Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Elite

His most remarkable achievement was helping the Commissioner of election to hold free and fair election and refusing to help the former politico to stage a coup.

I was listening to an interview with D.B.Nihalsinghe and how he sidestepped (most likely he was fearful of the politicos) a question on politics and politicians.

We had a mass psychosis and fear (almost equivalent to Prabhakaran under previous regime) and if we did not have a public servant of high standard like the former DIG, the results of the election would have been rigged.

But remember there are conspirators among us including Buddhist Monks (Remember Somarama and Buddha Rakkita) who wants to go back to the underworld and dicctatorship.

ElericAbeygoonewardene, Cyril Herath and NK Illangakoon of the pantheon of police leaders in my time and after, excelled in keeping their flocks in their fold. 

They were the elite.

To the above I should add C.C. Dissanayake, whose daughter won the first gold medal in Asian Games, long time before, Susanthika.

Reproduction and the ideas are not mine.

Illangakoon’s Recipe for Success

by Merril Gunaratna

NK Illangakoon left office amidst a host of accolades and plaudits. Civil society, the media and even the political establishment sang praises of him. From a public standpoint, there was a touch of pathos about his departure. He left impressions of impeccable standards, moral courage and a reputation of being a "no nonsense IGP" to those within and without. Where many in the public service in recent times had been incapable of withstanding interference, Illangakoon, along with Sarath Mayadunne, and Mahinda Deshapriya stand out like rare beacons in the twilight.

Illangakoon has to be judged in the context of the times in which he worked. On assumption of office, he sought to come to grips with a syndrome which he saw as the bane of the service. From the 1970s, considerable authority an IGP enjoyed to control his subordinates, determine their appointments, transfers, promotions, and to consider disciplinary action, had steadily shifted to the political establishment. The IGP’s choice or decisions in such sphere found favour, subject to exception, only if the establishment was in agreement. With the advent of such a permutation, one which grew from a trickle to a raging torrent with the passing of time, the IGP’s authority waned sharply.

Illangakoon assumed office against such a backdrop. Perhaps he realized that if the deserving were given recognition, promotions and important posts, many things in the police would fall into place. He believed that new concepts, projects and reforms would be meaningless unless the efficient and deserving manned the diverse slots in the service. By the same token he was convinced that favourites with only patronage to boast of, would not adorn such slots. Those of such ilk are usually restricted in their ability to combat crime, vice, violence and lawlessness vigorously because of inherent limitations. Therefore the authority an IGP would exercise over his officers without hindrance becomes the cornerstone on which the success or failure of the police would hinge. The dictum "there are no bad men, only bad leaders" emphasizes that good results flow from good leaders, bad results, from ineffective ones.

Illangakoon’s task of regaining control of an authority or power which had shifted hands and exacerbated with time was not easy, for the process at the time he assumed office was virtually perpetual. But he succeeded to a considerable extent in regaining such power. Though not in full control, he substantially reduced its impact. The political establishment began to trust him and appreciate his views and recommendations of officers. His subordinates also began to show restraint in going over his head to cause reversals of his decisions. He developed in police parlance, the reputation of being a "no nonsense" IGP. He also refused to be a "yes" man in the eyes of the establishment.

It may be appropriate to state a few instances which stand testimony to the success of his policy. In mid 2015 he received information that an officer in charge of a police station in Kurunegala was engaged in business activities, running two "tippers" for hire. The senior officers in the region held the view that he was an efficient officer with a good reputation. Illangakoon made his own inquiries, ascertained the truth and transferred the officer far out. Strong influence was brought to bear to restore the officer, but the IGP held his ground and refused to yield. He may have lost ground in the process. Around the same time, he received a directive to transfer over 150 inspectors from where they worked, the reason adduced being that they had not discharged their responsibilities dispassionately. Though conscious that he may incur the ire of the establishment, llangakoon refused to implement the order, and the inspectors remained where they were. The policy he often practised when receiving requests for changes from the establishment was to clarify with regional chiefs and check the records of the officers concerned in the first instance. He would then convey his decisions, backed by cogent reasons.

Gamini Silva, retired senior DIG, held the view that he would oblige the establishment only if his decisions were in harmony with his conscience. He also evolved a system of interviews to determine the eligibility of officers for postings as officers in charge of districts and stations. He thereby had good reasons to back his recommendations to the ministry. Shortly before the election of January 2015, the secretary of the ministry of law and order, a former IGP, commenced the ugly habit of summoning senior officers direct, bypassing the IGP. Illangakoon put his foot down firmly, for the very thought of others seeking to weaken his control of officers was repugnant to him. There have been numerous other instances with a similar flavour.

It would be of interest to examine how he succeeded in causing changes in a situation where his predecessors, barring Cyril Herath, had failed to do. It is possible that his values, convictions, lifestyle, attributes and traits helped him to win the trust and confidence of governments. He led a simple life, abhorring material comforts. His reputation for honesty was impeccable. His integrity was exemplary. He refused to place himself under obligation to politicians as well as subordinates. He refused gifts from officers even when they returned from foreign travel. It is to his credit that he was successful in serving two governments in tempestuous times, and in emerging with his reputation untarnished. He kept a reasonable distance from the establishment, enabling him to say "no" when necessary. Amidst a flawless reputation, insidious elements in the police were unable to prejudice the establishment and weaken his control of the service.

He upheld the highest standards. In his entire career, he was known as a fierce upholder of the rule of law, a person with respect for rules, procedures and precedents as well. His decisions were dictated by his conscience and convictions, not by expedience, as had been the case of some others. A man of few words, his inscrutability often kept those in the establishment as well as his subordinates guessing. Backed by such attributes, he radiated candour and sincerity in thought and actions. His faultless character backed by his candid demeanour therefore had much to do with the success he achieved in winning the confidence of the establishment to take control of the most important responsibility an IGP should enjoy.

Illangakoon has left both a lesson and a legacy for his successors. If they succeed in practicing his art of marginalizing politics in the matter of handling subordinates, the police may regain some of their lost prestige. But such endeavours may be fraught with difficulties since the somewhat obnoxious syndrome had been entrenched for decades until Illangakoon caused a dent in it. After all, "one swallow does not make a summer".

ElericAbeygoonewardene, Cyril Herath and NK Illangakoon of the pantheon of police leaders in my time and after, excelled in keeping their flocks in their fold. They were the elite. There was a consistency in their policy of denying the shift of authority over manpower. Leading men in the public gaze, they jealously protected their domain from encroachment. Refusing to be pliant, they were successful in marginalizing the debilitating impact of the syndrome. The difference between them and the rest was that they pursued a coherent policy, acquiescence being more the exception than the rule. The elite consistently conveyed the message that they "knew their men best." They resisted the risk of the service becoming rudderless. Perhaps Illangakoon is unique even in this elite band, for he occupied a seat of "thorns" as it were for five long years, his m├ętier evoking the respect and admiration of those within, and without. That he departed amidst fanfare, touching farewells and felicitations proves the point.

(The writer retired some years ago as a Senior DIG)

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