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Editorial

Police bashing

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We publish in today’s issue of this newspaper two short contributions by retired policemen, one a letter to the editor and the other an article related to the department they had both long served. The matters they have focused on deserves both public reflection and governmental action. There is no doubt that corruption is deep-rooted in the police. This applies not only to our police force but also to forces elsewhere in the world. Denying this would be a blatant example of closing your eyes to reality. The article by retired Senior Superintendent Tassie Seneviratne, who began his career as a sub-inspector and retired from a senior gazetted rank, freely admits corruption in the force; nobody can deny that and denial has not been attempted. What is important is what is to be done about this problem that has long existed and grown exponentially as the years passed and both the population and size of the police grew.

Seneviratne says that there is no doubt that that the police has degenerated to abysmal depths and the reasons are not hard to find. It is not the police alone that is corrupt in our society. The disease is endemic throughout the government service and is worse in some departments than others; everybody knows this by personal experience. We are a majority Buddhist country and most of us parrot the five precepts – but how many of us truly observe them? This is also true of the Ten Commandments of Christianity. Both religions, and surely others as well, exhort their followers not to steal – do not take what is not given, Buddhism tells us, and ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ is a Christian commandment familiar to all whatever their religion.

The writer has headlined his contribution, which he says had input from a named retired DIG and we know from a former IGP, describing his former service as an institution that is most wanted and most despised by the people. Law and order is an essential requirement of life and the police is the enforcement agency. A major reason attributed to what the writer has called the “miserable lot of the police” today is the indiscriminate recruitment into the Police Reserve compelled by the war. As in the case of the military, the terrorism unleashed on this country by Prabhakaran – which rapidly deteriorated into a civil war – triggered heavy recruitment. This was done without due care and with little or no regard to qualifications and suitability mainly on political considerations. It wasn’t long before the Reserve, in terms of manpower, became as big as the regular force. Recruits without training received promotions “on their own standards,” Seneviratne says.

Then came the deluge. In 2006, the Special Police Reserve on the orders of the then President, was absorbed into the regular force in the ranks its members then held in the Reserve. This naturally created deep frustration in the regular police, especially in regard to seniority, which is the major consideration for promotion. Seneviratne says that the Reservists were not only totally unfit for the police but without proper training. They were untrained and undisciplined and some of them have risen to the ranks of ASP and SP. Even if absorbing of the Reservists to the regular force was a mistake, the bigger mistake was not giving them the required training even after induction. Today senior officials including the Defence Secretary, the Attorney General and cabinet ministers are heard berating the police for corruption and inefficiency. “Surely policemen are also human beings,” says Seneviratne, and there is no magic wand to wave and transform them into ideal police officers.

The question now is what senior officials, or for that matter the elected establishment and the National Police Commission created with great expectations, done to rectify the situation? Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who, as the then president was responsible for the absorbing of the Special Police Reserve into the regular force, went on record recently saying at a public meeting that there was not enough recognition of politicians by the police. Seneviratne has interpreted this remark to mean that requests, sometimes orders, from politicians must be acted upon. He says that it is anybody’s guess whether such requests are lawful or not. As for the National Police Commission, the less said the better. It irretrievably recently tainted itself by backing special security measures including assignments of guards and drivers to retired IGPs and Senior DIG’s to keep in step with perks granted on retirement to senior military officers.

The letter to the editor from an officer who retired from the inspectorate takes umbrage at the likes of Karuna, once Eastern commander of the LTTE who defected, and KP who was a major fundraiser and custodian of Tiger loot, being allowed total freedom and high class lifestyles in post-war Sri Lanka; and there is barely a squeak about this from quarters that matter. Karuna, who recently set a cat among the canaries by claiming that he was responsible for the deaths of over a thousand soldiers at Elephant Pass, served as a deputy minister and was even a vice-president of the SLFP, is running for Parliament at the forthcoming election. The defense of those responsible for the special positions he enjoys today is that his defection from the LTTE was a major contribution for the defeat of the Tigers. Unsurprisingly, the requirement (or obligation) for policemen to salute him has turned many police stomachs.

Senior policemen, now retired, believe that overdue police reforms must be community driven. They cannot come from the government, the courts, the Attorney General or the National Police Commission. Public opinion, neither strident nor vocal, for change does exist. But who is going to bell the cat? The answer to that question does not appear to be forthcoming. Meanwhile the deterioration persists.



