Recent LTTE Tamil Tiger Terrorist Atrocities in Sri Lanka
Past LTTE Tamil Tiger Terrorist Atrocities in Sri Lanka
DEVOLUTION OF POLICE POWERS TO PROVINCES: SOME CONCERNS
By Gamini Gunawardane, Rtd. Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police in Sri Lanka
Few weeks ago, Mr. Udaya Gammanpila, in an article to the Divaina, had expressed his reservations regarding the prospect of giving police powers to the Northern and Eastern Provincial councils under the 13th Amendment. Those were mainly on political implications. The purpose of this article is to raise some issues regarding some policing problems that may arise in devolving police powers not only to these two provinces, but to all the provinces.
There was no occasion for a proper in-depth discussion on this aspect in the past since there was no real attempt to give effect to the devolution of police powers to the provinces since the passage of the 13th Amendment as, probably advisedly, Mr. J.R. Jayawardane and all his successors upto now, did not venture into giving effect to this provision. Now that such a prospect is being actively discussed, this may be the appropriate time to look at these issues.
The first is basically a conceptual issue. That is, under a unitary constitution, is it conceptually possible to devolve the function of internal security and maintenance of law and order, to Chief Ministers?
Let me explain.
Law and order and internal security in the country are a fundamental pre-condition necessary for all other activities. Economic, political, social and cultural activity could take place in a community only in a secure environment. For that matter, even the basics of life, food. clothing and shelter could be enjoyed by a person only if one could have them in a secure environment. Thus, maintenance of law and order becomes a fundamental responsibility of governance. That may be the reason why the subject of defence and internal security, is a subject that is kept directly under the President and earlier, under the Prime Minister, under the previous constitutions. It is thus a basic/core responsibility of the head of state, in governance. Therefore, it could be construed as an ‘inalienable’ responsibility.
This means a question of accountability,
for the preservation of law and order in the country lies on the government and
more specifically, on the Head of State. He is primarily accountable to the people
of the whole country for peace, law and order. Hence, is it practical or
legitimately possible for him to devolve this accountability to some others who
are not accountable to him? Thus, could it be a devolvable subject?
The question is, how can he be accountable for a responsibility that is passed on to
somebody who is independent of him and over whom he has no effective or direct control?
On the other hand, control of law and order
function from the center may well be the very essence of a unitary concept. It
may well be an essential characteristic of a unitary concept. In fact, it may
be one of the very purposes of the unitary concept.
Perhaps, this is a matter that could be
addressed by constitutional experts.
The problem does not end here. We have to
also examine the responsibility of the IGP, the Head of the Police in the
country, in this light. Under this Amendment, is he responsible for the
policing of the whole country? Or is he responsible for the non devolved
subjects of policing only? If so, through whom does the President exercise his
responsibility and accountability for the other aspects of law and order,
especially at the territorial level? This question becomes pertinent because,
the DIG of the province is held ‘responsible to and under the control of’, the
Chief Minister(Sec.11:1). The Defence Minister / Minister of Internal Security
will have 9 Territorial DIGs to deal with who are not directly accountable to
him through the IGP. The IGP and his HQ. DIGs and Directors will be mere
service providers. Thus, the chain of command becomes unclear. This is very
dangerous when it comes to critical situations.
According to sec 2 of Appendix 1.of the 13th Amendment, The IGP remains the head of the Sri Lanka Police Force; but his Police Force is now divided into two Divisions viz.,
(a) National Division, (b) Provincial
Divisions. The IGP has the power to appoint the DIG to head the Provincial
Police, but that too with the concurrence of the Chief Minister. The DIG
however is accountable to the Chief Minister. Not only that, he will also be
under the control of the chef Minister. Now where is the Territorial Command of
the IGP? What is he responsible for, beyond the appointment of the DIG whom he
cannot remove without the Chief Minister’s concurrence? Even if he continues to
have countrywide responsibility, what is his mechanism to exercise such
One could imagine how serious the implication of this situation could become if the DIG starts ‘playing ball’ with the Chief Minister; if they start scratching each others backs. We saw a glimpse of this somewhere in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s where the DIG of the Southern Province became so intimate with the Chief Minister that the DIG obtained overseas’ leave from the Chief Minister and left to Australia to spend a holiday!
There was nothing that the IGP could do from his Police Head Quarters. This incident pinpoints the crux of the problem. What controls does the IGP have over his Provincial DIGs who are under the control of the Chief Ministers? He will thus be made to look a fool.
