Rules on removal and appointment of vice president changed

A committee has approved changes to the People’s Majlis standing orders to offer the vice president just 30 minutes to respond to an impeachment motion, and proposed changes to fast-track the process of voting on a new vice presidential nominee.

The standing orders did not previously specify a time period for the impeachment debate.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) is seeking to remove vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and replace him with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

A motion to impeach Jameel is likely to be included in the agenda for Monday’s sitting of the People’s Majlis. Jameel is currently in London. He is yet to respond to PPM MPs’ charges of incompetency and disloyalty.

Explaining the change to the response period for impeachment, PPM MP Ali Arif, who chairs the general affairs committee, told CNM that the vice president will now have 10 minutes to make an opening statement, 10 minutes to respond during the debate, and 10 minutes to make a closing statement.

MPs will have an hour and half to debate the motion.

Arif said the changes were approved today with the backing of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs on the committee.

Since the committee has the authority to determine time periods for agenda items, the changes will not have to be put to a vote on the floor.

The general affairs committee also approved changes to the rules today to fast-track the process of voting on a president’s nominee to fill a vacancy in the vice president’s post. PPM MPs have said Adeeb will be sworn in as the new vice president by July 26, the golden jubilee of independence from the British.

The rules were changed to allow the speaker to call for a vote on the day a committee’s evaluation report is sent to MPs. Items are normally tabled in the agenda three days after the committee report is sent out.

The changes will have to be put to a vote on the Majlis floor.

In June, the parliament also amended its standing orders to fast-track the vice president’s impeachment process. Under the new rules, the parliament can vote on an impeachment motion in the vice president without an investigation.

A two-third majority or 57 votes will be needed to remove the vice president. The ruling coalition has 48 seats in the 85-member house, but appears to have secured the backing of opposition MPs to pass the motion, which was submitted with 61 signatures.

Jameel has labeled his imminent impeachment a “constitutional coup” and called for the international community to intervene.

In response, Adeeb accused Jameel of plotting a coup d’etat with the opposition.

“A lot of people are accusing him of leaving with a lot of money and a lot of things. He is even now accused of dereliction of duty and fleeing the country. He has left the country because the coup he had planned has failed,” he said.

President Yameen is meanwhile yet to publicly comment either on the vice president’s impeachment or a favoured candidate for the post.

In a meeting with the PPM parliamentary group last week, Yameen reportedly showed MPs proof of Jameel’s correspondence with opposition politicians ahead of a mass anti-government protest on May 1.

In the messages, Jameel reportedly asked if the opposition will let him assume the presidency if Yameen is ousted.

The opposition says Yameen wants to replace Jameel because he is fatally ill and is seeking a more loyal deputy ahead of a major surgery.

A constitutional amendment was also passed with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice-presidency.

Adeeb is now 33. The constitution previously stated that candidates must be 35 years of age.

The opposition’s backing for the amendment was widely perceived to be a deal made in exchange for jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.

The government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party are currently engaged in talks to resolve a six-month long political crisis.

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New halfway house for recovering addicts

A ‘halfway house’ operated by the National Drug Agency (NDA) for recovering drug addicts was opened in Hulhumalé yesterday. Recovering addicts will spend three months at the halfway house studying and learning work skills.

The halfway house was funded out of the government budget with assistance from an Italian organisation called Caritas Italiana.

The foundation stone for the halfway house was laid in July 2011.

Speaking at yesterday’s ceremony, home minister Umar Naseer said providing rehabilitation for drug users was a high priority for the current administration.

He noted that drug addicts often relapse after undergoing treatment at rehabilitation centres. The halfway house will play an important role in reintegrating addicts back to society, he said.

Some 17 recovering addicts are currently residing in the new halfway house.

A national drug use survey published in 2012 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 48 percent of drug users in the Maldives feel they are neglected and perceived as outcasts by the local community.

The stigmatisation of drug addicts leads to the creation of a cycle of addiction with recovering addicts relapsing back into drug abuse as an escape from perceived ‘disgrace’ they have brought upon themselves and their families.

The UNODC survey found that there were 7,496 drug users in the Maldives between the age of 15 and 64 in the Maldives and that 48 percent of drug users in the capital Malé were between the ages of 15 and 19 years.

 

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Islamic ministry distributes Zakat

The Islamic ministry began distributing Zakat (alms for the poor) yesterday at a rate of MVR500 (US$32) per person.

Zakat is an obligatory alms tax collected from the accumulated wealth of all able Muslims.

A large number of people reportedly began queuing outside the Islamic centre at 10:30am yesterday. More than 13,000 people in Malé and 37,800 people in other islands are registered as poor and eligible for Zakat.

