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Perils of a Profession – a Review

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by Lalin Fernando

After reading Shamindra Ferdinando’s sparkling review (Island Jan 13 with a follow up a week later) of retired Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) Merril Guneratne’s third book, ‘Perils of a Profession’, this may appear to be like shoveling salt into the sea.

No gazetted police officer has shown his ability to write as lucidly as Guneratne to highlight the real concerns of the police from professional competence to welfare of the beat constable.

This book is both outstanding and timely. There has been a slow and steady deterioration of the police service, arguably since 1977, and possibly before. The nadir was reached when the police high command on April 4, 2020 did not act on actionable operational intelligence within the standard 12-24 hours. Consequently it was unable to prevent or even minimize the Easter Sunday massacre on April 21, 2019 that resulted in 259 people, mostly at worship in Catholic churches, being killed. Clearly the evolving trend made such criminal dereliction of duty inevitable.

The concerned IGP, SDIGs DIGs by this outrage dishonoured, disgraced, perverted and shamed the service as never before. Their only concern together with President Sirisena was to distance themselves and save their skins. Their subordinates following customary practices falsified Information Books and other documents at police stations to support their seniors and thwart the search for truth. There were few tears for the dead.

In 1990 a spineless IGP relayed an order from a minister for the police to surrender to the LTTE in the East. It was the most reprehensible act in police history. Six hundred Sinhala and Muslim policemen were murdered by the LTTE. The IGP, the Minister and the President responsible were not censured and remained unrepentant.

Pointedly, no senior police officer before SDIG Guneratne has at least commented on these or other disgraceful and disgusting events in a force that traces its history from 1866. Nor was there any attempt at departmental or Government correction. Apparently it suited the police top brass to toe the line with errant politicians. The public must however know why Guneratne blew the whistle.

He, recognizing the growing malignancy spent much of his 35 years of service from 1965 in attempting to stem the tide. He bucked those who did otherwise and their patrons. This may be why he never made IGP. He however set an unenviable example in whatever domain he was given, leading by example, without fear, bias or seeking rewards. In retirement he wrote two books before this one to sound the alarm. This book is probably his last attempt to generate a change.

However a morally contaminated and corrupt counter culture had taken deep root mainly, but not confined, to the senior command alone. Much of it was about servility to the politicians by bending the law, compromising on duty, gathering the harvest and promoting their own careers. Public perception, the careers of the rank and file, the Inspectorate, the back bone of the police, and self respect mattered little to them.

This is a fascinating and enjoyable book. It is an eye opener to all professionals. Hopefully it could also help the new Minister in charge, to make a sea ichange in the police. He has vowed to refloat them

It is definitive, witty and elegant. It is also hard hitting and controversial, sparing few. It reconstructs law and order situations brilliantly. It will shock those who did not know that the best are those who meddle and ask tough questions and not those who are silent or appease. It could serve as an example on police high command.

It is replete with examples and connects performance with consequences. It is strict and demanding if unforgiving. He believed that those who fail to meet the challenge should be sacked. With devastating analysis it explores much that is wrong in the police-political relationship that appears to be the key to the existing malaise.

While it is unlikely that a tidal wave of books on the police may follow, one hopes that this book will encourage those in the service or who have retired to emulate the author in writing on similar themes, for the benefit of the public and the police.

It also poses the question –who should run the service, the National Police Commission (NPC) that had little if not negative impact or an IGP with wings clipped, sans vision or mission.

The NPC had two retired police officers as members. A conflict of interest was bound to arise. Brain dead recommendations followed. One was to give retired IGPs and SDIGs a ‘valet’ service of serving policemen with a captive inspector in charge. The ludicrous reason alluded was to give them ‘dignity’ in retirement! Another was to promote them to a rank higher on retirement. The tragedy and overwhelming shame of Easter Sunday hung featherlight on the NPC.

The scheme to enlist graduates as gazetted police officers (ASPs) has been found seriously wanting. Apparently this scheme followed the earlier Defence Forces experiment which however was found unsatisfactory and discarded over 50 years ago. The KDU was raised instead. The author, himself a graduate entry, controversially and seemingly in desperation recommends graduate probationers join as sub inspectors and learn the nitty gritty on the job.

This book has just 136 pages. It could be used as a primer for those who would wish to restore the public trust in the police where effectiveness, respect, courage, commitment, integrity and fear of doing wrong matter. Corruption, ineffectiveness and favouritism have to be battled.

