Chairman of the Presidential Commission investigating abductions, killings and disappearances and former judge Mahanama Tilakaratne's fierce attack on the police yesterday must have warmed the cockles of many a heart. He inveighed against the police for inefficiency, negligence and dereliction of duty.
How the police handle even high profile investigations is shocking. Mr. Tilakaratne has faulted the police for the haphazard manner in which TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham's assassination was probed. The police even failed to establish the type of weapon used to kill that veteran Tamil politician in full view of the public inside a crowded church! They simply framed two soldiers, who had been taken in for smoking cannabis, in that crime. That is a trick of the trade the police specialise in to ward off pressure from on high and the media. They make some arrests posthaste. Suspects so apprehended naturally secure release in courts for want of evidence. Little wonder that the crime rate continues to soar and the conviction rate remains as low as four per cent.
Mr. Tilakaratne has accused the police of being selectively efficient. Yes, if the police are convinced that they can conduct an investigation, arrest a suspect and prosecute him without burning their fingers, or if they have political orders to do so, they go hell for leather to give the wheels of justice a turbo boost. But, if they have an iota of doubt that such speedy action involves some risks and is without political blessings, they emulate the proverbial monkeys seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil, as in the case of attacks on the Opposition and media personnel. As regards the recent attack on Secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association Poddala Jayantha, Mr. Tilakaratne has said, he would not hesitate to recommend that investigators be changed unless the probe is conducted to his satisfaction. We bet our bottom dollar that nothing will come of that investigation if the assailants have links with the government.
One may have reservations about journalists’ unions known for a ménage of the good, the bad and the ugly. Most of them are mere putty in the hands of some shady NGOs or INGOs. But, no one has a right to mete out dark justice to them.
The plain-spoken former judge has said he may consider calling for a copy of the so-called list of journalists alleged to be on LTTE's payroll. The Army Commander has vouched for the existence of such a list and several government ministers have threatened to make it public. But, we are yet to see it!
The failure of the government to release that list, if any, has resulted in each and every journalist being a suspect in the eyes of the public. Therefore, the onus is on President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Army Commander, the IGP and the two Media Ministers to expose the journalists said to have been paid by the LTTE. And fast!
We urge the media associations that take to the streets at the drop of a hat over other matters to launch a massive demonstration to pressure the government to release that list. Mr. Tilakaratne, we hope, will try to secure a copy of it so that we will know whether any such document really exists or it is only a government ruse to justify a witch hunt against the media.
We do not intend to lay the blame for the mess the police are in entirely at the IGP's doorstep. The blame should be apportioned to many including politicians of all hues who have over the years reduced the police to a pliable tool to further their interests. Ironically, they themselves finally felt the need for reinvigorating the police and several other public institutions. They unanimously ratified the 17th Amendment to the Constitution to set up, among other things, an Independent Police Commission.
But, that remedy did not prove to be a panacea. It may be recalled that a few years ago promotions were given even to police officers serving jail terms! And the IGP at that time found his wings being clipped to the point of being unable to take action against his errant subordinates. Whether the situation has improved since then is anyone's guess but there does not seem to be a quick fix where the many chronic ills of the police are concerned. Whatever the solution may be, it will have to address issues concerning the recruitment and training of police personnel. Garbage in, they say, garbage out!
The police may be bashed and in fact they deserve that kind of treatment but their grievances too need to be heeded. They are perhaps the most overworked and demoralised of the State employees operating under trying conditions. While politicians are using fleets of flashy SUVs and bullet proof limousines, most police stations are without enough vehicles to patrol areas under their jurisdiction. Their grievances concerning salaries, promotions, and transfers too should be redressed.
But, nothing could be cited as an excuse for the serious lapses on the part of the police, which Mr. Tilakaratne has rightly pointed out. The IGP and his team must sharpen up their act if they are to arrest the growing lawlessness and obviate the culture of impunity. That is also the way for them to regain public confidence.