Military labels global corruption survey a “baseless” attack on its reputation

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has labelled the results of Transparency Maldives’ recently released Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) survey “baseless”.

Criticising local media outlet CNM’s coverage of the report, the MNDF called it “highly irresponsible journalism to publish such news without verifying the facts of it. We also call on media to refrain from publishing such news in the future.”

The survey – reported widely across local media – revealed the results of a random sample of 1,002 people interviewed via telephone on their perceptions of corruption and bribery in the country.

Whilst not perceived by respondents to have been the most corrupt organisation in the country, the military appeared fifth on the list, with 34percent of those interviewed viewing the MNDF as ‘extremely corrupt’.

“While the Maldivian Army has a respectful, pride-filled history, and while every soldier in this force is one who prioritises the nation above self and works with heart and soul to serve this nation, we condemn acts of this manner which aims to hurt the institution’s reputation, create mistrust in the institution, and to incite hatred and discord in citizens’ hearts towards this institution,” responded the MNDF today (dhivehi).

The Majlis topped the GCB’s list with 60 percent feeling it to be ‘extremely corrupt’, followed by political parties (57 percent), the judiciary (55 percent) and the police (also 34 percent). The leading statistic featured in the report was that 83 percent of respondents felt that corruption had not improved – or had worsened – in the past two years.

Recently appointed Home Minister Umar Naseer last week sanctioned the removal of any material inciting hatred towards the police, who have made no comment on the GCB today.

Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed told Minivan News today that the survey was based on a globally accepted methodology.

“The GCB is reviewed by a panel of experts at Transparency International Secretariat, including independent experts. The methodology is sound.”

Rasheed noted that 79% of the people said that the MNDF was corrupt, up from 54% in the GCB published in Jan 2012.

“As to the reasons why, the perception of corruption is tied to the events and happenings in the country. The events in 2012 and 2013 may not have helped build confidence.”

“The important take away is that the perception of corruption in an institution is a measure of trust and confidence in the institution of MNDF,” added Rasheed.

The MNDF’s outburst marks the second time this month that the media has been attacked for reporting on the military. Last week, the Defence Ministry ministry threatened to take action against any media outlets attempting to criticise the military’s disciplinary policies.

A series of dismissals from within the military have followed the inauguration of President Abdulla Yameen, the election of whom came at the end of a protracted election process which, including one annulled vote and the extension of predecessor President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s term beyond the constitutionally mandated deadline.

During the electoral crisis, a letter signed by 17 high-ranking officers – which expressed concern over possible repercussions in the absence of a president-elect by the end of the presidential term on November 11 – was leaked on social media.

Mainstream media reporting of this letter prompted Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim – since re-appointed – to accuse those outlets concerned of illegally “sowing discord and disorder in the military”.

Several officers were suspended, demoted and transferred following the letter and the MNDF amended its regulations to punish any soldier who “incited upheaval and chaos.”

The following month, 73 mid ranking officers circulated an appeal calling on fellow soldiers not to obey any “unlawful” orders issued by President Waheed or his political appointees.

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Waheed takes MVR 525,000 for presidential trip, days before election

The Ministry of Finance has approved a budget of MVR 525,000 (US$34,047) for President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s trip abroad two days before the run-off election.

Waheed has previously described this as a personal trip to Singapore to attend to First Lady Ilham Hussain’s medical matters.

Waheed, who on Sunday an hour before his presidency expired declared that he would remain in office until run-off polls take place on November 16, is scheduled to leave tonight night – just over a day before the polls.

Waheed’s decision – based on a Supreme Court verdict signed by the four judges who had annulled the initial September 7 presidential election – contradicts a parliamentary motion to appoint the speaker of parliament as an interim president, citing Article 124 of the constitution.

While the President’s Office stated that Waheed and his cabinet of ministers will be serving for the additional six days without remuneration, the budget for the trip is over five times the monthly salary for the head of state.

“I do not think there is much I can do from here, things that I cannot do over the phone,” Waheed was quoted as saying in local media.

Local media further reported that the President’s Office had initially requested for a budget of MVR 1.3 million (US$84,306) for the trip, but the finance ministry did not approve the full amount citing procedural matters.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad confirmed the figures to Minivan News, stating that the funds have now been released.

“What we at the ministry follow is the Supreme Court’s orders. Since they have stated that the president can remain in government until a new president is elected, we are entitled to release these funds for President Waheed’s trip,” Jihad explained.