Both the new minister and the public must however know that the problems posed have no easy solutions. The police reflect society and not the other way round. A corrupt society will unerringly have a corrupt police service. The police does what the public expects it to do.

This book is also about the author. He is as much at home with the survival of the policeman on the streets, or as their commander in the field dealing with threats to public order as at operational high command with a flair for intelligence operations or even dealing firmly and tactfully with politicians. With the breadth of his knowledge, a lifelong passion and overwhelming concern for integrity especially at the top and the very future of the Police, this book could serve as a primer for Police reforms.

The book projects an image of a highly effective, successful, honest and courageous man with tremendous integrity and character who knows instinctively what is right and does it. In a crisis he does not wait for superior orders to cover himself or for absent subordinates to avoid a challenge. He takes over both point and general command as at Kelaniya University in 1978 to prevent a powerful minister with four busloads of goons from storming it. To have done so he had not only to be absolutely sure of his interpretations of law, police procedure and his duty but also have implicit faith in his own judgment if force was used. He did not fear criminals or powerful politicians in any guise or racist mobs as at Alutgama.

He was ambitious but not a ruthlessly so as he showed even when his own promotion was concerned. He had passion and vision. He inspired. He was innovative. He was even handed and yet authoritative.

The Police hospital, his most enduring and monumental legacy, showed his tremendous concern for the rank and file and his capacity as and all round administrator. Like much else the facilities here too were disabused later by the top for their own selfish benefit. There is need for reform and urgent improvement both in its administration and management. Thankfully the new Health Secretary, the former Director General of the Army Health Services, has committed himself to doing so.

Guneratne is well rounded personality who is also a cricket aficionado. He is charming and generous to a fault. The book is garnished with a profusion of photos but typically more of others than of him. He praises those he crossed swords with and remembers exemplary officers with affection and respect. But there is no rhetorical exaggeration.

Interestingly this SDIG is far better read on military affairs than most military men. He is stirred by the life and deeds and especially the phenomenal administrative skills of Napoleon. Field Marshals Manekshaw and Slim are also icons of leadership to him. Stalin and Hitler he considers as studies in terror. Eisenhower impressed him but not MacArthur. Is it any wonder that he recalls his foray as a subaltern in the SL National Guard with nostalgic pride? The question must be why he then joined the Police and his brother Harsha enlisted in the Army, eventually.

Who would have taken the decision to use the STF at Ansell Lanka when a hostage drama unfolded at the FTZ Biyagama in August 1994? The hostage takers threatened to kill the 12 Australian staff. He called their bluff despite the concerns of the Australian High Commissioner, present on the spot. They surrendered in great haste. Had it gone wrong it may have turned very ugly. Here was a man who was willing to take calculated risks and face whatever consequences that followed.

What if someone like the author was IGP when the FTZ Katunayake or Rathupaswela unrest broke out, or on Easter Sunday or when rioting broke out in the North West Province one month after Easter Sunday 2019 shaming both the police and the Army? Maybe this book would then not have had to be written.

(The reviewer is a retired Major General of the Sri Lanka Army)



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Politics

Dudley and Gopallawa: two simple leaders

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Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd.) Edward Gunawardene

Barely a week had passed after the election ended I was in for a surprise. I received a message from the IGP that I had been appointed as the ASP in charge of the security of the Hon. Prime Minister and His Excellency the Governor-General. As expected Dudley Senanayake had been appointed the Prime Minister and he was in the process of forming the Cabinet. William Gopallawa was the Governor-General. He had taken over from Oliver Goonatilleke after the attempted coup of 1962.

The VIP Security Division fell within the purview of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police. I was not given any indication as to where I was to take up residence. As the only official police bungalows were the large ‘C’ type houses on Brownrigg Road (now Keppetipola Mawatha) I knew that as a bachelor I had no chance of getting one of these. Furthermore all these were occupied mainly by the DIGs and SPs.

With no other alternative and my presence in Colombo urgently needed I decided to occupy a room in the Officers’ Mess. I telephoned Jamis the butler and told him to prepare a room for me. All my furniture was piled up in one room of the Kegalle house and the HQI was requested by me to look after the premises. My successor in Kegalle had not been appointed. My clothes were packed into two old suitcases. My shoes, riding boots, football boots, guns, fishing rods etc were packed separately. Chandradasa and I left Kegalle to the Officers’ Mess with just these few things. There was no time for farewells, not even a farewell parade or guard-of-honour. To me and Chandradasa the Mess was not a new place. During my CID, Colombo Div. and Nugegoda District days I had lived in the Mess and Chandradasa had been my personal servant.

