Preparing for polls

Saturday, 27 September 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

IN the aftermath of yet another provincial poll and imminent announcement of possible presidential elections, the need for an independent Police service looms large. The partiality and ineffectiveness of Police has been highlighted many times over the last few weeks. In fact their ineptitude as well as lack of checks and balances within the force provide a dangerous background in which to hold the expected hotly-contested elections. Earlier this year Police Commission 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 inadequate. 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. Establishing at least a somewhat independent Police force could make the biggest contribution to free and fair elections.