In a Public Perception Survey carried out by Transparency International, Sri Lanka (TISL) in 2002 it had been revealed that the police force was the most corrupt institution in Sri Lanka. I had just joined TISL as a director when this disclosure was made at a news conference held by TISL and I pointed out [...]

Sunday Times 2

Eliminating corruption in public service: Don’t blame Police alone


In a Public Perception Survey carried out by Transparency International, Sri Lanka (TISL) in 2002 it had been revealed that the police force was the most corrupt institution in Sri Lanka.

I had just joined TISL as a director when this disclosure was made at a news conference held by TISL and I pointed out then that the survey was flawed. The questionnaire had focused only on the police, healthcare, education, power, land administration and taxation. Excluded were Members of parliament, ministers and all officials in statutory bodies under Act No. 17 of 1982 who are defined as public servants, who wield power over the police and pressurise it for their nefarious corrupt practices.

It was not long ago when the Prime Minister openly lambasted the Police for not acceding to requests of politicians and demanded that politicians’ requests be accommodated. For the police to refrain from granting such requests, it is anybody’s guess as to the lawfulness of the requests, which in effect have now become orders. Politicians and officials in statutory bodies who wield political influence have been left out from the questionnaire. As a result it is an undiscerning Public Perception Survey that had been carried out. All the corruption on the part these well-known rogues had been dumped on the police. I do not for a moment say that there is no corruption in the police. But a thousand fold is foisted on the police.

May I draw attention of TISL to the book, ‘Police Role’ by Dr. Frank de Silva, former Inspector General of Police, who has a Doctorate of Philosophy on the subject of Criminology from the University of Jayawardenapura. He has also graduated from Police College Bramshill UK. I reproduce some excerpts from his book to illustrate my point:

“Laws delay is one of the culprits resulting in unrestrained public expenditure and driving parties to greater crime. Dragging on the process in courts is a systemic failure of the criminal justice process. Distortion, corruption and inefficiency are the other factors which deter access to justice. These are simply the result of vested interests manipulating the system….”

He attributes the laws delay to the monopolistic trends that run through the criminal justice process. “Law making is determined by law professionals without consulting the community or other affected parties. Rules drafted to prescribe the police without consulting the police, is conduct which fits into the descriptive phrase of Lawyers’ law. They are in effect, ‘rules of lawyers, rules made by lawyers, rules for lawyers in lawyers’ interest’. Accordingly a role for police is diminished to the extent of separation of the law from the community.

“In 1959 a step to rectify the situation in involving the community was taken with the introduction of a law to establish Conciliation Boards which had many advantages. Such involvement enabled the community to identify itself with the formal law in a meaningful manner than through the formal courts. Resolution of these problems was equally expeditious. The parties to the dispute benefitted from the little expense the parties now had to incur. Conciliation of crimes and disputes through conciliation and mediation gave some relief to the police from the weight of the court process.”

“In fact this was more or less getting back to the gansabhava system.”

He cites Dr. G. C. Mendis’s reference to Colebrook’s statement: “I consider that the ancient mode of referring such cases to a Gamsaba or a Village Council would be advantageously preserved where it is established and restored where it has been superseded.” According to Fr. S.G. Perera, Colebrook attended a meeting of gamsabhava and was much impressed by the institution. Dr. Ralph Pieris in his book, ‘Sinhalese Social Organisations’ states, “Gamsabhavas or Village Councils consisted of an assembly of the principal and experienced men of the village. The endeavours of this assembly of neighbours were directed not so much to punishment as to amicable settlement of disputes according to accepted canons of justice”

“It seems history has been repeated.  As happened to Gamsabhavas in the eighteen thirties, in 1979 the functions of the Conciliation Boards were peremptorily dismissed and vested interests prevailed over community concerns.”

I wish to illustrate this overwhelming problem of Laws Delay with a case in point from my own experience. Around 1983, when I was ASP Trincomalee, I received a complaint from a poor old villager living in Kantale. He said the Grama Sevaka was demanding a bribe for possessing some poles in his back yard to repair his kitchen. I telephoned the Bribery Commissioner’s Department (BCD) where I had served earlier and informed of this complaint. I was requested to detect the offence due to the time factor and I detected the GS accepting the bribe.

The (BCD) took over the case and the GS was indicted in D.C. Colombo. The case dragged on for several years and I was not even receiving summons. As this was an outstanding case in my diary I checked up and went to courts on the next court date.

The complainant was feeble and told me that he could not come again. I brought this to the notice of the State Counsel whom I knew well and asked him to see that the case was taken up, also stating that the evidence was short. He informed me that he had not prepared the case and that the case would not be taken up. Defence Counsel who also I knew, told me not to worry about the case as he was punishing the accused GS enough.

The next thing I heard about the case was that the complainant had died. The GS got away from the case but after being subject to a massive kill. He would have been much better off had he pleaded guilty to the charge and received a suspended sentence as was available to him then. His lawyer knew this as much as all lawyers do. But the lawyer’s interest was not in his client but everything he owned as well as what he can beg, borrow or steal. The Defence lawyer was not alone in this game. Judicial Officers and State Counsel were obviously in cahoots with him. Does not speak well of the Attorney General’s supervision.

This is just one of the overwhelming amounts of corrupt practices taking place daily. I hope TISL will focus its eyes where they need to.

(The writer is a Retired
Superintendent of Police. He can be
contacted at


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