Jihad also said that the over half a million rufiyaa has been released for an official presidential trip to Hong Kong and Malaysia scheduled for November 14 -15.

Waheed however has informed local media that he is leaving on the night of 14th on a “personal trip regarding medical treatment” of First Lady Ilham Hussain.

He declined from stating even a tentative time of return, saying instead that he “will need to consider the situation back in the Maldives first”.

President Waheed further stated that he does not have a direct role in the swearing in of a newly elected president, and therefore did not believe that his absence would cause any difficulties.

“No legitimate government, do not carry out transactions”: Finance Ministry

Finance Ministry Permanent Secretary Ismail Ali Manik also confirmed to Minivan News that the funds have been released for President’s Waheed trip, adding that further details can be provided by Financial Controller Ahmed Manik.

Earlier in the week, the ministry circulated an internal memo instructing all staff members to refuse to run any financial transaction of state funds without the explicit permission of the financial controller.

The memo – signed by Permanent Secretary Manik – stated that the Waheed administration had constitutionally come to an end on November 10, and therefore to refrain from carrying out any financial transactions of the state within the date of the memo and the establishment of a new government.

A senior official of the Finance Ministry – on condition of anonymity – stated that the memo was released with the purpose of protecting civil servants in the ministry.

“The political appointees will leave at some point, but the civil servants will stay on. It is the civil servants who will then in the end be held responsible for whatever transactions that may have taken place in this time of uncertainty,” he stated.

“It is the minister’s personal view that he should be following the Supreme Court verdict. The permanent secretary has – as is evident by the memo – declared that there is at the moment no head of the ministry and therefore asked all staff to go to the financial controller for approval of all transactions,” he said.

Financial Controller Ahmed Manik was not responding to calls at the time of press.

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ACC checks inventories at presidential residence

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) began checking the inventory at the official residence of the vice president, Hilaaleege, this week, local media reports.

The vice presidential residence has been used by President Dr Mohamed Waheed since the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, 2012.

The ACC decided to check the inventory following a complaint alleging that assets were being removed from Hilaaleege before the end of the presidential term on November 11.

ACC Chair Hassan Luthfy told CNM that a complaint was also submitted alleging that the inventory did not include gifts from foreign dignitaries received during the administrations of former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed.

Opposition-aligned Raajje TV meanwhile reported today that an ACC team was unable to check the inventory at the official presidential residence of Muleeage.

Staff at Muleeage alleged that the brother of President Waheed, Assad Waheed, had the key to the room where the gifts from the dignitaries were stored.

Assad however did not answer the phone when the ACC investigators attempted to contact him, the staff claimed.

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President Waheed commutes sentences of 35 convicts, approves lump sum payment for ministers

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has commuted the sentences of 35 convicts under authority granted by the Clemency Act of 2009 and approved a lump sum payment of three months’ wages for cabinet ministers.

President Waheed exercised the executive power on the last official working day of his administration before the end of the current presidential term on Monday, November 11.

The President’s Office revealed in a statement that Waheed had commuted the sentences of persons banished, serving jail sentences or under house arrest “with conditions.”

Details of the convicts, the conditions and the reduced sentences were not disclosed.

President Waheed considered “age, illness, nature of medical treatment, time and circumstance, behaviour and conduct, or a compassionate view,” the President’s Office stated.

Persons convicted of murder, a crime with a punishment (hadd) prescribed in Islamic Shariah, terrorism, child sexual abuse, sexual assault or rape, and homosexuality were not included among the 35 convicts, the President’s Office claimed.

Under the law passed in 2009, prisoners who have completed one-third of their sentences and exhausted all avenues of appeal are eligible to apply for clemency.

Local media meanwhile reported that President Waheed has also decided to provide a lump sum payment of three months’ salaries and allowances for cabinet ministers.

While the proposal was made at the last cabinet meeting, a decision was not finalised last week.

As ministers earn MVR57,500 (US$3,729) a month, the lump sum payments would amount to MVR2 million (US$129,702) for the 12 ministers presently in the cabinet.

Local media has also reported that the government signed an agreement on Wednesday (November 6) to hand over the Kaadehdhoo airport in Gaaf Dhaal atoll to Villa Air, owned by business tycoon and Jumhooree Party (JP) presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim, for a 50-year period.