Zakat is collected in the Maldives as 2.4kg of rice per person or its price, ranging from MVR12 to MVR75 depending on the quality of the rice.

The ministry has not revealed the amount collected as Zakat this year. Last year, the ministry collected MVR1.3 million (US$84,306) from Malé, which was distributed at a rate of MVR130 per person.

The ministry also collected a record MVR52 million (US$3.3 million) as property Zakat last year and distributed MVR400 (US$26) per person. The registered number of poor in 2014 was more than 53,000.

The property Zakat for this year was distributed last month at the same rate of MVR400 per person.

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Former presidents, Nasir and Gayoom, to be honored on Independence Day

Former presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom are to receive an honorary shield on the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence from the British on July 26.

Nasir, who served as the president of the Maldives from 1968 – 1978, is being honored for his role in securing independence for the Maldives. When the independence agreement was signed in 1965, he was prime minister of the Maldives.

Nasir died in exile in Singapore in 2008 at 82 years of age. His body was flown back to Malé where he received a state funeral.

Gayoom, who succeeded Nasir and served as the president from 1978 – 2008, is being honored for his role in maintaining the Maldives’ independence, the president’s office said today. He remains influential in Maldivian politics.

The government is planning to hold grand celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of independence, including a parade by the army and school bands, reopening public parks with water fountains, and an official function at the Usfasgandu area. More than 100 foreign dignitaries are expected to attend.

The government is yet to disclose the full program for the day. Several areas at Male’s waterfront have meanwhile been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the spokesperson at the president’s office, said President Abdulla Yameen had asked for updates on preparations at a cabinet meeting today.

“The President requested his minister’s to use all the government’s resources to hold the Independence Day celebrations,” he said.

A budget of MVR150million (US$9.7million) has been allocated for Independence Day activities.

The Supreme Court, the President’s Office, the foreign ministry, the Malé power plant and other government offices have been decked in lights for July 26. Plastic palms have been set up in some areas. Malé’s streets have also been decked in flags.

Deputy minister for home affairs Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem, who is in charge of the organizing the activities, told the press previously that a three-hour play will take place at the national stadium from 9pm to 12pm on the night of July 27.

The play will show different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present and depict the sacrifices of national heroes to maintain the country’s independence. It will also feature video projections.

The Minivan 50 or independence 50 office has awarded a contract to a British company called The Projection Studio to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Some 15 Maldivians have meanwhile undergone a 15-day training session in Addu City for a skydiving event on the night on June 27.

The skydivers will land at the national stadium using special parachutes manufactured with the national flag. The second part of the skydiving training is due to start in Malé today with Malaysian trainers.

Meanwhile, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef told the press earlier this week that more than a 1,000 people will attend the official function on July 26, including all Maldivian citizens born on July 26, 1965.

Shareef also dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the Independence Day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

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Cabinet reassesses Maldives’ membership in Commonwealth as UK welcomes talks

The cabinet has decided to reassess the Maldives’ membership in the Commonwealth following repeated threats to leave the inter-governmental organisation.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told the press today that government “needs to explain to the people how much the country benefits from being part of the Commonwealth.”

“That is what the government is going to reassess,” he said, adding that the government will consider the assistance and benefits the country has received since joining in 1981 as well as the Maldives’ present role in the organisation.

Ministers recommended the reassessment to President Abdulla Yameen at today’s cabinet meeting, he said.

Muaz, however, stressed that the cabinet has not decided to leave the Commonwealth.

Earlier this month, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for a second time in four years.

Some Commonwealth members had pushed for the CMAG to assess alleged violations of the Commonwealth’s principles by the Maldives over the widely criticised imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

However, the Maldives was not placed on the CMAG agenda despite “efforts made by some of the most powerful countries in the Commonwealth to place the Maldives on the group’s agenda and harm the nation,” the foreign ministry said on July 5.

But former foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed said that the CMAG only granted the Maldives further time to “sort out [the] mess Maldives is in.”

In mid-June, Canada had called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.” The Commonwealth’s democracy and human rights arm can recommend measures for collective action to restore democracy and constitutional rule.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two former defence ministers and a ruling party MP.

UK “closely involved”

Meanwhile, in response to a question posed by Karen Lumley, conservative MP for Redditch, at the House of Commons on Tuesday, minister of state at the foreign and Commonwealth office Hugo Swire said the British government remains “deeply concerned by the situation in the Maldives.”

