|Tuesday, 4 November 2003|
The recent seizures of huge heroin consignments by the Police Narcotics Bureau are indeed an eye opener to the Government and the general public of the enormity of the problem of illicit drugs in our little island.
From the mid nineteen seventies when addiction to heroin in particular was inconsequential to the extent that it was hardly spoken of, the habit has spread encompassing virtually every nook and corner of the island with the curious exception of the Northern Region. Narco-terrorism fuelled the habit particularly in the nineteen eighties and the nineties where the proceeds were made good use of to finance the purchase of small arms and sophisticated weaponry. Strangely, the North remained relatively free of illicit drugs except for the rife period when the IPKF fought the terrorists in the Vanni and in the North.
The fact that detections particularly of heroin, where they are made, are usually big hauls would only be a pointer to the widespread trafficking that goes on undetected.
International drug trafficking
International drug trafficking takes place between the areas of production and consumption with S/W Asia supplying the bulk to the European market and S/E Asia and Latin America supplying the American market. Europe and America remain the principal areas targeted by the international drug traffickers.
A sudden steep upward rise in the street price of heroin in Sri Lanka would be indicative of the illicit supply getting disrupted due to the law enforcement authorities clamping down on production and supply or the successful interdiction and seizure of substantial hauls of the drug at entry points at the consuming end.
The international drug traffickers however with their virtually inexhaustible financial resources controlled by powerful interlocking mafia networks, seem to invariably circumvent with relative ease whatever obstacles placed in their way. Their modus operandi vary overtime and display incredible ingenuity and amazing sophistication. Stashing the drug away in false bottoms of suitcases is completely old that now. Even swallowing condoms filled with the stuff is now getting rather stale! All this is indeed cause for alarm both in the producing as well as the consuming countries.
Drug trafficking - a self- reinforcing activity
Drug trafficking is a self-reinforcing activity which expands the illicit trade and uses its profits in turn to increase capital. One way of breaking the vicious circle is by depriving those engaged in the trade of their motivation.
Drug seizures can be compensated by traffickers by hiking the price of the drug as an interim measure and simultaneously increasing shipments. It is observed that very effective way of demotivating those engaged in illicit trafficking is by the confiscation of their assets and property which would seriously undermine their capacity to finance, organise and maintain their clandestine networks.
The basis of the power of the drug barons is the ability to corrupt both the high and the low with remarkable facility. Once their power bases are effectively weakened, the options open to them would correspondingly diminish.
Legislation is already in place in certain countries to use monies confiscated from drug traffickers to combat the illicit trade. Such monies can be productively used for the improvement of the capacity of law enforcement Agencies and for the setting up of drug abuse prevention projects.
Sri Lanka should in likemanner, resolutely pursue the enactment of tough new anti-drug legislation which would act as a positive disincentive to the big time drug dealers engaged in the illicit drug trade. The rapid spread of drug addiction among the youth of the island should be viewed with the gravest concern as it would progressively undermine social and economic stability and even pose a threat to national security. In the war against illicit drugs it is necessary to carry the battle into the camp of the big time dealers thereby eroding effectively their power bases.
Money laundering and its unsettling effects
Developing countries are often tempted by and are vulnerable to, the huge cash inflows made possible through money laundering. However, it should be realised that such money is highly capable of endangering the economic, political and social foundations of such States. Money laundering which involves the massive transfer of ill-gotten cash to unsuspecting developing countries, will come to pose a serious threat to law and order and democratic institutions as overtime, corruption would worsen and be all pervasive leading to the entire socio-economic-legal fabric of society being torn asunder resulting in a state of social anomie.
Happily, it must be said that Sri Lanka despite being in a severe cash bind at present has adopted the wise policy of steering clear of being a haven for such laundered money. However, with the almost unrestricted opening of the economy to foreign cash investment, extra vigilance will have to be exercised by the Central Bank, the Finance Ministry and the SEC in particular, to ensure that all attempts by international wheeler-dealers to launder money in Sri Lanka are summarily thwarted.
The tyranny of the Demand Curve
It is indeed a tragic irony that countries that are the biggest consumers are often those enthusiastically funding alternative development programmes to curb production on the supply side.
Paradoxically, there do not seem to be tangible determined efforts by such conspicuous consumers to stem an insatiable domestic demand! Human rights issues are often trotted out as excuses for non-interference in the liberties of individuals and the flourishing illicit trade is often winked at by law enforcement authorities in these countries. This presents a classic example of the tyranny of the demand curve which enslaves the hapless producer in most poor developing countries.
Drugs in the workplace
In Sri Lanka there is insufficient awareness, particularly among employers, of the dangers of drug abuse in the workplace. This stems primarily from a basic ignorance of the insidious nature of the problem coupled with a stronger propensity to wish away problems which is unfortunately a trait ingrained in our nature.
Till the problem manifests itself visibly and often tragically, the tendency is to try not to see it and hope that it would eventually "go away". It is indeed inexplicable that when drug offenders keep filling up our prisons and statistics reveal the highest addiction in the 20 to 35 year age group, very little is being done to build up awareness in the workplace of the dangers and harmful effects of drug abuse. For one to smugly surmise that the problem in the workplace is merely an extension of what takes place in larger society is a typically escapist attitude which would only encourage the unhindered growth of the problem in the workplace as well as the society at large.
It is necessary to impress on the employer as well as the employee that workplace policies in this regard should be based on the rationale that the use of drugs in the workplace is totally unacceptable as it affects health, safety, productivity and equally importantly, undermines the security of the workplace, public confidence and trust.
