The Supreme Court has ruled that the government violated the Constitution by raising taxes without seeking the Parliament’s approval.
This is a landmark verdict. But the verdict should not be seen as a loss for the government. Nor should it be seen as a win for the opposition party. In fact it should be seen, and celebrated, for what it really is: a resounding victory for the democratic process.
Even so, the government made a mistake – a serious mistake – by imposing taxes unilaterally and, in so doing, violated the Constitution. For that, the government must accept moral responsibility.
Naturally, how the government exercises moral responsibility for their transgressions is their business. It is an internal matter, but one that is important, as it will set the standards for government accountability.
In this instance, however – for imposing taxes unlawfully – the government should just accept that they had made a mistake, apologize for it, and move on.
Apologize and move on, that’s what the government should do.
Instead the government has responded to the Supreme Court’s decision in other ways, all of which is exactly what the government should not do.
First and foremost, the government should not tell people that they have been prevented from raising taxes. That’s not true. The constitutional case did not question the need to raise taxes, including the tax on vehicles.
Taxes are needed, there’s no doubt about that. And taxes must be raised, especially to meet national goals. But taxes can be raised only in accordance with the procedures enshrined in the Constitution. And that’s what the Supreme Court’s verdict is about – how to impose taxes.
The government can and must raise taxes. But when they do so, they, like all of us, must follow the law.
Second, the government should not threaten people that they will not receive electricity or roads or other development work, because they can no longer accept grants and raise loans. Again, not true.
The constitutional case was about the procedure to raise taxes, not about accepting grants or loans. The Supreme Court has even clarified that the government has the authority to accept grants and raise loans.
Third, the government should not claim that the Supreme Court’s verdict has weakened democracy. It has not. On the contrary, the constitutional case and the verdict have strengthened the democratic process. Various institutions – including the Parliament, the ruling party, the opposition, the executive, the media and, most importantly, the judiciary – played their respective roles to safeguard the Constitution and to ensure that its provisions are understood and obeyed.
The constitutional case and the verdicts of the courts have strengthened the rule of law. That surely is good for democracy.
And finally, the government should not threaten to resign. No one has asked for any resignation. Talk about resignation – either individually or en masse – is irresponsible. It is also dangerous. Having threatened resignation the government may find it hard to save face without actually resigning.