September, 2, 2021, Colombo, Sri Lanka: On the 30th of August 2021, by way of Gazette 2243/1, President Gotabaya Rajapakse issued a proclamation under Section 2 of the Public Security Ordinance (Chapter 40) as amended. In the Proclamation, the President states that ‘I am of the opinion that it is considered expedient to do so in order to ensure the Public Security and well being and maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community in view of the prevailing emergency situation in Sri Lanka in the context of the COVID – 19 pandemic now steadily on the rise throughout Sri Lanka’. It has widely been reported that private banks are unable to finance food imports due to foreign exchange shortages, and as such a food shortage is expected. This is amidst rising food prices both locally and internationally. However, the government claims there are no shortages but only distribution issues with vendors hoarding stocks.
The present comment is prepared by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) to briefly explain the legal basis for the declaration of a state of emergency and specifically Emergency (Provision of Essential Food) Regulation, No. 1 of 2021 published in Gazette 2243/3 dated 30th August 2021.
Section 2 of the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) empowers the President to declare a State of Emergency in two situations; when the President is of the opinion that it is expedient to do so-
1) in the interest of public security and the preservation of public order, or
2) for the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.
CPA has previously commented on the constitutional and legal scheme of a State of Emergency and what it entails, in the context of the State of Emergency that was declared by President Maithripala Sirisena in 2018.
Unlike the previous emergencies that were declared following unrest in 2018 and the Easter Sunday Bombings in 2019, the present declaration of emergency appears to be reliant on the second component relevant for the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community. However, CPA notes that regardless of the reason for the declaration of a State of Emergency, once such a declaration is made it gives the President wide powers with only limited checks and balances. With the declaration of a State of Emergency on 30th August 2021, the President is now able to promulgate Emergency Regulations dealing with any subject at any given time. Considering Sri Lanka’s history with emergency, other security related laws and legacy of repression, this raises serious concerns. The implementation of the present regulation and possible future steps require close attention.