Another toothless commission

Monday, 27 January 2014 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Making the Police an honest and competent service that protects the rights of the people is a goal that seems further away than ever, with the Chairman of the National Police Commission insisting more powers are needed to protect people abused by the Police. In a recent report, Chairman Senaka Walgampaya noted that the Commission does not have the power to compensate parties that have been treated unjustly by the Police. These can even include serious issues such as torture, wrongful arrest, intimidation or even custody deaths. Over 600 complaints were received by the Commission in 2012 and while the number dropped to about 400 last year it remains an alarming indication of how the Police service is not fulfilling its duty to the people. Walgampaya has gone on record saying that the powers bestowed upon the Commission by the 18th Amendment are insufficient and leaves it with no teeth to meaningfully redress complaints. The Chairman has said that the even though the Police Commission is supposed to give redress to civilians, who have been aggrieved by an unfair action of the Police, the related provisions are not mentioned in the Police Commission Act. He has explained that while the Police Commission was set up under the 18th Amendment after removing the powers provided to it by the 17th Amendment, the Commission under the present provisions is unable to help people who have been wronged by the Police. The Commission has prepared a Consequential Provisions Act and referred it to the Attorney General. But, the Attorney General has informed the President that the giving of compensation cannot be approved according to the nature of the amendments. Walgampaya has complained that the Commission has no powers to investigate the incidents of alleged police harassment and the only action the Commission can take is to send a copy of their investigation to the suspect Police officer’s personal file which may affect the errant officer’s chances for promotions. This is clearly of little consequence as previous instance of terrible abuse by the Police, such as in the instance of the Noori estate killing, no high level Police officer was charged for enabling thugs such as “Atha Kota” to unleash of tidal wave of terror in the region. Police are routinely accused of playing political favourites, failing to punish errant officers and refusing to take meaningful measures to promote accountability. Public perception of the Police, which was never that great to start with, is at an all-time low. The Police is seen as the most corrupt institution in Sri Lanka and public safety continue to be swept under the carpet by officials such as the Law and Order Ministry Secretary, who only see the Police as a way to quell “enemies of the State” rather than as a unit sworn to protect the public. Effectively reduced to a tool of corrupt politicians, Sri Lanka’s Police stumble ever-lower. Often under allegations of torture, bribery and custody deaths among much else because reform is never taken seriously by the Government’s top ranks. Hand-in-glove, the top ranks of the Government and Police create an environment of impunity that only the public continues to pay for. If the Police Chief is truly sincere about creating a professional and corruption-free service, then he has to tackle the bigger issues – fast.