Influx of lawless elements from outside aggravated Kandy riots - Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara | Sunday Observer

Influx of lawless elements from outside aggravated Kandy riots - Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara

The new Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara says, the tense situation in Digana and the suburbs would not have aggravated if not for the influx of lawless elements from outside. A minor incident spread like wildfire largely due to the disinformation campaign launched by certain sections of the social media. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, the tense situation could be controlled as the law enforcement authorities acted in a responsible manner. Of course, some damage to the property had been done due to these incidents and the pain and anguish suffered by the Muslims is much more. Investigations are on, to ascertain how the Police reacted to control the situation.

Q. Now, how is the situation in the Kandy area? Do you believe an unseen political hand was behind the incidents?

At present, the tense situation which prevailed in Digana and suburbs has subsided. During the last few days, no special incidents were reported. Now, investigations are being conducted on this incident. What we witnessed was that some outside groups were also behind these riots. It is obvious, the incidents had been planned in a very organized manner. We are now investigating and questioning those involved in the incidents.

Q. There were allegations that the Police were slow to react to the riots in Digana and Kandy. Will you be investigating this to uncover what happened and what your plans are, to bring more professionalism to the Police force?

There were some complaints against the Police. The President has already appointed a Committee to look into this. In addition, I have also instructed my Ministry officials to conduct an investigation and submit a report to me. But, there are two aspects. If the Police used its maximum power, perhaps, it would have resulted in some deaths and the tense situation would have aggravated. The tense situation could be controlled as the law enforcement authorities acted in a responsible manner. Only two deaths were reported following the incident. One person had died due to inhaling toxic smoke while the other died due to an explosion. A report in this connection has been called from the Government Analyst. Anyway, we were able to minimize the gravity of the incidents. Some damage to property has been caused due to these incidents, while the pain and anguish suffered by the Muslims is much more. We will investigate how the Police reacted to control the situation. Minimum damage to property in some other areas following these incidents, had also been reported.

Q. What led the Government to ban some social media, including Facebook following the unrest in Kandy? The Opposition said, the Government planned to continue the ban on Facebook to suppress anti-Government propaganda on the internet. What is your response to this allegation?

We had to ban some social media for a few days as some people had used it to promote hatred and create riots in Digana and suburbs. As a result, the situation was reported to the entire world creating a very bad impression on Sri Lanka. Only less than one percent of people use social media to create disharmony and hatred among communities, others use it for business purposes, studies or to communicate with friends or relatives. Consequently, a huge injustice has been caused to 99 percent of those who use social media for legitimate purposes.

Social media poses no problem to the Government. It even attacks the President and Prime Minister. It is the Opposition which uses the social media to criticize the President, Prime Minister and the Government, in an adverse manner. The fact is, certain sections deliberately attempt to use social media to destabilize the country and tarnish her image internationally. That was the reason which led the Government to temporarily ban some of the social media.

Q. There is a belief that the crime rate has gone up drastically during the last few years and also, the underworld has become more active during the same period. What are your plans to address the crime situation and control the underworld?

We are in the process of controlling the underworld. Some of the underworld characters have fled the country while others are operating from prisons. We have already taken appropriate measures, but we have to ensure the confidentiality of such measures. I do not think there is a high increase in crimes, rather, it has come down.

Q. What are your plans to modernize the Police force which is still using very old vehicles, communication equipment and other outdated apparatus? Any modernization would have to be in line with other international Police forces?

We have already ordered new vehicles for the Police and steps will be taken to introduce new communication systems. It is too early to comment on other areas. We have to do a comprehensive study and gather information from relevant authorities to launch a modernization scheme to suit present day needs.

Q. Drugs have become a huge problem for society, will you be proposing any new measures and laws to curb the illegal narcotic trade?

Already, laws are there in the statute book to tackle the drug menace. The issue is, now drugs are smuggled into the country under different names. At present, well organized drug barons are active in the smuggling network. The Police and other law enforcement authorities are on the alert to apprehend the kingpins. The biggest haul of Ganja, especially, Kerala Ganja was seized in the recent past. The campaign to seize drugs is continuing successfully, and we will further improve it to nip this social menace in the bud.

Q. The Police have a bad reputation as one of the most corrupt Government organizations. What are the steps you will be taking to reduce or eliminate corruption in the Police Force among all ranks?

