· Who will say “mea culpa” for the total breakdown in law and order?

The law enforcement agencies in the country have come in for heavy criticism from society and political circles over the past week with a call for immediate action to arrest the high incidence of crime and transgressors of the law. This is owing to alarming statistics released into the public domain by the police since the beginning of the year.

Statistics indicate there are shooting incidents almost every day on the streets of Colombo and elsewhere, causing unprecedented apprehension among the general public.

Since the beginning of the year, the situation has deteriorated drastically. Societal values have dwindled under the current law enforcement agencies and successive governments of recent times. It has been virtually replaced with lawlessness throughout the country. People have taken the law into their own hands since the law and order system buckled under the pressure of rising criminal activity.

This is mostly due to the inaction of the police and other law enforcement agencies as well as the political patronage they get. Take last week’s incident where the indiscretions of a Buddhist monk and two women were exposed via social media by a group of citizens turned vigilantes. This was not the first incident where Buddhist monks have been found violating their code of conduct. The recurrence of such incidents smack of nothing but impunity. Could this near certainty that perpetrators, depending on who their backers are, can get away without sanctions also be the reason for citizens to start taking the law into their hands?

For nearly two weeks the police department was headless until the president moved to extend the term of the sitting Inspector General of Police consecutively for a second time. The opposition was angry about the government’s inability to find a suitable replacement to fill the vacancy.

Several political analysts question whether the government keeps extending the incumbent’s term until the person earmarked for the position obtains a clean sheet for his career from the judiciary where he is a respondent in several cases. In recent years, there has been concern about Deshabandu Tennekoon, the blue-eyed boy of a section of the political hierarchy, and whether he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had an unblemished record as an efficient police officer. Since confusion reigns in the police department regarding the IGP appointment, opposition parties want the Constitutional Council to intervene.

Isn’t it time for the Constitutional Council headed by the Speaker to intervene and sort out matters relating to the police chief? When there are at least three other contenders for the post, the tug of war between the President who reportedly does not want Tennekoon as IGP and the Minister for Public Security Tiran Alles who is pushing for Tennekoon’s appointment , speaks tomes about the rampant politicisation which has the country in it’s grip. One of the aspirants for the post, Deputy Inspector General of Police Ajith Rohana, has challenged the minister’s decision to transfer him to the Eastern province as the DIG in charge of the police there.

According to Ajith Rohana’s petition, Alles has made a malicious, unreasonable and unjustifiable transfer. He also alleges that the Minister did all these malicious acts to harass him and to protect a particular senior DIG.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench has fixed the matter for hearing on July 17. It is now obvious that dilly-dallying in the Ministry of Public Security has put the country’s security situation in peril. As former Minister and opposition activist Professor G.L. Pereis puts it correctly by saying that a headless police, poses a threat to national security. He says the law and order situation in the country has plunged to such low levels that witnesses in criminal cases or otherwise could not appear in court and come home peacefully.

This is without being victimised by those associated with the defence case. In many instances, such witnesses were shot dead on the streets. This has proven the incapability of the police which has a record of over one hundred and fifty years as one of the oldest police departments in Asia. Does it mean that the witness protection law is grossly inadequate and ineffective? The question is who should be blamed for this social evil that persists unabated?

The preamble to the Witness Protection Act No 4 of 2015 states that a witness shall be entitled to protection against any real or possible harm, threat, intimidation, reprisal or retaliation resulting from such witness having provided information or lodged a complaint or made a statement to any law enforcement authority or for having provided any testimony in any court.

Hence it is the responsibility of the police to at least protect the lives of the people from potential criminals who lurk on the streets waiting for witnesses to abruptly end one case while expanding the country’s criminal records to unprecedented levels in police history. The police must also be proactive by conducting regular patrols in high-crime areas and using all the resources available to them to ensure public safety. They must also work to strengthen community ties that prevent crime.

It is only through a collaborative effort between police, citizens, and the government that we can ensure the safety of our communities. In that sense, the Constitutional Council has a duty to the people to select a person with high morals and an unblemished character to be appointed the next Inspector General of Police to bring this alarming situation under control and reject nominees who indulge in acts of grave moral turpitude.

