Financial Times

SC says its decision must be complied with by the President

By Bandula Sirimanna

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that any decision made by the court on a fundamental rights application must be complied with – in terms of Section 118 of the Constitution - by the Executive (President). Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva made this comment in court when cases relating to the recent fuel pricing and hedging issues were taken up.

The Court also gave time till January 27 to the government to show cause as to why it cannot bring down fuel prices of petrol to Rs.100 per litre, in accordance with an earlier court ruling. The Chief Justice noted that this case was a judicial review of executive action and the President cannot on his own vary the order, without obtaining the permission of the Court and making submissions on relevant facts before the Court. He pointed out that under article 118 of the constitution, the Supreme Court is the superior court of the country and the executive is bound to obey its orders.

Deputy Solicitor General S. Rajaratnam, who appeared for the Treasury Secretary, told court that the cabinet of ministers having considered the court ruling had taken measures to grant concessions to a wider section of consumers by reducing the price of diesel and kerosene as well as to bring down the petrol price by Rs 2. Counsel who appeared for Lanka IOC also brought to the notice of court that his client had to incur a heavy loss by bringing down the petroleum prices complying with the court order because the government had failed to grant them the Customs duty waiver.

The Court ruled that the Treasury Secretary should show cause as to why he cannot implement the interim order made on December 17, 2008 and if the government wants to grant concessions to a wider section of the consumers it should make submissions before the court for such consideration. Counsels for petitioners - including Laugfs Chairman W.K.H. Wegapitiya, Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake and two others -- told court that they will withdraw their petitions if the court order is not fully implemented.Viran Corea, counsel for Mr Karunanayake and two others, told the court that the compliance with the court order was of greater importance than any other case.

The petitioner on principle would move to withdraw the application which sought to reduce the price of petrol, unless the court order was respected fully by the respondents, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, the Minister of Petroleum and other relevant state officials. Counsel said that the interim order on the suspension of the hedging agreement the CPC had entered into with commercial banks had benefited the state and if the petitions are withdrawn the state had to bear the loss.

Having considered these submissions the Supreme Court ruled that the case will be terminated if the petitions are withdrawn. The matter will be taken up for hearing on January 27 for a final decision on this issue.

In an interim order issued earlier in the oil hedging cases, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Chairman Asantha de Mel and its Deputy General Manager (Finance) Lalith Karunaratne were suspended pending the full hearing of this case. Payments on hedging agreements by the Corporation to five banks – Standard Chartered, Citi, Commercial, People’s and Deutsche – were also suspended. Legal sources said if the petitions are withdrawn on January 27, the interim orders would also be vacated. .

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