He noted that Prime Minister David Cameron had called for Nasheed’s release from custody as well as all-party talks to resolve the six-month long political crisis.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is currently engaged in talks with the government. At the third meeting of the talks this week, MDP representative Ibrahim Mohamed Solih suggested that the opposition leader could be freed on July 26, when the Maldives marks 50 years of independence from the British.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

Swire meanwhile welcomed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest and the ongoing political dialogue. “We hope the talks will provide the basis for progress on the numerous concerns within the Maldives,” he said.

Asked if he believed the Commonwealth should take action against the Maldives, Swire noted that the UK is not a member of CMAG.

“I have discussed these matters with the Commonwealth Secretary General,” he said.

“I understand that there has been a telephone conversation between CMAG members and that they keep the situation under continuous review.”

John Glen, conservative MP for Salisbury, urged the UK government to “resist complacency on the Maldives,” suggesting that “the current regime seems also to be a recruiting sergeant for ISIL in the Maldives.”

“There will come a time when the government will need to stand clearly on the right side of the argument and intervene more fully to secure justice in that country,” he advised.

In response, Swire said he has recently discussed the Maldives with the Indian foreign secretary and the US assistant secretary of state.

“Both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I have met Mr Nasheed’s wife, and Amal Clooney and other members of Mr Nasheed’s legal team, to discuss the situation. We are closely involved,” he said.

Asked about possible sanctions on the Maldives in late June, Swire had said that the UK government has not “discussed the possibility of sanctions with international partners, though we are keeping all options under review.”

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Maldives celebrates historic penal code

A new penal code came into effect today, repealing a law written in 1968. Government offices, the opposition and influential figures have welcomed the law as a momentous change that will usher in major reforms to the Maldives’ criminal justice system.

The landmark law is hailed as one that is compatible with both the Islamic Shari’ah and international human rights standards. The penal code comes into effect nearly ten years after it was first drafted and despite recent efforts by the judiciary to overhaul it.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil today said the new law would bring the Maldives criminal justice system on to equal footing with that of other developed nations. Thanking all stakeholders involved in its enactment, Anil said the penal code is the most well-researched law to come into effect in the Maldives.

Law enforcement officers and public prosecutors have now been trained in its application with the help of a legal resource center set up by the UNDP, he said.

“The Attorney General asks all government institutions and the Prosecutor General to complete all the tasks in order to fully comply with the new penal code,” he said in a statement today.

Anil also called on Majlis to expedite the criminal procedures bill and stressed the need for laws on evidence and legal aid to complete reforms to the criminal justice system.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said: “We believe the enforcement of the new penal code is a progressive step for a better criminal justice system. It brings to an end to the injustice wrought by the old law.”

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said: “I am extremely proud that with this significant move, the Maldives becomes the first Islamic country to bring into place a penal system that is in line with the principles enshrined in both Islamic Shariah and the common law.”

Ahmed Faiz, the former chief said: “Never will a more significant change happen to the Maldivian criminal justice system. “

The PG office and the police have said that they are fully prepared to implement the new penal code.

“The PG office was actively involved in training of lawyers, the police and other institutions for the penal code. We are well prepared,” a spokesperson said.

According to the police, some 3100 officers have been informed on the provisions in the law.

Amidst all the celebration, former Attorney General Husnu Suood was more cautious. “The people will benefit from the penal code provided that judges are god fearing, selfless, loyal and uphold the most sincere ethics,” he said.

The first draft of the penal code was prepared in 2006 at the request of then-Attorney General Hassan Saeed by Professor Paul H. Robinson, a legal expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

However, the legislation was stalled at the 16th People’s Majlis. It was resubmitted to the 17th Majlis in late 2009 where it remained with a committee until December 2013. In the first vote, the bill was rejected 36-34 and sent back to a committee.

It was finally passed in April last year, but its enforcement was delayed by a year to provide state institutions time to prepare. Ruling party MPs this year delayed the penal code’s enforcement by a further three months, claiming more time was needed to raise public awareness.

The decision was made against the wishes of the Attorney General and the Prosecutor General.

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Victim’s family welcomes Interpol red notice for murder suspect

The family of murder victim Ahmed Jailam Shakir has welcomed an Interpol red notice issued to locate a suspect and a High Court order for the criminal court to accept the case.

The red notice was issued for 19-year-old Mohamed Humaid, who had fled to Sri Lanka in late February. The Interpol site states that Humaid is wanted for prosecution on charges of “gang murder, gang assault with sharp weapons.”

Jailam’s mother, Moomina Ahmed, told Minivan News today that she is happy about the development as the suspect was dangerous.

“I think if the suspects remain free they are a danger to the society too. So he should be found soon,” Moomina said.

Jailam was stabbed numerous times by two men armed with machetes while he was sitting outside his house, eyewitnesses told Minivan News.