Transport Minister Ibrahim Ameen, who signed on behalf of the government, is a senior member of the JP representing the party in the coalition government.

Former Transport Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed – filling a JP slot in cabinet at the time – was sacked in November 2012 after extending the lease of the privately-owned airport in Maamigili for 99 years. Despite the dismissal, the decision was not reversed and Shamheed was replaced by Ameen.

In February this year, the Anti-Corruption Commission began investigating the lease extension of the airport operated by Gasim’s Villa Shipping and Trading.

In March, Dr Shamheed told Minivan News that President Waheed wanted “credit” for extending the Maamigili airport lease.

The media reports today also revealed that an agreement was signed with Island Aviation to hand over the Ka’dhoo airport in Laamu atoll, while agreements were signed with Reol Investment and Millenium Capital Management to build and operate airports in Dhaal Kudahuvadhoo and Noonu Maafaru, respectively.

The companies were given uninhabited islands as an airport subsidy – Noonu Kummala and Raa Ufulandhoo to Millenium and Dhaal Hiriyafushi and Kadimma to Reol – to be developed as resorts.

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JP, PPM agree to sign voter registry

Presidential candidates of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP) have agreed to sign the voter registry prepared for the November 9 presidential election following a meeting with President Dr Mohamed Waheed this morning.

PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen and JP candidate Gasim Ibrahim told the press upon emerging from the President’s Office that representatives have been sent to the Elections Commission (EC) to begin signing the voter lists.

Obtaining the signature of candidates or their representatives on all voter lists used at polling stations was among the 16-point guidelines imposed by the Supreme Court judgment annulling the September 7 election, whilst the re-vote scheduled for October 19 was obstructed by the police after the JP and PPM refused to approve the voter registry.

Yameen told reporters that the candidates supported holding the second round if necessary on November 10 if the EC had no objections. Both candidates stressed the importance of concluding the polls before the end of the current presidential term on November 11.

While the PPM and JP threatened not to sign the lists yesterday citing issues with the re-registration process, both candidates said today that they wished to see the election take place on Saturday.

President by 11th, ‘God willing’

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed, meanwhile went to the EC immediately after the meeting to begin signing the lists.

At a press conference shortly after the meeting, President Waheed expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the discussions and assured the government’s cooperation to the EC.

“My prayer is for one of [the candidates] to succeed in this election – that way, God willing, an elected president can assume office on November 11,” he said.

“We discussed what to do if neither candidate is elected in the first round. All of them agreed that the best way would be holding the second round as soon as possible. They said they want the second round to be held on November 10, or at the latest November 11. So I also support that proposal. We must hold the election as soon as possible and hand over the presidency to the president-elect,” he continued.

As the Maldives was at “a critical juncture,” President Waheed said he discussed a way forward in the event that there is no president-elect on November 11.

“However, all of them agreed that the only solution was to hold the election on 10 or 11 to elect a president,” he added.

Decisions yet to be made

Asked repeatedly if he would stay on after November 11, President Waheed refused to categorically state that he would resign at the end of the term.

“I am hoping that it would not come to that. So if we do not have a [president-elect] by the 11th, a decision about what to do has not been made yet,” he said.

“I told the three candidates that a solution for this was in their hands. We can even find a legal solution. But the real solution would be a political solution. The power to resolve this is in their hands. I told them to bring a constitutional amendment through the People’s Majlis,” he said.

“That is the best way according to the legal advice I have received so far. They have that power. The constitution can be amended even tomorrow after convening the Majlis.”

On October 27, parliament approved a proposal by the MDP for the Speaker of Parliament to assume the presidency if there is no president-elect by midnight on November 10.

The resolution was proposed in response to a letter to Speaker Abdulla Shahid from President Waheed requesting parliament “to take initiative in finding a solution to any legal issues that will arise if a new president is not elected by the end of the current term.”

While President Waheed had insisted that he does not wish to “stay in this position even a day beyond November 11,” Yameen and Gasim have publicly appealed for the president to remain in office until the presidential election could be concluded.

Asked whether he accepted the legitimacy of the parliament resolution, President Waheed said he was advised that the proper solution would be amending the constitution “as this is a constitutional issue” that was not explicitly addressed in the constitution.

“Uncharted territory”

Speaking to Minivan News prior to the meeting, Nasheed said the country would enter “unchartered territory” if the election is not held on Saturday, insisting that his former vice president must resign for the speaker to assume office as a caretaker president.

