Jan 19, Colombo: An Independent think-tank and a leader in the provision of information and strategic analysis in Sri Lanka says the cabinet decision to ban women from purchasing liquor is unconstitutional.
Verité Research in a statement says under Sri Lanka's Constitution all persons are equal before the law and no one should be discriminated on the grounds of their sex.
"Article 12(1) of the Constitution states that 'all persons are equal before the law, and are entitled to the equal protection of the law'. Moreover, article 12(2) states that 'no citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of...sex.' Therefore, acts that discriminate against women on the grounds of their sex violate their fundamental rights, and are thereby unconstitutional, the think tank said.
Sri Lanka's Finance Minister on 9th January amended the schedule in the Excise Notification no.666 of the Gazette Extraordinary of 1979 to allow females over 18 years to purchase alcohol legally and to allow women to be employed in licensed premises without prior approval from Excise Commissioner.
However, on the request of the President, the Cabinet of Ministers on 16 January unanimously decided to withdraw the Excise Notification No. 02 / 2018, which removed the prohibition on the sale of liquor to women within the premises of a tavern by reinstating the previous ban under Excise Notification No.666 of 1979.
Verité Research points out that the Cabinet's decision therefore discriminates against women on the grounds of their sex.
"The new decision dated 16 January 2018, is not protected under article 16(1) of the Constitution, as it does not fall within the category of 'existing written law or unwritten law' at the time of promulgating the Sri Lankan Constitution of 1978.," the think tank points out.
It further says that there is an imminent infringement of a fundamental right as the Cabinet decision on 16 January 2018 falls within the category of 'executive' action women have valid grounds to petition the Supreme Court as their fundamental rights have been infringed by the cabinet decision.
"Article 126(1) affords the Supreme Court the sole and exclusive jurisdiction to 'hear and determine any question relating to the infringement or imminent infringement by executive or administrative action of any fundamental right' (emphasis added). The Cabinet decision dated 16 January 2018 falls within the category of 'executive' action. Moreover, the decision to withdraw Excise Notification No. 02/2018 amounts to an imminent infringement of article 12(2) of the Constitution, as the decision will directly result in the Minister of Finance and Mass Media withdrawing the said Notification. Such withdrawal will constitute an infringement of women's rights to equality and non-discrimination guaranteed by articles 12(1) and (2) of the Constitution," Verité' Research explains.
"Therefore, interested parties anticipating an imminent infringement of their fundamental rights have valid grounds to petition the Supreme Court under article 17 (read with article 126) of the Constitution," it adds.
Following the Cabinet decision, the Minister of Finance and Mass Media Mangala Samaraweera Thursday (18) signed a special gazette notification 03/2018 and 04/2018 issued under the Excise Ordinance Act stating the withdrawal of the earlier gazette notifications which allowed the women to purchase alcohol.