President Maithripala Sirisena attracted what some say is the world’s attention but for the wrong reason. Our Presidential visit to the Philippines was bereft of media accompaniers, almost unusually for a Sri Lanka head of state, thus our President’s pronouncements attracted global attention perhaps before local.
President Sirisena by design has touched on a matter of critical import in this country. The impact of the contraband narcotics industry has spread like an epidemic and drug use has become endemic in our society. Scores of youngsters have progressed from soft drugs like diluted marijuana and progressed to substances referred to as ‘ice’ and ‘Kerala ganja’ and ‘Kush’.
Families have experienced the breakdown of their traditional unity, broken families, abused women and children, economic ruin amidst difficult economic climes, are all signs of what the drug menace is inflicting on our society.
President Duterte of the Philippines has openly warned all those in the drug industry from dons, to distributors to street pushers and end users that his country will pursue a zero tolerance policy – going as far as saying that he will shoot them all. Extra judicial killings took on a whole new meaning thereafter say international observers and the once darling of the ordinary Philipino has found his initial popularity plummet dramatically. Most Philipinos according to foreign journalists, are aghast that the rule of law has lost its allure in the Philippines and that thousands have been killed most of which are not investigated by the Police.
President Sirisena must be congratulated on his resolve to fight a good battle on the illegal drug scene. For that resolve alone we hail him as the numero Uno in Sri Lanka’s fractured political demography. However President Sirisena will find – like most and much of everything else he has tried – that he will find the rug pulled from under his feet.
Such is the utterly partisan behavior of Sri Lanka’s political establishment.
The maturity appears to have gone out of the window when it comes to politics in Sri Lanka. President Sirisena must be ruing the day that he started to believe his partners in the United National Party. Just last week the same UNP opposed the President’s choice to head a tourism related state institute. The appointment of Kishu Gomes a successful and respected Sri Lankan has somehow inveigled itself into the bin of despair – all because the UNP is playing a game of political brinkmanship with President Sirisena along the way.
The irony is that honest effort to tackle departures from process and procedure is constantly being stymied. The same is true of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Bond scam.
It is a shocking indictment on the commitment of this government that the Attorney General, the Bribery Commission and the Police have not moved one jot towards moving to a post where the perpetrators are charged. Clearly Arjuna Mahendran is living it up outside of Sri Lanka. It then is time to charge him in absentia. It is after obtaining a judgement that the Sri Lanka government can go after asking the Singaporeans to repatriate Mahendran. Any other method of trying to secure Mahendran’s return to Colombo is fraught with the danger of ending up as some poor joke.
The moment that information emerged that the President was facilitating more funds for the FCID and was in contemplation of granting an extension to the Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of the FCID, a clearly dirty tricks campaign was started by a weekend state owned newspaper. Details emerged of gross insubordination on the part of the author of the article and claims made in the article was unaccompanied by any proof of the sensational claim made. It was obvious that this was a continued saga of a campaign against one officer by another slightly senior in service.
The drugs menace must be tackled across partisan lines. The menace has no preferred hue or ideology and is commercial in nature. The effects of addiction are frightening and much of the users and their families have no real way of coping with the problem of curing the addiction. The impact on our economy is devastating.
For the hospitality industry the long term impact is almost unimaginable. Most Captains of this industry agree that successful destination marketing rides on the back of stable government and a general ambiance of safety. Unless political leaders are of the tyrant variety – Idi Amin and Mugabe spring to mind – most visitors to a country are not concerned as to who is in power – only that there is a stable environment and that personal safety is paramount. The widespread and easy availability of hard drugs will send the wrong signals to those planning to visit the island for tourism.
If the drug menace continues unchecked and with only a half-baked commitment for its eradication, government too will fall victim to the designs, whims and fancies of drug lords from international drug hotspots and it will be a matter of time before we find ourselves being dictated to by these undesirables. The fall out for our hospitality and leisure industry will be devastating.
It is to this end that the people of Sri Lanka must welcome the apparent steely resolve of President Sirisena to take a hardline in the fight against the drug menace. If indeed that resolve includes the use of the death penalty as the ultimate deterrent then so be it. Sri Lanka’s judiciary has shown real signs of returning to being strong and independent – meaning that no one needs fear the use of the death penalty for serious crimes as our judicial process provides for a robust appellate process prior to the final sentence of a death penalty being imposed.
In terms of deterrents, nothing focuses the mind more than an impending death penalty.