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Undermining rule of law

Undermining rule of law

24 Nov 2023

Following the recent landmark judgement by the Supreme Court that the three of the Rajapaksa brothers, and a number of senior state officials were responsible for the economic crisis, some members of Parliament hiding behind the shield of parliamentary privilege have begun to hurl allegations at the Judiciary in what is clearly an attempt to discredit the judicial system of Sri Lanka. Such attacks on the rule of law should not be taken lightly. 

The conduct of some Members of Parliament, including that of SLPP MP Namal Rajapaksa who questioned the right of the petitioners who plead their case before the Supreme Court, is appalling. President Ranil Wickremesinghe was correct to criticise Parliamentarians for slating judges in Parliament, and he was also right in saying that it is a concerning trend. “We should let the Judiciary perform its duties, and we should do ours,” he noted while delivering a special statement in Parliament on Wednesday (22). Yesterday, opposition Members of Parliament and the Speaker pointed out that criticising the Courts and Judges should not be done hiding behind parliamentary privilege. 

Time and again, citizens have been reminded that for small democracies like Sri Lanka who are struggling to get by, rule of law is paramount. We have all felt what it is to live under lawlessness, poor governance, and to live under rule of law as well. Economically, and politically speaking, Sri Lanka is in a vulnerable state. Which is more the reason to ensure that accountability mechanism, and rule of law prevails unimpeded.

Members of Parliament, and state officials are expected to act in the best interest of the public. They are duty bound to discharge their duties in accordance with the Constitution. Decisions of the Government must also follow the same. One cannot hide behind “policy decisions” and say we are not responsible, we are acting according to the mandate we got. Sri Lanka’s slide into economic crisis and political turmoil was because those who were found guilty by the Supreme Court, and others who enabled them allowed Sri Lanka to descend to a crisis situation, without taking remedial action.

Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry stressed that the imperative for a comprehensive, long-term targeted programme as the primary solution to address the economic crisis facing the country. While he is right to say so, one must remind his colleagues in Parliament, which first and foremost in such strategies should be to uphold the rule of law.  It is the lack of such, and the callous disregard of dissenting views, that pushed Sri Lanka to the pit she finds herself in today. Sabry highlighted the complexity of the economic challenges and stressed that short-term fixes would not suffice. He highlighted the necessity for strategic planning and sustained efforts to achieve economic stability.

A key ingredient in any strategic plan for recovery should be not to repeat the mistakes of the past.  As such, it is imperative that the Speaker of the House and the policymakers ensure that the Chamber does not become a launching pad to discredit or undermine the Judiciary, and the rule of law. There may be issues and complaints about the justice mechanisms in Sri Lanka, and well known for shortcomings in the justice sector. However, using parliamentary privileges to undermine the rule of law is not the way forward. It was how we got here; and it should stop.


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