Illicit drugs and schoolchildren: Immediate need for effective corrective action - I


by Chandra Wickramasinghe

(Former Council Member of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board)

It is common knowledge that certain illicit hallucinogenic drugs like ‘Ecstasy’ are being used by young people belonging to the upper classes at fashionable house parties, perhaps unbeknown to their high society parents. There were also a few newspaper reports about children attending tuition classes being introduced to such drugs. However, it was indeed shocking to read newspaper reports a couple of days ago, about a school boy smuggling heroin in his underwear and distributing it to his schoolmates! This is indeed a frightening indication that the clandestine, illicit networks are getting organized to capture a potentially lucrative market represented by schoolchildren country wide. Heroin, as readers may know, is the most dangerous and harmful in the range of illicit drugs available in Sri Lanka, as it is highly addictive and makes its victims totally and helplessly dependent on the drug.

It is indeed sad if not tragic, that despite the corrosive and devastating social effects of illicit drugs, successive administrations have not had the required political resolve and the unswerving commitment (with all the solemn pledges and hard resolutions made), to launch a sustained frontal onslaught on the organized purveyors of these illicit substances whose horrific impact is increasingly felt on the physical as well as the economic well being of the people of this country. Newspapers carry reports regularly of traffickers of heroin being nabbed and charged. The punishment laid down in the law for such offenders, is death! One often wonders what happens to the innumerable small time drug dealers who are charged in Court for being in possession of heroin. Are they being kept in remand prison over extended periods till their cases are finalised? About ten years ago around 55 per cent of the inmates in Remand Prison were being held for drug related offences. By now, if all the nabbed offenders have been incarcerated, the Remand Prisons must be overflowing with such offenders with many awaiting trial, knowing well the laws inordinate delays!

It was made out that the apprehension of notorious drug dealer Wele Suda would deal a body blow to the illicit drug trade here as he was reputedly a king pin in these illicit drug operations. It was also reported the he had given a list of thirty two names of powerful and influential people, which had included a fair number of MPP and even Ministers! It was also triumphantly claimed that the concerned authorities were in possession of the said list! However, this much awaited list never saw the light of day! But speculation was rife as to who and who were in the list. This sordid episode sheds a lot of light on the highly selective manner in which law enforcement operates in the island.

Where there is a decline in the maintenance of law and order, there is bound to be insecurity as well as social disorder.

It is common knowledge that there has been a lot of soft-pedalling on the part of the powers that be on matters of vital social concern, due often to certain top politicos being obliged to underworld racketeers and drug dealers for numerous favours granted and services rendered to them at various stages of their political careers.

As it is wryly said, there is nothing called a free lunch! To wheeler dealers, thugs and racketeers, giving material assistance to politicians to accelerate their upward levitation to Parliament and high ministerial position is indeed a promising investment with prospects of future rewards in ample measure!

Our present-day political culture has become so warped that thuggery and ill-gotten money seem to be necessary prerequisites for political advancement! This is indeed a depressing reflection of the current societal mores that seem to pervade society, across the board. When politicians protect and harbour criminals from the operation of the laws of the land, what is the example they hold out to the law enforcement authorities themselves? This latter category is bound to take the cue from their political masters and work out arrangements with errant members of the public, to their own private advantage. They are indeed quick to come to terms with what they perceive as ground realities and seek simultaneously to skillfully manouevre things to suit their private ends! In dealing with politicians, they would often seek to enhance their prospects of promotion within the Service as well as acquire a degree of immunity when they themselves transgress the law! This is sad but inexorable logic in the present day scheme of things! So, one might righteously ask,where the discipline is coming from, which is so crucially fundamental to the maintenance of law and order. Is it any surprise then that there has been a steep rise in grave crime islandwide, including mindless killings and the worst forms of criminal activity. The Irish poet

Yeats described like conditions so tersely in his ‘The Second Coming’-

"Things fall apart,the centre cannot hold,

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world".

Illicit Drugs

President Kumaratunga during her tenure in office, was distressingly aware of the dangers posed by the problem of illicit drugs and instructions were given to the Police Narcotics Bureau and the other concerned authorities to invoke all existing legal provisions to curb the menace. This resulted in a series of raids being conducted islandwide to nab illicit kassippu manufacturers and drug dealers.This also led to the law enforcement authorities tightening up on kassippu distillers and drug dealers leading in turn to a series of major drug hauls and the nabbing of some key drug dealers and kassippu manufacturers. It was however realized that the existing laws were inadequate and lacked the required ‘teeth’ to effectively discourage such illicit activities from being continued.

Despite the law clearly laying down the death penalty to drug traffickers, those caught and indicted in Court, often got away lightly. Certain drug dealers,realizing that their covert pressures were not having the desired effect, have had the temerity some years ago, to brazenly commit the killing of a respected Judge who was coming down hard on their illegal activities. The public are happy to note that the members of the Judiciary have faced upto these terror tactics courageously by not being cowed down by them in meting out justice to such criminal elements. Terror tactics should never be yielded to as it would be counter productive both in the short and the longer terms. Pusillanimity in the face of terror would only lead to a sequential enervation of the will to face daunting challenges and lead finally to abject capitulation.

Laws delays and need to modernize investigative techniques

Many statutes in Sri Lanka need to be revised to bring them in line with social developments and to keep abreast of the new trends in criminal behaviour. The law enforcement authorities have similarly to update their investigative techniques to combat the rising wave of sophisticated crime. Laws delays constitute a major stumbling block to the expeditious dispensation of justice which latter is the mainstay of the confidence reposed by people in the judicial process and the criminal justice system. Modern social problems have to contend with an antiquated system of court procedures. The in- built inefficiencies of the Criminal Justice System are indeed starkly reflected in the tragically low rate of convictions recorded.

In Sri Lanka, stemming from certain religious sensitivities, the death penalty although pronounced by Court on criminals at times is never carried out. However, with the rapid deterioration of law and order in the country, even eminent and highly respected religious dignitaries who are appalled by the heinous crimes perpetrated, seem now to be in favour of the restitution and the implementation of the death penalty, which they probably have realized is the only effective deterrence to halt the alarmingly rising trend of grave crime. It is indeed not surprising that criminals have scant regard for the law in the knowledge that even if they are caught and indicted, the chances of conviction are minimal.

The statistical probability of a criminal getting convicted, even if charged in court, is a shocking 4% ! This is, if anything, only a sad reflection of the inefficacious Criminal Justice System that obtains in the country today. It is common knowledge that the Prisons in the country, far from being reformatory institutions of delinquents and criminals are now little more than the breeding grounds of hardened criminals! It is only too well known that criminal activities including drug trafficking, contract killings, heists etc. are hatched and orchestrated by local mafia bosses from within the confines of prison walls, using the handy cell-phone!

(To be continued)

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