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Judicial Intervention Is Welcomed By The People

(December 25, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is indeed a cruel paradox that ‘a government of the people, by the people, for the people’ should refuse or resist a ruling made by the highest court of the land that a litre of petrol be sold at Rs. 100 and instead stick to the former price of Rs. 122, whatever the reasons behind the stubborn refusal may be. Strange things happen in our Democratic Socialist Republic and now have we reached a stage where the rulings of the Supreme Court are not being followed by the government in power? Constitutional punditry is not required to say that in any country when the rulings of the judiciary are not followed by the executive, the drift is towards anarchy. At the time this edition went to press the cabinet was meeting to reconsider the decision not to respect the Supreme Court order.

The Executive Presidency created by J.R. Jayewardene has been subjected to severe criticism since this constitution was promulgated. Those in the opposition, when the UNP was in power for 17 continuous years, vowed to destroy it the moment they assumed office. It was one of the prime pledges of Chandrika Kumaratunga when she made her bid for power. But during her two terms in office there was no serious consideration given to the proposal.

President Mahinda Rajapakse without a clear parliamentary majority is revelling in it. The executive presidential form of government without independent ministers and those without a backbone in a cabinet — even if it exceeds the century mark — has become a one man show.

That the executive arm of government has become pliant and a rubber stamp as well is demonstrated in the judgement of Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane, in the fundamental rights petition on the Water’s Edge case. Both the Board of Investment and the Urban Development Authority had not probed even some of the basic requirements to grant approval for such a project. The issue involved the grant of over 225 acres of prime state land in the suburbs of Colombo to a private company for the establishment of a golf course. The whole deal had gone through state institutions concerned including the cabinet of ministers, like a knife going through butter, because it had the backing of the then Chief Executive.

In the recent pronouncement of the Supreme Court on the hedging deal made by the Petroleum Corporation with some private banks the Supreme Court had held that a total of US$ 675.72 million (Rs. 75 billion) would have to be paid on the agreements made.

It is not alleged that the Executive President has been connected with the deal but the fact that he has a say in the appointment of all key officials to state corporations and the governor of the Central Bank casts a shadow on the powers of the executive presidency. The Supreme Court has called for the suspension of the Chairman of the Petroleum Corporation, Asantha de Mel who is not known for his financial prowess, least of all in the art of ‘hedging’ which is an expertise known to select Western financiers.

The recommendation has been made by the Governor of the Central Bank Nivard Cabraal, who is not from the ranks of the Central Bank and is an accountant. Why these individuals decided in plunging headlong into the black arts of high finance, President Rajapakse should answer. This is an example that demonstrates the flaws of the executive presidency where the president enjoys indiscriminate power to appoint those lacking requisite qualifications to posts that require extremely specialised knowledge.

The hedging deal will cost this poor country Rs. 75 billion. Who will be held responsible for this 75 billion rupee calamity? Will all be forgiven and forgotten as it usually happens and the poor will ultimately pay it in the form of various taxes? There is much more in the pipeline. The last issue of The Sunday Leader reported that the President’s elder brother Chamal Rajapakse has proposed the purchase of the five star Continental Hotel in Colombo for around US$ 45 million for the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

Whether the SLPA needs a five star hotel to run its operations is also an issue the public should take up as a fundamental rights application. The SLPA which was considered to be a money spinner for the country is now projected to be heading for stormy waters. It owes the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) $ 400 million. Our report also says that a financial status report prepared by the SLPA Finance Department has projected that the SLPA would be bankrupt within five years.

There is Mihin Lanka, the private airline inaugurated by the Rajapakse government which has already gobbled up billions of rupees and has now been resuscitated with a further infusion of public funds. In our previous comments we have pointed out that many reputed airlines have gone bankrupt or grounded most of their planes due to financial reasons. Are we trying to prove the entire world wrong?

In recent times the Supreme Court has made many welcome judicial interventions to protect the rights of citizens and prevent the country’s scarce resources being squandered by those who have been placed in seats of power but know nothing of what they have to do. The justices will receive the wholehearted support of the people who are now sick with the empty slogans and gibberish of the self proclaimed messiahs. Last week people — rich and poor — vented their opinion on the streets as they queued for fuel.

During the past week, we have been treated to infantile claims such as that there will be no funds to fight terrorism if petrol prices are reduced and that petrol is being consumed only by the rich.

President Rajapakse in his early days conveyed the impression that he is a down to earth politician with his feet firmly planted on the ground. His attempts to take to the air with Mihin Lanka and to build an alternative international airport in his native Weerawila indicates that he is beginning to soar into the realms of fantasy.

Editorial, The Morning Leader, Colombo based weekly news paper.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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