23 June, 2024

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The Courts Would Be The Better Option For Undemocratic Actions To Be Contested

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government has allocated Rs 11 billion in the provisional budget for next year for the presidential elections due in September. This is a positive indication that the government intends to hold those elections. Free and fair elections being held when due is a core concept of a functioning democracy. This was called into question earlier in the year when local government elections were postponed. They were due in March but were postponed on multiple occasions and now have been cancelled. There is no indication when they might be held. The government justified its refusal to hold those elections on the ground that the country was facing an economic crisis and the money could be better spent elsewhere.

The government’s refusal to hold the local government elections was challenged in the courts. The Supreme Court decided that the money allocated in the budget for elections should not be blocked by the government and needed to be released for the purpose of conducting those elections. Without respecting this judicial ruling, government members threatened to summon the judges who made the ruling to parliament on the grounds that the judiciary could not decide on money matters that were the preserve of parliament. They argued that the powers and privileges of parliament had been violated by the order issued by the Supreme Court instructing the government to refrain from withholding funds for the polls. There was an outcry nationally and internationally and the government members did not proceed with their dubious plan to summon the judges before parliament.

Due to the government’s prioritization of the economy over elections, the prospects for elections continue to be challenging. The economic crisis is in full swing with further price increases in fuel costs taking place and electricity costs about to be hiked. The economy continues to shrink though at a slower rate than before. The government’s failure to obtain the second tranche of IMF support is a warning regarding the precarious condition of the economy. The IMF has said that Sri Lanka’s economic recovery is still not assured. It has also said that the government has not met the economic targets set for it, particularly with regard to reducing the budget deficit due to a potential shortfall in government revenue generation. The IMF has said the second tranche under its lending programme would only be released after it reaches a staff-level agreement, and there was no fixed timeline on when that would take place

Parliamentary Privilege

Unfortunately, the willingness of government members to challenge judicial decisions with regard to the electoral process is having its repercussions elsewhere. Parliamentarians have made use of parliamentary privilege to criticize the judiciary, including by naming them individually. The purpose of parliamentary privilege is to enable the elected representatives of the people to disclose the truth in the national interest. But this is a power that needs to be used with care and caution, especially if it is used to malign or insult individuals. Those who have the protection of parliamentary privilege need to understand it is a very powerful privilege, and they should exercise the privilege with restraint. It is the abuse of privilege that brings it into disrepute and undermines the wider perception of the central role that privilege plays.

The conduct of some parliamentarians has now reached a point where a judge who was deciding on controversial cases involving ethnic and religious conflict has chosen to resign and even leave the country. Successive rulings made by the judiciary in those cases appear to have been ignored by government authorities. The judicial decisions and rulings made have been subjected to disparaging and insulting remarks in parliament and outside. Mullaitivu District Judge Saravanarajah, who ruled on the controversial Kurunthurmalai (Kurundi Viharaya) case, resigned and fled Sri Lanka due to alleged threats and pressure. In a letter shared on social media, the judge told the Judicial Services Commission that he was facing threats to his life. Such pressures placed on the judiciary are clearly unacceptable in a democratic country especially in situations where the judiciary is being called on to defend the rights of the people who are being threatened by government overreach. The Bar Association has expressed their solidarity with protesting lawyers and had emphasized the responsibility of the government and all other institutions to respect the independence of the judiciary. 

At the present time, democratic freedoms and space for protest that exist in the country are being endangered by the government’s efforts to silence public protest and criticism by means of the proposed Anti-Terrorist Act (ATA) and the Online Safety Act which are to be placed before parliament this week. The draft ATA gives the government the power to arrest persons who are engaging in public protest or trade union action who can be charged for “intimidating the public or a section of the public”. The Online Safety Act seeks, among others, to “protect persons against damage caused by false statements or threatening, alarming, or distressing statements.”  It will establish a five-member commission appointed by the President which will be able to proscribe or suspend any social media account or online publication, and also recommend jail time for alleged offenses which can be highly subjective.

Elections Again

The judiciary is being called upon to defend fundamental rights and freedoms in the face of the government’s bid to take restrictive actions. The draft ATA has been opposed by opposition political parties and by human rights organisations since it appeared about six months ago. The ATA was drafted as an improvement to the Prevention of Terrorism Act which had been highlighted by the EU as objectionable on human rights grounds for the purposes of obtaining the GSP Plus tax benefit for Sri Lankan exports. Additionally, it has brought in the Online Safety Act as a surprise instrument to stymie the dissemination of information that people need regarding the non-transparent conduct of the government. With the political and economic crisis in the country getting worse, it appears that the government is determined to go ahead with these laws.

