SRI LANKA: Gov't Ignores Supreme Court

  • by IPS Correspondents (colombo)
  • Inter Press Service

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court (SC) terminated proceedings in a controversial oil hedging case, saying the government was no longer implementing court orders on the issue.

Sources said the court of Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva backed off from taking on the executive after a series of high-profile judgments it passed against President Mahinda Rajapakse’s administration were simply ignored.

Peace activist and columnist Jehan Perera says that the latest act showed that effectively the country’s Constitution had broken down. He said there is no constitutional crisis developing only because no one dares take on the government.”

Another political analyst, who declined to be named, told IPS that the checks and balances in the Sri Lankan system have become dysfunctional. ’’This effectively is a form of dictatorship. The executive (President) is not listening even to the SC,’’ she said.

The case in question relate to petitions filed by three Sri Lankan citizens, complaining that oil hedging agreements entered into between the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Standard Chartered Bank, CitiBank, Deutsche Bank and two local banks were one sided and heavily in favour of the banks.

As a result the CPC now owes these banks more than 800 million US dollars in hedging payments.

In November, the SC had stayed payments by the CPC to the banks and had also suspended the CPC chairman pending the completion of the case.

Subsequently, the Court had also ordered the government to reduce petrol prices to Rs 100 (0.8 US dollar) per litre from Rs 122 (1.07 dollars) a litre after the petitioners complained that the CPC had not reduced prices despite world crude prices falling.

However, the government did not fully implement the order, reducing the price by just two rupees to Rs 120 rupees (1.05 dollars), a move which ultimately led to the Court terminating proceedings in the case.

Analysts say that the latest twist in the drama between the judiciary and the government has caused further deterioration in the law and order situation in Sri Lanka where abduction and killing of political opponents and journalists have become commonplace.

Two weeks ago Lasatha Wickrematunga, a prominent English language newspaper editor, was slain by an unidentified group. Earlier this week, Upali Tennekoon, editor of a Sinhala language national weekly, was stabbed and injured by unidentified men near his home.

At least 14 journalists and media workers have been killed and many more abducted or arrested since 2006 in Sri Lanka, drawing concern and condemnation from local and international rights groups.

There is a general feeling in the country that the government is using the war between teh Sri Lankan army and Tamil rebels in the north of the island country as an excuse to beat down criticism on any issue, including the handling of the economic crisis.

Last week, a corporate leader who suggested at a public seminar that the government should devalue the local currency to revive exports was reprimanded by an influential government politician who implied that the former was being ‘unpatriotic’.

Rajapakse has ordered the Sri Lankan army to wrest Tamil dominated areas in the north and east of the country from the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after unilaterally withdrawing from a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire which held the peace for five years from February 2002.

On Sunday the government announced the capture of Mullaitivu, the last town held by the LTTE, which then retreated into the surrounding jungles taking with them a population of around 250,000 Tamils.

Last week, six former U.S. ambassadors to Sri Lanka jointly wrote an open letter to Rajapakse expressing concern over the events unfolding in the country, particularly the attacks on journalists.

Expressing their personal views, the six ambassadors - Marion Creekmore, Teresita Schaffer, Peter Burleigh, Shaun Donnelly, Ashley Wills, and Jeffrey Lunstead - said they were upset by the developments in Sri Lanka.

‘’We fear that, even as Sri Lanka is enjoying military progress against the LTTE, the foundations of democracy in the country are under assault,’’ they said in the letter.”

'Some have suggested that these events have been carried out not by elements of the government, but by other forces hoping to embarrass the government. We do not find such arguments credible,’’ the former ambassadors said.

Rohan Edrisinha, director at the Centre for Policy Alternatives and the country’s best-known constitutional expert, says Tuesday’s ruling by the SC creates a major problem by ‘’continuing to ignore the law and do what it feels is expedient,’’ he told IPS.

Edrisinha identified the root of the problem as the failure to set up set up a bipartisan constitutional council as agreed by Parliament in 2005. The council was to have been entrusted with the task of making key appointments in the judiciary and the police - now the sole prerogative of the President.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service