This situation becomes further complicated
when the Chief Minister happens to be a member of a political party that is
different to that of the President / Minister of Defence/ Internal Security. If
the hostility between the government party and the opposition party becomes
acute, the Chief Minister could make things difficult to the Defence Minister
in so many ways, to make him appear ineffective. This is seen happening in so
many other spheres too. For instance, during the last UNP government times,
some of the provincial transport ministries were not co-operating with the
Central Transport Authority on the implementation of policy in relation to the
private buses, obviously to create dissatisfaction of the commuters towards the
central government. Similarly, there are so many instances where the provincial
hospitals do not get medical supplies on time so that the provincial government
falls into disrepute with the people. This is probably done with a view to
impress on the people why it is necessary to elect to the provincial
government, candidates of the political party that was currently in power at
the center. But, security is so critical to human life that it cannot be left
to petty politicking by politicians of the center and the periphery.
This brings us to a more serious problem.
The Chief Minister is a local politician. Though it is true, as the theory
goes, he being a man of the area is more sensitive to the needs of the people,
for the same reason he could have vested interests closer home. He could easily
get involved in more parochial issues. In such a situation, if the DIG and the
Chief Minister would become a duo, scratching each other’s backs, the people
will be much worse off than now. I am thinking of the allegations of land
grabbing, sand mining, organized gem mining and timber racketeering that is
being made against local politicians and police officers. The other end of the
spectrum is that, under the unitary police structure, the IG’s Central Vice
Squad could strike anywhere in the country without the concurrence of the Chief
Minister or any politician for that matter. Often, it could be that the
miscreant was the chief campaign financier of the Chief Minister himself. Thus,
however corrupt it may be at present, the fact that the DIG is a part of the
central police chain of command reporting through the Inspector General to the
Defence Ministry which is away from the local situation, enables some degree of
space needed for objectivity, which is a core necessity in the enforcement of
the law. This is a far more satisfactory arrangement that should not be lost.
This could be a form of check and balance between the central and provincial
governments. In fact, it was common knowledge among police officers that people
Conversely, among some of my best officers
were Tamils, Muslims and Malays by birth. I immediately recall Inspector
Bastianpillai, SI prambalam and Sgt. Balasinham who were the first CID team to
be killed by the LTTE in the Madhu jungles, off Mannar. I think, they were three
jewels of the CID. Their loyalty to the CID and devotion to duty was par
excellence. All these people asked nothing more than fair play. What is
obtaining today is political patronage, favours and punishments. My concern is that fair play will be made a further
far cry in the proposed climate both for police officers as well as for the people.
This problem has been highlighted in a
study on the Indian State Police too. In the case of the Indian situation one
would imagine to be not so bad because any Indian state is several times larger
Talking of the People, in fact, did any
body consult the People who are the voters whether they ever wanted devolution
of police powers to the Chief Ministers or not? If consulted, it is highly unlikely
that any law abiding citizen would want a puppet DIG of a politicized
provincial police who took orders from the Chief Minister, to guide their
destinies. The kassippu dealers, illicit gem miners, sand miners, timber
racketeers and drug dealers and their ilk certainly would. It is bad enough
already that even under a unitary system the STF is removed from the Batticaloa
District on the eve of an election and against the peoples’ wishes. The Head is
also changed on the grounds that he, a specialized officer, on the pretext that
he had been too long in that organization. The same Police Commission, who
stopped the transfer of some other officers out of the
Again, there is the problem of parochial
considerations in a small community within a province where invariably everyone
knows everyone else and sometimes distantly related too. All these factors go
to defeat the purpose of impartiality that all these measures are expected to
I will now give an instance to illustrate
my point. Long years ago, when I was a young ASP, a sub-inspector in charge of
a police station in my district was interdicted and charge sheeted for
assaulting a villager who came to him to make a complaint. Such disciplinary inquiries
are held in the Police Department before a panel consisting of the inquiring
officer, another police officer and a respected member of the public, to look
after the interest of the complainant and of course, to ensure fair play. At
the end of the inquiry, the inquiring officer and the other police officer
decided to find the SI guilty; but the gentleman from the public hotly
disagreed. This was not because he had been bribed by the SI but because he had
been approached with a sheaf of betel ! Anyhow, the two police officers found
him guilty with the gentlemen disagreeing. On the strength of this, the SI’s
appeal to the PSC was upheld and he was re-instated. And the first thing that the
SI did was to don his uniform, get on his motor cycle and do full round in his
former police area. He stopped opposite the complainant’s house, hooted at him
Needless to say that in a local situation,
when one is deciding the fate of the local police officers, affecting their
life and career, the kind of power and influence a member of the Provincial
Police Commission would wield, and Disraeli’s famous saying “power corrupts”
Nonetheless, it may be that Mr. J.R. Jayawardene, who was responsible to introduce this Pandora’s Box of the 13th Amendment, under Indian pressure of course, himself saw this danger of excessive local parochial interest which may come into play. He probably intended to reduce this ill effect when he always made it a point to appoint a person from outside the province, as Governor. But, as he himself would have noted, that was of little help as most of the power lay with the Chief Minister.
