Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 26 July 2015





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Government Gazette

Death threats against NDDCB Chairman

Why is the government reluctant to provide security? - NDDCB Chairman

Politicians of all hues and other powerful figures in society have been rattled by the innovative approach to narcotics control adopted by the Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), Dr. Chamira Nilanga Samarasinghe, so much so that he now faces a grave risk to his life. However, an undaunted Samarasinghe says he is committed to combat the drug menace. He is the first government officer who bravely came forward to fight drug trafficking. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Dr. Samarasinghe said that he tries to follow the late Prof. Senaka Bibile but doesn’t want to sacrifice his life at this stage as he has many things to finish off.

The NDDCB Chief said even though he has a record of politicians engaged in narcotic trade, he can’t give exact figures and names as he is still receiving information on a daily basis. He disclosed that some politicians who have links to drug trafficking have also been accommodated in the Nomination Lists to contest the upcoming General Election.

Q: Didn’t you think it is suicidal to make public that you have a list of 25 MPs engaged in the narcotic trade. Could you explain?

A: Yes, it is suicidal. The figure of 25 MPs engaged in the narcotic trade was not what I made. It was media speculation. I have a record of politicians engaged in drug trafficking. They are facilitators and not direct drug importers. They transport drugs from airports and harbours to safe houses and distribute it in the country. If a drug dealer is caught, these politicians give state protection to them.

If you engage in the narcotic trade, you should be ready to accept ‘Gold’ or ‘Browns’. ‘Gold’ refers to gifts and bribes from narcotic dealers. If you work honestly to combat drugs, one has to accept ‘Browns’ which refers to bullets. This is the first time a government official openly working against narcotic dealers has faced death threats.

Q: Except for the UNP, no other political party responded to clear names about MPs involved in the narcotic trade, is it unfair for the people not to vote for such parties?

A: We gave a fair opportunity to all the major parties to respond. Some minor parties such as J. Sri Ranga’s Citizen’s Front, A. Thondaman’s CWC and Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera by himself only responded.

The other political parties didn’t want a clarification about their nominees. I couldn’t give the list because their agenda was not to get clearance but to used it against political opponents as well as candidates in their same party. I won’t permit my institution to be used as a’weapon’ for politicians to realise their narrow political objectives.

The people are frustrated not knowing to whom they should vote. However the UNP got that opportunity and can now say their candidates are free of allegations regarding drugs.

Q: Does the law have no teeth to prosecute these MPs who have been thriving on this illicit trade? What prevents the Police from prosecuting them?

A: The Police file a case in court to win it. They need hard evidence to prove the case. Unfortunately, the Police then say that they don’t have sufficient evidence to prove the case. However, the public are aware of the people who engage in drug trafficking.

The Police does not take this into account and back out saying they don’t have sufficient information to go to courts. If they work on the information given by the public, they should be smart enough to do the necessary surveillance before the prosecution. But the police wants everything on a platter to fight a case. If they have a good intelligence unit, this should not be an issue.

Q: Even though you exposed the names of some MPs and courted death threats, bureaucratic red tape is slow in providing you with adequate security. Why is this?

A: I too am wondering as to why the Government is reluctant to provide security. Drug dealers are no threat to me. If my security is ensured, I can expedite my work. President, Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, the IGP and the nation wants to get rid of the drug menace in this country.

With regard to my security, only the people and the media are on my side. I think politicians and the state want to drag this slogan until the next election. If they finish off this task right now, they can’t take it up in 2020. They are not concerned about the younger generation, parents or society who have been affected by this social menace. They just want to enjoy power. They are not concerned about the people. If it is a lasting solution that the state is looking for, I am ready to give of my services.

Q: You will perhaps end up leaving the country fearing for your life, as has happened to most professionals who did their duty by the country. How would you fare in this situation?

A: When I was in Qatar, they identified my capacity. They were interested when I made a presentation and work plan against drugs during the first global anti-narcotic forum held there. They bought my presentation.

Except for the Gulf countries, I was the only outside presenter in that forum. If my country doesn’t need my services, I am ready to give of my services to who ever who wants it.

Today, it appears the country means only politicians. I am still reluctant to leave the country as the people require my services. I know, after the end of all these problems, only my family will suffer.

If I am killed, the people will forget me in one or two weeks. This is the nature of this country. But I was brought to this position by the people. I rose to this position because of free education and free health, so I owe it to this country.

I am an old Anandian and brought up in a Sinhala Buddhist culture. That is why I want to serve my country.

Otherwise as a medical practitioner, I have many opportunities in foreign countries.

Q: The narcotic trade has spread its tentacles. Don’t you think our prosecution procedures, law and punishment methods need a complete overhaul to eliminate this scourge?

A: I had a good training in China and studied the entire system on narcotics. If we can implement the same methodology in Sri Lanka, we can eliminate this problem. If we can safeguard the seashore, harbour and the airport, that is enough.

Other countries have huge problems from neighbouring countries as well. But in our case, our neighbours too want to combat the drug menace.

In these countries the entire machinery of government officials, politicians and law enforcement authorities work together to eliminate drug trafficking. We can also do a lot by implementing such a mechanism. In our country, the method of extracting information is till primitive. In other countries such as the USA, they have sophisticated technology and can identify if a person who gives evidence is lying or not. We lack this type of technology.

Q: The post independence era up to about 1970 produced Parliamentarians with unblemished characters who sacrificed to develop the country. How did the rot set in to destroy politics?

A: The biggest damage was done by late Dr. Colvin R de Silva, because he is responsible for destroying the career of independent government officers. The 1972 Constitution weakened the power of government officers.

After 1977, a culture emerged where decisions taken by government officials had to be sanctioned by politicians. There are 17 government officers to look after a single household including Samurdhi officer, Grama Niladari, Social Service Officer and a Public Health officer. If this structure works properly, this country will be heaven. Today, all government officers await orders from politicians.

Government officials should go to the village level and decide on the people’s requirements and then submit proposals to politicians for approval. Today this is happening other way around. This is the biggest problem in the country.

However, in my institution, we make policies and plans and then discuss with the Minister. I am happy because Minister John Amaratunga never interferes with what we have to do. Even Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wants to make this institution independent and responsible to Parliament.

The Premier has instructed me to eradicate heroin and ‘tablets’ which have become one of the biggest problems in the country. After that steps could be taken to eradicate the use of cannabis, liquor and cigarettes.

Q: Sprats are caught while the sharks thrive in the narcotics trade. Do you have any proposals to contain this social cancer?

A: At present many ‘sprats’ are in jail and most of the sharks are in other countries and it is difficult to apprehend them. They cannot be identified as drug traffickers because there is a huge gap between the street level trafficker and the kingpin.

Tracing the centre is out of the question. The people who smuggle drugs to the country are unknown. Drug traffickers change their strategies. We can find only the street vendors with minor quantities of drugs.

If we trace a drug addict, he gives the information about the street vendor.

But the street vendor doesn’t know anything about the kingpin. The trade is so advanced the deal is done using advanced satellite technology. We don’t have a proper system to trace how the money changes hands. That technology must come from countries that are successful in drug control. We should have immediate, intermediate and long term plans for this.



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