Saturday, 4 January 2014 00:00
The Police OIC and his wife peddling heroin has dominated headlines for several days, as Sri Lanka’s challenge on drugs reached a new level.
As politicians engaged in verbal battles and threatened to sue each other for slander damages, the problem at the core of this struggle went largely unnoticed or rather unacted upon. The arrest of the Police OIC and the questioning of his wife as well as drug scandal engulfing the Prime Minister show the depth of the drug war in Sri Lanka and how law enforcement authorities are wholly outgunned in this battle.
The Police, of course, have little in the way of public confidence, with most people believing that they are the most corrupt institution in the country, since the Police regularly exonerate their own from wrongdoing – as was seen in the recent Noori investigation where no senior Police officials were charged despite allowing provincial politicians to terrorise an entire region.
The Police exist to protect those who cannot protect themselves. This unacceptable state of affairs is not just another nail in the coffin of Police trust; it’s pushed further into the ground. It is clear the common man can expect no help from them.
As the Police is seen as the most corrupt institution in Sri Lanka and public safety continues 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 – the Police, effectively reduced to a tool of corrupt politicians, 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.
Then comes the involvement of politicians and other powerful members of Government. The crony system that is in place allows for an unhealthy alliance between wrongdoers and politicians with no space for the law to do its duty impartially. Even though known drug lords are part of the governance system, there is no provision within which to target them as the crony system protects them, usually at the cost of the public.
Official records show 53,000 people have been arrested for drug offences in 2013. 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.
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 through 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.