Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara, in an interview with Daily Mirror, speaks about the Kandy incidents and the restrictions on social media and the challenges that lie ahead. The excerpts:
- There are extremists in any religious group
- We could douse the Kandy riots with a State of Emergency only, We will lift it soon
- If we had used excessive force, things would have spiralled out of control
- Different models in the world are studied to enforce regulations on social media
- Extra attention will be paid to deal with corruption and frauds
Q : You took up the new post as the Law and Order Minister at a challenging time. How do you view it first?
I am used to challenges from my childhood. I have taken up challenges right from my school days. I am pleased that both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe placed their trust on me. I am obliged to live up to their expectations. I will act according to my conscience.
Q : You, as a politician representing a rural district, never expected a post like this. You have got something that you did not like as such. What do you feel about it?
As politicians, we are supposed to undertake any assignment entrusted upon us. We are duty bound for it. During the 100-day period of the new government, I was the Transport Minister. It is not directly relevant to my district. Then, I remained as the Public Administration Minister. Again, it is not a subject directly relevant to the livelihood of my constituents in Moneragala. Yet, I continue to do and manage some development work in the district.
These are civil issues, not warranting the use of firearms to handle. We have to act with diligence and care in this regard. If we had used the excessive force leading to the death of anyone, the problem would have spun out of control
Q : Regional Development Minister Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka was eyeing the Law and Order Ministry. He expressed his dismay over the leadership for giving it to you regardless of him expecting it. What is your response to him?
Both Sarath Fonseka and I are very good friends. We were schoolmates. We studied at Ananda College, Colombo. His name was mooted for this post. He might have got a momentary disappointment because he did not get it finally. We are proud of him as the former Army Commander who led the military to decimate the LTTE. We have no personal animosity with each other. He also values his friendship with me. As Cabinet colleagues, we are collectively bound.
Q : There was an allegation against the Law and Order Ministry that proper action was not taken against those involved in corruption and frauds during the former rule. In fact, that allegation was brought in by some within the government. As the new minister, are you going to prioritize it?
If somebody says we have not done anything in this regard, it will not be quite correct. Indictments have been served against a few wrongdoers. We will continue with investigations further. It is our duty to speed up investigations which are already in progress.
Q : It means you will pay special attention to it...
Of course, we will pay extra attention to it. We received a mandate in January, 2015 for it. We should deliver to the people what had we promised them.
Q : Yet, the legality of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) is challenged. It has virtually been crippled. Are you going to revive it?
It is too early for me to comment on it. I have to call for a meeting with the relevant officials and decide on it. I will be able to express my opinion only after that.
Q : Both the government and the opposition now allege that the Police Department failed to take action for pre-emption of the spread of communal violence in the Kandy district recently. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also said there was a delay in responding to the situation. As the subject minister, how do you view it?
I have assigned a ministerial committee to look into it and submit me the report. Anyway, if we had used firepower, the problem would have spiralled out of control. We were able to defuse tension with the minimum possible damage. Above all, what is serious is the fact that the two communities -- the Sinhalese and the Muslims -- have been hurt too much, creating a wedge between them. There is a fear psychosis inflicted upon the Muslim community. In addition to tackling this problem through legal means, we have to find a solution to allay the mental fears of the people.
Both Sarath Fonseka and I are very good friends. We were schoolmates. We studied at Ananda College, Colombo. His name was mooted for this post. He might have got a momentary disappointment because he did not get it finally. We are proud of him as the former Army Commander who led the military to decimate the LTTE
Q : There is a perception that the police cannot handle large scale riots with the use of force permissible under the laws concerned. Are you planning to empower the police further in this regard to face any eventuality in future?
These are civil issues, not warranting the use of firearms to handle. We have to act with diligence and care in this regard. If we had used the excessive force leading to the death of anyone, the problem would have spun out of control. The problem could be brought to an end with minimum damage. Only two deaths were reported. One death has been caused by the explosion of a grenade. We are awaiting the reports of the Government Analyst. The other person died due to fire smoke inhalation.
Q : What are you planning to do to prevent the repetition of such violence in the future?
We have to remain alert. We should discuss it with officials and decide on steps the to be taken. We have to instruct the officials properly. Likewise, we know the outbreak of communal clashes did not happen overnight. Communal tension has been built over a period of time by hate-filled people spewing racism and religious fanaticism. It happened with the use of social media sites and other sources. We suffered for 30 years. The war was the culmination of such communal tension. We should not revert to such a situation. For that, steps should be taken.
Q : You talked about the need to regulate the social media. How far have you progressed?
There is some form of regulation in force in countries such as Germany and UK. We should have a look at them. Regulation is needed not for those using the social media for the common good. We need legislation to prevent the use of social media for a bad cause. Today, we are portrayed in the negative light in the international arena. There is harmful propaganda against the country. We will look into all possible models in the world and take a decision to regulate the social media operation. Experts in the field will direct us in this instance.
Q : Have you appointed a committee to look into this?
I have not done so as yet. The Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has a role here. The Defence Ministry is also involved along with the Law and Order Ministry.
Q : When would you lift the ban on social media?
It would not remain for long. We will lift the restrictions soon once the defence and law enforcement authorities submit us their recommendations.
Q : There is criticism on the declaration of the state of emergency. Some say the situation could have been brought under control without the state of emergency even. What is your view?
Actually, we could bring about order only because of the emergency regulations in force. Along with the police, we could deploy the armed forces because of the state of emergency only. We can carry out investigations now. Yet, we do not intend to proceed with the state of emergency.
Q : Which means it would be lifted after the initial 10-day period...
I cannot say exactly. We will have to decide on it after consulting the President, the Prime Minister and the defence establishments.
Q : What are the changes you are planning in the Police Department?
I have to study it in consultation with the relevant authorities.
Q : Earlier, it was discussed whether Sri Lanka was under any threat from international terrorism. There were questions raised in Parliament in this regard. Is there any such threat that has surfaced?
I am yet to discuss it with the intelligence authorities. Yet, our intelligence authorities remain vigilant. We need the intelligence services for our national security. The intelligence authorities can give us information.
Q : There was an allegation that the intelligence services were crippled, and therefore they could not detect the possibilities of violence in Kandy. What is your view?
There are lengthy discussions in this regard. I am not in a position to tell anything right now.
We know the outbreak of communal clashes did not happen overnight. Communal tension has been built over a period of time by hate-filled people spewing racism and religious fanaticism. It happened with the use of social media sites and other sources
Q : Is there any presence of radical Islamists or signs of radicalization in Sri Lanka?
There are extremists in every religious group. They only create problems, but not those who follow whatever the religion in the proper sense.
Q : There is an allegation that some groups were behind the violence in Kandy. You vowed to expose them. What is the position?
We are looking into the matter. We will expose them very soon.
Q : Are you planning to bring in new legislation to deal with culprits?
I am unable to identify the areas that require new laws at the moment. I will assign those with the subject knowledge to look into them.