Drug dependence would invariably enervate employee efficiency, work performance and employee dependability thereby posing a grave problem to the entire organization. Nationally, productivity losses through absenteeism, lassitude and general inefficiency would be incalculable. A pragmatic approach to the problem of drugs in the workplace, particularly in the socio-cultural context of Sri Lanka, would involve a multi-dimensional approach which would include identification, education, prevention and finally, treatment.
Impact on criminal activities
Drug trafficking being an area of organised criminal activity based on widespread corruption, the moral and social fabric of communities would be subjected to progressive erosion, if such activity is not vigorously countered. such criminal activity being insidious by nature, difficulties would lie in estimating its spread. One noticeable problem in Sri Lanka is its unsettling impact on the criminal Justice System by the increasing numbers of persons arrested for drug related offences.
A very high proportion of offenders consigned to remand prison are those taken in for drug related offences. It is therefore natural to expect widespread drug abuse inside prison here. In fact, the estimated percentage of drug abuse in prisons in Sri Lanka viz.45%, is the highest in the Asia/Pacific region!
With increasing incomes and rapidly changing lifestyles the problem of controlling a growing illicit market for synthetic stimulants poses a new threat to authorities as such markets were dynamic and expansive and continually innovating to stay ahead of controls.
The need has arisen to develop the analytical capacity and the technical expertise to forecast such innovations by conducting research into the local demand for such stimulants as well the economic and social contexts within which the demand was articulated.
Demand/Supply reduction strategies
In the formulation of counter strategies to combat the drug menace, it is essential to take cognizance of certain global trends which are being facilitated by the electronic media and the use of sophisticated techniques of transportation combined with the enormous power and wealth behind the cartels that operate these international networks. Any counter measures, to be effective, will have to match the sophistication and subtlety and deviously innovative methods of these traffickers.
There is also the invidious factor of narco-terrorism to be reckoned with. The large number of arrests and interdictions both locally and abroad have established irrefutably the link between drug trafficking and the Northern conflict. For the terrorists, it is a double-edged weapon of eroding social and economic stability and a relatively easy way of acquiring the necessary finances to purchase arms and ammunition.
In the final analysis, it is social development and building awareness through educational programmes that would enable people to move away from the production and consumption of illicit drugs in a developing country like Sri Lanka.
There is no gainsaying that the illicit drug menace poses a grave socio-economic threat to the well-being of the present and future generations of this country. The magnitude of the problem could be gauged by the phenomenal increase in the numbers of those addicted to heroin over the past five to seven years from an estimated fifty thousand to double that number.
There has always been a lurking suspicion that at least a part of the consignments of heroin periodically seized by the authorities, slip back into the market to be sold to local addicts. Corruption being rife at present at practically every level, loopholes will always be discovered for the commodity to be spirited away after adulteration, particularly as the seized quantity has to change hands several times-PNB, Govt.Analyst's Dept. and finally the Law Courts at which latter place the drugs would be kept in custody till the case is determined.
These seized consignments of drugs are known at times to shrink in volume drastically or even metamorphose themselves magically into talcum powder! A simple procedure could perhaps be followed to prevent these untoward happenings viz. immediately a drug consignment is seized, the PNB or whatever authority responsible for the seizure, should notify the Chairman NDDBC, the Govt. Analyst and the DIG/PNB who should proceed to the site at once, where the Govt. Analyst should weigh the drug and test it for its purity.
Thereafter, the three officials should certify as to the weight and the quality of the drug seized (function of the Govt. Analyst), before proceeding to have the consignment destroyed in their presence, which fact should again be certified by them. It may be necessary to bringing an amendment to the NDDBC statute providing for the above procedure as well as making legal provision in the relevant Ordinance for the certification made by the three officials to be admissible evidence in Court. I am of the view that the above procedure would effectively minimize the very real risk of the seized drugs finding their way to the local drug dealers.
Recreational activities to promote a sense of physical and psychological well being among school children.
It is universally recognized that a healthy interest in sports activities creates a sense of physical well being in youth and weans them away from indulging in drugs and stimulants. Physical training was a compulsory subject incorporated in the school curriculum some decades ago. However, this aspect is completely neglected now. It may be useful to have a short session of physical exercises first thing in the morning before school work proper starts. Educational programmes on the harmful effects of drugs could be introduced into the school curricula. These could be incorporated in Health or Environmental studies and may also deal with the use and abuse of gate way stimulants like alcohol and tobacco.
There is a proposal advanced by certain authorities to commence Moral Development Societies in schools islandwide. This is indeed a timely and pragmatic approach to drug abuse prevention in schools. It would also present an opportunity to inculcate in children our cherished ethical and moral values which have unfortunately been subsumed by overly materialistic value systems and Western oriented social mores.
Conclusion - NDDCB Master Plan
The National Dangerous Drugs Control Board(NDDCB) has its comprehensive Master Plan, which has been approved by the Government, laying down certain multi-pronged strategies for drug abuse prevention in Sri Lanka.
If the rampaging menace of drug addiction is to be effectively curbed, the Government should set about it with the required indomitable will coupled with an abiding political commitment. It is imperative that the Master Plan proposals be vigorously implemented if the desired goals are to be achieved.
This would demand a high degree of commitment from the role players in the Government as well as the private sector(NGOO) who are expected to perform certain vital functions under the Plan. Implementation strategies have to be drawn up methodically and worked out meticulously if they are to meet the desired objectives. Media support is crucial to educate and enlighten the public.
Above all, what is vital is an unremitting political commitment and collective will to ensure that the implementation programme achieves the desired measure of success. On such resolute purposefulness on the part of the political decision makers and other key role players will hinge, the health and the future economic and the social well being of the country.
Produced by Lake House