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Editorial

Trickery and duplicity

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Wednesday 17th August, 2022

The SLPP MPs are said to be divided on provision in the 22nd constitutional amendment Bill for the dissolution by the President of Parliament two and a half years after the formation of a government. The ruling party MPs loyal to the Rajapaksas are reportedly demanding that the constitutionally prescribed period be extended to four and a half years, but the dissident SLPP MPs and the Opposition are said to be convinced otherwise; they reportedly favour the current time limit.

Adversity or expediency may make strange bedfellows but they do not necessarily trust one another in cloak-and-dagger politics. They see more devils than vast hell can hold, and are ready to sink their poniards in each other’s back if they feel that is the way they could protect their interests. What happened during the now infamous Yahapalanaya may serve as an example.

The political marriage of convenience between the SLFP and the UNP in 2015 brought a group of highly ambitious politicians together but these elements were suspicious of one another and had their long knives at the ready and put them to good use three years later. The then President Maithripala Sirisena, who won the 2015 presidential race with the help of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, sacked the latter as the Prime Minister and appointed their mutual enemy Mahinda Rajapaksa to that post in a bid to appoint an SLFP-led government at the expense of the UNP.

Sirisena went so far as to dissolve Parliament only to have his executive order quashed by the Supreme Court. He made that deplorable move because he felt that the UNP was undermining him politically.

The SLPP, which made Wickremesinghe the President, seems to fear that he might do a Sirisena in case he falls out with the Rajapaksas.

The 20th Amendment has strengthened the executive presidency, and President Wickremesinghe is far more powerful than President Sirisena was during the Yahapalana government. Ironically, most of the SLPP MPs who voted en bloc for the 20th Amendment, enabling President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to dissolve Parliament after the expiration of two and a half years of its life, are all out to prevent President Wickremesinghe from doing so!

The Rajapaksas made Wickremesinghe the President to keep him on a string and have caused the Sword of Medamulna to hang from a saataka over his head. They will not be able to control the President if he can dissolve Parliament, for he will not hesitate to leverage this power in case of the SLPP trying to undermine him. He will be able to use of the ruling party MPs’ fear of Parliament being dissolved to make them fall in line: most SLPP lawmakers know that their chances of re-election are remote.

The only way to prevent the President from exercising his or her power to dissolve Parliament is to move an impeachment motion against him or her. But it is highly unlikely that the SLPP will resort to such a course of action: it has lost its two-thirds majority in the House. Having witnessed the disastrous situation during the latter stages of the Yahapalana government, especially the neglect of national security and the resultant Easter Sunday carnage, one can only hope that the Executive and the ruling party will not be at loggerheads again.

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Editorial

Heroes and villains

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Tuesday 16th August, 2022

The government has delisted some expatriate Tamil groups considered sympathetic to the LTTE’s cause, and drawn heavy flak from a section of the ruling SLPP and the nationalistic organisations that backed it to the hilt at the past several elections. The SLPP leadership has chosen to remain silent on the issue, and it will be interesting to know its stance on the delisting of the Tamil groups that it once demonised. It made Ranil Wickremesinghe the President to do its bidding. Is the tail now wagging the dog?

Why were the aforesaid Tamil organisations banned? Have the factors that led to their proscription ceased to be, over the past few years, for them to be delisted under the present dispensation, which is an extension of the Rajapaksa rule in all but name? If not, what has prompted the government to delist them, and doesn’t its action amount to an admission that those outfits were wrongfully proscribed, or it has acted out of expediency rather than principle or any concern for the national interest, which it claims to protect?

It was the Mahinda Rajapaksa government (2005-2015) that initiated action to proscribe some expatriate Tamil groups, claiming that they posed a threat to national security. The SLPP led by the Rajapaksas campaigned on a national security platform at the presidential election (2019) and the parliamentary polls (2020) and secured huge popular mandates to govern the country in keeping with its national security strategy among other things. Does the SLPP think the delisting of the Tamil groups at issue is consistent with its mandates, on the basis of which it continues to rule the country?

The SLPP, which elected President Wickremesinghe, with whose blessings the delisting in question has been effected, owes an explanation to the public.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, who represents the nationalistic forces that made the SLPP’s victory possible and are full of praise for President Wickremesinghe for having got tough with the Galle Face protesters and stood up to the Colombo-based western diplomats, to the government’s volte-face on the proscription of the pro-Eelam groups.

