Dishonest politicians should be held accountable for unjust enrichment of taxpayers’ money in billions
The Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Provincial Councils Ministry Secretary R A A K Ranawaka in a press release to the media states that the Government has cleared vehicle permits to the value of USD 3.2 million to be given to newly elected Western and Southern Provincial Council members and the newly elected members of both Councils will receive vehicle permits to the value of USD 50,000 each. He further states that some provincial council members have already sold their permits but it is not illegal.
It seems that those holding high public offices have disregarded the constitutional oath given below (fourth schedule to the Constitution), which require every person elected to any public office to take, before resuming the performance of the duties of any public office.
“I ……………………………………………………. do solemnly declare and affirm / swear that I will faithfully perform the duties and discharge the functions of the office of …………………………………. in accordance with the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the law, and that I will be faithful to the Republic of Sri Lanka and that I will to the best of my ability uphold and defend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.”
Exemption of levies on duty free cars
The Customs Ordinance as amended in 1988, provides (Section 19A) that the Minister of Finance may, if he deems it expedient in the public interest so to do, by Order published in the Gazette exempt any goods imported by, or consigned to, any person specified in the Order from the whole or any part of the duties of customs leviable thereon, subject to such conditions (to be fulfilled before or after clearance) as may be specified in the Order.
This provision of law also provides that where any goods specified in an Order made under subsection are subsequently sold or disposed of contrary to the conditions of such Order, such goods shall be liable to the same duty of customs as may by law be levied on like goods which are subject to duties of customs and the importer or person by whom or on whose behalf the goods are sold or disposed of shall prior to such sale or disposal obtain the permission of the Director-General and pay the duties payable on such goods at the time of such sale or disposal to the Director-General. Any goods sold or disposed of in contravention of such section shall be liable to be forfeited.
Licence Conditions later removed for unjust enrichment
Originally all permits issued to import vehicles duty free were subject to stringent conditions, under which sale, transfer, mortgage or disposal of a vehicle imported on a duty free permit was absolutely prohibited by law and any such vehicle were liable to be forfeited by the Director General of Customs.
However, further to seizure of several such vehicles unlawfully sold or disposed of by the Customs, the government itself undermined the rule of law that permitted such imports, with which the stringent conditions that made the abuse of the duty free permit scheme a punishable offence, were completely done away with, facilitating the deceitful politicians for unjust enrichment. Yet, the law which permitted duty free permits remained unchanged, which permitted the Minister to issue duty free permits only if the Minister considered it expedient in the public interest so to do, to exempt payment of levies on such vehicles.
Serving a public interest only a fraud
Now the government claims that sale of permits are not illegal, but the fact remains that any such abuse clearly violates the primary purpose for which the permits were allowed, as the issuance of permits were considered expedient or beneficial in the public interest. Therefore, it is rather clear that the abuse of the permit system and selling permits in the open market for several million rupees, clearly amount to an act of misappropriation of public funds that also amounts to an actionable wrong of unjust enrichment in the absence of any legal basis for such enrichment
Billions of taxpayers’ money siphoned
The concept of unjust enrichment is based upon the Roman legal maxim “no one should be benefited at another’s expense” (nemo locupletari potest aliena iactura or nemo locupletari debet cum aliena iactura). Hence, in all cases of abuse of the duty free permit system, which clearly permits unjust enrichment at the expense of the taxpayer, regardless of liability for wrongdoing, the people of this country, who enjoy the sovereignty of Sri Lanka, have every right to sue the Minister in charge of the subject of Finance, who is responsible for opening the floodgates to politicians to defraud the taxpayers’ money in billions as well as those who have abused the duty free permit system for unjust enrichment with no legal basis whatsoever, as claims in unjust enrichment do not depend upon proof of any wrong.
Since the government openly condone this abuse, sans any accountability, it is up to the right thinking people of this country and the social groups that fight for social justice to take the right initiative to stop this abuse, which cost billions of taxpayers’ money in regular basis.
*Nagananda Kodituwakku – Attorney-at-Law