Real reason for opposing Virtuous Society Task Force is extracting a pound of flesh | Sunday Observer

Real reason for opposing Virtuous Society Task Force is extracting a pound of flesh

21 June, 2020

Certain folk have been whipping themselves into a state of apoplexy over the recent appointment by the President of a Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society.

The relevant Gazette notification makes it clear that the Task Force would deal primarily with the drug menace and the illegal activities around prisons. Anyone who could read, should have a cursory glance at the Gazette itself and satisfy themselves of this reality.

However, there have been howls of protest in certain quarters claiming the mandate of the Task Force is over-broad (whatever that means.)

Apart from the sections dealing with drugs and prisons, the Gazette contains a Clause that deals with illegal activities of social groups which are violating the law. Note that the reference is to ‘groups violating the law’, and ‘the law’ could only be defined as the existing law that prevails in the country that’s codified in the Penal Code or other such enactments.

The Clause makes it clear also that those who engage in illegal activity would be challenged and their activities curbed.


For good measure, the following is the relevant excerpt from the Gazette:

As the members of the Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society and to execute the below-mentioned tasks:

1. Taking necessary immediate steps to curb the illegal activities of social groups which are violating the law which is emerging as harmful to the free and peaceful existence of society at present in some places of the country

2. Take necessary measures for prevention from drug menace, prevent entry of drugs from abroad through ports and airports and to fully eradicate drug trafficking in the country and to prevent other social illnesses caused by drug abuse

3. Take necessary measures to take legal action against persons responsible for conducting illegal and antisocial activities in Sri Lanka while locating in other countries

4. To investigate and prevent any illegal and antisocial activities in and around prisons.

If the Gazette deals with drugs, prisons and the illegal activities of social groups, why are certain people getting their various under-garments in a twist over what the Task Force is tasked with?

Are they fans of illegal social activity? What’s the complaint about the mandate being over-broad, when it covers illegal activity as defined by existing law, and not legal activity?


Apparently, the concerns as alleged, are over the fear that the Task Force may bypass other institutional mechanisms. The Gazette states that the Task Force may investigate and issue directions as may be necessary in connection with the functions entrusted to it.

Also, to quote verbatim from the document:

The Presidential Task Force for the Establishment of a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society may issue instructions or request that all Government Officers and other persons requesting assistance in the provision of services comply with such instructions.

For all intents and purposes this is a regular Gazette that states the Task Force is mandated to investigate and issue directions within the purview of its mandate, to curb certain illegal activities.

The President was elected for, among other things, ensuring that the drug menace and the underworld menace is eradicated. He has made sure that ancillary to the institutional mechanisms that are in place to address these issues, he has an additional Task Force that can formulate policy and exercise oversight.

It’s what the people wanted, and extraordinary measures were called for to deal with extraordinarily vexed issues. The President wants to control the drug menace with a body that has teeth, and also understands Law Enforcement. There are no better persons suited to such a task than military personnel. There are also two senior police officers in the Task Force, a fact often not mentioned.

But, the activist lobby seems to want an administration that doesn’t take proactive measures. This way, they could hope for calamities such as the Easter Sunday attacks. That’s what regular law enforcement does. It encourages atrophy, and systemic inertia.

Government appointed Task Forces are designed to pro actively create policy and monitor progress in key areas of governance that need special attention. These Task Forces are meant to bypass the atrophy and overcome systemic inertia.

For example, the following account of Task Forces appointed by the Boris Johnson government in the UK are relevant while we are on the subject:

On May 13, 2020, the Cabinet Office UK announced the creation of five new ‘roadmap task forces – committees intended to help guide certain sectors of the UK economy out of the Covid-19 induced lockdown. These new ministerial task forces will each focus on:

Pubs and restaurants (led by BEIS).

Non-essential retail, including salons (led by BEIS).

Membership of these task forces will be decided on by the relevant secretary of state. Although some have started to announce lists of members, for example, the recreation and leisure roadmap task force led by DCMS[5], exact membership for most remains unclear; it is likely they will include ministers, government officials.’


So there. Government appointed Task Forces consisting of government officials are entirely democratically legit, and are common in democracies that are considered advanced, at least certainly by those who have been critical of President Rajapaksa’s Virtuous Society Task Force.

Now that legality and issues with regard to mandate and scope of the new Presidential Task Force are out of the way, the other major line of criticism can also be considered. The new Task Force is faulted for being manned by ‘military officers who have been involved in the military campaign against the LTTE.’

It’s now clear that the activists’ creation of a bogey of an authoritarian military Task Force that hunts down opponents of the government, is a deliberate move to fool civilians into thinking that the Task Force has sinister motives of curbing democratic protest and civilian dissent.

The hilarious truth is that the Task Force has nothing to do with those issues. It’s a subject-specific Force that is tasked with combatting the drug menace, initiating prison reform and curbing underworld activity.

Its modus operandi to achieve these goals is within the law, and there is absolutely nothing that suggests anything to the contrary in the Gazette. The document states that Government officials should cooperate with the Task Force to achieve its objectives.

Now, what’s wrong with State officialdom cooperating with Law Enforcement in curtailing certain societal ills in a democracy? The Task Force would have to, apart from formulating policy, operate through normal channels of Law Enforcement. Nowhere in the Gazette has it been said that the Task Force will maintain its own gun toting militias or anything of that sort!

A Task Force that’s essentially focussed on matters of Law Enforcement is led by military men. That’s axiomatic — it’s how it should be, and that’s not rocket science.

Those in opposition say that the Task Force’s appointment is executive action without legislative oversight. Are these people not aware that there is an election in the offing? It’s all planned — and if they were on planet Mars — psst — it’s being held on August 5, 2020. Meanwhile, the President is doing what he’s supposed to do in areas of policy implementation.

But apparently some people don’t want the drug menace combatted, and the underworld liquidated.

They want mothers bemoaning the loss of their sons to drug mafiosi. They want the underworld terrorising businessmen and demanding ransom from the victims they terrorise.

They want all these things to happen in the name of democracy. They’d prefer anarchy rather than allow President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to succeed. The people gave him a mandate to flush out the underworld and eradicate the drug menace. But some people’s version of democracy is that their view should prevail over the people’s mandate.

So they say let there be drugs. Let there be an underworld. Let there be dysfunctional prisons. Let there be chaos. If all these things prevail in society, they would have extracted their pound of flesh from the duly elected President.