police constable and the OIC of a Police station under the Police Ordinance and the Code of Criminal Procedure, what more police power remains to be devolved? Only the administrative power. Why is this cry to ‘devolve’ the administrative power? For what else other than to abuse that by political power by manipulating the OIC and the constable? It will only legitimize political manipulation by the Chief Minister, at the ground level – a kind of ‘devolution’ of political abuse that is now practiced at the centre. This is bad enough. Do the people of this country need any further abomination of this evil closer home?

Let us take some basic issues. The IGP has two arms to discharge his function of policing the country. Viz., the Territorial Command and Functional Command. Under the 13th Amendment the IGP loses his Territorial Command to the Chief Minister(s), a politician, when his DIG has to responsible for policing to the CM. The DIG is only under the disciplinary control of the IGP. How the IGP will be able to disciplinarily control the DIG who is enjoying the cover of the CM, one could imagine! In order to post the DIG and to remove him, the IG has to consult the CM and go to the President if the CM disagrees. That would mean that, in order to get posted to a province of one’s choice, the DIG may have to win the favour of the CM and would run for cover behind this guardian angel if he would not like the transfer order of the IGP. Thus the DIG will be more obliged to be the CM’s acolyte. And if the DIG and the and the CM thus ‘hit it off’ together what will happen to the people of the area and the police personnel of the province? One would shudder to imagine.

Thus, it would appear that as a result of the provisions of the 13th Amendment the entire chain of command of the IGP breaks down. The IGP then is reduced to a mere provider of Functional services to the Provincial Police. The Police Organization which the British put in place with wide experience in their vast Empire will be dismembered and emasculated. Much worse than the Village Headman being reduced to a Grama Sevaka! What would ensue is a chaotic law and order situation, much worse than what is obtained today.

Even if this power is given to appease the politicians of the North, what about passing it on to the Provincial authorities in rest of the country, at least some of whom are themselves part time criminal criminals and some, guardian angels of local criminals and the Underworld? Even in the NP one may argue that this would not happen there as the likely CM would be an Ex Supreme Court Judge. Is it possible that in the years to come a Supreme Court Judge will become the CM of NP every time? Then what will be the plight of the people there who have already suffered immensely for 30 years under the boot of a maniac? That is why it is imperative to think through the impact of this disastrous step simply to please India whose state police are already in a mess. India will certainly like to have Sri Lanka in a destabilized state so that it will have continuous ‘justification’ to have us under their thumb by interfering into internal affairs of this country in an attempt to maintain their intended ‘hegemony’ in the region.

An Interesting question is, now under these circumstances how could the Inspector General of Police, despite his high sounding nomenclature, be held responsible for the policing and law and order of the whole country, when the Chief Minister does not report to him for the policing function of his province? If he cannot discharge this responsibility how will the Central Government be able to be accountable for the enforcement of the law of the country? How could the President be accountable to the people, himself being reduced to this jaundiced plight?

This essay will become too long to be accommodated in a newspaper if I proceed to explain the other intricacies and dynamics of this problem, from a police angle. Hence I shall stop after citing two examples which will enable readers to visualize what could happen country-wide in the future under the intended set up.

One is, what is happening in Deraniyagala Police area under the Provincial/ Pradesheeya Sabha regime. It appears that the lawlessness there had been going on there for quite some time unabated until it culminated in the killing of the Superintendent of Nuri Estate. It is alleged that all this regime of lawlessness was carried on headed by a former Pradesheeya Sabha member who it is alleged, enjoyed the patronage of the Chief Minister. I wondered how this state of affairs could have continued so long, despite the presence of an ASP of the district, SSP of the Division, a DIG of the Range and a Snr./ DIG of the zone. How come, that all of them were cowed down but continued shamelessly to be in charge, yet? Obviously they lacked the courage or disgracefully ‘played ball’ with the local administration, to allow this state of affairs under their administration. It shows the Power these political minions exerted on them already. Now all this has happened quite before the Police powers could be transferred to the Province. Could one imagine what would happen if the DIG is brought direct control of the Chief Minister?

He will be nothing but the door mat of the CM.

The other example is this. Some time ago it was reported in ‘The island’ newspaper that the Superintendent of Excise, Batticaloa had complained to Court that he had found that the then Chief Minister of the Eastern Province had been levying a fee of Rs.10/= from each bottle of arrack sold in the district and that when he had pointed out to the CM that he could not do that, the CM had threatened to have him killed. He managed get a transfer to Trincomalee District to escape the wrath of the Chief Minister. I think he got away alive because the CM did not have direct control over the police. What would have been the plight of that officer if the DIG was under his command? Need I say more of the dangers of this Frankenstein monster of Police powers devolved to the provinces?

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