Because I left Kegalle very early I was able to be at the Mess by 9 a.m. Having changed my clothes and wearing shirt and tie I went to the CID office on the fourth floor of the New Secretariat building and reported to the DIG CID John Attygalle. He was very cordial. A room was allocated to me with a telephone, a Sub-Inspector, a PC and a civilian clerk who could also type. He also told me that my duties would be such that I will have to spend little time in the office. The vehicle allocated to me was a new Peugeot 404. When the DIG indicated this to me, I told him that I would use this only when I travel out of Colombo for official purposes. I preferred using my Peugeot 203 for my usual travel in Colombo. He appeared to be surprised by my decision.

After taking over duties as the ASP, VIP Security and reporting to the DIG CID there were two other important tasks to perform. They were to introduce myself to the Prime Minister and also to the Governor-General. The former was no stranger to me, after lunch and a short nap at the Mess I was driven to ‘Woodlands’ by my new orderly PC Fernando. The gate was manned by two PCs. My car was stopped. When my orderly spoke to them, both of them came up to the window on the side I was seated and saluted me smiling broadly.

When I got down at the portico there were several people on the verandah. There were also a Sub-Inspector and two or three constables in uniform. When I disclosed my identity to the Sub-Inspector he saluted me and told me that the Prime Minister was in. From the verandah I walked into the quite spacious office room. A handsome man dressed in white and a red tie was seated at the large desk. His white jacket hung on the wall behind him.

When he saw me, he got up smiling. Stretching out his hand he said, “Hello Eddie. We were expecting you”. This was Joe Karunaratne, the son of Professor W.A.E. Karunaratne who had assumed duties as the private secretary to the Prime Minister. Joe and I had been at kindergarten together in St. Joseph’s College in the early 40s. He had left St. Joseph’s and joined St. Benedict’s and was my junior at Peradeniya. He told me that the Prime Minister was busy finalizing the Cabinet with Bradman Weerakoon. Until Bradman joined us, Joe and I reminisced about our old friends and the days as kids. Happy Karunaratne was Joe’s twin brother. A happy-go- lucky young man he had died early.

After about 45 minutes Bradman came out of the Prime Minister’s room. He was dressed in a cream tussore lounge suit. After I was introduced to him by Joe we had a brief chat. As he was in a hurry to get back to his office, the room adjoining the Prime Minister’s room in the Senate building, he excused himself and left. Bradman was a member of the Ceylon Civil Service. Commencing with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike he had worked for every prime minster. A model public servant he commanded much respect even after his retirement. As the security chief of the Prime Minister it was necessary for me to work closely with the Secretary and the private secretary. Naturally the three of us became friends.

As the Prime Minister was busy with several ministers, I told Joe that I would visit Queen’s House, study the security arrangements there and return. When I went to Queen’s House it was about 4.30 pm. Inspector Bongso received me. Apart from Bongso the other security officers consisted of two Sergeants and four constables. The uniformed personnel at the gates and a tactical patrol through a passage between the perimeter wall and a Madras-thorn hedge were provided by the Fort Police Station.

Although the residence of the Governor-General everything at Queen’s House appeared very simple. Bongso took me round the premises of this sprawling Dutch building adjoining the Gordon Gardens. I was impressed by the simplicity of William Gopallawa when I was taken to the kitchen. The main area of the kitchen with a long table, a large electric cooking range, two deep freezers and numerous other gadgets did not show signs of use. In a small room next to the extensive kitchen there was a man dressed in sarong and banian preparing a meal. The room had a refrigerator and an electric cooker. This cook from Matale was preparing two vegetable curries to be eaten by “hamuduruwo” with two slices of toast for dinner! It is unimaginable indeed that a kitchen that had seen nothing less than turkey and ham served by liveried waiters even during the early post-independence years, readying such a frugal meal for a simple head of state in 1965. Having told Bongso that I would visit the following morning I left to Woodlands.

When I reached Woodlands it was about 6.30 pm. Joe was still there talking to a person who had come from Dedigama. Just then Robert walked in with young Rukman who went inside and came out saying “Mahappi is resting.”

