That the Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister, Mahinda Wijesekara, has launched an attack on the National Police Commission (NPC) indicates that the body is already making itself felt. Reacting to investigations against him over severe assaults on peaceful protesters in his electorate, the Minister remarked that, “An independent police commission is not a requirement for backward country like Sri Lanka.” He further attacked the police, referring to them as dogs who are trying to bite their masters.
A common feature of Sri Lanka’s recent history has been the many politicians engaging in violence against opponents and thereafter relying on their influence over the police to prevent any investigations. In fact, violence in the electorates has been very much a result of this politician-criminal-police nexus. Complaints to higher police officers have been of no avail. They have been unwilling and unable to take action.
The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution was envisaged as a remedy to this situation, and the NPC is the outcome. However, many people expressed doubts as to the capacity of the NPC to deal with this frightful nexus. The Minister’s rebuke is a clear indication that the NPC has made a considerable impact within the short time. This is an encouraging sign for those who want a change the present situation.
It is of course fair to say that the NPC must progress much faster, and for that it must be given all the resources it needs. If the NPC is strong, the police will be truly subject to its control, and the nexus can conceivably be broken. The common mentality expressed by the Minister-that there is a dog and master relationship between police and politicians-will disappear only with continuous intervention by an independent police commission.
The very backwardness of the country that the Minister claims is the reason for a backward police force is itself a distorted idea. Sri Lanka will always remain backward if the police force it backward. The transition to a modern state requires intelligent policing that is helpful to the people. Backward politicians backed up by backward police are a prescription for anarchy that will drive away all development. By changing the structure of backward policing to a more progressive one, and by enforcing the controls required by the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, a path can also be made via which the backward politicians can make their exit. Sri Lanka needs both a modernized police force and competent politicians. The NPC is an instrument that can make a great contribution to achieving both of these objectives.