Last year`s war victory is now forgotten and euphoria it created has died down. The need for restoring the rule of law is being stressed as never before. The police are coming under increasing pressure to play the role expected of them in the post-war period. Having functioned as an auxiliary force in all but name in battling terrorism, both in the South and the North, for nearly thirty years and having graduated from shotguns to assault rifles in the process, they are now faced with the task of demilitarising and reorienting themselves to meet the peace time challenges.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said something to this effect at the opening of a police academy in Katana the other day. He called upon the police to transform themselves into a people friendly efficient outfit capable of serving the public better. He faulted the police for failing to investigate complaints, delaying inquiries and weaknesses in the prosecution process. IGP Mahinda Balasuriya owned up to those shortcomings and emphasised the need to enhance his department`s capacity to conduct investigations.
Some of the ills the police are afflicted with having thus been diagnosed, what is the remedy that the government and the IGP propose?
Better training is only part of the cocktail of drugs needed to treat the ailing police. Perhaps, the remedy that worked for the military may be adopted in this regard. Time was when it was thought that the armed forces would never be able to defeat terrorism. They were corrupt, inefficient, politicised, faction ridden and unmotivated. They battled the LTTE half-heartedly for many years. But, finally, the same military managed to crush terrorism. How?
The armed forces succeeded because of proper leadership, both political and military, infusion of professionalism, resources and new technology, training, motivation and non-political interference etc. There is no reason why these means should not be used to revitalise the police department.
The police are faced with a severe dearth of personnel and physical resources. They are without vehicles even to visit scenes of crime. They have to provide protection to all political and religious events in spite of their resource constraints. Although they are faulted for their failure to conduct investigations or delaying them, in most cases, they come under political pressure to hush up probes. They still use prediluvian methods in investigating crimes and technology is something alien to them. Most of them may not know a computer from a television! No wonder the prosecution rate stands at an appalling four per cent. The police are perhaps the least motivated of all government departments not only because of their corruption and lethargy but also because they are not at peace with either themselves or the world owing to their grievances such as low salaries, delays in promotions etc, harassment and political interference.
The police find themselves in a peculiar situation. When the armed forces received orders to destroy terrorism, they knew the political authority meant it. And they went the whole hog and did as they were told. But, the police are not supposed to carry out some of the orders from on high. For example, when the government ordered them to remove unauthorised election propaganda materials before the presidential and parliamentary polls, it did not want its order carried out where its own candidates were concerned. The police were required to be selectively efficient.
Politicians and their khaki clad stooges have broken the back of the police department and now they are trying to make it stand upright!
A strongly held view in some quarters is that the 17th Amendment, if fully implemented, would help transform the police into a robust outfit overnight. It is true that constitutional safeguards are necessary for strengthening vital State institutions vis-a-vis buccaneering political elements, but the fact remains that they alone are not sufficient for accomplishing the task at hand. The 17th Amendment, on the other hand, is flawed and itself needs revision. If some of the powers vested in institutions like the Independent Public Service Commission are any indication, then they militate against the supremacy of Parliament!
A prerequisite for strengthening the police is a genuine desire on the part of politicians and their chosen bureaucrats to translate their well-intentioned pronouncements into action. The Defence Secretary who takes pride in the fact that he was instrumental in building the military to the present level should be able to turn around the police as well.
Is he equal to this Herculean task?