Editorial/Opinion

Saving SL from the drug scourge

One of the main pledges of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa upon his election was to rid the country of the drug menace. With a reputation of keeping his word, the President has wasted little time in getting down to action. The results of the President’s resolve continue to surface on a daily basis and are a shocking pointer to the extent of the cancer and the institutionalisation of the drug trade over a long period of time, where even law enforcement officials are part of the problem. To drive home, the point, here’s a brief look at the police diary last week:

Saturday (22)

Underworld figure Yaka Sampath arrested with heroin and weapons in Battaramulla. Chaminda Edirisooriya alias Chamiya, an accomplice of Angoda Lokka shot dead by the Police in Gampaha.

Sunday

Underworld gangster Welle Saranga and three others involved in the ganja trade arrested at BIA while attempting to board a flight to Dubai. Drug kingpin Makandure Madush’s main agent Padagoda Busiya arrested in Beruwala with a stock of heroin and four mobile phones.

Monday

Five persons arrested in Jaffna for possession of heroin. Special Task Force deployed at Welikada, Magazine, and Colombo Remand Prisons. Nineteen mobile phones found buried in prison premises.

Tuesday

A female arrested in Boralesgamuwa for alleged involvement in drug trade – bank records show transactions amounting to Rs. 140 million. Police recover 11 kg of heroin worth Rs. 100 million and a cache of weapons in Galle. One suspect arrested.

Wednesday

Couple arrested while packing heroin at a house in Piliyandala. An accomplice of Keselwatte Dinuka arrested in Uswetakeiyawa with a large haul of narcotics.

Veyangoda Police arrest a prison employee, Sri Lanka Air Force civilian employee, and two others for drug trafficking at Mahara Prison. Another accomplice of Angoda Lokka arrested along with 42 kg of heroin and a cache of weapons including three T-56 automatic rifles. Police arrest suspect for using two luxury vehicles with bogus number plates for drug trafficking in Colombo.

Thursday

Suspect arrested in Orugodawatta for possession of 3 kg of heroin, large amount of cash, several ATM cards, and a luxury vehicle. Indra, an accomplice of gangster Samayan arrested in Nawagamuwa for possession of heroin. A sergeant attached to the Welikada Police arrested in Ampara for possessing narcotics.

Friday

A prison guard arrested in Borella for possession of heroin. He had been a drug courier at the Colombo Remand Prison for a long time. Two Navy personnel arrested while transporting cannabis in an official vehicle. An accomplice of underworld figure Podi Lassie arrested in Balapitiya with a large haul of weapons including T-56 automatic rifles, ammunition, and hand grenades.

The above is not some fictional creation but a list of actual events that occurred over the course of the past week. According to the arrests made, nearly 60 kg of heroin with a street value of Rs. 600 million, various other narcotics including ice, cannabis, and a huge haul of weapons have been recovered. In the process, prison officers, police officers, navy personnel, and an employee of the Air Force have all been caught in the police net.

In the recent past, over a dozen officers of the Police Narcotics Bureau were arrested and are currently in remand custody for conniving with the drug barons. In a recent case involving the death of a prisoner at Welikada Prison, it was revealed in court last week that a certain police officer received a monthly “salary” of Rs. 150,000 from drug kingpin Welle Suda for information on planned drug raids and police operations.

This is most probably just the tip of the iceberg and many more corrupt individuals are likely to be on the payroll of various drug lords who are vying with each other for territory. Given this reality, investigators need to be extra cautious in first identifying and exposing the moles within their own ranks who in return for filthy lucre, will not hesitate to put a spoke in the wheel of the ongoing operations.

For the past five months, the airport has been closed and imports have been drastically reduced with a ban in effect on the importation of everything other than essential goods. As a result, the usual smuggling routes have been severely hampered. It is therefore pertinent to question as to how narcotics are still flooding into the country or whether what is seized is making its way back into the market through the backdoor. That is a job for the Police and going by the progress made in the recent past, the answers won’t be long in coming. At least let’s hope so.

The reason for the recent success is undoubtedly the political will to get the job done from the very top, resulting in lower level ruling politicians keeping a safe distance and not interfering with the investigations, which has been the bane in eradicating this cancer in the past.

It is a well-known fact that the drug trade is a multi-billion-rupee industry and billions change hands every month in buying and selling drugs. This is money that is lost to the financial system and funds that do not contribute in any way towards legitimate economic activity.

For instance, the majority of drug users are daily wage earners and rather than spending their hard-earned wages on buying legitimate products that contribute to the wellbeing and growth of the economy, these funds go into the pockets of drug lords who in turn have to launder this money to bring it back into the legitimate system. This deprives the economy of billions of rupees in funds that could stimulate the consumption of products leading to employment generation and revenue to government coffers.

The surest indication that the authorities are gaining the upper hand in the drug war is what is happening in the prisons today. It is no secret that many of the prisoners are active drug users and these days, hundreds of them are turning up at the prison hospital with withdrawal symptoms. According to Negombo Prison officials, the daily average number of patients turning up at the prison hospital there was around 25 three months ago. Now, that figure has shot up to over 200, and there have been reports of some prisoners committing suicide as a result of being deprived of their daily dose.

The country’s congested prisons, which are running at three times their intended capacity, are fertile grounds for breeding new drug addicts, as even those who are sent to prison for minor offences are put among drug addicts

and it is just a matter of time before they too fall victim to the habit. When these individuals are eventually released from prison, they begin to indulge in criminal activities in order to fund their craving for drugs. This is

the vicious cycle that needs to be broken and it is indeed heartening to note that the authorities have now taken a policy decision to discontinue the practice of housing non-drug-related prisoners with drug-related prisoners. Instead, they will be sent to rehabilitation centres where they will be introduced to vocational training, so that on their release from prison, they can earn a decent living and contribute to the economy of the country.

While commending the President for these new initiatives, it is hoped that the ongoing operations to eradicate the drug menace will be carried out to its conclusion.