Needless to say, when a government does exactly the opposite of what it promises in its election manifesto, for which it obtains popular support, its mandate becomes delegitimised. The key pledges in SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy programme presented to the people and what the government is doing at present are like chalk and cheese, to say the least. One is reminded of a ruse in days of yore; some men, on their wedding days, much to their surprise, found that their brides were the elder sisters of the pretty women they had agreed to marry! Something similar has happened to the Sri Lankans who voted for Gotabaya; they have got Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President courtesy of the SLPP!

The leaders and members of the Tamil expatriate groups that have been delisted will now be able to visit this country. But war-time Defence Secretary Gotabaya, who became the President, has fled the country and is in self-exile. President Wickremesinghe has gone on record saying that he does not think the time is opportune for Gotabaya to return home. Speculation is rife that some former LTTE members in detention will be released as part of a political deal the government has cut with the TNA. If the government carries out its pledge to the TNA, those ex-Tigers will walk free. Is it that Gotabaya, as the President, did something far worse than unleashing or supporting terrorism? All the SLPP politicians who were also responsible for bankrupting the country are still in the incumbent government, and some of them are Cabinet ministers although most of them should be behind bars. So much for the change the Aragalaya has brought about!

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Editorial

To dock or not to dock

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Monday 15th August, 2022

Sri Lanka is like a storm-tossed bark struggling to remain afloat in an ocean of economic trouble; it is lucky to have avoided a head-on collision with a massive Chinese vessel, Yuan Wang 5 (YW-5), a ballistic missile and satellite-tracking ship, which is on its way to Hambantota. Colombo has finally stopped dillydallying and decided to allow the vessel to make a port call. India and the US have softened their collective stance on the Chinese ship’s visit. It was thought that the YW-5 issue would lead to a bitter diplomatic row with India, and if what was feared had come to pass with New Delhi cranking up pressure on Colombo to deny YW-5 permission to dock, it would have been a double whammy for Sri Lanka, which is dependent on the restructuring of Chinese debt to secure the much-needed IMF bailout package, and cannot afford to antagonise India, which is propping up its economy. All’s well that ends well.

There are lessons to be learnt from the ship controversy. Colombo was initially all at sea. The Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government seemed divided on the issue with vital information one needed to figure out the provenance of the issue being suppressed. So, the arguments and counterarguments anent the issue were based on surmises, hunches, assumptions, hearsay, etc. Thankfully, the Foreign Ministry has put the record straight albeit belatedly.

It behoves Sri Lanka to be mindful of India’s security concerns in handling maritime affairs. Perhaps, it is not the scheduled arrival of YW-5 as such that New Delhi was concerned about but the possibility of China continuing to use the Hambantota Port to berth more such vessels in the future. (China would not have secured a port in a strategic location in the Indian Ocean for nothing!) It is only natural that India and its QUAD allies think China is testing the water.

It is the voice of the QUAD that one has heard through the critics of the YW-5 voyage. There is reason to believe that they are promoting a US-led drive to isolate China internationally. YW-5 embarked on its current voyage amidst a Chinese naval exercise near Taiwan in response to US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent controversial visit to Taipei notwithstanding objections from Beijing.

Colombo has acted tactfully by reportedly asking India and the US to specify the reasons for their misgivings about the Chinese vessel’s port call. However, it defies comprehension why Colombo requested Beijing to defer the arrival of YW-5 at Hambantota for replenishment, after granting permission.

Meanwhile, the argument that China is sending its survey vessel all the way to Hambantota to spy on South India does not sound tenable. In fact, it reflects naivety on the part of those who make that claim, for China is equipped to spy on its rivals without taking the trouble of deploying its ships and drawing international attention to such missions unnecessarily. In this day and age, technology is so advanced that information about even what lies at the edge of the universe, as it were, could be gathered without any craft ever getting anywhere near it.

Sri Lanka is already battered and bruised enough economically and certainly does not want any diplomatic rows to contend with. It has to get its foreign policy right. It had better take steps to avoid issues like the docking of YW-5 in the future lest it should become a victim of the big-power rivalry, which is intensifying; it ought to decide what types of ships will be allowed to berth at its ports, formulate a policy to that effect and make it known to the rest of the word so that unnecessary controversies could be averted, and hegemonic nations bent on projecting their power on a global scale will not be able to flex their naval muscles at the expense of Colombo.

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