Politics and organised crime | Sunday Observer

Politics and organised crime

Is the Nation, at 71 years, becoming a den of thieves and druggies? Our loud boasts of civilised nationhood and, pious speeches, ring hollow amid the mounting reports of huge new hauls of illegal narcotics and exposés of organised crime. And the Sri Lankan underworld seems to have come of age with mafia dons now partying in affluent Dubai along with corrupt bureaucrats and political henchmen.

Just last week, there were reports of several detections of illegal narcotics, some caches amounting to hundreds of millions of rupees in value. Of serious concern is the mounting evidence of increasing sale and consumption of ‘hard drugs’ in addition to the traditional indigenous herbal narcotics.

‘Hard drugs’ are those that are both highly addictive and cause illness and harmful social misbehaviour. Heroin, the powerfully addictive chemical derivative of the Ayurvedic herb opium, remains the hard drug of the urban poor and unemployed. Because it is very potent powder that is easily transportable, heroin is the cheapest hard drug available here. Heroin is also cheap because it is made within the South Asian region – mainly Afghanistan.

The ease of consumption – very small quantities are quickly consumed with rapid effects – makes heroin the choice of the urban poor and the unemployed. Despite heroic efforts over decades by numerous social action groups as well as governmental social services, the persistence of urban poverty and the lack of employment avenues for youth has seen a persistence of the heroin scourge.

There are many rehabilitation programs serving addicts but the lack of employment and the harsh living conditions to which rehabilitated heroin users return, as well as the easy availability of the drug, has meant that many addicts return to addiction. Addiction has a ripple effect that ravages family life, undermines household economies and livelihoods, and worse, offer examples of easy escapism for the younger generations to follow.

The mass addiction then generates a multi-billion rupee underworld industry and mafia-type organisational networks that, in turn, permeate and corrupt other sectors of society. The flood of illegal cash seduces law and order officialdom on the one hand and politicians and other power-brokers on the other.

The nexus between politics and organised crime has not only evolved over decades, but sometimes seems to influence the politics of individual legislators. Since gangsters are toughies for sale, there are many such toughies serving as bodyguards of politicians. At the same time outsize political donations help beef up the political campaigns of politicians leaving them indebted to nefarious underworld characters who then seek protection from the law.

If the guardians of the law resist bribery from gangsters and then bring them to book, there has been many a time when politicians have attempted to intervene to rescue such criminals.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s own growing social affluence has resulted in a growing market for expensive drugs like cocaine, also a highly addictive drug, imported from the distant Americas. The larger number of young people who can afford to party has also created a market for the pure chemical stimulants like methamphetamines which seem to be not immediately addictive but, in reality, can cause psychological addiction.

Just like heroin, cocaine and these chemical stimulants are not only addictive but also cause behavioural change that is sometimes violent and often socially disruptive. Personality changes wreak havoc in careers, marriages and parenting.

The ease of telecommunications is also helping the illegal narcotics industry. Again, in recent weeks, there have been a number of cases of social media convened parties where the revellers have indulged in various drugs, usually of the chemical kind.

Given the sheer scale of organised crime in the country today, it is time that political leaderships build the country’s organisational capacities to meet the challenge. Certainly the Police needs far more governmental support and substantial resource inputs. Those police officers who have served long and loyally in the fight against organised crime must not only be retained in service but also especially honoured for their dedication.

It is wholly inadequate to talk merely about meting out death sentences. The judicial killing (or even extra-judicial killing) of drug lords will not end the problem of drugs. As long as there is a market, new drug dealers will emerge. And as long as there are political sponsors, the dealers will continue to lord it over.

President Maithripala Sirisena is to be commended for his decision to grant SDIG H.R. Latiff a service extension this week, given the Police Special Task Force (STF) Commadant’s crucial role in combatting organized crimes and the illegal narcotic trade in recent times.

A concentrated national effort against organised crime must include a cleansing of political society of the nexus with crime syndicates. Political parties must demonstrate their vigilance against criminal influence by enforcing stricter standards of party membership and for candidacy for elected government. At the same time a far more rigorous and transparent processing of party financing must be enforced. The Election Commission could also make recommendations in this regard.