President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who just returned from a European tour that included visits to Britain and France has an urgent task to perform: appoint an Inspector General of Police (IGP).

Incumbent IGP Chandana Wickramaratne’s original term of office ended in late March. He was granted a three-month extension. That was not because his services were considered exemplary. In fact, most Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) parliamentarians blamed Wickramaratne for inaction for the unrest that erupted on May 9 last year that left their homes destroyed.

Wickramaratne’s tenure was extended only because Wickremesinghe couldn’t find a suitable replacement. All the leading candidates- Deputy Inspectors General Nilantha Jayawardena, Lalith Pathinayake and Deshabandu Tennekoon- have issues pending against them and it was believed the entire Police force will be under a cloud if one of them is appointed IGP.

In March, it was believed that the three-month extension granted to Wickramaratne was a measure in damage control, allowing the other senior officers time and space to ‘clear their names’, so that whoever is selected could take up the role of Police Chief with a clean slate. Three months have gone by but that hasn’t happened.

All three of these officers had adverse findings made against them in inquiries conducted into the Easter attacks in 2019. Arguably the officer who was implicated the most was Nilantha Jayawardena who was in charge of intelligence services at that time. Pathinayake was also in charge of regions in which the attacks took place. Inquiries also cited Tennekoon for negligence that contributed to the attacks.

Since the Easter attacks, while Jayawardena and Pathinayake have opted to maintain a low profile, DIG Tennekoon in particular has been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. The most notorious incident was on May 09 last year where he was directly involved.

When armed mobs from Temple Trees marched towards ‘Gota Go Gama’ at Galle Face, Tennekoon walked alongside them, with parliamentarian Sanath Nishantha beside him. Many implored him to stop the mob, but Tennekoon allowed them to proceed, saying ‘Trust me.’ The rest, as they say, is history: there was destruction on a massive scale at Galle Face that led to the arson attacks on parliamentarians’ houses.

Tennekoon’s role in this incident is well documented in video evidence of the events of that day. Why he has not been taken to task for that remains a mystery, the only possible explanation being that he is a favourite of the ruling party, most notably Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles under whose purview the Police Department falls.

Tennekoon was also implicated in a case where cash amounting to seventeen million rupees was found at President’s House and subsequently returned to the Police by those who discovered the money. He has since gone to courts to stay proceedings against him in this matter.
A few months ago, Tennekoon also visited the Mahanayake theros of the Asgiriya and Malwatte chapters complaining that he is being needlessly targeted in the inquiries being conducted into the Easter attacks. Clearly, he is on a campaign to propel himself to the top job in the Police force.

When Wickremeratne first approached his retirement date, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and Head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith issued statements calling on the President to appoint an ‘unblemished’ person as the IGP. At the time, Minister Alles lobbied hard for Tennekoon to be appointed IGP, but Wickremesinghe deferred that decision. That Wickremesinghe didn’t appoint any of the major contenders is a tacit acknowledgment that none of them could be considered ‘unblemished’.

Three months later, it is the same story again. Wickremeratne is again at the end of his extended tenure, the BASL has again issued a statement calling for the appointment of an “officer whose service in the police force has been exemplary and unblemished and able to restore public confidence in the Sri Lanka Police.”

It is learnt that when Wickremesinghe returned from Europe, Tennekoon prepared a dossier outlining several potential threats to the President en route from the airport to Colombo and detailed steps to prevent them from eventuating. Wickremesinghe will know best whether this is a figment of Tennekoon’s creative imagination and whether the officer was trying to score brownie points from the President.

Technically at least, the appointing authority for the IGP is not Wickremesinghe but the Constitutional Council. Nevertheless, given the current composition of the Constitutional Council, it is obvious that whoever Wickremesinghe nominates as IGP will get the greenlight.
Wickremesinghe will not be too keen to appoint a Police Chief who is keen to allow democratic freedoms. The President’s ham-fisted attempts to crackdown on recent protests, especially against the postponement of local government elections, is ample evidence that he would rather prefer a Police Chief who does the President’s bidding with no questions asked.

If that is what Wickremesinghe is looking for, he then has the perfect answer in Tennekoon. With a track record that would make a politician blush, Tennekoon will be only too eager to please the President, so that he can get to the top and stay there. He is also relatively young in age which in effect means that, should he be appointed, he will hold the mantle of IGP for a decade or so.

The recent history of the Sri Lanka Police is not one to be proud of. It is an organisation tainted with its heads being lackeys of various political masters. In one instance then Prime Minister S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike appointed his close friend and bridge partner, Walter F. Abeykoon, a civil servant, as IGP by, when he couldn’t find a ‘suitable’ officer from the Police.

Wickremesinghe is unlikely to such a thing. While no appointment has been made at the time of writing, it is very likely that Deshabandu Tennekoon will be Sri Lanka’s 34th Police Chief. In a sense, it will be appropriate: a country in its darkest hour will be having the Police chief with the darkest past.