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Friday March 1st, 2024

Holding elections after June 2 prima facie unconstitutional: expert

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing Parliament/File Photo

ECONOMYNEXT – A number of fundamental rights petitions were filed in Sri Lanka’s supreme court this week challenging President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dissolution of the eighth parliament on March 2 this year.

The opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), journalist Victor Ivan, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Executive Director Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and other individuals filed separate applications seeking a declaration from the country’s apex court that their fundamental rights have been violated as a result of the next parliamentary election being held three months after the March 2 dissolution of Sri Lanka’s eighth parliament.

As explained in the CPA’s petition, regardless of how it is dissolved, article 70(5) of the constitution provides a mandatory time limit within which a new parliament should meet, i.e. three months from the date of dissolution.

The petitioners contend that if the March 2 dissolution is permitted to stand, this would have required the new, i.e. ninth, parliament to meet for the first time by June 2. Thus, the petitioners state, a decision to hold the election on June 20 is unconstitutional and is a violation of their fundamental rights.

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of abating at present, it is increasingly likely that the election will be postponed yet again, beyond June 20.

“The lack of a functioning parliament for more than three months undermines the sovereignty of the people and undermines the rule of law. In light of all these circumstances, the petitioners have requested the supreme court to declare that their fundamental rights under articles 12(1) and 14(1)(a) of the constitution have been violated,” the CPA said in a statement.

Ivan’s petition, meanwhile, requests the supreme court to quash the gazette notifications pertaining to the postponement of the election.

Speaking to EconomyNext, Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law Director Dr Asanga Welikala said the decision to hold elections on a date beyond the time permitted by the constitution is prima facie unconstitutional.

According to Welikala, the rule in Sri Lanka’s constitution that there can be no more than a three-month hiatus between the dissolution of one parliament and the meeting of the next is reflected in most if not all commonwealth constitutions.

“The principle is cast in absolute terms in our constitution, and its underlying purpose is to ensure that the absence of a functioning parliament is only of a temporary and short time period. A functioning parliament is fundamental to the entire system of government established by our constitution. The sovereignty of the people is shared and exercised by all three branches of government, and the three branches check and balance each other,” he explained.

The constitution does not permit any variation to this rule, said Welikala, which requires that the next parliament meets on or before June 2.

Owing to the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka’s election commission decided to hold the next parliamentary elections on June 20, which, as the petitioners argued and as Welikala concurred, is beyond the time permitted and is therefore in violation of the constitution.

If the commission is unable to hold the election on or before June 2, said Welikala, the president must rescind the March 2 proclamation of dissolution in order to set a new (and later) date for the election.  But since his doing so would effectively bring the dissolved parliament back to life, President Rajapaksa has flatly refused to do so.

“Thus we are faced with a situation in which for practical difficulties brought on by the pandemic the election cannot be organised by the election commission, but the constitutionally authorised actor (the president) who can remedy the problem is refusing to exercise his constitutional power,” explained Welikala.

“That is why these petitions have been made to the supreme court. The country needs a clear and authoritative decision about how the situation can be handled – and any crisis of both public health and constitutional government averted – consistently with the fundamental rules laid down in the supreme law. It is only the supreme court that can provide this authoritative decision under the constitution,” he added.

When the petitions are taken up, Welikala believes the government will likely argue that the supreme court cannot force the president to rescind the dissolution, as that is a subjective decision of the president under the constitution.

“It is unclear how the government will meet the argument that the refusal to rescind the dissolution in the context of the inability of the election commission to hold the election before June 2 has created a situation whereby the commission has had to breach the constitution in order to set the date of June 20.

“If the court agrees with the petitioners that the government’s position is constitutionally untenable, then it will have to quash (i.e., declare invalid) the president’s March 2 proclamation. If the court quashes the dissolution, then the old parliament comes back to life by operation of law. It is then also open to the president to dissolve Parliament again and set a new date for the election,” he said.

In the event that the supreme court rules that it cannot quash the dissolution proclamation, said Welikala it will have to find some way to justify departing from the 3 month rule, but it is not clear how it might do so. (Colombo/May6/2020)

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Sri Lanka’s RAMIS online tax collection system “not operatable”: IT Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s online tax collection system RAMIS is “not operatable”, and the Ministry of Information Technology is ready to do for an independent audit to find the shortcomings, State IT Minister Kanaka Herath said.

The Revenue Administration Management Information System (RAMIS) was introduced to the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) when the island nation signed for its 16th International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme in 2016.

However, trade unions at the IRD protested the move, claiming that the system was malfunctioning despite billions being spent for it amid allegations that the new system was reducing the direct contacts between taxpayers and the IRD to reduce corruption.

The RAMIS had to be stopped after taxpayers faced massive penalties because of blunders made by heads of the IT division, computer operators and system errors at the IRD, government officials have said.

“The whole of Sri Lanka admits RAMIS is a failure. The annual fee is very high for that. This should be told in public,” Herath told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Thursday (29)

“In future, we want all the ministries to get the guidelines from our ministry when they go for ERP (Enterprise resource planning).”

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government said the RAMIS system will be operational from December last year.

However, the failure has delayed some tax collection which could have been paid via online.

“It is not under our ministry. It is under the finance ministry. We have no involvement with it, but still, it is not operatable,” Herath said.

“So, there are so many issues going on and I have no idea what the technical part of it. We can carry out an independent audit to find out the shortcomings of the software.”

Finance Ministry officials say IRD employees and trade unions had been resisting the RAMIS because it prevents direct interactions with taxpayers and possible bribes for defaulting or under paying taxes.

The crisis-hit island nation is struggling to boost its revenue in line with the target it has committed to the IMF in return for a 3 billion-dollar extended fund facility. (Colombo/Feb 29/2024) 

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Sri Lanka aims to boost SME with Sancharaka Udawa tourism expo

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is hosting Sancharaka Udawa, a tourism industry exhibition which will bring together businesses ranging from hotels to travel agents and airlines, and will allow the small and medium sector build links with the rest of the industry, officials said.

There will be over 250 exhibitors, with the annual event held for the 11th time expected to draw around 10,000 visitors, the organizers said.

“SMEs play a big role, from homestays to under three-star categories,” Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman, Chalaka Gajabahu told reporters.

“It is very important that we develop those markets as well.”

The Sancharaka Udawa fair comes as the Indian Ocean island is experiencing a tourism revival.

Sri Lanka had welcomed 191,000 tourists up to February 25, compared to 107,639 in February 2023.

“We have been hitting back-to-back double centuries,” Gajabahu said. “January was over 200,000.”

The exhibition to be held on May 17-18, is organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators.

It aims to establish a networking platform for small and medium sized service providers within the industry including the smallest sector.

“Homestays have been increasingly popular in areas such as Ella, Down South, Knuckles and Kandy,” SLAITO President, Nishad Wijethunga, said.

In the northern Jaffna peninsula, both domestic and international tourism was helping hotels.

A representative of the Northern Province Tourism Sector said that the Northern Province has 170 hotels, all of which have 60-70 percent occupancy.

Further, domestic airlines from Colombo to Palali and the inter-city train have been popular with local and international visitors, especially Indian tourists. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 309.50/70 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 309.50/70 to the US dollar Thursday, from 310.00/15 on Wednesday, dealers said.

Bond yields were slightly higher.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed at 10.50/70 percent down from 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.90/12.10 percent from 11.90/12.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 closed at 12.20/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.30/45 percent up from 12.20/50 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.35/50 percent up from 12.25/40 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.55/13.00 percent up from 12.50/90 percent. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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