Even before I assumed the Law and Order portfolio, the Government had taken steps to address this situation. In addition to the Rs.10,000 pay hike given to public servants, the Police have been given a 40 percent pay hike. Our first step is to strengthen the economy of the Police personnel. Now, we are formulating an anti-corruption program, not only for the Police, but for the entire public service. The Law and Order Ministry, Public Administration Ministry, Bribery Commission, Auditor General’s Department, Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office have jointly prepared a sort of format to be introduced to all public sector institutions.

Q. There are allegations that investigations with regard to the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda and the killings of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga and rugby player Wasim Thajudeen are moving very slowly. What are your plans to expedite these investigations and bring the culprits to book?

The officials have already made a briefing to me in this regard and I will have a comprehensive discussion to expedite these investigations. If there are any loopholes, steps will be taken to rectify them.

Q. President Maithripala Sirisena in agreement with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has declared a state of emergency following the incidents in Digana. Are you in agreement with this move, and how it affects the country which is still trying to restore peace and reconciliation after 30 years of conflict?

This tragic incident occurred when we were in the process of promoting peace and reconciliation. The entire world community is looking at us and a wrong impression has been created following this incident. At present, the incident has settled but we have to complete ongoing investigations. I hope we would be able to lift the emergency soon by ensuring the right of the people to live freely and peacefully.

Q. Several UNP Ministers and State Ministers have told the media that they are unhappy with the recent Cabinet reshuffle and there are apparently moves to oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from the UNP leadership. What is your comment on these developments?

Normally, such issues crop up following a defeat at an election. The changes are needed, both, within the Government and the UNP. Now the changes have been made in the Government.

Similarly, some changes should be made within the UNP as well, and we have proposed those changes. It would be difficult for us to face the next election without making changes.

Q. What do you see as the reason for the LG poll result where both main parties experienced a setback? What are the lessons the UNP can draw from this experience?

There are several contributory causes. We gave a pledge to the people on January 8, 2015 that we would bring culprits to book. Despite the fact that legal action is being taken against the wrongdoers, we should expedite the ongoing investigations.

It is not only the Law and Order Ministry but some changes have to be made within the judicial system as well. At present, the Justice Minister is taking action in this regard.

The other is the problem faced by farmers, such as, the shortage of fertilizer. Of course, there are some issues relating to the cost of living.

In addition, various media speculations were launched against the Government. All these contributed to the setback suffered by the two major parties at the recent LG polls. We have to take stock of this situation and initiate a suitable action plan to produce immediate results.

Q. Many observers say, the National Unity Government will not last very long given the present political turmoil. What is your opinion in this regard? Will the National Unity Government continue till 2020? If so, what are the shortcomings that should be rectified?

The people have given us a strong signal at the recently concluded LG polls. The shortcomings in the Government and the wrong decisions taken need to be corrected soon.

We should take immediate measures to overcome these shortcomings and change direction, to ensure victory.

Q. After the UNP has apparently given up on the No Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Joint Opposition has taken it over and is trying to get signatures. Do you think, this would come to pass?

We, as a party should be well organized leaving no room for any rifts. Where changes are necessary, it should be carried out within the party. We learnt a bitter lesson in 1993 after Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali quit the party.

Q. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has gained popularity within just 15 months, what are the steps being taken by the UNP to counter their rise?

The SLPP or Pohottuwa has gained the same electoral result they had in 2015. It was the very same SLFP votes that had gone to the Pohottuwa this time.

It was the very persona of Mahinda Rajapaksa that had mattered in the success of Pohottuwa at the recent LG polls. Therefore, we need not panic unnecessarily over these issues.

Q. Do you think reforms will be necessary to revive the fortunes of the party? If so what kind of reforms are you anticipating?

We should not speak in public on the reforms desired. Any changes to the party structure should be resolved by stakeholders through consensus.

Q. The pro-Rajapaksa faction is calling for an election and the removal of the current Prime Minister after the LG election. Do you think the National Unity Government will continue till 2020?

The people have given us a mandate for five years. Whatever the hue and cry made by certain parties, this Government should continue its full term.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is a veteran politician who has the potential to interact with the international community and bring dividends to the country.

In such circumstances, we need him to continue as Prime Minister until the expiry of this Government’s tenure.