Devolution of Police Powers: A response to Mr.MA Sumanthiran MP
This response is in reference to the article by Mr. M.A. Sumanthiran MP. It is indeed a good thing that this vexed issue is opened for discussion in the public domain. We must be thankful to him for expressing his views as it enables public scrutiny of these ideas.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Sumanthiran (MAS) and his ilk see the so called national problem only form their point of view. Naturally what they see is a distorted picture.
Hence needless to say what kind of solutions they would develop. India sees the problem from their point of view, namely, how to please Tamil Nadu State Government in order to solve their own instability in Indian parliament.
In this regard, it appears that the TNA seem to think that they are the only minority in this country. What about the Muslims and Malays? In fact even the Sinhalese are suffering from a minority complex pitted against the constant beating of war drums by the Tamil Nadu Government next door backed by 60 millions Tamils.
Their fears appear to be quite real judging by some recent events, viz., The Tamil Nadu fishermen are brazenly encroaching into Sri Lankan territorial waters to rob our Northern fisherman of their catch. Tamil Nadu government is constantly objecting to efforts by Sri Lanka Navy to defend their country’s territorial waters! What would TN do if the shoe was in the other foot?
Incidentally, the solution offered by the respected celebrity Mr. Abdul Kalam was, to allow the South Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters every other day! What a brilliant solution!! And that too, after enjoying our respectful hospitality for four days here!) Now they say they want to take back Kachchativu. But not a whimper from the TNA.
I wondered whether on their recent trip to the US to meet their friends, Robert O’ Blake, Ms. Clinton et al they pleaded with them to request India not to allow their fishermen to rob Sri Lankan fishermen of their fishing grounds. Apparently that is not their priority. One begins to wonder, whose interests are they representing? Of what country are they?
We police officers on the other hand, are able to look at the Provincial Councils issue from the total country perspective, as senior officers who have worked in the Northern, Eastern, Southern, Central Provinces and at the Center. Hence, our problem is not merely giving police powers only to the North and the East, but to all Provincial Councils in the whole country
I shudder at the thought. I have written copiously several times on different occasions, explaining why it is dangerous to give police powers to any Provincial Council. Hence it is spurious to cover that ground all over again but shall re-visit them only pertaining to the issues raised by Mr. S.
It was only two weeks before, in reply to ICS (Midweek Review 8th Feb.) that I mentioned that it is time that we had a fresh look at today’s relevance of the 13th Amendment as a whole, and at Provincial Councils in particular. On its irrelevance, I can only quote what I wrote last week. “The very concept of Provincial Councils was developed by India, probably superficially modelled on the way India was administratively divided on a state basis. They little realized that Sri Lanka was so much smaller than the smallest Indian state in size and population. Some 25,000 sq. miles and 20 million people. Besides, the division of Sri Lanka into 9 provinces was done by the British in 1833, in order to facilitate their own administrative system and revenue collection.
Also the meagre road transport and poor communication facilities at that time would have influenced their decision. Today, with dramatic improvements in road, railway & air transport systems and tele-communications with the information revolution, the need for a provincial administration has to be re-looked at. We need to re-look at this question whether, for an effective administrative system a proper de-centralization with enhanced e governance, would not meet the expectation of the people instead of a proven ineffective and expensive Provincial system which nobody wants.”
MAS argues that the Police powers should be given to the Provincial Councils because it is so stated in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. But this particular Amendment is a peculiar oddity. Merely because this peculiar piece of legislation is in the Constitution whether it is obligatory on the part of the Government that it should be implemented has become a moot point. I do not know whether any other country in the world is confronted with this predicament. This is no disrespect to our constitution. I am only referring to the abuse and humiliation it has been subjected to. I repeat the details in my previous article:
“A constitution is believed to be the formal statement of country on what it wants to be and how it wants to be governed. It is best arrived at by consensus. It cannot be prescribed by any other source. This particular amendment on the contrary was introduced by force by a foreigner much against the wishes of all its people.” “This was a child (Provincial Councils) that was not wanted by both the ‘mother’ (JRJ) and the father(?) (Prabhakaran). The day she was born, there were riots in the country followed by a virtual rebellion. A naval rating on the honour guard offered to Rajiv Gandhi who was her God Father, assaulted him with a rifle butt, to kill him.
The 13th Amendment was rejected outright by Prabhakaran himself despite the fact that it was drafted to appease him, in order to entice him to drop his arms with a view to draw him into the main stream. The Amendment together with its provision to amalgamate the Northern and Eastern Provinces immediately by Emergency Regulation, together with Police and Land powers, was virtually offering elam on a platter. JRJ though coerced to agree to this amendment expressed in so many ways his dislike towards it. He did everything he could, to subvert it covertly.
