Combating drug trafficking: A Matter of Urgency

We have to veer course drastically, take the bull by the horns before we slip into greater anarchy on this front

A series of upsetting disclosures about the network of drug dealing has been made before the Commission of Inquiry on Drugs. It has come out so far that, to keep their trade going unhindered, drug peddlers have developed an extensive network of ramifications that allegedly involve certain officers in various public departments that the dealers would have corrupted with money.

The Commission’s work is ongoing. More detailed revelations about people and personalities from different walks of life associated with drug dealers are expected to come out. These are believed to be more explosive than all that has come out in public so far, according to Me Antoine Domingue, a respected barrister and former Chairman of the Bar Council, in an interview to Weekend newspaper last week. So, the Commission is now placed before a duty to thrash out to a greater degree of detail the various damaging connections that the local drug industry has established.

It is being said that repression by sending to prison those who are guilty of various crimes has been turned to advantage by drug dealers even from behind prison walls. They are converted into new drug peddling recruits and the fact of being thrown back in prison is no deterrent. When they can come out the next time round, they are beefed up for more daring activities. It is for this reason that drug dealing would have amplified its market reach to such newcomers – a process that has been going on for long. Moreover repression comes at a very heavy cost to the state exchequer, and do not always meet the expectations of society, thus the rethinking being undertaken in some countries about repression and alternative measures to stem drug trafficking.

The catastrophic consequences on society of proliferating drugs are all too well known. The costs at the level of individual lives and families are incalculable. We don’t know yet how deeply society has been cankered by this scourge, given the fundamentally covert nature of this activity.

What has come out clearly so far points to some public officials who would have put key public institutions involved in the fight against drugs and crimes at counter-purposes with themselves. Such persons would have thus breached the fundamental trust placed in them for the safe conduct of their office. Institutions which should have been at the forefront of the battle against drugs in the country have, according to what has come out in public so far, allowed themselves to be infested by the worm of corruption. Greed has undermined the moral strength which should have been there to fight corruption.

We do not know yet the full range of perverse ramifications of this illicit industry. But it has been stated that what has been disclosed so far is but the tip of the iceberg. The question is whether we should consider the fight against the proliferation of drugs as lost in advance if it has managed to infiltrate the system to such an extent. Had actions been taken to stem the tide when it was rising, we would have stood a good chance of tackling it. But if it can embarrass today a large swathe of public sector cadres responsible for the upkeep of the law and order system, can it be dealt with effectively? If political parties have also been benefiting from perverse donations from this source, will they in any way help to arrest it? All this seriously looks like a battle we’ve been losing, one doesn’t know since how long!

Common sense is that, unless strong affirmative actions are taken, the situation is bound to deteriorate and drugs would proliferate even more than what is the situation today. The other issue is why, when it has been expanding so much, unknown to the public, all these revelations about its extensive presence on the local market are surfacing only now and, that too, after a Commission of Inquiry has been set up? Are there very powerful interests which, for the sake of private gain at public expense, have knowingly tolerated it, nay, been complicit in its stealthy growth and expansion?

It is difficult for us not to believe that there would persons enough in this country who will stand up to protect society in general against the ravages of the drug business. Somehow, the objective is to pitch all the well-meaning citizens of this country on one side against drug dealers and their accomplices on the other side. It is an occasion to make national solidarity give concrete results.

We know that it is a big risk for individuals to denounce the drug mafia and that potential witnesses have to be protected against their physical elimination by concerned drug mafias. People need to be reassured that those to whom they will disclose suspected cases of drug dealing by particular persons will not themselves reveal such information to the godfathers of the drug business, putting their life in jeopardy.

We don’t have a Whistleblowers Protection Act to protect informants concretely, by sheltering them within or outside the country, or establishing a fool-proof framework for anonymously and discreetly collecting information from them without putting at risk the lives of those putting the information in the hands of the independent Authorities established specifically for this purpose. It is a measure that can be contemplated.

It is also necessary that we quickly replace the system of legal repression of offenders by another more exemplary and expeditious one in the case of the drug business. Another action to be taken immediately is to deal firmly and without delay with all those who are suspected of having sold their professional conscience for the sake of getting into dirty money by all means. Unless the public services are purged without delay of such corrupt individuals, not much dent can be made against drug mafias.

It is not unlikely that drugs or the proceeds of crime may have made their way into the treasuries of political parties. Unless politicians establish, when fingers are pointed at them on the basis of objectively testable information, that they took the money in good faith and that they were not aware of the dirty source and provenance of the funds they would have thus received, there is a strong case to ban from electoral participation politicians of this ilk. For, we cannot do much against this scourge if political parties which hold sway over the public service are themselves closely linked or helpful to drug barons.

On the other hand, given the involvement of people with so many different profiles and occupations in the drug network, the time is ripe to bring together on a common platform all the stakeholders concerned – legal representatives, the police and prisons, health and education, members of civil society and NGOs, as well as victims willing to share their experience among others – and have them come up with a concrete plan of action to deal with this scourge. The experience of other countries which have been more successful in this area, such as the Netherlands, should also be taken into consideration.

This is a matter of urgency, for the current situation shows that the existing system of control over the drug business has been completely perverted by the drug industry to its benefit. If we keep relying on it, there will be more of the same and society will have to pay an even heavier price in days to come. We have to veer course drastically to make everyone accountable for his/her acts and omissions, taking the bull by the horns before we slip into greater anarchy on this front.

 

* Published in print edition on 18 August 2017

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