Role of the National Police Commission
By Tassie Seneviratne
He recalled the two seminars on the same theme, one at the Ministry of Interior and one at the SLFI in November and December last year. He went on to stress that the Police Department if given a free hand would perform their duties without fear or favour and appreciated that the NPC has a Herculean task before it to ensure the independence of the Police from political interference. Quoting the famous truism, Eternal vigilance is the price of Democracy he invited suggestions from the public for future discussions.
Mr. Achillies Joseph Retired DIG, the moderator, introducing the subjects: Role of the Police Commission vis a vis the Police; and Role of the Government vis a vis the Police Commission, set the parameters for discussion. He described the 17th amendment to the Constitution which established an independent Police Commission as a watershed in the social and political history of this country. He expressed hope that the NPC would bring about a welcome change to the Police Department after 30 years of politicization during which period the Police Department which had earlier maintained a high degree of independence and integrity became servile and subservient to politicians.
He made it clear that by political interference he did not mean intervention if Police are doing a wrong thing, in which case he said it is the right of every individual and more so a politician to seek remedy from the relevant authority. But it is the unwarranted illegal and illegitimate interference to gain some advantage for himself or his party and disadvantage for his adversary, that everyone is concerned about.
He observed that politicization undermined:
The esprit de corps of the Police.
The value systems, ethos and management philosophies, (traditions) which the department cherished for so long, disappeared.
Promotions and placements were done at the behest of politicians and bureaucrats in the Ministry and not on suitability.
Policies and schemes were changed to suit individuals.
Unlawful interference with Police decision-making in matters of public order became the order of the day.
A nexus started developing between the crooked politician and dishonest police officers at various levels. Human Rights were violated with impunity at the behest of Politicians.
He pointed out that in short the image of the Police received a severe battering, the sum total of it being a loss of faith in the criminal justice system as a whole, as the Police is the first link in this chain. A salutary change has been affected with the establishment of the NPC. But, he warned, that like in all changes the parties affected by this change, especially from the entrenched power elite, will stoutly resist the prospect of losing control over an organization which they had misused for so long.
The moderator also drew attention to some unanswered questions that had arisen earlier:
According to the 17th Amendment, the NPC is responsible to Parliament and not the Minister of Interior. Who then will answer questions raised in Parliament with regard to alleged acts of omission or commission by the Police?
What is the role of the Secretary to the Ministry of Interior, when the NPC cannot delegate any powers to the Secretary? To whom is the IGP to report in regard to the Administration of the Police.
The other questions dealt with non stipulation of qualifications for members of the NPC; why none with Police experience had been included in the NPC; the difference in payment of emoluments to members of the NPC as compared with the public service commission and the elections commission; why members of the NPC are not appointed on a full time basis in keeping with the task before them. There were more questions of legal, technical and hypothetical nature which the Police Commission will perhaps sort out at the appropriate time.
Deshamanya Ranjith Abeysuriya, Presidents Counsel and Chairman of the NPC thanked the organizers and the IGP for enabling him to address such a large gathering of serving Police Officers on The Role of the Police Commission. This, he said was his first opportunity to address Police Officers and that he would seek permission from the IGP to address more and more Police Officers of various ranks in the various parts of the country.
He then went on to explain that the Police Commission has come to being due to a public outcry that the Police Service must be rescued. He recalled his association with the Police going back to 45 years when he had the greatest respect for Police Officers from whom he learnt a lot. Our investigators, he said, were not second to the best in the world. It was a matter of regret for him personally to see what has happened to the Police today. In recent times, politicians of various types precluded Police Officers from doing their duty. Because some underworld character had brought 5000 votes for a politician, he ordered the Police Officer not to touch him. The politician would breathe down your neck and say dont touch my man. OIC stations were kicked out in 24 hours.