The government MPs who voted for it were made to live the previous night in a hotel to be herded in a bus to the Parliament probably to make sure that they did not desert or changed their mind. The Supreme Court that decided the amendment was in order, did so on a split decision. Thus, this ‘unwanted baby’ reminds one of the old Baila line: Oluwa lokui, bada mahathai, kehethage apalay! I forgot to mention that a Cabinet Minister resigned in protest.
Furthermore, “Neither this amendment nor the Provincial Councils were asked by any one in this country, whether Tamil, Muslim, Sinhalese or any other, as a solution to our problems. It was forced on this country by the then Indian Prime Minister, after the infamous ‘Parippu Invasion’ which again was a despicable intrusion into this independent country. I do not know whether there is any other instance in world history where such a dastardly act of aggression was committed on a sovereign nation. The funny thing is that the whole world with all their Human Rights guns cocked, looked on while all this happened. Could any nation with an iota of self respect afford to continue with such an anomaly, even after she had defeated the very circumstance that it sought to address?
“The 13th Amendment thus remains a constitutional aberration, an embarrassment. Hence it is no surprise that the system rejects it.”
Could any nation with self-respect continue to have such an embarrassing aberration in its constitution? It is indeed a pity that a government which was bold enough to brush aside powerful interventions, to wipe out the Terrorist menace from this country, is not courageous enough to retrieve the lost honour of this independent nation by passing legislation to remove this indignity, this singular slur on its sense of honour, by eliminating this obnoxious piece of legislation, despite being armed with a 2/3 majority.
One wonders what right the government of India has, to persist with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, when she as a party to the Indo-Lanka Accord had not honoured their part of the obligation, on their failure to disarm Prabhakaran?
Sri Lanka government had duly discharged their part of the obligation passing in Parliament albeit under teeth of opposition the 13th Amendment and joining the Northern and Eastern Provinces by Emergency Regulations followed by passing in Parliament a Provincial Councils Act. In these circumstances, one has to ask the question whether as a self respecting sovereign nation, people of this country have no inherent right to reject what it does not want implemented.
Now coming to the question of why Police powers should not be given to the Provincial councils, I mention two bitter experiences that India herself suffered in recent times owing to his policy. When the well known Mumbai Terrorist attack happened, it took well over 12 hours for the Indian Central Government to move its elite Commandos to the scene owing to the delay in obtaining clearance from the Maharashtra State Government.
There was another incident where Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress Party, was denied permission to enter some other State accompanied by her personal security. Would any one in this country too want to be in a similar plight?
On the other hand, under the central government system I as mere SSP Galle Division, was able to get down the Colombo Municipality Fire Engines to Galle within a matter of hours, to put out the burning fires during the Sinhale-Muslim clashes in 1978. The Police Central Vice Squad has the authority to strike in any part of the country without informing any local authority. Mind you, that includes Northern & Eastern provinces as well. (I hope then it will not be alleged that the central government has found a device to harass the poor Tamils in these areas!)
If on the other hand, the President wanted to hold the next Independence Day parade or the “Debate Karla” in Kilinochchi or Jaffna, the chief Minister could say “No. Not here.” The president then will have to eat the humble pie in his own country, like Sonia Gandhi. It will be indeed pathetic situation to be in, after winning back at great cost, human & other, by military might, the government mandate over the entire country, following a prolonged struggle. Such a situation is aptly summarized in the popular Sinhala saying: Wattha baddata deela, eassata datha niyawanawa!
We recently had the experience where Dr. Babapulle the UNP candidate for Anuradhapura was done to death and his house burnt down while the local police is alleged to have looked the other way, and everyone in the police knows due to whose influence it was. That happened while the Police was still under the Central Government. A latter day DIG complained to me that his chief minister interfered even when he changed a sergeant in his office! And that too while he Police was still under the Central government!
This is only a sample of operational & law and order problems that ‘devolution’ will give rise to. I may have to write a separate long article to describe the other aspects. Then there are the Command & Control and accountability issues which are too numerous to mention here. Suffice it to say, once during the early days of the Provincial Councils, the DIG of the Southern Province who became a drinking partner of the Chief Minister, left to Australia having obtained overseas’ leave from him, never to return!