The 13th Amendment provides for
a Provincial Police Commission (Appendix I, sec. 4.) . It will be a body of 3 persons comprising 1.
The DIG of the Province, 2.A nominee from the PSC appointed in consultation
with the President and, 3. A nominee of the Chief Minister. A hard nosed police
officer who has seen this drama enough and more, would remark “ Naduth
pansale, baduth pansale! ( The judge & the complainant are the same)-“emo
judex in causa sua”. The DIG now serves in this appellate body, judging his
own case. Besides, the DIG, here is a person appointed in consultation with the
Chief Minister.The PSC nominee too is appointed in consultation with the
President. He would invariably be a retired
senior public servant resident in the province. The 3rd Member is a
nominee of the Chief Minister. They are the people who will decide the transfers,
promotions and disciplinary control up to the SSP ! Imagine the DIG who has become an acolyte of
the CM, the PSC nominee who is an acolyte of the President and another nominee of
the CM sitting in judgement! My old driver orderly would remark “ Nariyata
bokka hodanta dunna wage, neda sir?(
This is untranslatable.)
Now what kind if justice would the Police
officers and the people get in return?
My belief is that, it is our obligation to
hand over this country to the next generation, in a better condition than was
handed over to us by our predecessors. We have no business to it hand over in a
Another provision in the 13th Amendment is that, in the matter of a major public disorder or a break down of law & order, the central government could intervene only with the consent of the Chief Minister.(Appendix I sec. 11.1. (b) ) What if the chief Minister would not consent? Judging by the petty minded conduct of today’s politicians, it is not an impossibility. It could be that the chief Minister himself or his supporters could well be behind the break down of law & order. One is reminded of what happened in the local government elections in Wayamba sometime ago. Will the local DIG or the SSP dare pull down the election posters & cutouts of the chief minister or his cohorts?
Even if none of these conditions prevail,
how long would it take for the central government to intervene and restore
order? Here is an example of how efficient it could be under a centralized
policing system in this country. In the year 1981or 82 a serious conflict erupted
The situation could also be serious if the
centre will not want to assist, if the party in power at the center, is
different from the party to which the Chief Minister belonged. It may be that
the centre may want to capture power in the province by encouraging public
protest against him, through lukewarm response to his requests, like what the
government is doing to the Bribery & Corruption Commission by transferring
officers playing critical roles, to cripple the organization. Thus, the
situation as it is, is bad enough. If it is watered down further by weakening
the system some more, one could imagine the levels to which law and order could
descend. It is perhaps a human weakness to see only what is bad in the present
predicament and to ignore its merits. Here, I am reminded of what my
grandfather used to often say: “wadi pada gahanta giyoth, thibba padeth
nethiwenawa.” ( if you try to do too many things, you might loose even what
you have achieved already”)
Here is another aspect of the matter. It is
best explained with an example.
During the JVP violence in the in 1988 as
This again is
more a conceptual issue. Under this Amendment, ‘exercise of police powers’ is devolved as per sec.1 of Appendix 1. Now,
the ‘police powers’ are set out in the Police Ordinance and the investigative
and prosecution powers & procedures are set out in the Code of Criminal Procedure. And we were taught that
the basic police powers possessed by the IGP up to recruit constable of
yesterday are no different. The differences mainly lie in the exercise of
administrative power over the different ranks at different levels. The basic
Police power exercisable by all ranks is that a police officer is on duty at
all times and exercises his powers in any part of the country. So, could the
exercise of police powers be devolved any further than what has been done in
1876 when the Police ordinance was enacted? Could these basic powers of a
police officer be conceptually circumcised ? If so how?
