The New Year fracas
A reader who signs off as a "Ranil fan" raises some very pertinent questions in a letter to the editor published in our columns today. It deals with Fridays report in an English morning daily about a politicians son playing "the devil" at a New Years eve dance at a Colombo hotel last week. There was a lot of gossip and unconfirmed rumours about the incident at the venerable Galle Face Hotel. While the hotel authorities themselves preferred not to make an issue of the fracas, it appears that there was a fight and at least one shot had been fired into the air.
It is very well known that security is provided by the state to VIP politicians holding public office. Even ordinary Members of Parliament are entitled to police bodyguards with the number of such guards depending on the perceived risk. Given the LTTE terrorism that has been the tragic lot of this country for the past several years, and the situation created by the JVP in their second adventure and 1988/89, none would contest that such protection to vulnerable politicians was not just necessary but essential. Whether this security should have ballooned into present proportions is another matter altogether. Ordinary people have reason to feel that the breakdown in law and order today is partly due to the number of policemen guarding VIPs and the resultant paucity of men for ordinary duties.
The reality is that some security details assigned to politicians have been converted to virtual private armies and hit squads. Far too many politicians seem to regard their state-provided and taxpayer-paid security as private property to be used as they wish. Unfortunately, the patronage that politicians can and do provide policemen detailed to them for personal security results in such officers being most obliging regarding the demands made of them. There are exceptions, of course, and happy ones. A group of STF commandos tasked to guard a notorious politician during the last election was reported to have left him when he had allegedly made illegal demands of them. These reports stand uncontradicted.
Reverting to the Galle Face Hotel incident, people who were present and know those who were involved say that a ministers son was in the thick of it. Rightly or wrongly, they believe that the shot was fired by a security officer who had accompanied him. It is important that the authorities get to the bottom of this matter. If in fact a ministers son was involved, had he been provided a security escort? If so, was it state security and was he entitled to it? The answer to the latter part of that question is probably no but we live in a country where children of functionaries freely use official facilities provided to their parents. Not only do security guards assigned to their fathers accompany such offspring but they also drive official cars belonging to the government. There have been reports of some who have made free with government-owned premises for their partying.
Mr. John Amaratunga, the Minister for the Interior, who is in charge of the police was asked some questions about the hotel fracas in a television interview a couple of days ago. The questions could have been more pointed and the answers more specific. The minister did not confirm or deny the incidents and made some remarks that it was the responsibility of the hotel security to ensure that people with firearms do not enter social events in their premises. This is easier said than done by unarmed security guards dealing with armed men who may well be members of the police if such was the case. The minister also mentioned the current arms "amnesty" enabling persons possessing unauthorised weapons to surrender them by Jan. 15 with no questions asked.
It is necessary that a complete investigation is done into this whole matter even if there has been no formal complaint. In the first instance, did anybody try to get into the dance without tickets? Witnesses say that the hotel security had complained there was such an attempt and been instructed not to permit anybody without a ticket to enter. But did some ticketless elements get in anyway and start a fight at a dance attended by several hundred people? Were the police summoned and did any policemen go to the scene? If such was the case, they should be aware of what had happened and whether there was even an allegation that a firearm had been fired by anybody. If a weapon was discharged, there should have been a spent shell and this should have been found if the law enforcers are doing their jobs as they should. It would thereafter be possible to ascertain the weapon that fired it and who had it.
What is necessary is that there is no whitewashing. The public have been treated to graphic descriptions of the carryings on of children of past functionaries and they voted on December 5 to change all that. Whether the results are going to be uncomfortable for anybody however powerful, a very thorough investigation must be done into the Galle Face Hotel incident. The new government can only bring credit upon itself if it demonstrates that it will not sweep such happenings under the carpet. Let the public have a truthful report without cover-ups. If anybody is being maligned by rumour mills, he should be happy that the truth has been told. The prime minister must make it clear to his ministers that he will hold them accountable for the behaviour of their children. No favours must be done for anybody. The whole story must be told and miscreants punished, whoever they are.
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