In regard to command and control, if the subject of policing is brought under the Chief Minister with the DIG reporting to him, the command structure of the unitary police organization will be completely disrupted. What would happen to the Territorial (policing) Command of the IGP? If the Inspector General of Police is not responsible for crime control in the country which is the prime role of the police, what will he be IG for? Will he then be the mere Logistics manger for the Police?
Then how will the Central Government be responsible for the Law and Order of the whole country which is one of its primary responsibilities? What is the accountability process?
We all know that our Ministers in the central government are corrupt. Last Sunday Island reported that a Cabinet Minister’s daughter had placed a bid for Rs. 900 million to purchase a Children and Women’s Hospital on Kirimandala Mawatha – a key asset of the collapsed Golden Key Company.
Another Minister, it was reported, was stopped while building a five storey house on Park Road on somebody else’s land!
Now we read that the Supdt. of Excise of Batticaloa had complained to Supreme Court that the Chief Minister of Eastern Province charges Rs. 20 for each bottle of arrack sold in the province and when he tried to stop it the CM had threatened to kill him and he had transferred him to Trincomalee. What guarantee is there that a future Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council or elsewhere will not emulate him?
We cannot get away with the argument that he is a different case for different reasons. Fact remains that this is possible. These are our future politicians at the provincial & Pradesheeya level, judging by the Kelaniya PS episode.
That the central government is corrupt is bad enough. The question now is, do we want another level of corrupt politicians at levels closer to the people, to increase their suffering & exploitation? It is a ‘devolution ‘of corruption that we will get.
There is a real danger here. If the Chief Minister and his DIG hit it off as happened at Southern Province, what will be the plight of the police officers and the people in the province? If this was the situation in the Eastern Province will the Chief Minister stop at only threatening to kill the Excise Supdt.?
MAS states: “The provincial executive also must have the necessary independence from central control to give effect to and implement regional laws and regulations. It is essential therefore that a substantial measure of powers over police be vested in the province so as to implement regional laws.”
Police Ordinance empowers a police officer to exercise his police powers in any part of the Country. In this capacity he enforces many ordinances in addition to the Police Ordinance, Penal Code & the Code of Criminal Procedure, such as the Excise Ordinance, Forest Ordinance and many other municipal laws in different parts of the country. It did not require them to be brought under the Excise Commissioner, Conservator of Forests or the mayors or chairman of the Local Government Authorities for proper enforcement of those laws over the last 150 years, under a centralized government structure. Police have also served different Communities spread throughout the country.
So what is the need for them to be under the Provincial Councils to enforce their laws?
Our real fear is whether a localized police under the thumb of the Chief Minister will be able to enforce the law with out fear or favour in the present extreme politicized climate. As it is, it is bad enough that the central police is highly politicized and corrupt. It is at least distant form the periphery. How much worse would it be when it is taken to the micro level?
It will encroach on the lives of the people at intimate levels. The plight of the provincial policemen & the people will be worse.
He further says: “Just as we would never approve of a politician from Mannar controlling the functioning of the police in Matara, there is no reason why politicians from Colombo must have exclusive powers over the police in Muttur.”
MAS has hit the nail on the head here. This is the central problem that all politicians suffer from: that politicians (local or other) should have control over the police. All problems of law enforcement and Rule of Law flows from this misconception. Mother of all problems in this country! What we are agitating for is that no politician have any control over any police officer at Mannar, Matara or Muttur or anywhere else.
What we want is an Independent Police with accountability as recommended by the LLRC. The remedy to MAS’s problem is, de-politicization of the police and not further politicization even at the grassroots level. How much more pleasant & safe the life in this country will be for all communities if there was an independent & impartial police? There would be no need for a provincial police. Hence what the TNA should fight for is de-politicization of the Sri Lanka Police in the whole country instead of further politicization of the police in the North & the East.
For, there are more Tamils living outside these two provinces. Unlike the parochial concerns of the TNA our concern is the interests of the whole country. So our invitation to TNA is to leave the periphery and come into main stream politics to help this entire country to have a better life for all communities. The problems the TNA is talking about is not peculiar to the Tamils of North & East.
The same problems exist in other parts of the country. There are the war widows, also destitute children in the LTTE ravaged boarder villages, broken families of soldiers & other victims of bombs etc. etc in the South too. There are also the Sinhalese & Muslims IDPs from the North & the East owing to ethnic cleansing by the LTTE. Hence our invitation to the TNA is to adopt a holistic view rather than a narrow communal approach to the problems of this country. That is why I said at the beginning of this essay that the problem with TNA is that they look at this problem only from their point of view. Hence they keep getting wrong answers.
