SC ruling on economic crisis: Parliament also responsible, says Foreign Minister



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, yesterday said that Parliament like other institutions should bear responsibility for the unprecedented economic crisis caused during President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration.

Minister Sabry said so when The Island sought his response as regards the responsibility of Parliament for the developing situation against the backdrop of the country being bankrupted mainly due to overall mismanagement of the economy.

At the time of the eruption of public protests in early 2022, Minister Sabry served as the Foreign Minister of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government.

Addressing the media at the President’s Media Centre (PMC), the SLPP National List MP dealt with the 2024 Budget presented by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Finance Minister.

Having compared the period leading to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster with the significant improvements made under incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s resolute leadership, the top lawyer explained how successive governments ruined the economy by resorting to utterly irresponsible strategies.

The first time entrant to Parliament, following the last general election held in Aug. 2020, Minister Sabry emphasized how flawed tax strategies over the years caused the economic ruination. The Minister questioned the rationale in 80:20 ratio in indirect and direct taxes when the acceptable radio was 60:40 world over. The Minister went on to highlight the circumstances that led to the drop in revenue to just over 8 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 23% to 25% ahead of 2019/2020 crash.

Asked whether he had been present in the parliamentary chamber when a section of the ruling SLPP went berserk over a statement made by SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa in respect of the landmark Supreme Court judgment on economic crisis and what was his response to such unruly behaviour, the Minister said that he was there.

The SC on Nov 14 in a 4 to 1 verdict declared that former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Finance Ministers Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa, ex-Governors of the Central Bank Prof. W.D. Lakshman and Ajith Nivad Cabraal, ex-Finance Secretary S.R. Attygalle, Presidential Secretary Dr. P.B.J. Jayasundera and the then Monetary Board were responsible for the economic collapse.

They were directed to pay Rs 150,000 each to those who filed fundamental rights applications.

The Minister emphasized that he never condoned such conduct and he never behaved that way or intended to do so in the future. “That was one side of the issue. We see various interested parties interpret the SC ruling the way they want. I read this judgment entirely. The ruling doesn’t say there had been fraud and money robbed. Funds had been sent overseas and measures should put in place to recover the money. It doesn’t say so. The SC found fault with the respondents for their failure to take timely action to avert the crisis. One specific issue artificial measures to control Rupees. I have pointed this out even last year. The other issue was the tax cut. They were policy decisions. The third issue was the timing of the IMF intervention. The fallout of those decisions should be political.”

The Minister said that there was no harm in prosecuting if there were fraud and robbery. But the Rajapaksas had already taken responsibility for those decisions, Minister Sabry said, pointing out that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who won a five-year term, had to quit, and the Prime Minister, too, had to go. The entire government had to be handed over. They have to face the people, the Minister said.

“We genuinely believed the government should have sought the IMF intervention at that time, the depreciation of the Rupee should have been allowed to some extent. Perhaps those who decide on policy may have felt they were right,” Minister Sabry, said reminding that Sri Lanka sought IMF interventions on 16 previous occasions.

Minister Sabry insisted that no one would come into politics if those who had been found fault for lapses on their part in respect of policy decisions were dealt with in terms of criminal liability. Reiterating that the fallout should be solely political, the Foreign Minister said, adding that in case someone engaged in fraud, corruption and crime he should bear criminal responsibility.