There were instances when politicians sat on the OICs chair and gave orders. Now the time has come, he said - the Police Commission is there to insulate the Police from the evil influences that you have been facing in the recent past. He wanted to make his message to all Police Officers loud and clear - From the time that we were set up on 26th of November 2002 the Police Service is expected to be guided on the path of a truly independent Police Service. Political forces, politicians, big-wigs, underworld characters, may have wanted to run the Police Service, but please, my message to each one of you is, that day is over.
It is up to each one and all of you to realize that you have only one boss today. That is that gentleman seated there (pointing to the IGP). There may be Ministers, there may be Prime Ministers there may be the President of the country, but your boss is that gentlemen. He summed up the role of the Police Commission as, to establish develop and maintain a strictly apolitical and professional police service recruited on merit and sustained on proven competence where the would be criminal would fear to embark on crime because the risk of detection is almost inevitable
It is to enable the Police Commission to play its role without hindrance that the powers for all appointments other than the IGP, all promotions transfers and disciplinary action are vested in the Police Commission and no politician can bring to bear influence on any Police Officer. The Minister has no power to direct the Police. He was yet sad, he observed, because even after the setting up of the Police Commission, politicians are said to be still at work trying to pressurize Police officers. That is why, he explained, he was seeking permission of the IGP to address all ranks in all parts of the country, to make a success of the Police Commission and to help rebuild the image of the Police.
The IGP, he said has assured him that he will not succumb to political pressure. The Police Commission with the IGP has drawn up a policy document called the Delegation of Powers on appointments, promotions, transfers, disciplinary control and dismissal of Police Officers. In that the power of transfer for all Police Officers is given to the IGP. Police being a special service and the Commissioners being laymen, there must be a technical person. Your boss, the IGP knows best who should serve where. The Police Commission, however, has not abdicated its function or given a blank cheque to the IGP. He has to act in accordance with the policies on transfers approved by the Commission. No politician comes into that. Similarly, recruitment to and promotions in the lower ranks have been delegated to the IGP.
Mr. Abeysuriya also informed that entertaining and investigating complaints against Police has been vested in the Police Commission. He appealed to all Police Officers not to leave room for complaints, specially complaints of torture. Police Officers should use their heads and not their fists he said.
Another function of the Police Commission he informed was the setting up of standards to be followed in making promotions. In this regard he said that no Police Officer under investigation by the Bribery and Corruption Commission will be promoted until he is cleared by the Bribery Commission.
He also took the opportunity to explain that the Police Commission has been busy setting up Office and in the process of recruiting staff.
Daya Perera, Presidents Counsel who was invited to speak on the role of the Government vis a vis the Police Commission, preferred to first join Mr Abeysuriya and make some comments on the role of the Police Commission. He too dealt into the glorious past of the Police with which he too was proud to be associated with. Now with his experience as a criminal lawyer he perceives the Police of today as riddled with corruption. Criminals he said dont treat the Police even as equals, but as an inferior strata that can be dealt with as such. It is only a question of price.
On the question of qualifications of the members of the Police Commission, he was of the view that members of the Constitutional Council being responsible persons comprising of all political views, they will not select unsuitable persons to be in the Police Commission. Yet he agreed that the Police Commission is lacking of a Retired Police Officer who will know something of the Police. He was of the view that the Police Commission getting the advise of the IGP is alright as long as the IGP is of unassailable integrity. But where is the independence of the Commission in that sense, he observed. Inclusion of a Retired Senior Police Officer in whom the Constitutional Council has confidence would be the most appropriate he added.
The next question he took was, Who is to defend Police Commission reports in Parliament? If it is the Minister of Interior, then where is the Independence of the Police Commission, in that sense, he raised. He was confident that the Chairman Police Commission will find a remedy to this situation. He also felt that it should have been better to have the Police Commission reporting to the Prime Minister and no lesser person than that. At the moment nobody being designated as Minister in charge of the Police, is a very salutary provision, he observed.
One of the questions raised during question time was, why nobody from the relevant Ministry was present in the panel. The moderator explained that invitations were in fact sent to the Minister of Interior with copies to his Secretary as well as advisor, and that several reminders were sent by fax, but no response was received.
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