ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 16, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 16
Financial Times  

Business Leaders: Read ‘An invitation to the Law’

All leaders of the nation in politics, business, professions and civil society are invited to read the book “An invitation to the Law” by Judge C.G. Weeramantry, ICJ.

With globalisation and the operating flat global environment, the challenges of nations, business, professions and social interactions have gone beyond the narrow boundaries of the interpretation of the proclaimed laws and regulations of countries, and conventions and treaties subscribed to by nations. The acceptable essential yardstick thus becomes an assurance that the framework of laws, regulations, practices and all acts done under authority and in the name of good governance pass the dual compliance tests of “Fairness” and “Effectiveness”. The book stresses on compliance tests of “Equality” and “Justice”.

The following quotes of Judge Weeramantry provide a flavour of the challenge and the way forward;

• There are certain rights inborn in man, which neither denial by the state nor surrender by the individual, ought to be allowed to destroy.
• Some of the world’s great exposition of the infinite value of the human personality- as in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam-are set in a background that stresses duties rather than rights
• Citizens needed to have protection against the more powerful among themselves as well as against the state
• Linking human rights to economic rights
• By making even questions of internal human rights within a country a legitimate matter of international concern
• The ideal of democracy, on the other hand, is openness of governmental activity, but privacy for the individual and group
• Quoting Pope John Paul II, a reminder that formal legal systems could corrupt, subjugate and oppress people and deny them their fundamental rights
• Concept of equality lies at the root of the democratic idea
• Quoting Roosevelt’s message to Congress in 1941, the essential four human freedoms ;
- speech and expression
- to worship god in his own way
- from want
- from fear
Chamber leaders are invited, having noted above and other key lessons learnt from reading the book, and in the context of their stated ‘Core Value Commitments’, to agree the best option strategies available in the event following type incidents recollected from Sri Lanka’s recent history are repeated;
• Allegation made by an Editor of a Sinhala Newspaper that land acquired for a defined public purpose, at low market prices from poor citizens, was alienated to a politically connected individual and subsequently sold at a massive profit to set up a golf course
• Alienation of land reservations and forests essential for environmental and ecological protection
• Illegal sand/gem mining, and exploitation of forest timber and trafficking of drugs
• Threatened action of the opposition key personalities to revoke the licence of a international bank invited to assist the present government in floating an international bond
• The special privilege accorded to a powerful politician to plead guilty to a crime punishable with jail sentence and be discharged without penal sanction
• Powerful politicians, their family members and mafia network partners being able to intimidate, threaten with bodily harm, cause grievous injury and damage to private property and escape punishment by the law
• Preventing the enactment of a ‘Right to Information’ legislation and effective enforcement of the 17th Amendment, thus denying the public vital information, good governance, and transparency within an anti corruption framework
• Ability to give a ‘voice to business’, without fear of reprisal and be able to demand due accountability, ethical and moral conduct from politicians and key decision makers
• Ability to hold politicians and key decision makers accountable for their duties and responsibilities rather than be treated as ‘royalty’ empowered to enjoy special treatment, perks and benefits of office
• Assure equality of treatment, irrespective of the personal political leanings, friendships and commitments
• Ability to stand up before the law and seek redress when discriminated, subjugated by corrupt acts or harassed, especially when tender processes are interfered with or awards made outside strict meritocracy criteria
• State sponsored or allowed acts of violations of human rights, including abductions, disappearances and killings
• Denial and restriction of the economic rights of business
• Recognize that friendly nations and development partners have a right to critique governance, national economic management and outlook and even set conditionality when bad governance seen or anticipated
• Ability to criticize, and demand good behaviour from politicians and key official who speak, write and act in unacceptable ways and adopt unacceptable public behaviours
• Ability to demand accountability for national resource allocations and national debt commitments
• Control apparent unjust enrichment and unexplained increases in wealth of those in charge of governance
The Way Forward Challenge – The Chambers should develop an appropriate Code of Good Governance and Ethics, and demand conformance by leaders in governance.


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