The Supreme Court ushered 2013 as the Year of Judgment for Sri Lanka by delivering the New Year Day judgment relating to the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. In a unanimous and clear verdict, the country’s apex court showed that the judiciary was independent off political interference, intimidation and even political impeachment.
Though the head of the judiciary has been changed since then, the Superior courts are faced with a challenging task as the government, as it has done over the past few years continues to introduce hurried bills with surreptitious motives. Going by the past record it is unlikely that every Bill introduced by the government is for the good and ‘sole good’ of the people. A number of Bills have been passed with the blessings of the country’s highest court. But one Bill that did not get the blessings of the Supreme Court was the controversial ‘Divi Neguma’ Bill which among other things gave, economic development minister Basil Rajapaksa a small empire of his own.
When thie was objected to by the Supreme Court in a bold move-- it resulted in a shocking and unprecedented outcome which led to the impeachment of the Chief Justice Bandaranayake — with the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal declaring that the impeachment trial against her by a Parliamentary Select Committee was unconstitutional and illegal.
Once again crisis ridden government—facing its worst ever international crisis— has made another hurried move with 11 bills to be passed with millions of people knowing little or nothing about them, though the people will be at the receiving end of the negative aspects of these Bills.
In the past the government had passed similar urgent Bills by fair means or foul. Some of these Bills would have gone through unnoticed had not some brave public interest activists like Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and his Centre for Policy Alternatives, Chandra Jayaratne and J. C. Weliamuna challenged them in the Supreme Court.
Against this backdrop, the latest so called ‘urgent’ move has run into trouble with at least 15 petitioners going to the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutional validity of these bills. The petitioners have said that certain bills could become law only if they are approved by the people at a referendum and not just by a simple majority in parliament, which has today become the virtual lapdog of the Rajapaksa regime with a patch work five sixths majority.
Can the decisions made by the Finance Ministry or its widely criticised Secretary P. B. Jayasundara, who was thrown out and reinstated by different orders of the Supreme Court headed by different Chief Justices, be for the common good of its country or merely for the personal gain and glory of the ruling elite?
Does this country need 'Eheiyas' (Yes men) for whatever the government says and does or a powerful force to impose checks and balances that are vital for democracy?
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