Debate on restoring security is diverted to suit political ends

Late Mr. Tarzie Vittachithe, winner of many prestigious awards for journalism, had a favourite saying that, “Everything is about something else”. In a similar manner, the parliamentary discussion on two no-confidence motions is also clearly about other issues, rather than the brutal carnage that took place on Easter Sunday and the causes thereof. The government is looking at these motions to prevent its fall from power, while the opposition is looking at them with the view to topple the government from power. No one is debating the factors that led to the dysfunctional nature of the Sri Lankan state, which has made any kind of attack against the people possible; no one is bothered about the manner in which the protection of the people became a matter of no consequence in Sri Lanka.

The Easter Sunday carnage gave rise to expectations that a serious review of what is wrong with the Sri Lankan state would now become a primary theme of parliamentary and societal discourse. The anarchy prevalent in the country made these attacks possible, and thus finding a solution to end the anarchy was hoped for.

This is an important concern for ordinary Sri Lankans. Parents throughout the country are worried about their children becoming victims of violence. The direct victims of the Easter Sunday attacks, who have lost their loved ones, are bewildered and are looking for policies to prevent future attacks as the minimum compensation for their loss. A common cry that can be heard over and over again is, “What happened to us should not happen to anyone else again”.

The failure of the security system in effectively making use of the prior information of threats is not the cause of Sri Lanka’s tragic situation. That is only a symptom. The dysfunctionality of the political system and entire manner in which political authority is exercised, or not exercised, is Sri Lanka’s key concern.

It is therefore necessary to examine the basic ingredient of a functional state that is able to generate and preserve an effective security system. In today’s modern circumstances, the most important institution for people’s security is an effectively functioning policing system. That policing in Sri Lanka has become a lost cause is not a matter of controversy; it is well known and often lamented. The process leading to the current dismal state of policing in the country is also well documented and publicised. Unfortunately, policy makers of all the governments in recent times have ignored this valuable analysis. Instead, they have tried to exploit the collapsed policing system to their own advantage. To practice extreme forms of corruption, it is also necessary to make the policing system equally corrupt and ineffective.

The policing system is a monotonic system. It can operate on the basis of command responsibility exercised from top to bottom. The pathetic situation in Sri Lanka is that several DIGs and high ranking officers themselves are in jail, awaiting trials for serious crimes. This has not disturbed anybody, and no actions to correct the situation have ever been taken. Thus, the law enforcement mechanism in the country has broken from the very top.

When such a critical situation exists in terms of the country’s premier law enforcement agency, how could any effective security arrangements exist to protect the people? If anything needs parliamentary and public debate with the view to create a foundation for a strong security strategy, it is the country’s policing system. As bringing the policing system within the rule of law framework is disadvantageous to political interests, such a suggestion is unlikely to come from any political parties. Therein lies the contradiction between the need for an effective security strategy, and the nature of the policing desired by politicians and other powerful persons.

Equally important for a functional state and its security system, is a politically impartial Prosecutor’s Department (AG Department). Once again, there is a national consensus that this institution is also hindered from acting within a rule of law framework. Ambiguous prosecutors seeking higher positions in the judiciary go behind those who hold political power. It was not long ago that President Maithripala Sirisena himself revealed how two prosecutors approached him to get a higher position in the Supreme Court.

In the modern security system, the prosecutor’s role is a vital one. The criminals should fear the prosecutors because they will not allow lawbreakers to live without being brought before the court. Fear of conviction and certainty of punishment are proven methods to deter crime and control violence. It is also the prosecutor who inspires confidence among the people that they live in a system that is able to protect them.

The other important institution in security and protection is the court. It is in court, that citizens can challenge the neglect of the executive to protect them. If the courts impartially and competently handle peoples’ complaints, much of the possibilities of large scale violence could be effectively reduced and even eliminated. Unfortunately, due to long years of neglect, Sri Lankan courts have largely lost their ability for protection. For criminals, such a situation paves the way for chaos and violence. What they could do under such circumstances was demonstrated at the Easter Sunday carnage.

When these institutions fail due to the neglect of those who are supposed to finance and maintain them, then there is a classic case of security failure. That is what has been happening and will continue to happen in Sri Lanka, unless newly awakened societal forces push this discourse to the forefront.

When parliamentary debates are conducted within the framework of a dysfunctional state, these debates only manifest the absurdities of the situation. The actors who take part in this debate do not even realize how ridiculous they are.

It is necessary to identify where the security crisis lies and what the solutions are. The military can help to an extent, but bringing security to the people is a much larger and deeper issue. This debate should take place as soon as possible, to enjoy a period of peace and security.

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