The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka declared Tuesday that several former politicians, including former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, breached the public trust and violated Article 12 (1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution in their management of the economy.The bench ruled by a majority of 4-1, saying that the respondents were responsible for Sri Lanka’s economic crisis between 2019-2022. The ruling stated, “This situation brought in a total breakdown of economic and social life of the entire society. Such breakdown ultimately led to the collapse of the public order and the complete undermining of the rule of law.”According to Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), the court found that the actions of the respondents directly contributed to the economic crisis. The court emphasized that the authorities should have been aware of and taken measures to address issues that negatively impacted the economy instead of exacerbating them. The judgment underscored that public officials hold a responsibility to act in the best interests of the public and are entrusted with significant powers to uphold public trust, requiring them to adhere to the directives of the constitution.The respondents’ attempts to attribute their actions to policy decisions were dismissed, as the court emphasised that they possessed the authority and knowledge to prevent such an outcome but failed to act in the public interest. The cumulative actions and inactions of the respondents were identified as key contributors to the economic debacle.This landmark judgment stemmed from a Fundamental Rights Petition filed in June 2022 by TISL and co-petitioners Chandra Jayaratne, Jehan Canaga Retna, and Julian Bolling.Sri Lanka has been facing a major political and economic crisis, which peaked in 2019 and was brought on by several factors. Years of high spending and a declining tax base have led to large budget deficits and debt levels. This was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine on fuel and food prices. The crisis has caused shortages, high inflation, power cuts and humanitarian need for many Sri Lankans. It led to massive protests in mid-2022 that toppled the Rajapaksa government, but economic problems remain. Getting an IMF bailout has been delayed due to negotiations over Sri Lankan debt held by China and India. There are concerns about a potential drain on people and brain power as many skilled workers leave due to economic hardships. While political leadership changed, challenges around governance, reforms, and resolving debt issues persist.

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