“And I also feel that if the security forces tries to obstruct the elections process, there’s bound to be scuffles. There’s bound to be disturbances. And I’m sure the international community is increasingly losing patience. And from our interactions with them, it is very clear they have a recipe on how to deal with the situation when it comes to that,” he said.

He added that the re-scheduled polls on October 19 were not obstructed by the entire police institution, “but rogue elements, mutinous elements within the police and military”.

Nasheed also criticised the rival candidates for declaring that Waheed should remain in office after November 11.

“They want to maintain their coup government. They want to maintain it. In the meantime, they want to change the balance in the parliament by extra judiciary actions, by removing members of parliament, and therefore they will want to create a situation where they change the Elections Commission and then also remove candidates, including myself, and then have a façade of an election,” he said.

“I think that is what they are working on and that is their intention. The evidence is very clear now,” he said.

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President Waheed invites presidential candidates to discuss election issues

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has invited the three presidential candidates for a meeting at the President’s Office to “discuss important issues regarding the presidential election.”

All three candidates have reportedly accepted the invitation for the meeting due to take place at 11:30am on Wednesday (November 6).

The President’s Office has informed local media that discussions will focus on “a political solution” for interim arrangements in the absence of a president-elect at the end of the current presidential term on November 11.

Last month, parliament approved a proposal by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) for the Speaker of Parliament to assume the presidency if there is no president-elect by midnight on November 10.

The resolution was proposed in response to a letter to Speaker Abdulla Shahid from President Waheed requesting parliament “to take initiative in finding a solution to any legal issues that will arise if a new president is not elected by the end of the current term.”

As a possible second round of the presidential election has been scheduled by the Elections Commission (EC) for November 16, President Waheed’s letter (Dhivehi) noted that “there is a possibility there might not be a president elected in accordance with article 111 of the constitution.”

While President Waheed has insisted that he does not wish to “stay in this position even a day beyond November 11,” the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen and Jumhooree Party (JP) candidate Gasim Ibrahim have publicly appealed for the president to remain in office until the presidential election could be concluded.

PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen reportedly said last month that it would be “irresponsible” for President Waheed to resign before a new president was elected.

The PPM parliamentary group leader called on Waheed to remain in the post and cease making statements about resigning.

Gasim Ibrahim meanwhile recently suggested that handing power over to the military would be preferable, claiming that the EC was biased in favour of the MDP and wanted Speaker Shahid – who joined the MDP in April – to assume the presidency.

“Is it better for a man who is selected to assume the presidency? Or the military? What is the difference? On one side they are stealing [the presidency] and doing things outside the law. Isn’t it better that our military takes over the country to save the country and maintain peace?” the business tycoon told the press last week.

The presidential election on September 7 was annulled by the Supreme Court after Gasim contested the results alleging widespread electoral fraud while the revote scheduled for October 19 was obstructed by the police after the JP and PPM refused to approve the voter registry.

Election or Dhoonidhoo

Former President Mohamed Nasheed meanwhile told reporters yesterday that he would attend the meeting but questioned President Waheed’s sincerity.

“After instructing [the police] to stop the election, preventing the election from taking place, and facilitating the unraveling of a legitimate state so that he could remain in the presidency without an election, he has said he wants to talk to us for a superficial show to hoodwink the international community,” the MDP presidential candidate said.

The United Nations, the Commonwealth, the European Union and several foreign governments including the United States, the United Kingdom and India have all expressed concern with the election delays and urged expedition of the polls.

Special Envoy of the Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Don McKinnon, visited President Waheed yesterday and was “assured that the government would provide any assistance and support required by the Elections Commission.”

Meanwhile, speaking at a campaign event in Male’ last night, Nasheed said the consequences of not having an election would be “unimaginable.”

“Today we are saying we can’t buy oil because there is no money. Tomorrow we will hear there is no one willing to sell us oil even if we have the money,” he said, adding that the country would face severe difficulties in securing imports.

On tomorrow’s meeting, Nasheed said he was willing to have a “friendly” discussion even with a person who wanted him dead, adding that his former vice president should know that he could not “deceive” either the Maldivian people or the international community.

Nasheed said he would tell Waheed to resign before midnight on November 10. “I have nothing else to talk to you about,” he said.

Speaker Shahid would then assume the presidency and facilitate an election within a week, Nasheed said.

