THE CURRENT CRISIS: AN URGENT COMMON SENSE ACTION PLAN

17 May 2019 12:04 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • The need of the hour, is the removal of fear.
  • The ban on media reportage of the results of search  operations and other investigative activity must be discontinued
  • The public are, justifiably, enraged by reports of powerful  politicians being released after peremptory questioning

 

The most obvious consequence of the Easter Day calamity is  the fear psychosis which has gripped our society. Arguably, not even at  the height of the war was this feeling as strong and pervasive as it is  today. The need of the hour, then, is the removal of fear. This can be  done only by the restoration of confidence by practical and credible  means.   
Right now, it is obviously futile to call on foreign  missions in Colombo to soften travel advisories, nor will it be of any  avail to request donor agencies for assistance to keep the travel  industry afloat, or to appeal for concessions regarding travel insurance  and the like. Parents will send their children to school only when they  are satisfied that the prevailing situation is sufficiently safe and  secure.   

I. A Functioning Security Apparatus

Before any of this can be realistically expected to happen,  there is one vital condition: Government must, without any further  delay, set up a security apparatus which will engender confidence. The  critical requirement is coordination between intelligence and law  enforcement authorities.   
During the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, such a  mechanism had been put in place by Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Defence  Secretary at that time, with the Directorate of Military Intelligence as  the pivotal institution. Sifting, analysis and evaluation of  intelligence gathered from a multiplicity of sources of varying  probative value was done here before transmission of the material to  agencies of the Police, such as CID, CCD, TID and the Special Branch. In  the absence of a comprehensive structure of this kind, ad hoc  responses – even when they do occur – are fragmented and of very limited  value. This well-knit apparatus, which was dismantled during the last  four years, must be immediately re-established, and officers  meticulously trained in specialised institutions abroad for these very  purposes, but regrettably dispensed with of late, must be re-assigned  appropriate responsibility. No amount of discussion, meetings or  homilies will produce even the most meagre result in the absence of this  mandatory first step.   

II. An Effective and Unified Communications Network

Once this security-oriented apparatus is brought into  being, but not before this is done, the task of communication must be  systematically addressed. A spokesperson, either a Minister or senior  official, should be identified and amply empowered to be in touch on a  daily basis with the public of our country, with foreign missions, local  and foreign media and with the business sector. Bereft of window  dressing, there should be a candid explanation of what is being done,  day by day, to safeguard the public, results achieved by the security  authorities, and plans for further action.   
Establishment of a focal point will achieve coherence and  consistency of a single message, rather than a cacophony of voices,  blatant contradictions and consequent confusion. We have learnt to our  exorbitant cost that there cannot be two competing centres of power  within one government, especially during a crisis of this magnitude.  Responsibility for defence, maintenance of law and order and the total  array of Police functions must be clearly demarcated, and lines of  command unequivocally defined. The political authority is unreservedly  accountable, and no attempt to make scapegoats of officials can possibly  pass muster. Clarity and unity of one message, giving expression to the  stance of the government, is indispensable for both
credibility and  efficacy.   
Our country has had to grapple with even greater crises in  the past; what enabled us to bounce back, given the inherent resilience  of our people, was the perception, and indeed the reality, that there  did exist a resolute leadership firmly in charge, with its authority  unquestioned throughout the spectrum of the Administration.   

 

"The  critical requirement is coordination between intelligence and law  enforcement authorities"

 

III. Uncompromising Exclusion of Political Interference

Political influence, direct or insidious, in respect of  current investigations, in particular search and seize operations, must  instantly cease. Quite definitely, there has to be zero tolerance of any  form of immunity with regard to suspect venues or individuals.  Emergency regulations must be promulgated immediately to enable the Army  to interrogate suspects upon arrest.   
The public are, justifiably, enraged by reports of powerful  politicians being released after peremptory questioning and  nonchalantly leaving the country soon afterwards. Inquiries handled in  this way have nothing to do with discovery of the truth; they are merely  a clumsy cover-up. Any exalted functionary – Minister, Governor or  legislator – found obstructing or tampering with an investigation, must  be removed forthwith from office. A scale of values and a sense of  proportion is the point of departure: lives carry greater weight than  votes.   

IV. Provision of Required Assistance to Police and Intelligence Authorities

There must be no shadow of doubt about the fullest  political backing and technical assistance being at the disposal of the  police and intelligence authorities. Situations like the  Wellampitiya fiasco, where nine suspects employed in a metal factory  said to have been the source of material used in the bombs, were  released because of the inability of the police to explain to the  Magistrate the statutory regime under which the charges were laid,  jarringly erode public and must not be allowed to recur.   
De-motivation of the intelligence establishment must stop  at once. The pernicious culture of considering the intelligence arm an  embarrassment and hindrance to a disastrously misconceived approach to  “reconciliation” must be relegated as a relic of the past. More than 40  officers who performed vital functions in the war against terrorism  were, at one time or another, during the last four years, harassed and  imprisoned, and their families rendered destitute. One close relative,  in sheer desperation, committed suicide. Unless this trend is reversed  decisively, the nation’s security cannot be assured except by empty  utterances.   

