Judicial activism is, no doubt, anathema to ruling politicians and their cronies bent on keeping democratic institutions under their dirty thumb. But, it is a blessing for the ordinary people who are suffering in silence. It is also the best way to defeat autocratic tendencies of rulers of all hues and decelerate a country s slide towards anarchy consequent upon arrogance of power as well as the attendant public anger and disillusionment with democratic institutions.
There are times when the modern day judges have to emulate Azdak in Brecht s Caucasian Chalk Circle. The hapless people being preyed on by political hyenas and commercial vultures must be assured that the law is on their side, if democracy is to be preserved. For, in the absence of confidence in the democratic process, a despondent public only have a choice between fatalistic resignation to their pathetic lot or adoption of ultra radical methods to have themselves heard or to avenge injustice.
Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva s broadside at politicians and trade unionists at the opening of a Special Consumer Court in Colombo on Tuesday must have struck a responsive chord with the general public. Stressing the need for relieving the masses of the heavy burden of cost of living, he chose to describe the sale of state owned gas company as a moronic act. Those who robbed public funds, he said, would end up in hell.
However, the King of Hell, Yamarajjuruwo or Satan or Eman will have to expand his empire, given the sheer number of our politicians who are qualified for permanent residence there. If he is wise, he will equip hell with a state-of-the-art security system to prevent our guys there from making a business of hellish assets. They are capable of many feats like swallowing ships . They will dispose of his gymnasium of torture and pocket the proceeds before your could say Jack Robinson.
Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara said something similar as we reported a few months ago. He said those who lined their pockets with public funds would be reborn as buffaloes! A researcher should conduct a study to ascertain if there has been an increase in the buffalo population during the past few decades, especially around the Diyawanna Lake.
The CJ has put his learned finger on what ails the consumer. Systematic dismantling of the state ventures has deprived the country of an effective safety net to ensure consumer protection. The Consumer Affairs Authority is a lame duck vis- -vis the marauding multinational companies. It may put up some resistance initially but in the end it capitulates. With the sale of Colombo Gas was gone the only mechanism the government had at its disposal to prevent monopolistic exploitation. Who stood to gain from that deal? Did it help anyone buy mansions in London or palaces on the Nile? This country has had its quota of Marcoses, Pinochets and Shahs. A clause has been surreptitiously incorporated into the Consumer Affairs Authority Act in favour of Prima, as has been revealed in Parliament. Who did it? It is not for nothing that such anti national acts are committed. Somebody obviously made a fast buck but no one has made an issue of it. Not even Rathu Sahodarayas seem to be bothered! It may not be possible to trace the kickbacks which may be in offshore accounts. But, investigations into all such allegations are called for at least to lay bare the true faces of the politicians and their cronies who have benefited from the robbery of public funds.
At a recent press briefing Minister of Trade, Marketing Development, Co-operative and Consumer Services Bandula Gunawardana said even if gas prices plummeted in the world market, there was no guarantee that the benefits would be passed on to the consumer as the producers could always claim that other costs such as freight charges had gone up. That is the name of the game!
We are not surprised. In modern-day commerce involving multinational companies, the instruments with which the Global North controls the Global South, mis-priced trade transactions are the order of the day. So, a company with the wherewithal to carry out such sordid operations can not only evade taxes but also justify the unconscionable profits it makes with bogus claims of high costs. A former Economic Hit Man (EHM), John Christensen points out in his well argued essay titled Dirty Money: Inside the Secret of Offshore Banking in the book, A Game as Old as Empire, that a group of US researchers has uncovered an extraordinary range of mispriced trade transactions such as four rolls of toilet paper imported from China for $ 4,121.81, plastic buckets imported from the Czech Republic at $ 972.98 each and bicycle tyres imported into Russia at $ 364 each!
So, Minister Gunawardana is right in peddling that argument. But, the question is what he proposes to do about it? He cannot keep on grinning and trotting out excuses while the people are going through hell. He should act as Minister of Trade and Consumer Services and not as Minister of Excuses! Ironically, the most vociferous politicians in the Opposition become the worst failures when voted into power.
If Shell or Laugfs cheats the public by citing false freight charges and other production costs, it is the duty of Minister Gunawardana to launch an investigation, challenge their claims and see to it that LPG is reasonably priced. It will be a mistake for him or his government to take soaring gas prices lightly, though its use is still confined to the urban and semi urban areas. High gas prices have caused even hopper and plain tea prices to sky rocket in wayside eateries. Changing lifestyles of the urban people have resulted in an exponential growth in fast food joints dependent on gas and they conveniently pass the increase in the cost of production on to customers.
Minister of Petroleum Resources A. H. M. Fowzie has promised that the CPC will enter the LPG market from next month. That is a step in the right direction but it is doubtful whether the CPC will be in a position to have a significant impact on the market with its small share thereof. That is something to be achieved by tapping the full potential of the CPC.
The SLFP, which has brought the country to this sorry pass through the sale of Colombo Gas, must clear up the mess, if it is to prevent its leaders who were responsible for the deal from going to hell .
Perhaps, hell is too good a place for them!