Then what is the devolution of police powers
that is sought to be achieved here? The only possible answer is that, it is the
administrative power over the policeman on the ground who is expected to
enforce the law without fear or favour. Then, the devolved power that is sought
here, is the power to abuse the enforcement of the law. It is the
devolution of the power to make political use of the police powers in a
politicized police environment. The only devolution of police power that really
needs to be done is to depoliticize the police which will allow the policeman
on the ground to act according to the law that he is already empowered with.
The only safeguard that is necessary is to put in place an effective mechanism
to minimize police corruption. If ever this is done, one can rest assured that
there will be no more clamour for devolution of police powers!
But it is not to be. When the 13th Amendment states shamelessly that the provincial DIG “shall be, responsible to and under the control of the Chief Minister” and that a nominee of the Chief Minister will be a member of the provincial police commission, all pretences of an impartial police are removed crudely. The police department is rudely stripped naked and made into a private security service of the politician, in this case the Chief Minister. In fact, it already is. But there was at least a thin veil of pretence akin to modesty. Now it is no more. This marks an end of an era for the Police Service in this country as we had known it for the past 125 years. Hence forth, it will be political police service.
These are some of the principal issues that shrike my mind. But there is a whole range of other issues which will be too laborious reading in an article like this. It requires serious study by professionals and academics.
However, it must be said that though devolution of police power is not advocated, decentralization under the centralized command is desirable. Here too, much of the police command structure is decentralized already. Further decentralization of financial authority & accountability, and command over the decentralized specialized functional arms could be looked at. However, the co-ordination at the top and accountability to the IGP and by him to the Defence Ministry is a must for the proper maintenance of law and order in the country. This had so far been taken for granted because of its unitary structural excellence introduced by the British. The provincial DIG could certainly be answerable locally, to the Chief Minster on maintenance of order in the province, but the decision of posting Police officers from the rank of SSP downwards and their transfers and promotions could not be left to the politicized provincial agency. I such an event, the people who supported the opposition political party will have to live in another province, till they get their turn!
About the writer
Took a MPA degree from
He spent another year at the
Center for Criminal Justice of the Harvard University, on a Fulbright Research
Fellowship, researching on policing, and produced, in 1990, a research thesis
titled: A SEARCH FOR A NEW CONCEPT OF POLICING, FOR SRI LANKA.
He has addressed several
audiences in different parts of
He was engaged on further research on policing, in India, at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi, and at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 1992, and produced a research thesis titled: THE PROBLEM OF THE POLICE DEPARTMENT BEING AN INSTRUMENT OF THE GOVERNMENT.
He served Police Department
for 35 years and retired prematurely, on a matter of principle, in Nov. 1998,
as Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (Crimes, Criminal intelligence and
Related articles .....
Disclaimer: Comments, views and opinions contained in this website are personal reflections only and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sri Lanka News Online in Australia. Sri Lanka News Online in Australia offers the contents of this website without charge and gives links to other sites in good faith, but does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions expressed within this website or the links thus provided. Neither Sri Lanka News Online in Australia nor the individual authors of any material on this Web site accept responsibility for any loss or damage, however caused (including through negligence), which you may directly or indirectly suffer arising out of your use of or reliance on information contained on or accessed through this Web site. Responsibility and liability for using comments, views and opinions presented in this website rests solely with the user and not with Sri Lanka News Online in Australia. © 2009-2017
What is really happening in Sri Lanka today is that a blood thirsty racist group led by some misled Tamils called LTTE is terrorizing against the Government of Sri Lanka and its people irrespective of their ethnicity with an intention of carving out a separate state. There is no conflict as such between Sinhalese and Tamil communities in Sri Lanka. In fact, the majority of the Tamil community lives in peace and harmony among the Sinhalese population through out the country apart from the Northern part of Sri Lanka. The entire Sinhalese and the Muslims population who lived in the Northern area for centuries were either killed or chased away completely by the LTTE Tamil Tiger terrorists. At the moment, not a single Sinhalese or Muslim is living in Jaffna, but, many thousands of Tamils are living in Colombo in peace with the other communities. Based on 2001 census, the Tamil population in Colombo district is 12.1% (see 2001 census). So, who is discriminated ? Tamils or Sinhalese? Do you need more evidence ?
Back to the top
Sri Lanka News Online
Sri Lanka News Online
Recent LTTE Tamil Tiger Terrorist Atrocities in Sri Lanka
Past LTTE Tamil Tiger Terrorist Atrocities in Sri Lanka