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Public officials are duty bound to discharge public trust reposed in them: Eran

Eran Wickramaratne SJB MP stressed that it is the rule of law that is our biggest defence. SLPP MP Namal Rajapaksa on November 20th, is on record referring to the Supreme Court landmark verdict questioning the right of the petitioners to challenge government policies in the court. Mr. Wickramaratne remarked that the questioning was hilarious and reminded parliament that the Supreme Court judgement was holistic. It is the most important judgement that has been given under the 1978 Constitution of the country.

Speaking at the committee stage debate of the Defence ministry in Parliament Thursday he drew attention to the landmark judgement of the SC Drawing the attention to the recent landmark judgement by the Supreme Court on the persons responsible for economic crisis, the MP said that former Presidential Secretary Dr P.B Jayasundara was quoted in the media as saying that President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was aware that revenue will be lost by tax cuts but he considered that slashing taxes from 15 % to 8 % was an investment that will remain unchanged for 15 years. Dr Nandalal Weeerasinghe declared much earlier in May and August that the government slashed taxes regardless of IMF advise and also disregarded the Central Bank’s warning of the urgent need to seek IMF assistance.

Now the whole country knows the consequences of the tax reductions, rampant inflation, sky high interest rates, drastically devalued exchange rate, and foreign reserves which went crashing down from USD 7.6 billion to 155 million dollars in August 2021.

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That is what led the Supreme Court to deliver a landmark judgment, where the Supreme Court (November 14) held that Former President, Prime Minister and Other Top Officials Responsible for the Economic Crisis. The question the petitioners took to court was who was actually responsible for the economic mismanagement of the country from 2019 to 2022 via two FR cases vide SC /FR /No. 212/2022 and SC/FR /No. 195/2022.

Accordingly the judgement read that former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, former Governors of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Prof W.D Lakshman and Ajith Nivard Cabraal, former Secretary to the Treasury S.R. Attygala, former Monetary Board, and former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera were among 13 respondents were declared declared to have violated the public trust and breached Article 12 (1) of the Constitution, in their administration of the economy, leading to the economic crisis in the country.

The petitions had listed the following factors that led to the current economic crisis:

  • The reduction in government revenue caused by the illegal and arbitrary tax breaks granted in 2019.
  • Failure to reverse the illegal tax break.
  • Failure to take remedial measures subsequent to rating downgrades.
  • Failure to devalue the Sri Lankan Rupee in a timely, orderly and appropriate manner despite widespread calls to do so.
  • The decision to continue servicing sovereign debt without any restructuring.
  • The refusal to seek the assistance of the IMF until the crisis had exacerbated.

Petitioners did not challenge the public policy of the government in these proceedings.The conduct impugned in these proceedings includes illegal, arbitrary, unreasonable or capricious executive and/or administrative actions and/or inactions. Such actions and/or inactions arise from the implementation of arbitrary and/or capricious decisions, by the executive and/or administrative branches of the Government.

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The impugned conduct of the respondents breached the ‘public trust’ reposed in them. This led to the economic collapse of an unprecedented magnitude. Acute shortages in essentials such as fuel and gas, food and medicine and prolonged power cuts became the regular pattern of life. Long queues for fuel and gas brought severe hardships to the entire society and led to many deaths. This situation brought in a total breakdown of the economic and social life of the entire society. Such a breakdown ultimately led to the collapse of public order and the complete undermining of the rule of law.

That is why the legally elected President who was pushed out had to flee the country and subsequently had to resign. In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court on November 14 held that former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, former Governors of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Prof W.D Lakshman and Ajith Nivard Cabraal, former Secretary to the Treasury S.R. Attygala, former Monetary Board, and former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera violated the public trust and breached Article 12 (1) of the Constitution, in their administration of the economy, leading to the economic crisis in the country.

The Right to Equality guaranteed under Article 12(1) of the Constitution reads as that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law” and it further requires State authorities to ensure that their conduct will not breach the trust placed on them and make certain that public resources in their custody are protected and preserved for the benefit of the people and not to be exhausted for political or personal benefit. The exercise of discretionary powers in the decision-making process should be guided by the Directive Principles of the Constitution as envisaged in Article 27 (1) and callous disregard of such principles will pollute decisions with arbitrariness. Thus, Rule of Law is not only rights and equality. It’s about functionality and efficiency for sustainable economic development of the nation and all of its People.

We have some lesions to learn that public officials have responsibility to discharge their duties in the best interest of the public. Respondents were bestowed with high powers to uphold public trust that includes all the MPs too. They are also duty bound to discharge duties according to the directives of the constitution and they cannot merely say that the decision they took were policy decisions.

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The public trust reposed in respondents was not a higher one and it bestowed on all public official. Therefore, respondents were obliged to act in a responsible manner. The Supreme Court has finally said that the actions omissions decisions and conducts of respondents directly contributed to the economic crisis.

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