A strong message | Daily News

A strong message

The Government has demonstrated that it would not hesitate to use the big stick even against its own local-level functionaries who flout the current regulations, which augurs well for the overall drive being carried out in earnest to see the back of the pandemic. Last week the Government took decisive action against the Moratuwa Mayor, who, going against the restrictions in force, went berserk trying to obtain the vaccine for his favorites via ‘chits’ and engaging in heated arguments with medical personnel sans the regulation face mask.

The mayor is now in remand custody and should be dealt with the strictest terms under the law if he is to be made an example to drive home the point forcefully that politicians must not interfere in the vaccination or other preventive campaigns.

Following the incident, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came in for high praise for wielding the big stick against members of the ruling party which is bound to send a clear message to other would-be troublemakers.

Then we had an episode involving another Mayor, this time from Kurunegala, who was shown on television cutting his birthday cake at the Kurunegala police station, with full attendance of the police high ups in the area. The Mayor had attended a Pirith ceremony at the Police Station and the Birthday celebration was also held on the sidelines. The question arises, though, as to how birthday parties can be allowed at a time when all celebratory events have been banned, and at a sanctuary of law enforcement tasked with apprehending suspects who violate health protocols.

True, there was no overt celebration of the Mayor’s Birthday which was apparently confined only to cutting the cake. But what message will this convey to the public who are being admonished for coming foul of the health regulations? The guardians of the law, who ought to be leading from the front in setting an example to society, ought to do better.

The IGP has ordered a full investigation into the affair and the divisional ASP who was present at the event was transferred to another station. This is another instance that goes on to drive home the public perception of the links between politicians and the law enforcement. True, the Mayor being the first citizen of the area must have been invited by the police for the Pirith ceremony with all good intentions and the birthday party may have happened on the spur of the moment. But, the law enforcement should not be seen entertaining politicians for whatever reasons, lest this create a negative impact on the public view of the police. But this nexus is well known. Who can forget the servile countenance of a former IGP answering a call, clearly from a political bigwig, saying he would not order a certain arrest.

Let the Moratuwa and Kurunegala episodes serve as an effective deterrent to all police officers to conduct themselves with due dignity as befits the Khaki uniform which was once an object of awe and reverence only to be sullied in recent times due to heavy politicization of the law enforcement. It is hoped that Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Ret.) Sarath Weerasekera, a war veteran, would put things right and elevate the police service to its former glory days.

Meanwhile, doubts have once again been raised if the two-week travel restriction, currently in force, is going to have the desired effect. This is more so given the various ruses adapted by individuals to abuse the prevailing guidelines and bypass the law enforcement. Even at a cursory glance the lockdown is seemingly coming apart if one observed the large stream of vehicles that entered Colombo City on Monday alone. According to reports over 5,500 vehicles, including three-wheelers entered Colombo City from 6.30 a.m. to 10 a.m. – a matter of three-and-a-half hours. True, police turned back 3,500 of these vehicles for alleged abuse of the rules and for disputed notions of what constitutes an Essential Service.

Now, in an apparently desperate bid, the police have even taken a decision to penalize Heads of Government institutions and the private sector if they summon more than the required (bare minimum) staff to their workplaces. Whether this move is practical will be the question. Certain specific duties and functions would need the full complement of the workforce such as in the case of giant projects, and those of a highly technical nature requiring round-the-clock maintenance and surveillance by staff in their organic formations. The President has gone on record stating that it is not his intention to make the economy suffer as a result of the prolonged lockdowns. Needless to say, a skeleton staff would necessarily mean a slowdown or even a paralysis of certain sectors not to mention low output.

But as already mentioned it is Hobson’s choice for the Government. Even expert medical opinion states that the economic well-being of the country cannot compensate for the potential loss of lives. Therein lies the crux of the matter.