Making another highly partisan statement from the bench de facto Chief Justice Mohan Pieris accused the Centre for Policy Alternatives which has filed a challenge to the Government’s Appropriation Bill for 2014, of seeing “phantom dragons” everywhere in the administration.
“You view with suspicion, everything that this administration does,” the de facto CJ told Counsel appearing for CPA when the case came up before court today.
Arguing stringently for the Executive Branch of Government, Peiris said that the Court worked on the premise that all public officials work within the law. There were plenty of sanctions and safeguards against Public officials misappropriating public monies, he argued.
CPA is challenging sections of the Bill because it allows Ministers and public officials – both part of the executive branch of Government – to transfer allocated monies arbitrarily and enter into debt without the prior sanction of Parliament which under Article 148 of the Constitution has full control over Public Finance.
“We can’t keep running to Parliament at every turn,” the CJ said adding that too many checks and balances would make the process tedious.
When Counsel for CPA referred to statements made by UNP MP Harsha De Silva in Parliament regarding Government borrowings to illustrate that despite the CJ’s argument that public finance was handled impeccably, the de facto CJ retorted: “So according to him (Harsha De Silva), all public servants are a bunch of fools, are they?”
Peiris told Counsel for the petitioner that he was going on the premise that there were “no competent people going into matters” with regard to public finance appropriation.
“Why don’t you have any confidence in them? I have never seen the kind of debacles you are referring to” the de facto CJ told Court.
When Counsel for the Petitioner raised the issue of Government borrowing without the prior approval of Parliament, the CJ argued that Sri Lanka’s debt repayment record was impeccable and much better than that of the United States.
Quoting from legal experts Peiris said that to face modern challenges, the legislature was being called upon to give more and more power to the executive. He asked CPA lawyers to try and understand how the modern world works.
With the de facto CJ having argued the case for the Government, the Deputy Solicitor General Indika De Silva rose to make submissions and repeatedly prefaced her points with the statement “as your lordship correctly pointed out.”
She told Court that the Appropriation Bill could not be inflexible.
Attorney at Law Suren Fernando appeared for CPA.
The case was a glaring illustration of how fused the executive and judicial branches of Government had become with the ascension of Peiris to the helm of the judiciary. In the past while Judges would call Counsel’s attention to this or that point of law or section of the constitution, they would not argue in favour of the executive that was essentially the respondent in such a case, legal analysts noted. Furthermore the representatives of the Attorney General’s Department would also be grilled by the Judges which simply did not happen in this case.
With Peiris in charge, the Government was sure decisions at the Supreme Court would not go against them or make life difficult, analysts said.