Daunting drug menace

Thursday, 19 December 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

In Sri Lanka, imports of grease and bathroom fittings morph into heroin and official records show 53,000 people have been arrested for drug offences this year. Despite repeated appeals and promises to eradicate the drug menace, there is increasing evidence that drug trafficking and politics are closely linked. A case in point of course is the involvement of Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne’s Secretary and what appears to be a support from local politicians. It is still unclear whether the Police have interrogated the unnamed businessmen who imported the container. Moreover, Police have recorded a staggering increase of hard drugs, from just 15 kg in 2012 to 300 kg in 2013, showing a deeply-embedded and powerful support system for smuggling. According to Government statistics, 78% of imprisonments in 2011 were of drug users. The number of imprisonments due to drug addiction reached 10,568 in 2011 while 6,165 persons had been imprisoned due to the same offence for the second time and 2,073 for more than two occasions. Police have noted that in the first six months of 2012, over 19,000 people suspected of drug possession were arrested. The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) has been placed on alert that Sri Lanka is being used as a transit point for smuggling hard drugs to other countries. It was reported in 2012 February that special teams have been deployed at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) to detect the attempts. According to recent information, Sri Lanka has also been used as a transit point involving other countries such as Brazil, Peru, Thailand and Nigeria. The PNB should not be surprised as drug trafficking via Sri Lanka has been a major point of concern for many years. In 2011 the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board warned that the country was under increasing threat in its annual report. According to the report, 58 foreigners have been arrested in Sri Lanka for drug trafficking within the last five years. Of them 25 were Pakistanis, four Indians, six Maldivians and five Iranians. In 2010 alone, 25 foreigners were arrested for the trafficking of 55 kilos of heroin. From 2009 to 2010, the street value of heroine increased by 43%, showing the massive amount of money involved in the trafficking. The report also pointed out that over 30,000 people were imprisoned in 2010 on drug-related charges, creating a massive challenge for law enforcement authorities. Drug addiction is a grave problem for the public. It is no secret that the drug trade often receives powerful political patronage and given the longevity of trafficking in Sri Lanka, it can be supposed that the support has also extended over many long years. Taking tough and holistic action against these offenders is the only way to mitigate this horrific problem. It is clear from the latest statistics that Sri Lanka needs to step up its vigilance though awareness, better legal action and tougher punishment for the drug lords in the country. Even Government Ministers are slowly waking up to the stark reality of drug trafficking in Sri Lanka, but unless they strengthen the Police and legal systems, it may soon be too late.