“He will be up in a few minutes Eddie. We can have a chat. Don’t go away”, said Robert turning to me. It did not take long. Carolis came to us and indicated that “Hamu’ was up and that he had just lit his pipe. He added that Hamu’s Brilliantine was over and all his efforts to get a bottle had failed. I immediately telephoned OIC Pettah and told him to get two jars of — Yardley Brilliantine and send them to me at the Officers’ Mess. No other hair cream had the rich aroma of Yardley brilliantine and Carolis said this was an urgent necessity as ‘Hamu’ would not use any other brand.

Pleasant looking in gold rimmed glasses Carolis had a fine sense of humour. Saying, “Sir, a wonderful thing happened today”, he related a story that made all of us laugh. Ruskin Fernando the MP for Moratuwa had come to Woodlands when the Prime Minister was not in. Carolis had told him that ‘Hamu’ was busy making (hadanawa) the Cabinet. Putting his palm on his forehead Ruskin had blurted, “Why didn’t he tell me. I could have turned out a special cabinet for him! As everybody knows Moratuwa is famed for its carpenters.

 

 

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Politics

More on Villa Venezia

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Tissa Devendra’s lament for Villa Venezia, Sri Lanka’s first University Library, prompted a letter from Mr. Rohantha Fernando, a relative by marriage of Sir. Marcus Fernando, who has long lived in the UK, enclosing some photos of the villa from a Plate annual published in the 1930s and a brief description of the house published below.

After Sir. Marcus, a prominent physician and legislator sold the house, he lived in another palatial mansion, Deveronside, on Sir. Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7.

 

The description of Villa Venezia:

“VILLA VENEZIA”

QUEEN’S ROAD, COLOMBO.

The Residence of Sir Marcus Fernando.

Architects: – Messrs. Edwards, Reid and Booth, F. & A. A. R. I. B. A.

1. The main staircase runs up from the marble octagonal hall to the First Floor ante room. The dome is similar in shape and colour to a lotus flower.

2. The ball room verandah on the First Floor. There is a similar verandah on the other side of the ball room, which in addition to the great height of the ball room ensures that the latter is always cool.

3. The Ground Floor Drawing Room. This room leads out of the Octagonal Hall and the Dining Room and is flanked by two verandahs. The exterior of one of these is depicted on plate 4.

4. The central feature of the elevation towards Queen’s Road. The great height of the Ball room is marked by this feature. The character of the building is Adriatic.

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Politics

Is India in the West or East, that’s the question

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by Malinda Seneviratne

What if the British High Commissioner in Colombo, Sarah Hulton, met with the Ambassador of South Korea, Woonjin Jeong, on Tuesday, May 2, 2021? What if he was accompanied by the former Foreign Minister and the man who happily tossed Sri Lanka under the UNHRC bus driven by a warmongering Uncle Sam? What if Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, David McKinnon, held discussions with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Tareq Ariful Islam, at the Canada House, Colombo 7, around the same time?

Now there are no laws against diplomats meeting other diplomats. There are no laws to stop diplomats meeting citizens of the country they happen to be posted in. However, it is significant that both South Korea and Bangladesh are members of the Human Rights Council. It is significant because in a few days time a vote will be taken in Geneva on a resolution on (well, ‘against,’ really) Sri Lanka. It’s a one country-one-vote situation, and therefore every vote can count. Indeed, if it is a close affair then that one vote becomes even more significant.
The Resolution is not just against Sri Lanka; it is a vote which, if succeeds, will set a dangerous precedent and effectively turn ‘human rights’ into an even more ironic, preposterous and pernicious weapon that the worst thug-nations in the world can deploy to wreck nations and regimes refusing to toe the line. In other words, it would give credence to vexatious persecution
The earth is not flat; this we know. Neither is Switzerland despite the lovely mountains, except in the dullness of the flavors pertaining to political economy. Countries might have equal voting worth on paper, but then again few would not have heard of that stinging truism ‘some are more equal than others.’ That oft quoted Golden Rule makes sense: he who has the gold makes the rules (we’ll come to that shortly). One can add ‘guns’ to the equation except that such killing-instruments are outdated in a world where there are nuclear weapons and countries which possess them have not hesitated to use biological weapons.
If it has come to a point where local diplomats have been directed by their respective governments to canvass votes then it simply means that the bosses driving the resolution have got jittery. Now one might be persuaded to imagine these diplomats sipping green tea and trying to persuade the relevant counterparts to join the club. However, persuasive arguments were never part of the story. It’s never been about right or wrong, good or evil. No. It’s about proposals that end with ‘or else…’ directly stated or suggested. Bribes too are part of the story. ‘How about if we…’ could be the ice-breaker in such situations.

