President’s ire
Posted on September 14th, 2018

The Editorial Courtesy The Island

Saturday 15th September, 2018


The police have made President Maithripala Sirisena see red. He has taken exception to the manner in which high ranking military officers are treated when allegations against them are probed and legal action instituted.

There have been quite a few ‘show arrests’ under the yahapalana government. Some cantankerous government politicians publicly predict arrests, and their predictions invariably come true. This has lent credence to the Opposition’s claim that the police work according to a political agenda, as in the past. The failure on the part of the present-day leaders to ensure that justice is seen to be done has helped even the crooks of the previous regime make themselves out to be victims of a political witch-hunt.

Last Sunday, the police themselves told the media that Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and former Navy Commander Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne would be questioned by the CID and arrested, the following day. He is alleged to have helped a Navy intelligence officer, wanted in connection with the abduction and murder of 11 youth, flee to Malaysia. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court asked the CID to arrest him if it had adequate evidence against him. However, much to the embarrassment of the guardians of the law, the CDS left for Mexico, on Monday, to represent Sri Lanka at an official event in that country. The TNA lost no time in claiming that Wijegunaratne would not have been able to leave the country without President Sirisena’s knowledge.

President Sirisena is reported to have declared at a hurriedly summoned Cabinet meeting, on Thursday, that the police should not drag cases against high ranking military officers and the duration of their detention should be reduced. All suspects, we believe, must be similarly treated regardless of their status. Nobody should be kept in the hellholes that are our remand prisons unnecessarily for political reasons or because the police are not capable of carrying out investigations into allegations against them expeditiously. Remand prisons are overcrowded and filthy, and detention therein is punishment enough, we reckon. The appalling conditions in those places cause unrest and even lead to riots, at times. They also function as training centres for young offenders who are kept with hardcore criminals.

The extremely low conviction rate, which remains around 4% means that most suspects are held on remand, in vain. This does not mean that all of the suspects taken into custody and produced in courts are innocent. The police are not competent enough to prove charges against them. Corruption in the police as well as other state institutions such as the Government Analyst’s Department has also contributed to this situation. During the last few months, two notorious suspects, indicted of drug trafficking, have been acquitted due to discrepancies in evidence against them.

There are many other issues that President Sirisena should address as regards the law enforcement and the dispensation of justice. The law of the land continues to be subjugated to the political needs of the government in power. It may be recalled that during a fragile ceasefire, under the UNP-led UNF administration (2001-2004), a group of armed LTTE combatants who moved into a government-held area and were arrested for committing a non-bailable offence were given bail and swapped for some soldiers the LTTE had abducted in retaliation. Mervyn Silva got away with a cheque fraud by just paying the state costs because the Rajapaksa government manipulated the Attorney General’s Department in his favour. Check kiting is an offence for which ordinary people get thrown behind bars. The present government helped former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran make good his escape so that he would not have to rat on the government politicians who got him to do what he did. The wheels of justice turn at a politically determined pace and the FCID (Financial Crimes Investigation Division) has become the Rottweiler of the government. The CID also acts in a similar manner and does a great deal of political work for the government in power.

If President Sirisena and other yahapalana leaders had made good on their pledge to restore the rule of law, depoliticise the police and render the justice dispensation system efficient, issues such as protracted detentions and the police dragging their feet on cases against anyone would not have arisen.

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