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Sri Lanka: In January Alone 170 Deaths Due To Road Accidents

January 31, 2012

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission

On January 28 alone there were 17 deaths due to road accidents. This led to the police issuing a notice that the 28th was the date on which the most number of fatal accidents had occurred. Despite of the usual claim by the police that they will take stern action against errant drivers their incapacity to control the roads was manifest when an Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) allegedly released the 22 year-old nephew of a Deputy Minister who caused two deaths and injured several other persons when he collided with three separate motorcycles. He is said to have been severely inebriated at the time.

During the first 29 days of January 156 serious accidents were reported which resulted in the death of 170 persons. In the same period 2,449 cases of dengue were reported and the number of deaths has been increasing, forcing the Ministry of Health to declare a national dengue prevention week. One of the deaths reported was that of a 27-year-old medical doctor. Sadly, the declaration of the dengue prevention week was only a publicity stunt to appease the increasing frustrations among the public about the government's incapacity to take effective action to stop the spread of this endemic killer.

Though deaths due to road accidents and dengue fever may be seen as two separate categories, in fact, they both arise from a single cause -- the failure of the government to take any kind of effective action on any of the issues facing the country. The failure is a structural one. The government resorts to propaganda rather than directing its own machinery to deal with the problem. In fact, the government machinery itself lacks an effective centre. While the executive president holds all power there is no machinery for making effective policy decisions that reach down to the grass roots.

The nation's policing system has reached the point of laughable inefficiency due mainly to political interference. The system of command responsibility no longer works in any sensible manner. Even the arrest of a drunken driver is a matter over which the police cannot act independently as demonstrated in the recent event of accidents caused by the deputy minister's nephew.

The Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, the President's brother, Gotabhya Rajapakse made a long speech recently in which he told the police that they cannot use the excuse that they have no power to act independently. Despite of such rhetoric the truth is that the system is virtually dead due to political control from the top. The very fact that the government has to depend more and more on the Special Task Force (STF) is itself an indication of the government's own distrust and lack of faith in the police.

The same can also be said of the country's health care system. A lot of talk mainly meant for television broadcasts for reasons of propaganda happens every day. However, there is no capacity to act even on matters like the prevention of dengue which has become a killer disease that is no respecter of persons.

The result of the government's failure to act is the spread of corruption everywhere. There is not even the appearance of any action to stop corruption. In fact, the government that is lacking in its command capacity to act, naturally fails to deal with corruption.

The questions facing the citizen are who is to prevent dangerous road accidents, the spread of dengue and other serious social evils. No one is able to identify any authority that is capable of engaging in any such endeavours.

There is much cursing in every corner. The recent road accidents were followed by a protest of the relatives and others who live in the areas who exchanged angry words with the police. However, except for crying aloud in mourning for such deaths these quarrels with the police do not lead to any kind of reaction from the political authorities. Deaths due to dengue are also followed by such pathetic scenes of desperate mourning.

The opposition political parties have no answers to any of these problems. Much of their time is taken up with talk about their own petty quarrels.

All this has created a dangerous political vacuum in Sri Lanka.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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