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We are looking at a pay hike and a new look police - Sagala Ratnayaka


 

The government is contemplating sweeping reforms to modernise the police service, including a 40% pay hike, aimed at salvaging the police image and winning back public trust, new Minister of Law and order and Southern Development, Sagala Ratnayaka, said.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Minister Ratnayaka said a proposal to set up an independent mechanism to inquire into police matters is also on the cards.

Excerpts:

Q: Despite the formation a National Unity Government, there had been several cases of police excesses and brutality in recent months, most notably the attack on the HNDA students and the recent Embilipitiya incident. These incidents give the impression of continued impunity and police excess. How do you respond to the criticism against the Police Department under the new administration?

A: Much has changed for the better. The Police Department is free of political interference. When I took over, I assured freedom from political interference. We will stand by them and be responsible about the development of the police service. They provide a superior service to the people.

To professionalise, we have promised a 40% pay hike, with 20% offered in 2016 and another 20%, in 2017.

Until last year, the basic salary of a police constable was just Rs.15, 000, a pitiful amount. Their job is not easy and we demand a lot from them. They are also not paid overtime. Government sector drivers get a higher basic salary and if they work longer, they get overtime per hour. Much needs to be done to modernise the police service.

Q: But the allegations against the police, in light of the Embilipitiya incident, have increased in recent times?

A: It is the freedom that is bringing this about. You said there is an impression about them being high- handed, and that is very much what it is now - an impression.

The media is free, people are free, just as the police are free.

People can talk and the media is freely reporting. But in this entire process, responsibility is the key, on how to use this freedom. The police have a responsibility.

The government certainly doesn't want them to do anything wrong. We are doing everything possible to train them, to get them to do their job right and also whatever necessary e to improve the service. The media must also be responsible. In the recent weeks, we found the media stirring up the Embilipitiya incident. Not all media. Selected media institutions take on issues selectively. It gives the impression that there may be vested interests. When the JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake questioned me on the incident, I reported both sides of the story because at that point, that is was as far as we could go.

Ironically, I have requested parliament for time to make a further statement. The investigations are not over, the final report was due on the 25 but on the 22, the Attorney General required the investigation to be handed over to the CID.

It does not imply that the ongoing investigation was flawed. But, the AG is comfortable with the CID.

The CID is viewed by the public and institutions as a responsible organization. But the ongoing police investigation was also a free and fair investigation. I can vouch for that. However, we are not judges.

The police will investigate and report the facts to court for the court to determine who is at fault. But within the rules and regulations of the police service, whenever and wherever they have done wrong, there will be disciplinary action taken against them.

Q: Does this imply that in the future, there could be a mechanism to investigate police excesses through an independent mechanism?

A: I don't think there is any such institution capable of carrying out such investigations. The Police Commission can be empowered through the 19 Amendment. Still, it has to use the police mechanism.

One must have faith in the police. It is the State organ that protects people and the maintenance of law and order.

Proper training is necessary to develop the Police Department. From time to time, there had been problems. They should have been addressed immediately. Justice must prevail and we have to take steps so that such problems are not repeated. Plans are under way to modernize the Police Department. The idea is to equip, train and restructure both procedures of recruitment.

There is a proposal to set up an independent body to investigate police matters.

Empowering the Police Commission is one proposal. I cannot comment on this because we haven't done enough studies on it. We have to hold consultations to design our way forward.

Q: The Police Commission has received 750 complaints already against the police. The Police Department is considered one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. It will be a huge responsibility to clear their name?

A: Yes. I believe they are doing quite well. As the minister in charge, my responsibility is twofold. I have to be fair by the police and I have to be fair by the people. We are working on both image building and service building.

Q: How do you view the empowerment of the Human Rights Commission viz a viz allegations of police harassment and brutality?

A: It's too early to comment. I haven't looked at it carefully yet. The Human Rights Commission regularly expresses its views on various issues, including the HNDA matter. How we intend working closely with the HRC is a question you may have to ask me in a couple of months.

Q: How far have you progressed on the Embilipitiya investigation?

A: On January 11, I briefed Parliament on this incident. That was at the initial stages of the inquiry. Then I asked for a final report within a week but they needed more time to seek court permission to check phone records and CCTV footage. They were to submit the final report by January 25.

In the meantime, on January 22, the Attorney General asked for the investigation to be handed over to the CID. It will now start from scratch but will use the data we have already collected. We have almost completed the investigation and were ready to report the facts to court. The inquest too was complete.

Q: Going by the investigations so far, is it premature to fault the police?

A: From what I know, there are two sides to the story. Clearly, some malpractices have been committed. Some events are not in order. But I can't pass judgment yet.

The Police Department should complete the investigations and take disciplinary action, as well as report facts to court.

All I can say is that the inquiries are fair and highly transparent. From the first interim statement I made in Parliament to the second statement, I have voluntarily made some corrections as we gathered more information. The investigators have found some details in the first statement to be incorrect. We corrected all that.

Q: Do you vouch for the fact that no police personnel will be allowed to go scot- free, if found guilty of wrongdoing?

A: Yes.

Q: When police officers are caught, the punishment is generally lenient and often limited to transfers. Will you rectify this?

A: It depends. If it is an internal matter that concerns the Department procedures. The Police Department will decide on the punishment. If it involves a court of law, then the court decides. At present, two DIGs are facing court action. One is either serving a life term in prison or on death row, while other is in remand custody.

Q: People question the conduct of the Police Spokesman with regard to his dual role in the Embilipitiya matter. He is representing the interests of the accused police officers in the Embilipitiya magisterial inquiry and also functions as the Police Spokesman. Is there any conflict of interest?

A: The question is whether he could have represented the police. I've asked for an opinion from the Attorney General as well as the Inspector General. Based on that, there will be a decision.

Q: The SLFP is challenging the legal status of the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID). What is your response?

A: Few cases have been filed challenging the legality of the FCID. The courts will finally determine the legality.

In the meantime, the FCID is proceeding with the inquiries.

Some 33 cases have been completed so far and others referred to the Attorney General for advice on further action. There are many others to investigate.

The overwhelming number of cases is contributing to delays. When a complaint is made, the police must inquire into it. At least a basic inquiry should be carried out by the police to ascertain if there are legal grounds to proceed further. .

Hence the delays with regard to the matters handled by the FCID.

Importantly, none of these cases have been reported by the government. These are cases reported by the public to the FCID.

Q: Does it come under the purview of the National Police Commission?

A: I would think so.

Q: Have you sought an opinion on this?

A: Yes.

Q: Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, C. V. Vigneswaran is demanding for police powers to the province. Are you waiting for the new constitution to specify the modalities of effectively devolving police powers to the provinces?

A: The government is discussing this topic. We will look at the entire constitution. The Police Ordinance is an ancient law. Devolution of police powers is a high priority in the discussion on police reforms.

Q: Will you be looking to enhance police powers by amending the Police Ordinance? What will be the position with regard to the provinces?

A: I don't think police needs more powers. We need to introduce specific new laws and strengthen the existing laws. With the entire Police Department going through a process of evolution and modernization, some laws too will have to be critically examined.

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