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Sri Lanka citizens need freedom for economic growth: lawmaker
17 Nov, 2011 05:55:10
Nov 17, 2011 (LBO) - Sri Lanka's citizens need freedom for economic progress, a lawmaker said during a debate on an expropriation law which violated property rights that pre-dated the island's Western-style constitution.
"I know that (economic development) minister Basil Rajapaksa and everyone here actually believe in the market economy," lawmaker and economist Harsha de Silva, told parliament, during a debate on an expropriation law last week.

"I want to talk about a subject that is very valuable."

De Silva said 'democracy' denoted by absolute majority rule was dangerous and could destroy the liberties of citizens in the absense of safeguards to ensure justice, freedom and property rights. Economic liberty, he said, was a pre-condition for growth.

De Silva, a lawmaker representing the island's main opposition, took the example of the United States, where its founding fathers wrote a constitution to limit the powers of the state and rulers and expand the freedoms of citizens.

Evils of Democracy

"'Contrary to what propaganda has led the public to believe, America's founding fathers were skeptical and anxious about democracy',"' de Silva said, quoting from a speech made by US economist Steve Hanke.

"'They were aware of the evils that accompany a tyranny of the majority' - the two thirds majority."

Sri Lanka's ruling coalition has a two thirds majority in parliament.

The US is even now the world's largest recipient of foreign investment and even countries like Russia and China are investing their foreign reserves at low interest rates in the US, because their property rights are protected.

The framers of the US constitution had gone to great lengths to ensure that the government was not based on "'the will of the majority and was not, therefore, democratic",' De Silva said.

"'If the framers did not adhere to democracy what did they adhere to? …The framers agreed that the purpose of government was to secure citizens in John Locke’s trilogy of the rights to life, liberty and property'," de Silva read on.

"'The right to life, liberty and property. The Constitution was designed to further the cause of liberty, not democracy. To do that, the Constitution protected individuals’ rights from the government, as well as from their fellow citizens.

"Economic liberty, Honorable deputy speaker, which is a precondition for growth and prosperity, was enshrined in the Constitution," de Silva said.

Feudal Safety

The US constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, enshrining property rights among other freedoms and absolute guarantees of equality.

Published writings show that freedom from expropriation and secure property rights in Sri Lanka pre-dated the US constitution.

In 1769 the Dutch Governor Falk interviewed learned priests from Kandy to find out about the country's laws, succession of the king and reliefs available to people who felt there has been a mis-carriage of justice.

An English translation of the proceedings have been included in a 1817 book A view of the agricultural, commercial and financial interests of Ceylon written by Anthony Bertolacci, a civil servant of the first British administration in the island.

One question related to whether the king could have someone put to death or seize a citizen's property if they had not committed a crime.

Falk was told that was told that in the event of a capital offence the case has to be inquired into by the Judicial Chiefs and if the crime is proved, sentence is passed.

"But no King, either on his sole authority, or with the concurrence of his ministers, can, consistently with his prescribed duties, confiscate the property of a guiltless person" the priests told Falk.

Sri Lanka's pre-Europeans legal system was extremely sophisticated in some respects such as in the case of protection of women and children in the case of divorce. Both the Dutch and British researched and codified some existing laws.

European Oppression

Sri Lanka now has a majority voting system based on constitutional government and a parliamentary lawmaking process imported from the West, giving a tool violate freedoms of the people with impunity.

Critics have pointed out that the island's constitution lacks absolute guarantees of equality to outlaw unjust and oppressive laws automatically.

Sri Lanka started violating property rights of 'guiltless persons', - both foreign and domestic - after importing Marxist and Fascist-nationalist ideology mainly in the Eastern Europe tradition

Other laws restricting the free flow of trade and foreign exchange were also passed, after independence from British rule, eventually resulting in capital flight, high unemployment and economic ruin.

Under feudal rule, Sri Lanka's economy was open and trade was free.

After World War II, fired by military Keynesianism, even Western Europe, the birthplace of liberalism, restricted economic liberties of people. Many of the curbs were only removed after the 'stagflation' period of the 1970s.

In Sri Lanka, after 1978, some economic freedoms were restored but rulers changed the constitution at will using parliamentary absolutism.

But the constitution enacted in 1978 - where the then President placed himself above the law resulting in a deterioration of civil liberties and a weakening of the public service - restored property rights especially of foreign nationals through its article 157.

However the validity of that article is now in doubt with the passage last week of an expropriation law in Sri Lanka's parliament, which the island's Supreme Court has reportedly said was consistent with the constitution.

Lawmakers said the expropriation law which singled out assets of 36 firms and one enterprise as 'underutilized' or 'underperforming' out of thousands in the country was deeply flawed and amounted ad hominem legislation targeting a particular citizen.

They said the law also arrogated the powers of the executive and judiciary trespassing on a constitutional separation of powers.

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9. Duck pal Nov 19
@Kumar: For you, taking about freedom may like pouring water to a duck's back.
8. Kumar Nov 18
LBO does not have any other topic to publish other than the expropriation bill that was already passed in the parliament?.
7. aj Nov 17
Wow, i just read this. So he said this in 1944 and it happened in 2011?

"They have blithely ignored the warnings of economists," Mises wrote in 1944. "They have erected trade barriers, they have fostered credit expansion and an easy money policy, they have taken recourse to price control, to minimum wage rates, and to subsidies.

"They have transformed taxation into confiscation and expropriation; they have proclaimed heedless spending as the best method to increase wealth and welfare.

"But when the inevitable consequences of such policies, long before predicted by the economists, became more and more obvious, public opinion did not place the blame on these cherished policies; it indicted capitalism.

"In the eyes of the public not anticapitalistic policies but capitalism is the root cause of economic depression, of unemployment, of inflation and rising prices, of monopoly and of waste, of social unrest and of war."

6. Ratne Nov 17
This is very interesting. So we had better property rights under the British and before European arrivals than after independence
5. fb Nov 17
@ dodo. LBO has already written about it. Here is the link.

Anti-capitalist protests spread as predicted by Austrian school

4. the way of the dodo Nov 17
LBO should really stop citing US as an example here given what is unfolding around wall street right now.
3. Fahmy Nov 17
Expropriation law (legal theft) is a short term gain long term disaster. Violation of property rights will have serious consequences to sunny Sri Lanka. People in power should look around whats happening to despots and dictators and fear accountability.
2. Appuhami Nov 17
Hello Harsha
Your party (UNP) and your socalled Leader gave the ruling party 2/3 majority. Ask your leader put UNP house in order or get out rather than hanging in there. My real worry is that many UNPers in so called working committee are useless and that paves the way the ruling party play hell in the country politics. Leader of UNP and hench men around them are equally responsible for the bad management of country's affairs.
1. Percy Raj Nov 17
I know the law..