V. Abandon Concealment of the Truth

The ban on media reportage of the results of search  operations and other investigative activity must be discontinued. This  disingenuous effort has only fuelled rumour mongering, irresponsible  speculation and intentional or inadvertent exaggeration. Honesty and  transparency is a far better option.   
Suppression of the truth will not induce parents to send  their children to school in response to strident exhortations by the  Government, when they hear of Ministers openly admitting that they are  compelled to work from home because they consider travelling to their  Ministries, albeit under heavy armed guard, unsafe, and when Parliament  is being asked to approve 7,100 million rupees out of public funds for  the purchase of bullet-proof vehicles for Government leaders. The  inspiring example of His Eminence, the Cardinal, in this regard, does  our nation proud.   

 

" Government must, without any further  delay, set up a security apparatus which will engender confidence"

 

VI. Empower Religious and Community Leaders

The true heroes emerging in the aftermath of this crisis  are religious leaders who enjoy today, in the eyes of the public, an  unprecedented level of trust and acceptance. Moral leadership of this  calibre proved exceedingly salutary in containing the dimensions of this  catastrophe. An expanded role, possibly fortified by statute, for  religious leaders working in close association with their communities,  and opportune mechanisms for cross-cultural and inter-religious  dialogue, represent a compelling need.   

VII. Continuity of Measures for the Protection of the Public

Laws enabling the armed forces to be called in to buttress  suitably the functions discharged by the Police, must remain in force  until the threat ceases to be active. This assessment must be made  entirely professionally, with no reference whatsoever to political  considerations, such as the desire to create an illusory impression of  normalcy, especially on the eve of Vesak, for the sake of partisan  political advantage. Lives cannot be sacrificed on the altar of  political gain.   
The banning of terrorist groups devastating our country  must perforce be carried out immediately by appropriate legal  instruments. Moreover, framing of the required regulations must be done  at a tolerable level of competence. The last Gazette Notification  contained an unacceptably large number of
egregious errors.   

VIII. Eschew Political Expediency

This is hardly the time to engage in interminable debates  about the desirability of highly controversial legislative innovations  strongly opposed by a significant swath of the community. It is  certainly my contention that the proposed Counter Terrorism Act, while  extending every latitude to terrorist suspects, sets out to destroy the  very foundation of legitimate rights and freedoms of trade unions, media  and civil society organisations in a manner not attempted by any other  legislation over the 25 year time span of my experience of teaching Law  at university. I remain convinced that the existing laws of Sri Lanka –  consisting of the tripod of the Penal Code, the Public Security Act and  the Prevention of Terrorism Act – confer on the State ample power to  combat terrorism, if only there is the political will and a concerted  plan to do so.   
If specifically targeted amendments to improve and  strengthen particular legislative provisions are considered timely,  these can of course
be considered.   

IX. Enhanced Surveillance and Openness of Dialogue

Availability of information in the fullest measure to the  public is the best guarantee of confidence. The Army Commander has  stated on electronic media that, out of the 150 or 200 terrorists  thought to be involved (apart from possible peripheral groups), about 85  have been killed or captured.
The public is entitled to continuing  access to accurate information regarding initiatives in respect of the  remainder, and further action contemplated. There must, as well, be  complete disclosure regarding at least 880 foreign preachers in the  Madrasas throughout the Island and the paramount necessity of  reintroducing the exacting filtering process which had been in place  prior to 2015 in respect of the grant of visas.   
In Parliament the Government showed marked reluctance to  divulge particulars about the thousands of refugees in the country, with  a substantial concentration in the Negombo area, after Sri Lanka  voluntarily assumed the status of a transit country.   
As much information as possible gleaned from the two  Interim Reports of the Vijith Malalgoda Committee, as well as the report  of the senior military officials who had served the Rajapaksa  Administration, should be shared early with the public.   
The most potent cause of disenchantment evident in the  country at large is the perceived attitude of evasion and vacillation.  The paramount need, then, is for the Government (by which I mean both  sections of it, without discrimination) to grasp the nettle and to face  up to its responsibility and accountability which cannot by any  conceivable means be wished away, delegated or abdicated.
The sooner  this happens, the better are the country’s chances of recovery, within a  reasonable time frame.  

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