An attempt is being made in some quarters to make Sri Lanka out to be a failed State. That is plain hyperbolic rhetoric of enemies of this country looking for the slightest opportunity to destroy it. However, there is no gainsaying that it has developed symptoms of failure, the most noticeable being the collapse of systems.
The education sector is an utter mess. Never mind imparting education and preparing the country's children for future challenges; the Education Ministry cannot even handle school admissions properly. Education is said to be a journey and not a destination. Yes, it is! In this blessed land, that arduous journey begins from an unholy mess called school admissions and ends in a much bigger mess called university education. Of late, the Supreme Court has had to intervene to clean up the mess.
The Health Sector is also characterised by chaos. Health workers are more on strike than on duty. The Health Ministry cannot even get a water pump repaired. We reported the other day that patients and workers at the Ratnapura General Hospital had to purchase bottled water as some water pumps were out of kilter! More often than not the Head of State has to intervene to settle health disputes!
The situation is more or less the same in all other sectors. Systems have, we repeat, simply failed. So have the ad hoc remedies attempted halfheartedly from time to time. Now, we hear the government is going to install mobile phone jammers in prisons to prevent criminals from communicating with the outside world!
None other than Deputy Minister of Justice V. Puthrasigamoney has said he recently got a telephone call from a prisoner wanting to know why his release was delayed! Puthrasigamoney was lucky; the prisoner only posed a query. Some other prisoners were bold enough to use mobile phones to demand protection money from several prominent government politicians like Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana, a minister and another parliamentarian!
Before the installation of jammers, errant prison officers in league with rich criminals behind bars responsible for smuggling in various gadgets and even narcotics and liquor must be traced and brought to justice. Jammers cannot prevent drugs finding their way into prisons. Prisoners' access to mobile phones is only one of the many problems prisons are afflicted with.
Guarding the guards is one way of cleaning the Augean stables that are prisons. The government has deployed the army for that purpose. It was only the other day that the Secretary to the President proposed using State intelligence services to curb bribery and corruption in public institutions. And the government has gone a step further where prisons are concerned.
Sri Lanka is lucky to have a disciplined army with a proven track record. It is dedicated, efficient and capable of accomplishing seemingly impossible tasks. It has just decimated a ruthless terrorist outfit. But, the advisability of using the military freely to shoot trouble is in question. The time has come for demilitarisation and not remilitarization of society. The government does not seem to have realised this pressing need.
Prisons have come to this sorry pass owing to decades of neglect. Successive governments let the grass grow under their feet. Lack of supervision led to the emergence of a Prison Mafia thriving on illegal activities. The present government, too, would not have cared a damn about prisons but for threats some of its politicians received from a gang operating from the Welikada Prison.
Action should have been taken to deal with the Prison Mafia a long time ago or at least after efficient prison officers like Upali Tennakoon were killed for doing their job. However, it is a matter for happiness that at long last an attempt is being made to cleanse prisons. Better late than never!
Desperate situations must have desperate remedies, one may claim in justification of the government's decision to use the army and jammers in prisons. But, nothing short of a radical shake-up coupled with an effective monitoring mechanism as well as a genuine desire on the part of the powers that be to modernise tumbledown and overcrowded prisons will be a solution in the long run.
It is hoped that the keen interest the government has evinced in the prison clean-up will not fizzle out with the passage of time.