Public faith in the Police and the Police Commission

by Arjuna Hulugalle
A country is judged by its Police Force. No society can survive unless the integrity of the Police is nurtured and maintained and the Force is both incorruptible and allowed to exercise its duties without fear and favour. Restoring this reputation and bringing it back to its traditions was the task of the recently appointed Police Commission. The controversy unfolding at the Commission has shattered confidence in that institution. This set back could still however, turn into a beacon of hope if an early inquiry can be held and the matter put to rest. Dr. Susantha Wijeweera’s unprecedented stand of resigning on a point of principle may become a landmark example for all those involved in public life even if the outcome of this inquiry shows only an instance of "Caesar’s wife not being above suspicion."

The Police Commission, a creation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was a response to the breakdown of good governance in relation to the Police. The 17th Amendment was initiated primarily by members of the OPA to build structures that would cure society of the malaise of corruption, political patronage and nepotism. The public had great expectations.

The reality was however, to be quite different. The implementation of this Amendment up to now has been most disappointing.

The Election Commission is still to be born, and hopefully will not be stillborn. The Bribery Commission is paralyzed. The Police Commission is in the throes of a major crisis of credibility.

Commissions like all public office are not the private precinct of the Commissioners. For a Commission to acquire public acceptance it has to have as its members, competent people, knowledgeable in the subject they are entrusted with and most of all conscious of ensuring that their actions do not in any way compromise the reputation of the Institution. They cannot afford to have undeclared conflict of interests.

What has happened at the Police Commission is, it appears, being investigated by the Constitutional Commission. The public will no doubt be made aware of the findings. This is accepted as an essential prerequisite to reinstate credibility.

The other more complex issue is how does one restore public confidence in the Police Commission? It is not practical to ask for the resignations of all its members because the work of the Commission has to continue. Even if one did that, it would take quite sometime time to find seven suitable replacements. Moreover, the new comers will need time to familiarize themselves with what has transpired so far.

If the allegations are established after due inquiry, there is possibly only one masterstroke which can reinstate confidence in the Commission and get it back to work. That would be to recall ex- Commissioner Wijeweera. There is no constitutional barrier to reappoint a person who has resigned.

The Constitutional Commission should then consider inviting Wijeweera to lead the Commission. The present Chairman Ranjit Abeysuriya, P.C., is a very busy criminal lawyer who has to spend most of the day in Courts and with his legal practice. Wijeweera on the other hand being a retired Civil Servant, could spend a great deal more time to the task of a Chairman. If Abeysuriya can remain on the Board together with Wijeweera as the head, the Commission will have a combination, which can set standards for all the other Commissions to emulate. They are both men of very high principles and integrity. The Commission has a lot of work ahead of it and in Wijeweera it has an experienced and dedicated administrator from the elite Civil Service.