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The Boston Tea Party And The Colombo Oil Mess



by Prof. Nalin De Silva

(December 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) One does not have to be an expert in constitutional law to know the division of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary. In any event as Feyarabend has shown that the expertise in a given field does not imply that a person with a different kind of training in a "totally unrelated field" cannot question the so called expert opinion of a person in a given field. Ironically it happens all the time in the courts of law where lawyers question the opinion expressed by medical doctors, chemists, grammarians, linguists etc., and the judges deciding on these opinions.

However, there is no institution to question the lawyers as very often even in the so called human rights commissions it is the lawyers who sway the discussions and the non lawyers are reduced to laymen watching the proceedings or simply answering questions. This asymmetry can be challenged in the Parliament and hopefully in the media, but unfortunately media are governed by various laws of publications and the editors will think not twice but many times before publishing an article questioning the proceedings in the courts of law. In my view it is an unfair advantage enjoyed by law, and is not in the interests of the nation. Just as much lawyers could challenge the opinion of the others in the courts of law there should be institutions other than the Parliament, responsible only to the Parliament, and outside the ambit of the judiciary where the ordinary mathematicians and others should be able to question the actions of the expert lawyers and the judicial officers. This will break the hierarchical pyramidal structure that is in accordance with the western Greek Judaic Christian Chinthanaya and make it a cyclic structure in conformity with the Sinhala Buddhist Chinthanaya. In the absence of such institutions there is the possibility of an elected government heading towards other avenues such as a military government, if the government, the armed forces and the majority of the public in general think that the courts have not acted in the interests of the nation. The dynamics of social evolution are such that a given society will attempt to find other means of achieving what it wants if the existing institutions are a barrier to the evolution in the opinion of the society.

With the recent oil crisis the question of the right of imposing tax has come to the forefront. Who has the power to impose tax and more fundamentally what is meant by tax. There are "aiyas" in towns and villages who collect "kappan" and surely that cannot be considered as tax. An institution may impose an application fee or examination fee for a particular purpose and that is not construed to be tax. Even the money collected by a "pradeshiya sabha" cannot be considered as tax. There may be various definitions of tax, but to avoid any ambiguity it could be considered as that imposed by the legislature, to support the state. In particular as far as this country is concerned the constitution gives the power to the Parliament to impose tax. Whether in the interests of the public or anybody else no other institution can impose tax or dictate on the ways and formulae for imposing tax.

If the government thinks it is desirable to impose a tax of five hundred percent on a certain item and if the majority of the MPs approve such imposition then there is nobody who could prevent the Parliament from imposing the tax. The public interest is a catchy slogan but who would decide on the approval of the public on a certain tax. Surely it is not the editors of Sunday newspapers who could say that hundred percent of the public is against the government on a certain issue that include imposition of a certain tax. In any event to claim that hundred percent of the public is for or against something is too ambitious without even conducting some sort of survey, not that they have much meaning in Asian countries, and such statement only reveals the personal opinion of the editor or the person who made the statement. I cannot state off hand the percentage of tax on tobacco or alcohol but it must be very high to say the least. Though somebody could express the opinion that the tax on tobacco should be reduced in the interests of the smokers who, other than the Parliament, could order that it should be reduced.

With all the inadequacies associated with parliamentary type governments the Parliament is the only institution that is responsible to the people in the final analysis. After all it is the Parliamentarians who have to go before the public and not the administrators, doctors, editors, judges, teachers including those who teach in the universities, human rights activists however much the latter groups may think that they act in the public interests. Unlike the Parliamentarians, the latter groups are not directly responsible to the people who have no means of deciding the fate of the groups. The Parliamentarians on the other hand have to go before the public periodically and at least theoretically the former could be judged by their deeds. Tax should not be imposed or upper limits or lower limits should not be decided by a group that is not directly responsible to the people.

In this connection I would quote below at length from Wikipedia, on the famous Boston tea party that was instrumental in changing the course of the history of the USA. We are also on the verge of creating history after a long time and I only hope that there would not be a Colombo oil mess in the barracks or in the bunkers. The question who could impose tax was raised in the American colonies and the general feeling had been that only the representatives of the colonists should be able to impose tax, and not an outside body such as the British Parliament, that had no representatives of the colonists.

"As Europeans developed a taste for tea in the 17th century, rival companies were formed to import the product from the East Indies. In 1698, the Parliament of Great Britain gave the British East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea into Great Britain. When tea became popular in the British colonies in North America, Parliament sought to eliminate foreign competition by passing an act in 1721 that required colonists to import their tea only from Great Britain. Because Parliament heavily taxed this tea, both Britons and British Americans found that it was much cheaper to buy smuggled tea, which usually came from Dutch sources-tea imported into Holland was not taxed by the Dutch government. The biggest market for smuggled tea was England, but illicit tea was also smuggled into the colonies to a lesser extent.

Tensions between Great Britain and the American colonies arose in the 1760s when Parliament sought, for the first time, to directly tax the colonies for the purpose of raising revenue. Colonists argued that, according to the British Constitution, British subjects could be taxed only by their own representatives; because the colonies were not represented in Parliament, they could not be taxed by that body. Colonists organized economic boycotts against the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767. By 1773, the British East India Company was in financial distress due in part to the colonial boycotts.

Tea Act 1773



A protest notice

In response to this, the British government passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea to the colonies directly and without "payment of any customs or duties whatsoever" in Britain, instead paying the much lower American duty. This tax break allowed the East India Company to sell tea for half the old price and cheaper than the price of tea in England, enabling them to undercut the prices offered by the colonial merchants and smugglers.

Many American colonists, particularly the wealthy smugglers, resented this favored treatment of a major company, which employed lobbyists and wielded great influence in Parliament. Protests resulted in both Philadelphia and New York, but it was those in Boston that made their mark in history. Still reeling from the Hutchinson letters, Bostonians suspected the selective removal of the Tea Tax was simply another attempt by the British parliament to squash American freedom. Samuel Adams, smugglers, and others called for agents and consignees of the East India Company tea to abandon their positions; consignees who hesitated were terrorized through attacks on their warehouses and even their homes.

The first of many ships which arrived at the Boston harbor carrying the East India Company tea was Dartmouth arriving in late November 1773. A standoff ensued between the port authorities and the Sons of Liberty. Samuel Adams whipped up the growing crowd by demanding a series of protest meetings. Coming from both the city and outlying areas, thousands attended these meetings; every meeting larger than the one before. The crowds shouted defiance not only at the British Parliament, the East India Company, and Dartmouth but at Governor Thomas Hutchinson as well, who was still struggling to have the tea landed. On the night of December 16, the protest meeting, held at Boston's Old South Meeting House, was the largest yet seen. An estimated 8,000 people were said to have tipped the tea."
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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