This is because a police officer with an excellent reputation and strong ethical standards can build trust and security within the community. This is essential for successful law enforcement. Furthermore, they are more likely to be respected by citizens, which is essential for a collaborative effort to ensure safety. None of these things happen in the present system, which requires a complete overhaul. The police service should be revamped keeping in mind the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This envisaged the provincial police coming into effect in 1987 after the enforcement of the 13th Amendment. The hope is that President Ranil Wickremesinghe will take the necessary steps to create an environment to build a law enforcement agency that acts impartially sans political or other interference that would make it easy for the police to do a proper job of work. The provincial police were proposed to provide the provinces with their own law enforcement capability and to make sure that political or other interference will not impede their operations. The hope is that with the President’s support, an environment can be created to allow the police to properly perform their duties.

The President’s impending visit to New Delhi is expected to focus on Provincial Council elections and the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. This was a by-product of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 signed between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R Jayewardene following extensive negotiations between the two countries to settle the ethnic question in the North and East. However, it failed to yield the expected results as the LTTE broke the peace accord by turning against India and the Indian Peace Keeping Forces. This force was in Sri Lanka on invitation to restore law and order in the North and the East. Both these missions were unsuccessful and the Indian Peace Keeping Forces left Sri Lankan shores following the election of Ranasinghe Premadasa as the President of Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the Indo-Lanka Accord remained intact with the Provincial Councils functioning until recently. India’s wish is that Sri Lanka hold Provincial Council elections and implement the 13th Amendment. This is so that the main minority could exercise moderate autonomy in Tamil majority areas in the North and the East.

Meanwhile, the Indian Foreign Secretary was in Sri Lanka on Monday to prepare for President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India. Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra met with Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and President Wickremesinghe on the same day.

‘I just wanted to share with you what we have achieved on this very short visit. I arrived last night, and this morning I have called on His Excellency the Foreign Minister, His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka. I am also discussing this with my counterpart, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary. We also met with a few ministers on the sidelines of the lunch’, the Secretary said.

“The purpose of my visit is to prepare for the upcoming visit of the Hon. President of Sri Lanka to India. My discussions earlier today with the Sri Lankan leadership as well as with the Foreign Ministry were essentially focused on this. It is actually a positive development in the relationship when Sri Lanka’s president takes office. We also discussed the key areas of partnership that we could progress on ahead of the visit, the priorities of the Sri Lankan leadership, and shared with them the perspective of our leadership on the relationship, the strength of the relationship, different elements of cooperation in the relationship, and elements of our partnership in the years ahead across the entire matrix of economic partnership that India and Sri Lanka enjoy’.

Be that as it may, the government is trying to confer unprecedented power on the Prime Minister as Minister of Local Government. This is to reconvene local government bodies to function in the absence of local government councils due to the government’s reluctance to hold elections for the dissolved councils. This is unparalleled in the annals of democracy in the world, the opposition parties say. The government tried to reconvene the council with a mandate six years ago, but it has dramatically changed since then, according to opposition politician G.L. Peiris.

According to the Local Government Election Ordinance, local elections are held every four years. At the expiry of four years, the minister of local government can extend the council term for a maximum of one year. Following that, the local bodies become dysfunctional and dissolved. The government has no option but to conduct elections for dissolved local bodies. However, in this instance, the government said the Finance Ministry cannot release the funds necessary for the elections. It put off elections indefinitely though the Independent Election Commission set dates for the election. However, it has now fizzled out under the government’s arm-twisting tactics that elections cannot be held since the country is struggling through an economic downturn.

Despite all that Jayantha Ketagoda, a SLPP member has brought in a private members bill to empower the Prime Minister, who holds the local government portfolio, to reconvene the dissolved councils which are contrary to the democratic practices of the country. The opposition, up in arms over the matter, has vowed to take it before the Supreme Court for judicial determination. They have already filed Fundamental Rights cases against the government before the Supreme Court for the indefinite postponement of the local government elections.

Political analysts believe the government is taking an unnecessary gamble with the patience of the people who have already lost faith in the system. It appears that the government has failed to learn a lesson from the Aragalaya of 2022. This is a classic example of leading the masses down the garden path.