All is not fair in love & war
The government here has its hands full fighting the Tamil Tigers for territorial supremacy in the north. But back in Colombo it is also part of a slowly unfolding court-room drama; a turf war between the executive and judiciary, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.world Updated: Dec 23, 2008 22:53 IST
The government here has its hands full fighting the Tamil Tigers for territorial supremacy in the north. But back in Colombo it is also part of a slowly unfolding court-room drama; a turf war between the executive and judiciary.
Like the Indian Constitution, the Lankan one is quite clear on the issue of separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary.
But like the Indian one, the Lankan Constitution too has failed to prevent the three wings from repeatedly clashing on issues, especially those on policies and politics, with each claiming to protect the rights of the people.
The latest flashpoint between the executive — which has extensive powers — and the judiciary came when Supreme Court (SC) ordered a reduction in the petrol price from SLRs 122 to SLRs 100 per litre.
The rationale was that the benefit of the slide in international oil prices should be passed to consumers.
“The current price is $42 per tonne (petrol) which translates to 26 (US) cents per litre. If you multiply that SLRs 111, it comes to SLRs 29 per litre. Why should people pay Rs 100 extra?” a member of the main opposition party United National Party asked.
Chief Justice Sarath N Silva was reported in the media as having said that his orders were always dictated by non-partisan, public interest.
The Cabinet of Ministers decided not to make any changes after holding a special meeting, saying no official order was received from the SC.
The issue became more viscous after the Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) began to sell petrol Rs 100 per litre from its 153 outlets.
Conspiracy theories began to flow; reducing petrol price would mean cut in revenue for the government and therefore less money to fight the LTTE. And since LIOC is a joint venture company, India too would want the military offensive to slow down.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s stand was clear. “The Government needed revenue to meet the demands of development and the costs of the ongoing military operations to defeat terrorism…
The needs of a mere 4 per cent of people who use petrol for cars could not supersede the needs of more than 90 per cent of the people who travelled by bus and train,” Rajapaksa said on Monday.
He also wisely added that the executive should not try to grab the powers of the Legislature, and likewise the other arms of government should also not seek to grab the powers of any other.
French philosopher Montesquieu would have agreed with these noble thoughts but then all is not expected to be fair in love or, as in this case, war.