The former President, Prime Minister, and Finance Minister of Sri Lanka have been found to have breached the public’s trust for their mismanagement of the country’s economy. Their mismanagement had led to an economic crisis and what the Court described on page nine of its decision as “a total breakdown of [the] economic and social life of the entire society.” JURIST has reported that the Court found the officials, Gotabaya, Mahinda, and Basil Rajapaksa (who also happen to be brothers), in violation of Article 12(1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution. Article 12(1) states that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.” The Court also referred to Article 27 of the Constitution, writing that:
We note that Article 27 of the Constitution pledges a democratic socialist society the objectives of which include the realisation by all citizens of an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families including adequate food, clothing and housing, the continuous improvement of living conditions and the full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities, which the public were deprived of during this unfortunate period due to mishandling of the economy when it was within the full power of the respondents to take meaningful action to prevent such a calamity.
JURIST author James Joseph noted that the Court found that the officials have the “authority and knowledge to prevent such an outcome but failed to act in the public interest.” Further, the actions and inactions of the respondent officials “were identified as key contributors to the economic debacle.” Joseph wrote that the Court emphasized that the officials should have acted to address the numerous negative impacts on the economy, which was part of their constitutional responsibilities “to act in the best interests of the public.”
The economy of Sri Lanka had been in crisis for years and was hurt further by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. A report published by the World Bank in October of 2022 cited numerous factors contributing to the economy’s weakness that resulted in “high fiscal deficits, large gross financing needs, and a rapid growth in unsustainable debt.” Sri Lanka had lost its access to international markets in 2020 but “continued to service its external debt and pay for imports using official reserves and loans…” resulting in an almost 95% drop in the country’s official reserves within three years. According to the World Bank, Sri Lanka’s banking system’s net foreign assets “also fell to -$5.9 billion U.S.” The damage done to the economy caused “shortages in fuel, medicines, cooking gas, and inputs needed for economic activity,” and an “unprecedented 64.3%... year-on-year inflation” rate. The government has had to raise the “Value Added Tax rate from 8 to 15 percent,” which will likely further increase the financial burden on Sri Lankan citizens.