by Our Defence Affairs Editor
It is not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles. – Niccolo Machiavelli
The current power struggle within the Sri Lanka Police is a cause for concern and highlights the need for stability within one of the largest state institutions and prime law enforcement agencies. The bitter game that has always existed within the police force has now reached a pathetic level, with seniors fighting like “kilkenny cats“. With the current Inspector General of Police (IGP) set to retire on March 20th, the appointment of a new IGP by the constitutional council is impending and the situation is becoming increasingly critical. However, there is uncertainty surrounding whether the current IGP will receive an extension or if a new man will come to administrate the police.
According to the Police Ordinance, No. 16 of 1865, it is the President who has the power to nominate the new IGP based on recommendations. As we approach this critical moment, it is important to take a brief retrospective look at the journey of the current IGP, Chandana Wickramaratne. He assumed duties as the 35th IGP in Sri Lanka in November 2020, after briefly serving as the Acting IGP. He was appointed at a time when Sri Lanka was navigating through one of the most difficult periods in its recent history.
The Easter Sunday bombings, carried out by lunatics who distorted globally accepted religious principles, claimed the lives of over 260 unarmed civilians, including foreigners. After working closely with local law enforcement agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States conducted an exhaustive investigation and determined the cause behind the attacks and true culprits but several NGOs, social groups, and particular political parties continued to promote baseless conspiracy theories through their rhetoric.
The response of society and responsible parties to the Easter Sunday bombings and subsequent violence targeting Muslims was not only pathetic but also showed the immaturity of our society. However, the police force under the leadership of Wickramaratne was able to manage the situation without disastrous consequences. This was a testament to his leadership skills and the professionalism of the police force. His leadership was again put to the test when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country. The entire country was put on lockdown, and the police were left with the task of enforcing the lockdown and assisting in tracing infectious patients. They worked tirelessly, from police constable to IGP, to quarantine those who were infected with the help of health officials and provide essential supplies to those who were quarantined in their homes or elsewhere. Many police officers were unable to visit their loved ones for months. Despite facing tremendous difficulties, the police were able to keep the country stable during this exceptional time.
After the pandemic, the country started witnessing a series of protests that eventually led to the ousting of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The pandemic had turned into an economic plague, and people were forced to stand in long queues for daily essentials. During this precarious time, every person in a police uniform may not have been perfect, but most of them remained committed to maintaining social stability and ensuring law and order in the country.
In addition to the challenges faced by the police force in Sri Lanka, it is also important to note the challenges faced by individual police officers. Policemen and policewomen are often underpaid and overworked, with long hours and difficult working conditions. They are also often subject to verbal and physical abuse from members of the public, which can have a detrimental effect on their mental health and well-being. Another issue that the police force in Sri Lanka has faced is a lack of diversity. The force is predominantly male and Sinhalese, which can lead to a lack of trust and cooperation from other ethnic and religious groups. The current IGP has made efforts to address this issue by promoting officers from different backgrounds and implementing policies to ensure that the force is more representative of the wider community.
Despite these efforts, there is still much work to be done to improve the police force in Sri Lanka. The appointment of a new IGP will be an important opportunity to continue these efforts and address the challenges faced by the police force. It is essential that the new IGP is appointed based on merit and that they are committed to upholding the principles of public policing, as outlined by Sir Robert Peel.
Sir Robert Peel’s 9 principles of policing, also known as the Peelian principles, were first introduced in 1829 in the United Kingdom, and they still hold significant relevance for police departments worldwide, including the Sri Lankan police. These principles serve as a foundation for police officers to maintain public trust and demonstrate impartial service to the law. It is vital that police officers are continually trained and educated in these principles and other basic fundamentals to ensure that they are implemented effectively in all aspects of their work.
The decision to appoint a new IGP or extend the tenure of the current IGP lies in the hands of the President and other key players. It is a crucial decision that will determine the future of the Sri Lankan police and its effectiveness in maintaining law and order in the country. If the President decides to extend the tenure of the current IGP, it will provide stability and continuity to the police force, which is essential for effective policing. It will also be a recognition of the hard work and dedication of the current IGP in navigating the police force through some of the most challenging times in recent history.
On the other hand, if the President decides to appoint a new IGP, it is essential that the selection process is based on merit, and the new IGP is a person of integrity and competence who can lead the police force effectively. The new IGP should be committed to upholding the Peelian principles of policing and demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law, which is vital for maintaining public trust and confidence in the police force.
In this context, the role of the IGP in leading the police force during such a challenging time cannot be overstated. Chandana Wickramaratne’s tenure as IGP has been marked by his efforts to maintain law and order, combat drug peddlers, and promote national security as well as institutional re-engineering. His leadership has been instrumental in ensuring the safety and security of the citizens of Sri Lanka.
As the police force prepares for a new leader, it is imperative that the continuity of leadership and stability be maintained. The Sri Lanka Police must remain a reliable and effective institution that upholds the rule of law, protects human rights, and ensures the safety and security of all Sri Lankan citizens. It is hoped that the power struggle within the Sri Lanka Police is resolved in a peaceful and amicable manner and that the new IGP, whether it be Chandana Wickramaratne with a new extension or someone else, is able to lead the police force with integrity, professionalism, and a commitment to the safety and security of all Sri Lankans.
In the current challenging time of social upheavals, it is more important than ever for the police to act with responsibility and accountability. Police officers should not act as agents of a select few or any political party, but rather as protectors of the law and public servants of the people. They should work towards building trust with the communities they serve, and strive to maintain law and order while upholding the human rights and dignity of all individuals.
Furthermore, the police should prioritize community policing and work closely with local communities to address the root causes of crime and social unrest. This means understanding the needs and concerns of the community, being responsive to their requests, and building partnerships to address issues such as poverty, inequality, and lack of access to basic services. By doing so, the police can create a more harmonious and stable society, where everyone feels safe and valued.