Considering the geographical (and yes, ideological) location/orientation of the key players, this is essentially a West vs East game. This brings to mind a curious case of ‘seeing the light’ not too long ago. Let me elaborate.
It is no secret that the UNP faction of the previous regime was cosy with the political West. You could, if you are generous, call it ideological agreement of course but there has always been a streak of servility that prompts one to think and label, ‘colonial remnants.’
That dispensation, led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, banked on the West. Mangala Samaraweera, Foreign Minister of that government, played ‘local agent’ to the extent that he bent backwards to get Sri Lanka to dig a hole and crawl into it. He’s gone now, but he (and all those in that government who either cheered, watched in silence or looked away) essentially laid a minefield for those who would arrive later to walk on. This is why ‘Geneva’ is still in the news.

This, however, is not about that kind of political intrigue. It’s about the West (and therefore, obviously, the East). Wickremesinghe’s cabal, sweethearts as far as the West was concerned, operated as though we live on a planet so misshapen that there was only the West. Obviously the word means nothing if there’s no East, so maybe they operated as though the East, existent though it is, was inconsequential.

Brexit hit them between the proverbial eyes. Wickremesinghe came up with a classic and ironical observation: ‘we will look to the East.’ OMG! Wickremesinghe, thought of as some kind of whizkid in things economic, we learned, hadn’t heard of China or known that China and Japan own North American and European debt! OMG all over again!
So then, that’s how we need to frame this charade. East vs West. T.S. Eliot, in his iconic poem ‘Wasteland’ had a pretty and perceptive line (if it’s ok to interpret it in terms of a tectonic shift in ‘seeing’ and true domination):

There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

The above is obviously a description of someone moving from West to East. We can think of it as an ideological shift or even a re-alignment of philosophical orientation, but at a more mundane level, it’s about a shift in the balance of global power. In that sense, the Geneva Circus of Vexatious Persecution using/abusing Sri Lanka is but symptomatic of a last gasp effort on the part of those who have called the shots for a long century and are suddenly realizing that they are going to lose their voices.
The title has ‘India’ in it. Why India, someone might wonder. Well, India seems ideologically confused and geographically challenged right now. The West (or rather the spokespersons for the ideological and political camp that uses the locational term as identifier) has made it’s position clear: ANTI-SRI LANKA. The key voices of the opposite camp, led of course by China, have backed Sri Lanka. Even Japan and Australia (the other two Quad members) haven’t shown any of the belligerence of the world’s worst human rights offender over the past several centuries, Britain (yes, add ‘perpetrator of genocide, common thief, generator of inter-communal conflict, pyromaniac’) and her present day allies. India hasn’t mimicked the ‘Mother Country’ of course, but the noises are not supportive. They are marked by grumpiness. So much so that it would not be unfair if the relevant authorities assume ‘India will side against Sri Lanka.’ India could abstain, but at this point, it would be silly for India to assume that Sri Lanka would applaud such a position.
It’s simple, really. India has an issue with a strident China. India can play pawn and scoot over to the country that raped her. India might even be envisaging a future world order that is divided between two new superpowers, China and India. India could, on the other hand, envisage a new world order led by powerful nations which will not settle things with guns and bucks, even if they have the bombs and the gold. Instead of carving up the world (as the European powers carved up —and impoverished — Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1884), India, with China, could use new found sway to heal the world and make it a better place (for you and for me, as MJ said).
India has a single vote. However, the stand that India takes will be taken note of. Sri Lanka certain would. Other nations would too. Sometimes, arms need not be twisted (as the British and Canadian mission heads in Colombo might very well be doing — Bangladesh and South Korea are proud nations, we still believe, by the way). A threat is often more powerful than its execution, as the great Polish and French chess master Savielli Tartakower once said.
So. India. Where is it located or rather where does India wish to locate itself? That’s the question. The answer will be important for Sri Lanka because it could persuade Sri Lanka to reassess her location (as nations do from time to time).

[The writer is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views].

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

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