The failure of the government to fulfil many of the IMF’s transparency requirements, such as posting its contracts and procurements on the website, and explain its rationale for tax holidays and those who benefit, have contributed to the loss of confidence in the government’s commitment to the economic reform process. There is a widespread belief that corruption is rampant and that the inability to get new foreign investment is partly due to this difficulty of doing business in Sri Lanka, quite apart from the leakage of government revenues. The government needs to address these issues if it is to win the trust and confidence of the people and cushion the difficulties faced by people in coping with their dire economic circumstances. In particular, it needs to hold elections that can bring in new leaders that the country needs and cleanse the Augean Stables.

Despite the allocation of Rs 11 billion for presidential elections in the provisional budget for 2024, there remain questions regarding the government’s plans for the future. The chairman of the UNP, Wajira Abeywardena, has said that the presidential election may need to be postponed as it could undermine ongoing economic recovery measures. The provisional budget for 2024 is Rs 3860 billion, of which Rs 11 billion would seem to be a small fraction. However, the budget for 2023 was Rs 3657 billion, and the Rs 10 billion that was needed for the local government elections was likewise only a small fraction of that budget. But those elections were not held and the government argued that this money was better spent on development than on elections. The issue of postponement of elections due to the ongoing economic crisis may have to be faced once again when the presidential elections are due. The courts would be the better option for undemocratic actions to be contested than to go to the streets. The courts and the judiciary need to be kept strong and respected. The judiciary contributes to the trust of civilians in good governance and sustains social peace which should not be compromised.

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Latest comments

  • 10
    1

    ‘The Supreme Court decided that the money allocated in the budget for elections should not be blocked by the government and needed to be released for the purpose of conducting those elections’.
    ‘They (the government members) argued that the powers and privileges of parliament had been violated by the order issued by the Supreme Court instructing the government to refrain from withholding funds for the polls’.
    With all these jugglery behind us, Jehan saying, ‘The courts would be the better option for undemocratic actions to be contested than to go to the streets’, makes me puke!

  • 17
    1

    The argument that elections should be postponed because the money is best spent on development is abusurd and self-serving. Serving the ageing autocracy, with little intention of giving way to the young. This is recipe for corruption. Carrying on government promising elections when the economy is sound – who is to judge that? Aragalya brought many young into political activism, which is what we need. It has been pointed out forcefully that shutting this generation out by postponing (cancelling) elections to local bodies and provincial councils is a recipe to continue this farce by the ancient who refuse to go away.

  • 20
    0

    ….”Due to the government’s prioritization of the economy over elections, the prospects for elections continue to be challenging.” ….only an idiot could genuinely believe such a statement, when everything the govt does shows a completely different trajectory. You never learn, do you?

  • 12
    0

    “The courts and the judiciary need to be kept strong and respected.”
    Yes. Courts and Judiciary need to be kept strong and respected. Unfortunately, the past experience proved that it is impossible because the influence of Buddhist Monks and the political culture or the executive power are more powerful than judiciary. Judiciary and Courts are run by individuals and their life is important than anything. Executive power granted to Politicians by people in 1978 cannot be reversed back even by the people. That is the reality we encountered in 2015.

    • 22
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      Jehan, today Deal Dasa threatened Sumanthiran with prison term for speaking out against threats and intimidation to Judge Sara. Probably he want to send Sumanthiran too, to Canada or Swiss.

      • 14
        0

        By the way Jehan, even if a person decide to flee his / her own country due to political reasons, will not take refuge in Lanka. We are safe. Our courts would be the better option for DEMOCRAZY.

  • 9
    0

    Jehan Perera: You have titled the article: “The Courts Would Be The Better Option For Undemocratic Actions To Be Contested”. A good proposition.

    Does it actually happen in our country?

    For example, when the AG and the Bribery Commission withdrew more than 44 cases on grounds of “Technicality Failures” ” why the Courts and Judges did not “Reprimand” the prosecutors for such “Failures” and make them “Responsible” and “Accountable” for wasting “Public Tax Payers” money and Courts’ time? In my opinion, the Judges should have recommended “Disciplinary” action against all those responsible for such failures.

    In that environment is there a purpose or a better option to go to courts to preserve Democracy?

  • 4
    12

    What country will he chose ? UK, Canada or Australia ?

  • 11
    0

    Sumanthiran in his detailed speech about the release of PILLAIYAAN From jail did not mention any name of any judges but WIJEDASA mentioned the name of judge MOHAMED NAWAS And have put the cat out of the bag and HAVE INDIRECTLY ACCEPTED THE MISCONDUCT OF THE JUDGE WHOSE NAME HE MENTIONED.JAYAWEEWA TO INDEPENDENT OF JUDGES OF SRILANAKA.

