Security before economy | Daily News

Security before economy

The maintenance of law and order is a challenge for any new government that has to grapple with the economic crisis facing the country. To this end the Armed Forces have indicated that they would step up to the plate. However, the attacks on the Galle Face protestors and the reprisal rioting that took place happened despite emergency regulations being in place.

The Armed Forces, various ex-ministers such as Ramesh Pathirana have said, did not act with quick dispatch despite the fact that the president gave very clear instructions to quell the protests. If true, these allegations are troubling.

Was it a logistical problem that prevented the forces from taking proper steps to quell the arson attacks etc. on time, or was it that forces personnel were not keen to intervene? If the latter was the case, was it because their bosses didn’t give them the proper orders? Or was it that there was some implausible laxity concerning the carrying out of orders that were given?

These questions strike at the centre or the discourse on security that is presently in evidence in this country in the aftermath of the bizarre events of May 9th in particular.

Would the forces be able to quell rioting at a future stage — in a possible eventuality? The new Defence Secretary has assured that law and order would be maintained, but the people may have their own reservations about that after the events of May 9th.

The military would never step in and take over, Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne, a decorated ex-Army General, also assured. That may have been said by way of reassurance, but if the Army is not stepping into the breach it would be welcome, only if the Army does its job that it is supposed to do in maintaining law and order in the first place, when emergency has been declared.

The curfews that followed the disturbances on the 9th seem to have been effective, and it is fortunate that the people have been able to enjoy Vesak holidays without having to look over their shoulders to ensure there are no disruptive elements disturbing the peace.

But the people may now be apprehensive, after the events involving the Galle Face attack, and the rioting that followed.

What measures could be taken to categorically reassure the people that there would be no repeat of what happened on May 9th and thereafter? The Army Commander’s assurances would not suffice. There has to be deterrence, and the best way to deter mobs in the future would be to ensure that everyone who was involved in the recent incidents are held to account.

All the law-breakers have to be tracked down no matter who they were supporting. There is an unfortunate perception that so far law enforcement has been keen on prosecuting those who attacked Members of Parliament, or attacked their houses. A public perception seems to exist that the Galle Face attackers who set upon unarmed peaceful protestors are not being arrested or brought before the law, though a travel ban had been slapped on some of them.

This state of affairs is untenable. The government’s first obligation would be to ensure security, and that would come even before the considerable challenges on the economic front are met. The president has a reputation for being able to deploy the Armed Forces to maximum effect. He was, it would readily be recalled, a Defence Secretary during the war on the terrorist LTTE.

The newly appointed prime minister has experience in keeping a level head when there was unrest and anarchy in the past.

On that occasion, it is said he was able to ensure a smooth transition of power to the then prime minister by keeping a cool head and making certain that the constitutional stipulations regarding succession were followed.

The people therefore would look to the regime to ensure that there are no security lapses, because these are not novices that are in charge of defence and security related matters.

However these are hitherto unknown circumstances. The unrest in society in recent times has been traced to amorphous groups, and most times it has been surmised that the ‘people’ as opposed to some specific armed group, took the law into their own hands.

The word ‘people’ could be used interchangeably with the word ‘mob.’ Apparently the Army, though frantically contacted by MPs whose houses were set on fire, has not come out to quell the riots last week because there were ‘no orders from the top’. This position has been reported in several newspapers.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times. The Army and the civilian high-command are not exactly in lockstep as they should be, even though that’s imperative in matters regarding defense and security.

The past cannot be undone now, but it is hoped that the regime which has considerable experience handling public security issues makes sure that there are no security breaches at any time in the near future at least.

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