Three other suspects have been charged with murder in connection with the 23-year-old Jailam’s fatal stabbing on February 21.

The Prosecutor General’s (PG) office had charged the suspects under the Intimidation and Possession of Dangerous Weapons and Sharp Instruments Act, but the criminal court’s registrar refused to accept the case, contending that the PG office’s interpretation of 2010 law was incorrect. The exact charges have not been disclosed to the media yet.

PG office media official Mohamed Hisham Wajeeh said the office did not understand the criminal court’s objection as the registrar had not offered much detail.

“It is an issue regarding substance of the law so it is for the judge to make a decision on it, not the court’s registrar,” Hisham said.

The case was complicated due to the involvement of multiple suspects, he said, and criticised the criminal court for revealing details of charges to local media. “I think it is very unethical for them to do so, I do not think this occurs anywhere else in the world either,” he said.

Upon appeal by the PG office, the High Court ordered the lower court to accept the case if it is filed within seven days. Hisham said the court has since decided to hear the case, but hearings have not commenced yet.

Moomina meanwhile expressed appreciation for the PG office’s efforts, but said she remained unsatisfied.

“I’m glad the High Court overturned the criminal court refusal to accept the case. But my hope is that the process of prosecuting the suspects will go more quickly. It has been three months since my son was killed but so far the trial has not yet begun,” Moomina said.

She added that the authorities should punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law. “There is no punishment I can give that can bring my son back,” she said.

A 20-year-old suspect was reportedly arrested on March 10 whilst two other suspects, aged 19 and 24, were taken into police custody with arrest warrants on March 3.

The criminal court extended the remand detention of the latter to 15 days.

Since 2001, Maldives has seen 42 murders including Jailam’s. Prosecution was completed in just a fraction of the cases.

Jailam’s murder occurred two months after Ahmed Mafaz, 28, was killed last December. In late March, the police launched a joint security operation with the army following the the murder of a 29-year-old man in Malé.

On June 16, a 19-year-old victim of an assault in Addu City died while undergoing treatment for injuries. Hussain Shiar’s fatal stabbing was the sixth murder in 2015. The police revealed today that four suspects have been arrested this week in connection with Shiar’s murder, including two 20-year-old men, a 22-year-old man, and 24-year-old man.

All four suspects have criminal records and are being held in remand detention.

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Comment: New penal code comes into effect! A truly historic moment

This article is by Hussein Shameem, a partner at Aequitas Legal Consultants and the former deputy Prosecutor General. 

Today is July 16, 2015, a momentous day in the history of the Maldives’ criminal justice system. The penal code of 1968 expired at 11:59pm on July 15. In this historic moment, 12am on July 16, 2015, a brand new penal code takes effect in the Maldives.

The revolutionary change we are ushering in today is significant even by global standards, and equivalent to the historic change brought by the ratification of a new constitution in the Maldives on August 7, 2008. The constitution, in addition to granting many fundamental rights, also brought in major reforms to the criminal justice system. These reforms can only be complete with the enforcement of the new penal code.

Article 61 (b) of the constitution states: “No person may be subjected to any punishment except pursuant to a statute or pursuant to a regulation made under authority of a statute, which has been made available to the public and which defines the criminal offence and the punishment for commission of the offence.”

The statute that defines criminal offences and the punishment for the commission of those offences is the penal code that took effect today. This law states, in clear and simple language and not in legal jargon, what criminal offences are and what their corresponding punishments are.

This penal code will improve transparency in the law enforcement sector. It clearly lays out what law enforcement officers can and cannot do, and provides measures that judges must refer to in meting out punishment. It allows an offender to argue several justifications in their defense, such as self- defense, defense of property or that of law enforcement authorities.

This is the age of transparency and access to information. Laws must clearly state how people are to be treated. This is a crucial element of the philosophy of the rule of law. If an individual knows beforehand how they will be treated under the law, it will increase their trust in the legal system. Public trust is one element lacking in and much needed for the Maldives criminal justice system. This penal code paves a path to gain that trust.

This penal code only applies to events that occur after 12:01am on July 16, 2015. Hence, the old law will be used in the prosecution of events that occurred before the new law came into force. This is because the public must be notified before a certain action is declared as a new offence. If an act is not an offence at the time at which it was committed, the person who committed the act cannot be prosecuted retroactively by a new law. This is not justice. Since this law came into force today, and since the notice was provided today, this law only applies to events that occur today onwards.

What will happen to cases under investigation at present?

Some crimes are reported to the police only days after they took place. Since the current penal code only applies to events that occur from today onwards, the police must consider the date on which the reported offence took place. Depending on the date of the alleged offence, the law they apply will be different. Hence, law enforcement agencies will have to consider both laws for a time being. But this will be resolved soon, when police start receiving reports of events that occur from today onwards.

