Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) for Western Province Deshabandu Thennakoon was seen on TV on Sunday vowing to eradicate drug menace from the country. He very confidently stressed “Math drawya uwadura thrun karanawa karanawamai” (Will definitely eradicate the drug menace).
His declaration comes on the heels of several other actions by the government to arrest the threat posed by the drug businessmen in the country and some of his own recent statements to that effect. Also it comes on the heels of some apparent aggressive measures taken by the law enforcement authorities against the drug peddlers, drug users and the officials who had so far assisted the drug mafia while paid by the State for eradicating the same menace.
Various governments in the past had occasionally vowed to cleanse the country of narcotics but later they all were forgotten soon, proving them to be temporary proclamations made by State leaders and law enforcement authorities either for political mileage or other personal gains. However, this time several officials who had been tasked to fight this menace - the officials of the police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) - have been apprehended for the first time for being hand in glove with the criminals.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena took a firm stand against drug mafia and declared that those who engaged in drug business from within the prisons would be hanged. He almost ended a 42-year-old moratorium on death penalty in Sri Lanka by signing the death warrants on four drug offenders, in June last year.
However, implementation of capital punishment on them was suspended by the Supreme Court following several petitions filed against his decision. He openly vowed to hang at least one criminal involved in drug related offences during his tenure.
Although it is too early to celebrate the success of the government’s current drive against drugs as the root of the problem has not been surfaced yet, the actions taken so far have to be commended. They seems to have stemmed from the 13-member “Task Force to build a Secure Country, disciplined, Virtuous, and Lawful Society” appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa through an Extra Ordinary Gazette on June 2, in accordance with powers vested in him by Article 33 of the Constitution.
Despite there being views that a Task Force comprised of high ranking military and police officers alone cannot bring about discipline in the country, one cannot contest the measures taken by authorities thus far in that direction.
The Task Force has been assigned to “take necessary measures for prevention from drug menace, prevent entry of drugs from abroad through ports and airports and to fully eradicate drug trafficking in the country and to prevent other social illnesses caused by drug abuse” among others.
The terms of reference also refer to “investigating and preventing any illegal and antisocial activities in and around prisons” Accordingly, President Rajapaksa, Attorney General Dappula de Livera and Defence Secretary Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunarathne addressed the prison officials last month with severe warnings against those officials who connive with or engage in illegal activities.
Starting from the same period a series of raids were carried out in prisons and large number of mobile phones were seized. Several prison officials were also questioned over those findings.
Later, in early this month, 16 officers from the PNB were arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for conniving with the drug mafia and personally engaging in drug peddling. Several luxury vehicles and money worth over Rs. 30 million belonging to them were also seized. The CID had said that some of these officers had smuggled out drugs from the PNB production room where the contraband captured from suspects are being stored and sold them.
Although one can say “so far, so good,” the question remains whether these officials and the drug peddlers carry out their business without any political backing. Can the drug business be carried out so long - four decades since early 1980 - without the support or if not direct involvement of politicians?
We have heard politicians occasionally naming other politicians on political platforms as drug barons. However, never was any action taken to arrest them when the former came to power.
SDIG Tennakoon himself during his speech on Sunday said that obstacles to eradicate drug menace have been removed now. Did he mean that there were political influences in this regard in the past?
If so, he seems to know the nexus between the drug peddling and politics. Unless that area is also covered, building “a Secure Country, disciplined, Virtuous, and Lawful Society” would be difficult, if not impossible.