“I do not wish to remain a free man if we cannot vote on the 9th. Staying home to sleep is not something I’ve ever been able to do. I will definitely not do that on the 9th, I will be in Dhoonidhoo jail,” he said.

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President disappointed with “ill-informed and irresponsible allegations” by UN human rights chief

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has expressed disappointment with the “ill-informed and irresponsible allegations by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay”.

Pillay last week blamed the Supreme Court’s repeated interventions in the presidential election process for what she described as “the dangerous drift in the democratic process in the Maldives”.

“The government of Maldives rejects the claim that the Supreme Court and the Government are subverting the democratic process,” read a President’s Office statement.

“The United Nations must try to better understand the difficulties facing Maldives in their early phase of democracy, and provide support to find solutions rather than issue damaging statements from a distance,” the statement added.

The High Commissioner’s comment “undermines efforts of Maldives Supreme Court and the government to strengthen the Rule of Law in the country.”

Waheed’s rejection of Pillay’s criticism follows the response of the court’s Chief Justice, Ahmed Faiz, who quickly labelled the High Commissioner’s statements “irresponsible” and “poorly researched”.

“I harshly condemn UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s  false allegations regarding the Maldives Supreme Court’s work to uphold its constitutional duties and responsibilities. I do not believe she has any authority to speak in such terms,” stated Faiz soon after Pillay’s statement on Wednesday (October 30).

Following allegations of voter fraud following an otherwise-applauded September 7 poll, the Supreme Court annulled the vote after ruling that over 5,600 ineligible votes had been cast.

The ruling was based on a confidential police report, kept secret from both the public and the Elections Commission’s defence lawyers. A leaked copy of this report has emerged this week (English).

After a second election date had been scheduled for October 19, polling was again delayed after police argued that the court’s 16 point guideline had not been followed when two of the three candidates refused to assign their names to the new voter lists.

Pillay’s statement last week described the 16 point guidelines as “onerous”. She also pointed to the international community’s longstanding concerns over judicial independence in the Maldives.

In the context of such criticism, the UK Bar Human Rights Committee has described the decision to annul the election as “troubling”.

The latest date set for the first round of the election is November 9, with a potential re-run scheduled for seven days later.

President Waheed – whose constitutionally mandated term expires on November 11 – returned to the country on Thursday night following “a private visit to Singapore and Hong Kong.”

Waheed was reported in local media today as saying that the current constitution is in major need of revision.

“We have found out that the political system we have introduced is in need of changes so that our nation will not continue upon suicidal track,” the President was quoted as saying at an India Maldives Friendship Association function on Friday night.

The People’s Majlis has approved a motion for presidential power to pass to the Speaker of the House Abdulla Shahid during this interim period, although although government-aligned politicians have continued to suggest that the opinion of the Supreme Court should be sought on this matter.

In its initial election annulment verdict, the court the court had ruled that Waheed would be able to remain in power even after the expiry of his presidential term, citing the continuity of government principle.

Waheed has meanwhile claimed that he has no interest in remaining president “even a day beyond November 11″.

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Parliament sitting scheduled for Saturday

A sitting of the People’s Majlis has been scheduled for Saturday following a request by President Dr Mohamed Waheed for parliament to find a solution to legal issues that will arise if a president is not elected by the end of the current presidential term on November 11.

“In a letter to the Speaker of the People’s Majlis, President Dr Mohamed Waheed has requested the People’s Majlis to take initiative in finding a solution to any legal issues that will arise if a new president is not elected by the end of the current term. In his letter the President noted if the presidential election is to be held on the dates set by the Elections Commission, there was a possibility of such a situation,” reads a statement on the President’s Office website.

Parliament’s Secretary General told newspaper Haveeru today that the only item on the agenda for Saturday’s sitting would be the President’s letter.

Meanwhile, MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor submitted a bill on Wednesday (October 23), which if passed would allow the Speaker of Parliament to assume the office of the presidency in the absence of a president-elect on November 11.

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President Waheed takes week-long holiday

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has taken a one-week holiday, Cabinet Secretary Dr Abdulla Nazeer told parliament’s Government Oversight Committee today.

Nazeer was summoned to the parliamentary committee over delays in the swearing-in of parliament’s newly-elected representative to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Hamza.

Nazeer told MPs that the ceremony could only take place once Dr Waheed returns on October 31.

Following the cabinet secretary’s remarks, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali tweeted,

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