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Timely attempt at revamping the police service


This is a season of hopes raised in the hearts of people by lofty promises served out to them by the new ministers and deputy ministers on assuming their duties. If these promises are duly fulfilled this country will undoubtedly reach its goal of  becoming Asia’s wonder soon. Ministry secretaries also seem to approach their duties with a renewed enthusiasm. The comments that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has made on the state of the Sri Lanka Police Service at the opening of the Sri Lanka Police Academy at Thimbirigaskattuwa, Negombo,  enkindles people’s hopes for an improved police service which is vital to their well-being. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa has emphasized the urgent need for reorientation of police functions to suit the current needs of the country after being involved with activities and operations relating to terrorism for three decades. He was right in saying that the police personnel had apparently forgotten their role as peace officers owing to their preoccupation with the war. His exhortation was that police personnel should now return immediately to their traditional role of maintaining law and order and peace.

The defence secretary drew police officers’ attention to the increasing public criticism against the manner in which they discharged their duties. He referred to media reports carried practically every day about police indiscretions, misdeeds and inadequacies. Among these weaknesses about which the people often complain are, indiscipline, political bias, bribery and corruption, abuse of power and brutal treatment of suspects under arrest. Many are the reasons, other than those caused by the war, for this deterioration in police standards.

The criteria for selection for this vital service were very strictly observed in the past. New recruits’ physical, educational and medical levels as well as their personal backgrounds were carefully checked. However, as the need for police personnel for combating terrorism increased accompanied by a paucity of volunteers to join the force, the authorities had to relax some of the conditions for recruitment in order to attract the youth into the service. The result was a lowering in standards.   Another significant factor causing the decline in standards has been the intensified politicization process that plagued all spheres of activity in the country. Political party affiliations and patronage became essential requirements for securing appointments and positions in practically all state services. The aspirants’ qualifications, competence and suitability became matters of less importance. While some responsible politicians rejected the allegation, others tended to rationalize the practice of giving preference to political favourites. A provincial chief minister very candidly declared once that his policy in selecting persons for a particular post was to give preference to those belonging to his party.  He asked what was wrong in choosing the party loyalist when two persons vying for a certain position possessed equal qualifications. Is it not this political head that judges this equality of qualifications? The chance for the concept of meritocracy to emerge supreme has thus been thwarted. The fall in standards in most state sector institutions, therefore, is not surprising.    It has now dawned on discerning politicians that remedial measures are urgently needed. The fact that new ministers are promising changes and improvements in their ministries is a clear indication that the past performances of these ministries had not been satisfactory. The need, therefore, is to proceed with these corrective measures expeditiously. As pointed out by Defence Secretary Rajapaksa the police force has to restore its image to play its role efficiently and effectively in reducing, if not eliminating, crime and social indiscipline. The atmosphere of war and violence spawned criminal activity where underworld elements and other wrongdoers found a widened field for their operations.  Illegal firearms, illicit drugs and liquor provided necessary fuel for their activities while some politicians extended their patronage to them in return for their services. Criminalisation of politics thus became inevitable.  So, the task of elevating the police force into a disciplined and people-friendly service has become urgent. And judging from Defence Secretary Rajapaksa’s record as a redoubtable achiever of his objectives, he seems equal to the task. He should, however, receive the full support and cooperation of all concerned to accomplish this objective. Above all, the cooperation of politicians some of whom are in the habit of pressurizing police officers for assisting or conniving with unlawful activity they indulge in, often with the help of criminal elements, is of the utmost importance. The whole country saw how the elections commissioner and the police chief were reduced to passive observers while powerful politicians violated the election laws.   It was for wresting state services, including the police, from the grip of politicization that the independent commissions were designed under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. There is consensus among wide sections of all political parties that the creation of independent commissions is a vital need for promoting good governance. But certain interested parties that derive benefit from the non-establishment of this scheme obstruct its implementation under various pretexts.  The creation of the proposed police commission has therefore to be taken up as a priority measure for achieving the desired objectives.

~ ~ Mininda Rajasekera


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