  • 5
    0

    “The courts would be the better option for undemocratic actions to be contested than to go to the streets.”
    Getting on to the streets seems to speak louder than other options to people with limited material resources.
    The whole essay narrates the inability f the courts to push the government and what kind of option is the court?
    It need not be a ‘this or that’ option in this matter. It could be ‘this as well as that’.

    • 5
      0

      deepthi desperate silva

      Why the weeping widow never invited Mao to this island?

  • 5
    0

    When democracy fails, courts are the first casualties of the tyrants and totalitarians who take over the democracy. Fascism spread its wings over the civilians by choking the throats of the courts. Before Siri Ma O Installed Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinism as the law of the land, she undid with the S 29 of the Soulbury Constitution by pulling the country out of the umbrella of Privy Council. Tyrants claim that their strong umbrella covers the people better than the weak democratic justice systems. Some of the commentators here were ardent supporters and protectors of Gaddafi, Castro, Stalin’s legacy… during the hay days of communism. Jehan PhD too was and is in that team. He, because anarchy was being installed, wanted the protesters to lose. Jehan PhD, the wolf, cried that “the sheep was getting wet in the rain” by the protest. . The horse has bolted now. Mischievous Jehan PhD, one of the naughty kids, who let it bolt, pretending like closing the gate, by writing preaching essays. In 1956, the time the Evil Genie was still in the stage of getting out of its pot, SJV went to Galle Face Green to witness that the (Solomon West like) tyrant is a tyrant is a tyrant. On the eve of the justice bolted to “Paradhesam” Jehan PhD pretends like he is upholding the sanguinity of the justice.

  • 4
    0

    Once one is under the water, the meter reading of “neither an inch nor a yard” counts anything to the one slipped into the mishap.
    CJ Shiranee Bandaranake, when noticed that her husband cannot any longer save him from his embattled saving bank’s tragedies, she took “Samurti Robbery Act” to shield she and her husband. But that sword was turned on her and she demised before her husband. That was when the brave Tamils Judge gave a verdict against the Rowdy Royals government that the Chief justice’s dismissal was against the Constitution. That is how the Justice Sriskandaraja took the arrow, which was about to go with the turban, on his head. This is why the smarty crook Sanjay Rajaratnam investigated Judge Saravana Rajah and ordered him to change his judgment or bite the bullet” . Crook Communalist Deal Dasa may accept or deny anything, but we don’t have to dig for a video recording to realize what has happened. None of us, (the innocent Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim civilians) are wishing that Judge Satkunarajah should have skinned himself, the way Justice Sriskantharajad did, to show his innocence or save the justice not existing in Lankan.

  • 4
    0

    During Injustice Minister Hakeem’s time, it is not just there was no justice in Langkang as usual, but the justice ministry was the camp of looters and nepotists. A joke was circulating in the social media like this: “Afghanistan (where there was no government for a few decades) Shipping and Port Minister visited Langkang on an official matter, met Hakeem, the injustice minister. After their usual diplomatic etiquette chats, Hakeem asked the Afghan minister why Afghan would have a Shipping and Ports minister, after all there were no ports and no shipping laned open to Afghan. The Minister responded to Hakeem with the same question, “Why do you have a Justice Minister position In Sri Lanka, after all you don’t have any justice here. Please be understood that it’s all only the custom and practice of our governments, but not for any real use or purpose.” Jehan PhD is only hiding the fact that the Justice has long vanished from Langkang as a part of the element of its so-called democracy.

  • 6
    0

    With judges like Sarath Silva and Mohan Pieris, this is a hard message to take.

  • 3
    0

    A good explanation of the condition set down by the IMF …….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSyPkcCgS2M

    • 1
      0

      conditions —-> condition

  • 2
    0

    If the leaders can rob, so can we. …….. Where the world is heading …….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoqVi-ZGwl0

    • 1
      1

      nimal fernando

      Thanks for the clip.
      There are two or three differences between riots/looting that were taking place in USA and this island:
      1. Well organised mobs, in some cases lead by saffronistas, ……
      2. Least of all the police is trying to stop/arrest riots.
      3. Police trying to recover stolen properties.
      4. …
      ….

  • 1
    1

    when I see Jehan perera’s name and photo in a article I see shadow of Ranil Wickramasinghe. I am biased and can’t comment

  • 3
    0

    I get the feeling that the Attorney General, Chief Justice, IGP, Minister in charge of Police, Justice Minister, Speaker, and the President are all in one group. All they are trying to do is to protect the politicians against whom legal actions have been filed. Why keep postponing court cases when they are against politicians that too for very long periods?

    Its time we bring Sri Lankans who are qualified and experienced in these fields and replace these crooks who are in very important positions.

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