DEVOLUTION OF POLICE POWERS TO THE PROVINCES : A POLICE PERSPECTIVE
Posted on January 2nd, 2017

Gamini Gunawardane  Retd. Snr. DIG (published in’ The Island’ of 27/12/2016) 

Proposal to devolve Police Powers to the Provinces is back on stage. Under the Yahapalana government’s constitutional reforms project, the strict implementation of the provisions for devolution of Police Powers, under the 13th Amendement and more, is proposed by the Sub-Committee on Police, Law and Order setting out how it would be done. The purport of this article is to warn our people that these recommendations would lead the country up a blind alley leading to further confusion in law and order maintenance. In short it will spell disaster both for policing and the Country.

Undermining the Unitary comcept.

Conceptually, implementation of this provision under the 13th Amendment undermines the very essence of the unitary concept spelt out in Article 2 of the ’78 Constitution, because unitary policing of the country is the main instrument that characterizes the unitary hold of the government, of the whole country. That devolution of power/power sharing with the Provinces within a unitary state is mere hogwash.  It is clear that the proponents of the new constitutional reforms know that. This is an execise in dcieviing the People.

Though J.R.Jayewardane was intimidated to submit to the 13th Amendment in July 1987, he did not devolve Police powers to the provinces because he knew that it would mean the disintegration of the territorial integrity of this country. Neither did the other four Presidents who followed him. This is because they would all have understood that they would have lost control of the country if they devolved the police powers to the arbitrarily demarcated Provinces as, it is the unitary police model that under-pins their unitary command of the entire country. For, Law and Order of the country is the primary responsibility of the President/Parliament to the people of this country. This is because preservation of order is the pre-condition for a country to function smoothly. How could the President or Parliament possibly discharge this primary responsibility when the Police chiefs of the Provinces report to the respective Chief Ministers of different political parties who are not in turn responsible to him/them? This lack of cohesion is a sure prescription for disorder and havoc. This factor becomes critical in a crisis.                             

Thus, though the government insists that the concept of the Unitary character of the state will not be touched, the effective devolution of Police Powers as intended in the proposed constitutional reforms demolishes the unitary foundation of the constitution from within. The ‘unitary’ label will be a mere embellishment, a sheer eyewash.

Demolition of the Police Command structure

Whatever the criticisms there are against the Police, the secret of its efficient functioning as an organization is due to its well-oiled Unitary Command Structure that held together for 150 years, and withstood three insurrections and a conspiracy to overthrow the government.  It is built on a fine conceptual organizational foundation with a sound accountability chain. It may be one reason that it is consistently attacked by the political authority to undermine it. (The recent controversial telephone call to the IGP by a government big wig is the latest example.)  Although the British  Colonial Government arbtrarily devided country into Provinces to suite their requirment which has led us into the present  chaos, their decision to establish an unitary policing model fitted this country because of its smallness and since it is an island of 25,000 sq. miles.

The efficiency of the Unitary Command system was seen last year in the gang rape case of a school girl in Kayts. The fleeing main accused who lived in France was caught at the Katunayake Airport overnight together with the video recording of the incident, How could this have been possible without a well co-ordinated unitary command structure in action?

The Police Command Structure consists of two arms, Functional Command and Territorial Command under the IG Police who is responsible for the effective policing of the whole country. Functional Command consists of the Administrative, Personnel, Logistics and the many specialized and technical support services which is the machinery that runs the police organization coherently.The Territorial Command is the crime fighting, order maintenance and people serving arm of the police. Because it is this arm that is outwardly visible and is flamboyant, the politicians in their naiveté are always salivating to get control over this arm, under their devolution fascination. They do not understand that it is the smooth co-ordination of these two arms that delivers its service efficiently. They do not understand that it is the efficacy of the unitary command structure that provides the functional support  to the Territorial Command by arms such as 119, Automated Fingerprint Identification System, Kennels Division Riot Police and Command Control Room, STF and many others that provide silent support to the fighting fronts to facilitate efficient service delivery. This is how the total machinery works. These are all time tested methods of policing which is being taken for granted without understanding how this system worked for 150 years.

When the British colonial government arbitrarily divided the country first into 5 Provinces and later to 9 Provinces for their administrative convenience, in their wisdom they maintained the police as a unitary structure to ensure an effective and uniform Law Enforcement System. Though we may throw away the colonial methods that are inimical to us, we do not need to throw away what is good. We need to discriminate to absorb what is good for us. Similarly when the Indians forced a Province based system against our wishes, it was to appease Prabhakaran, to wean him away from Terrorism, to offer an arrangement they thought may be acceptable to him, which he saw through and  rejected. Here, what the Indians offered was modeled on their own quasi federal system which they mistakenly thought could be applicable in a country where even  the smallest Indian state is larger than this entire county. How can it be operated here? Now that Prabhakaran is no more and there is no Terrorism either, it will be foolish to adapt a system designed to meet a situation that is no longer existent.

Today, with the revolutionary development of the road, railway and Air transport system, telephone and IT communication systems daily advancing at rapid rate, crime and criminals and their methods too are advancing equally fast. We are told that the world is daily shrinking into a ‘global village’. How can we now go back to an arrangement based on a Provincial division made in1833, when more decentralization is the answer? There is no way now to micro manage systems when we are in an integrated system. We need to plan for the future, not for the past.

Under the proposed devolution concept, National Police with IG as the head and 9 other Provincial Police organizations headed by a DIG each will be reporting not to the IG but to the Chief Minister. National Police is going to be only the Functional Command under the IG and possibly the Metropolitan area police of Colombo. Under the latest recommendations, there is going to be 9 Police Ordinances and possibly 9 IGPs, all for this small country!

Whenever the National Police needs to do any work in the Provinces, those officers will have to be in civil clothing. This arrangement removes the present Police Ordinance enabling provision to the effect that any police officer is empowered to function in any part of the country at any time. How would this facilitate the Intelligence collection function which is the mainstay of National Security?

National Police Commission

Besides, in this anomalous situation, what will be the function of the National Police Commission in the context of 9 Provincial Police Commissions in the rest of the country? The NPC thus will be a misnomer looking over only the functional Command and the Metropolitan area police which is not the purpose for which it was created. It will have no say over the Provinces. And probably will be redundant.

Provincial policing

Under these circumstances the policing the provinces will be the responsibility of each Province. They will be in watertight compartments.as per the political segregation. But the real situation on the ground with the rapidly expanding physical communication, especially propelled by the super high ways system etc. criminals and crime will be moving across the different Provincial entities while the police will be hamstrung in responding to cross boarder crime every time they want to move into other provinces needing permission of the relevant Chief Minsters. Thus the criminals will have a carnival, especially now, enjoying the patronage of the local Chief Ministers! Thus this chaotic situation in ineffective policing will be promoting lawlessness in the country over which there will be no collective responsibility. The final victim will be the helpless citizen who is already in a mess due to misgovernanace.

Thus, the dismantling of a well-functioning time tested organization merely to accomomdate the ‘aspiration’ of a bunch of politicians obsessed with a misconceived notion of a fictitious ‘homeland’, is a sure prescription for a disaster.

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