Anxieties surround police promotions | Sunday Observer

Anxieties surround police promotions

Many have also sought the help of courts to obtain their promotions by filing fundamental rights petitions.  File pic: AFP
Many have also sought the help of courts to obtain their promotions by filing fundamental rights petitions. File pic: AFP

Police Orders (formerly known as Departmental Orders) A-5 and A-6 clearly set out the promotion scheme for the 85,000 strong cadres of the Sri Lanka Police. But for decades the granting of promotions within the Sri Lanka Police has been ad hoc and haphazard while the promotion scheme has been treated merely as a suggestion.

The failure to grant promotions according to an accepted scheme by officials had inadvertently left nearly 31,500 police officers, ranging from the rank of Police Constable to Chief Inspector, without timely promotions and their careers stagnant. Police Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara confirmed that the massive backlog over the years was caused due to the failure to implement a proper scheme for promotions.

But in June this year, President Maithripala Sirisena, taking up the issue, promised to address the grievance of these Police officers. The promise was that the delayed promotions will be granted after the formulation of a special scheme based on seniority.

As a result, this week, after much haggling between the National Police Commission (NPC), National Salaries and Cadre Commission (NSCC) and the Ministry of Finance, a total of 5,824 Police officers were promoted to the next rank with effect from January 1, 2019, as the first phase of a three-phase program. This included 4,544 Police constables, 30 Women Police Constables, 169 Police Sergeants, 15 Women Police Sergeants, 878 Sub-Inspectors, 147 Women Sub Inspectors and 41 Inspectors. Among those promoted, some had been awaiting their promotion for nearly 16 years.

While the prayers of these officers have now been answered, nevertheless the fate of nearly 25,000 others remains in limbo. Many continue to be dejected and disillusioned with no prospects of career advancement. According to the special scheme implemented, the second and third phases are set to take place in 2020 and 2021. It appears they wait will only continue.

A majority of Police officers currently in service have never experienced timely promotions. For them, the fiasco of delayed promotions has existed in the Police since time immemorial.

According to SP Ruwan Gunasekara, vacancies in the next rank must exist for those eligible to be promoted. “For example, when there are nearly 12,000 eligible Police Constables and only around 500 Police Sergeant vacancies, issues obviously arise,” he pointed out.

But also pointing out how timely promotions are granted in the Armed forces for each intake, a Police officer questioned as to why authorities have failed to implement a similar scheme for the country’s law enforcement agency.

According to many officers the Sunday Observer spoke to, the issues pertaining to promotions worsened when, in 2006, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government decided to absorb officers from the Police Reserve Force to the normal cadre based on an election promise in his manifesto, the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’.

“When this happened, due to the absorption, the regular cadre force multiplied while the number of vacancies remained the same,” a senior officer pointed out. Matters only took a turn for the worse when these absorbed reserve force officers were given priority over regular cadre officers when granting promotions. “In a highly irregular practice, the reserve service period of these officers now absorbed to the regular cadre were counted when granting timely promotions on nearly two occasions to the severe disadvantage to the regular force officers who were next in line to be promoted in spite their seniority,” he explained.

According to sources, as a result, the competition for promotions increased, leading to some officers seeking political help to rise within the ranks, while it also caused conflicts within the force. For example, when applications for promotions were called in 2003 from the rank of Sub-Inspector to Inspector, a group of Sub-Inspectors, who had sat and already passed an examination to be promoted, filed a Fundamental Rights petition against the move in fear that they may lose out on being promoted.

Many have also sought the help of courts to obtain their promotions by filing fundamental rights petitions. The NPC and the Police have both failed to give a satisfactory resolution to their grievances, the petitioners of the plethora of legal cases allege. Many felt the recent promotions do not undo the injustices faced by them. “Some were even granted promotions recently despite them being way down in the seniority list and having only completed eight years in the rank of Inspector,” one officer alleged.

While, in a rare win, nearly 40 Chief Inspectors were promoted to the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in December last year after the court ruled in their favour, many other cases such as SC FR 348/13 filed by 23 Inspectors seeking promotions due continue to languish in the country’s court system.

While the issues of promotions may somewhat seem resolved, Sri Lanka Police Relatives Guild, however, expressed their displeasure at the decision to hand out promotions in three phases. According to the Secretary of the guild formed to protect the rights of Police officers, Prasad Wedage, the breaking down of the promotions to three phases is problematic.

“Some of these officers are due to retire within the next few years,” he explained adding that therefore some may lose out if promotions are handed next only in 2020 and 2021. “This is a grave injustice to them as they have waited over a decade for this,” he added. “With the political situation unstable, will they even get these promotions in the coming years as being promised?” he questioned.

According to the NPC, the special scheme which will grant promotions to 31,500 officers is a one-off situation. While the original promotion scheme will remain according to NPC Secretary Nihal Weerasinghe, the NPC this week decided to issue a directive to the IGP which will normalize and rectify the issues pertaining to promotions going forward. “Going forward every year by the end of December the IGP will have to identify the vacancies within the cadre and inform the NPC,” he said, adding that these will be filled by March 31 of the same year. “This will be informed to the IGP and it is expected it will rectify the current issues,” he added.