Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana, through his lawyer, today raised preliminary objections against the two contempt of court cases filed against him.
Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara and National People’s Power Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath filed these applications against the Treasury Secretary for his failure to comply with the Supreme Court order issued regarding the local government elections.
Senior Counsel Eraj De Silva, appearing for the Treasury Secretary, informed the court that the Treasury Secretary has no powers to release such funds under the Constitution without the warrant of the Finance Minister.
De Silva said that under Articles 150(1) and (2) of the Constitution, the Minister must issue a warrant to release any funds from the consolidated funds. Elaborating on the circumstances, De Silva said that even though the budgetary allocation was made in Parliament in December for the local government elections, such an allocation is subject to the continuance of Parliamentary control and other procedures. Under Article 150(1) and (2) of the Constitution, a warrant from the Minister is required to release such funds. Thereby, the Secretary to the Treasury, on several occasions before February 14, 2023, released some money on the general warrant of the Minister. However, on February 14, 2023, the Cabinet decided to allocate the money only to essential expenses without pointing out the election expenses as essential expenditures. Thereby, there is no longer a warrant under the constitution for the Secretary of the Treasury to release such funds according to the law.
In reply, counsel appearing for the petitioners told the court that there was a general warrant to release funds after the budgetary allocation in December, and thereby no cabinet decision could have prevented the secretary to the Treasury from releasing such funds. They also pointed out the fact that the contempt matter at hand is, in fact, regarding the question of why the secretary has not complied with the Supreme Court order but nothing else. Therefore, they were of the opinion that the secretary of the Treasury should show cause as to why he did not comply with the court order. Subsequently, the five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya directed both parties to file written submissions within two weeks in order to deliver the order on whether the summons should be issued against the respondents or not.
President’s Counsel Geoffrey Alagaratnam, Suren Fernando, and Upul Kumarapperuma appeared for the petitioners.
Senior Counsel Eraj De Silva, with Counsel Hafeel Fariz, Janagan Sundramoorthi, Daminda Wijeratne, and Naveed Ahmed, appeared for the Secretary to the Treasury.