We have often seen newspaper headlines such as “200 Kgs of heroin detected”, but eventually there is often no trace of the said amount. In other words, there is a real possibility that these drugs re-enter circulation in Colombo and elsewhere. This is an inexcusable state of affairs, in the light of the fact that narcotics can destroy our younger generation.
It was no secret that the previous Government had several high-profile members involved in drug running. In fact, when the STF raided the premises of a top politician linked to narcotics during this period, instructions went from the highest levels to stop the investigation. And we all know what happened to an Army Major who waited to nab a politician’s son involved in drug trafficking and peddling. Despite anti-narcotic rhetoric, that Government took little or no action to control the flow of drugs into the country or stop their distribution within the country.
On the other hand, this Government has taken several positive steps to stem to tide of drugs. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are outspoken proponents of tough measures against drug trafficking. There have been several spectacular detections of narcotics in recent times. Since the end of the conflict, the Navy and the Coastguard have had more time to devote to ending illegal activities on the high seas and as a result, they have been able to thwart many attempts to smuggle drugs by boat. There is a shortage of illicit drugs on the street as a direct result of these efforts, but still, narcotics worth Rs.450 million change hands every day throughout the country.
The only real way of ensuring that drugs do not reach the street is intercepting drugs at border points and destroying any seized drugs stocks. The same rule should apply to smuggled cigarettes and any other harmful substances. This has not been done properly until now. Now the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) is scheduled to publicly destroy over 900 kilograms of cocaine on Monday in Katunayake, which were seized during previous raids at the Bandaranaike International Airport and other places. This follows a statement by Law and Order and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayaka earlier this month that measures would be taken to destroy seized narcotics publicly.
The Police Special Task Force (STF), the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) and Organized Crimes Prevention Division, had seized heroin, illegal cigarettes, liquor and cannabis worth Rs. 37.55 billion during 2017. The PNB alone had seized 220 kg and 650g of cocaine worth over Rs 4.4 million during 2017, while 29 arrests had been made during the same period. This is a major achievement in the drive against narcotics.
Narcotics is a multi-billion dollar international business that knows no boundaries. Sri Lanka has been identified as a hot transshipment spot for international narcotics smugglers pushing their deadly wares to Europe and USA. The Navy and our immigration agencies have a great role to play in nabbing such operatives and their craft. Sri Lankan authorities should also share available intelligence with foreign anti-narcotics agencies on these elements. It is due to such networking that our sleuths were able to track down and bring home several drug kingpins who were hiding abroad.
The society should also be vigilant about the activities of drug lords and their minions. Police should encourage people to tip them off about any drug pushing activity in their neighbourhood. There is also a common refrain that only the small fry get caught when it comes to drug detections while the kingpins go scot free. This picture should be changed and to the credit of the Police, they have nabbed several drug lords. But the society has another role – reject anyone dealing in drugs at any level in any field of activity. Hence we applaud Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s recent statement that voters should reject any candidate from any party who has connections with the narcotics trade, at the forthcoming Local Government Polls. With political parties fielding at least 70 candidates with dubious track records for the LG Polls, this is a timely advice from the Premier.
However, the society should not shun those who are addicted to drugs. All should contribute to the drive to rehabilitate them and make them useful citizens again. According to the Dangerous Drugs Control Board, over 250,000 Lankan youth are addicted to illicit drugs. Close to 50,000 youth have been found to be addicted to heroin alone. Statistics show that only around 2,500 youth are enrolled in rehabilitation programmes annually. This is simply not enough, given the number of drug addicts in the country.
The fight against illicit drugs should begin at home and at school. Parents should be more vigilant about what their children are up to as drug peddlers are keen to rope in new “customers” and schoolchildren are seen as an easy target. Children should be taught about the destructive effects of tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs as part of their school curriculum. That will be the key to creating a drug-free society in the future.
Daily News, January 13, 2018