MAS further states “Tensions between the police force and local communities result in an atmosphere of fear and resentment. This tense atmosphere sometimes lead to outbreaks of violence and sometimes acts of brutality” This is so in all communities from Birmingham to Manchester to Los Angeles and elsewhere in the world as much as in Sri Lnaka since the Sinhala- Muslim riots of 1915 todate. The latest was when the people of Dompe turned on Dompe police. These are common problems between police & communities who are all human beings, all over the world. Is politicized provincial police the answer to such problems? Did the Muslims ask for a police for themselves to do justice for them?
He cites the ‘Grease Devil’ phenomena as the latest issue to justify such a demand. Now it is common knowledge among all police officers in this country that from time to time there emerge in villages, antics of some sex pervert who collect ladies underwear or engage in voyeurism or even engage in petty thieving in villages with grease on their bodies.
They are either caught or just disappear after sometime. There is no big fuss. This time it was blown out of proportion by Tamil press specially and read political & other meanings more for propaganda effect. Now where is the ‘Grease Yakka’? Is it a permanent feature? Are these good enough reasons to dismantle a strongly built time tested centralized police structure?
MAS goes on to say: “This ruptured relationships between the police and local communities also impedes the efficient functioning of the police force. Effective policing requires public co-operation. The objectives of battling crime and creating peaceful society can never be possible without strong, effective bonds of trust between the police & the local communities” As against this assertion I have been listening to some police rankers who visit me, relate with nostalgia some great public relations success they have had in the North & the East, under the heat of fighting.
Their advantage was that they were conversant in Tamil. Some of those people are still in contact with them. They were famous among the Tamil people for their fair play & humanism. It was only a few weeks ago that retired SSP Tassie Seneviratne wrote in an article after a tour in the North, about the great community relations work being carried out by the police their in the North, under the enlightened leadership of Snr. DIG Gamini Silva, DIG Daluwatte and the SSPs. Dr. Kingsley Wickramasuriya Rtd. Snr. DIG has published a book describing the success he had in the in Jaffna with his community- relations cum crime control work there. Some of the Jaffna people who befriended him still visit him when they come to Colombo.
My own experiences in the Nuwara Eliya district and with the Muslims in Galle are too long to describe here. The STF in the Eastern Province is another success story. All this was achieved under the centralized system and despite the politicians who always like to have people divided! In a way this success was probably possible because there was no Chief Minister breathing down our necks.
Similarly there were Tamil officers who had built excellent community relations. R Sunderalingam Snr. DIG was prominent among them organizing bicycle races. ‘Sunda’ was a household name then. So were Late M. Shanmugan SSP, S. Vamadevan DIG, Late Rura Rajasingham IG, Late P. ( Brute) Mahndran DIG and S. Sivendran SSP, the list is long. Colourful characters all. They were so popular both among the rank & file and the people that no one paused to think they were Tamil or Sinhalese until this communal bug was introduced. Some of my best officers including Bastianpillai and his trio who died were Tamils who were more Police officers than Tamil.
MAS says: “Third, the idea that hyper-centralized control of the police is necessary to protect security in the country is in fact an outdated feature of colonial rule”
How far it is correct to describe Sri Lanka Police as “hyper-centralized” is again a moot point. In my understanding Police Department is highly de-centralized, to the extent that as DIG Central Range & later in Southern Range I enjoyed complete freedom to carry on my administration. I was able to keep the politicians at bay thanks to the commitment the Inspectors General who stood by me against formidable pressure.
The colonial police paradigm has many merits more than demerits, to govern a unitary country. We do not throw away everything colonial merely because it is colonial – a case of throwing the baby with the bath. The very concept of modern policing itself is British. What undermined it is the creeping of politicians into its running.
A paradigm shift is certainly necessary, not from the colonial model which is very sound, having stood the test of time despite chronic politicization. What is necessary is a paradigm shift from the Enforcement model to Community Oriented Policing model. The biggest obstacle to this is the loss of credibility of the police owing to politicization. So the answer is, not more politicization but de-politicization and providing the required space for the police to move into a Community Oriented model which will be fair and of benefit not only the Tamils of the North & East but to all communities all over the country.
Here lies the answer to the problem that MAS is talking about. Hence my invitation to him and his TNA colleagues is to join the mainstream in an effort to de-politicize the police and to secure an Independent police who can be held accountable for their actions.(ENDS)
(Mr. Gamini Gunawardane is a retired senior Deputy Inspector -General of Police)