(LBO) – Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court came under fire in parliament on a debate on an expropriation bill, after the highest court reportedly said it was consistent with the constitution. The expropriation law came under fire for being deeply flawed and amounting to ad hominem legislation, which is targeted at a specific citizen instead being equally applicable to all, and for arogating the powers of the judiciary and executive.
M A Sumanthiran, a legislator from the Tamil National Alliance, told parliament that the Supreme Court had listened only to the state prosecutor before deciding on the constitutionality of the bill, and that some enterprises were underperforming.
The bill in naming some three dozen firms out of thousands operating in the country as ‘underperforming’ with no opportunity for the firms to present their case or seek judicial redress had trespassed on a consitutional separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judicial branches of government, lawmakers said.
The bill was rushed to the Supreme Court an ‘urgent bill’ which means that citizens do not have adequate time to petition the court which was asked to make a pronouncement on the constitutionality of the proposed law within 48 hours.
The bill went to the Supreme Court after the cabinet of ministers gave their assent.
“How can the Supreme Court, like this legislature, how the Supreme Court rule on whether a particular enterprise is underperforming or not without examining the accounts of the enterprise, without examining other material,” Sumanthiran told parliament.
A one-line announcement was made by Speaker Chamal Rajapakse who declared that the Supreme Court had said it was not-inconsistent with the constitution, but details of the court’s determination were not made public.
“In one hearing, at which only the Attorney General appears, and is said to have assisted the court, the court has come to a ruling that 37 enterprises have in fact underutilized assets and one of them is an underperforming enterprise,” Sumanthiran said.
“It is a sad indictment on the highest court of the land. I am saddened by the fact that I am also an officer of that court and (for) being prevented from assisting the court in the determination of this bill, because it was an urgent bill hurriedly and secretively taken up for hearing.”
“This has happened because of the 18th amendment. We have such quality judges because of the 18th amendment. Because judges are no longer vetted by the constitutional council, there is no independent judiciary in this country.
“Anything that the secretary to the cabinet certifies as an urgent bill and sends, they know the message in the certification in the urgent bill.
“They know what is expected of them to do. And this is what they do. And this is not going to improve until we take stock.”
The government has staunchly denied that the bill was aimed at politically victimising its opponents and maintained that the 37 companies had obtained state land and or tax breaks but failed to perform to expectations.