Reforming Police and Prisons services | Sunday Observer

Reforming Police and Prisons services

There are many things wrong with our State institutions, from corruption to lethargy. While it will not be possible to rectify them overnight, a start has to be made somewhere. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has promised to cleanse public entities and to turn them into efficient ventures that serve the public 24/7.

After his much-publicised dressing down of Central Bank and State Bank officials a couple of weeks ago, which we commented on editorially, his attention has been drawn to two of the most important public institutions – Police and Prisons. That these institutions are hotbeds of corruption have been known for years, if not decades.

But the even bigger issue is that two of the very institutions tasked with crime prevention have been in bed with criminal elements all this time. The police-prison-drug-crime nexus is not a strange phenomenon, but it has grown to stratospheric proportions in recent years. It is also a well-known fact that some Provincial and Local Government level politicians are in cahoots with criminal and narcotics enterprises. This has perhaps prevented any effective and impartial investigation into this ring of crime and vice.

It was in this context that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa spoke of the need to cleanse these two vital institutions of such corrupt individuals. In this mission he has found a committed ally in Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne, who did not mince his words when he met senior prison and police officials on separate occasions. These words have since been buttressed by Attorney General Dappula de Livera, who visited the prisons and saw for himself the pathetic situation.

It has long been known that many underworld gangsters and criminals operate with impunity from within the prison walls, using mobile phones smuggled inside with the help of corrupt jailors. In fact, for some criminals the prison has become a home away from home that guarantees protection from fellow criminals and rival gangs on the loose and a luxury base from which to direct crimes including contract killings.

Indeed, TV channels recently showed a cell occupied by a leading convicted criminal now biding his time in the Negombo Prison, replete with a fully stocked refrigerator and a luxury bed. It was from such a cell in another prison that the slaying of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya was ordered 16 years ago. A raid conducted at the Negombo prison revealed that almost every prisoner had access to a mobile phone and multiple SIM cards, which had been used to contact their compatriots outside. The situation at other prisons would be the same, if not worse. And there is a steady supply of narcotics inside all prisons.

But even the corruption within the prison walls pales into second place when one considers the rampant corruption among the men in Khaki. It is endemic in that Department, from the traffic cops to senior positions. In the words of the Defence Secretary, “Senior officers in charge of provinces should be ashamed of wearing their uniform if drug trafficking, extortion, underworld activities, illegal logging, illicit breweries, brothels, illegal sand mining and other illegal activities were taking place on a massive scale in their divisions”. It is clear that none of these activities could take place without the blessings of the Police officers or to give some benefit of the doubt to the police, their indifference. In either case, it is a telling indictment on the police service that had been established more than 150 years ago to protect the public from all types of crime and vice. He advised the police officers not to consider the police profession as yet another job as the lives of the people are in their hands.

One indication of the extent of corruption in certain branches of the Police is the recent arrest of more than 10 Police Narcotics Bureau officials by the CID probing links between the narcotics trade and law enforcement agencies. These men had amassed millions of rupees in ill-gotten wealth, vehicles, lands and other luxuries by helping the drug lords to carry on with their sordid trade unchallenged. They may have lined up their purses, but at what cost? These illicit drugs are destroying our youth, the very future of the Nation.

Salvaging the reputation of both the Prisons and Police Services has become an urgent task given the extent of revelations made by the President, the Defence Secretary and the Attorney General, which have since been reinforced by the detections at prisons and arrests of the PNB personnel. As the Attorney General pointed out, the bigger danger here is that the public could ultimately lose their faith in the entire justice system, of which the prisons and police are an integral part, if the status quo remains. Several people who had written to the Defence Secretary on corruption in the Police have expressed the same sentiments.

The Government should appoint two Presidential Commissions to probe corruption in these two services. In the meantime, any bad eggs must be investigated by independent and impartial authorities and purged. Intellectuals, academics and members of the public including retired police and prison officials could also be invited to give their views on eliminating corruption in the Police and Prisons. Both these vital institutions are tasked with making the society a better place to live in but it is apparent they have failed to do so. It is essential to probe why and take corrective action without any further delay.