This overlap is inevitable. If the enforcement of a criminal law is suspended for any period of time, it may permit criminality for that period. The police and law enforcement agencies will have to bear some difficulties in this period of transition, for our protection and safety.

What will happen to cases sent for prosecution to the Prosecutor General’s Office?

The Prosecutor General (PG) must press charges according to the law in force at the time that an offence was committed. Even if the punishment for the offence is considerably lesser in the new law, the charges must be filed under provisions in the law in effect at the time the act was committed.

Judges, however, must consider the more lenient punishment in sentencing. I will address that in the next section

What will happen to ongoing cases at the criminal court?

With the enforcement of the new penal code, prosecution in ongoing cases will continue according to the offence the person was charged with under the old law.

However, the accused has the following rights:

Firstly, the defendant will have the right to the justifications outlined in chapter 40, 50 and 60 of the current penal code. For example, if the offence was committed in self-defense, the defendant can take this argument up in the trial. Chapter 40 introduces six defenses, chapter 50 introduces seven, and chapter 60 introduces six. These chapters detail how these justifications can be used. The defendant will now have the right to argue the justification relevant to their circumstances.

Secondly, Article 59 (a) of the constitution states that if the punishment for an offence has been reduced between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, the accused is entitled to the benefit of the lesser punishment. Hence, judges are obligated to consider the punishments outlined in the old and new laws and mete out the lesser punishment. If not, the accused has the right to appeal the sentence at the High Court. Unlike before, the accused can appeal either the reasoning or the severity of the sentence at the High Court. If judges find that the accused was handed the severe sentence, they can reduce the sentence to the lesser punishment.

What will happen to completed cases?

If a case had been tried and a verdict had been delivered before the new law came into force, there will be no change to the sentence.

Exempted Acts

Even though the new penal code takes effect today, Article 18 states that the following acts shall take precedence (meaning provisions in the following Acts will take precedence over that in the penal code):

  • Act 12/2009: Special Provisions Act to Deal with Child Sex Abuse Offenders
  • Act 17/2010: Intimidation and Possession of Dangerous Weapons and Sharp Instruments
  • Act 17/2011: Narcotic Drugs Act
  • Act 12/2013: Anti-Human Trafficking Law
  • Act 13/2013: Anti-Torture Act
  • Act 10/2014: Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act
  • Act 17/2014: Sexual Offences Act

Even though provisions in the above-mentioned laws will take precedence over the penal code, for prosecution under those laws, the defendant will get the benefit of defenses. If the defendant is able to prove such a defense, they may not be punished. For example, if a defendant is able to prove they were mentally incapacitated at the time of committing the offence, they may not be sentenced.

The offences mentioned in these laws, and the procedures relating to those offences must be reviewed by the Majlis and a decision on the annulment of these Acts must be made before July 15, 2016.

Because of all the reasons outlined above, the enforcement of the new penal code is truly a historic event. It opens doors for the Maldivian criminal justice system to become a globally accepted system.

Human beings wrote the penal code. Therefore, it is likely to have some flaws. They will become clearer as we begin to enforce the new law. These flaws can be corrected and the law can be improved further. In all countries, it takes some time to reform and improve laws. Our task now is to identify such gaps and block them. The Attorney General’s Office has set up a mechanism to do so—the Legal Resource Center (LRC). This center will consult with all stakeholders, conduct research and bring the necessary reforms to this law.

The legal system is not just dependent on good laws, but also on their enforcement. If we are unable to implement and enforce the law, even the most perfect law will not bring resolutions. I call on the law enforcement agencies to be sincere in enforcing this law, even if there are some difficulties at first. When problems arise, we must resolve them. The real problem is when there is no interest in solving problems.

Shameem is a consultant with the Legal Resource Center. 

This is a translation of an article written in Dhivehi. Translation by Zaheena Rasheed. 

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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More than half of civil servants eligible for annual bonus

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has said that annual bonuses worth MVR40 million (US$2.5 million) will be distributed to more than 13,000 civil servants with the monthly pay for July and August.

CSC senior human resource officer Mohamed Riza told the press today that the annual bonus will be handed out based on evaluation of civil servants’ work between February 2014 and January 2015.

Civil servants who earned 95 percent and above in the appraisal will receive a bonus equivalent to a month’s pay. Those who earned between 85 and 95 percent will receive two thirds of their basic salary, while those between 84.9 and 75 percent will receive one-third of their basic monthly salary.

Some 13,905 employees or 55 percent of the country’s 25,076 civil servants will receive the bonus.

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