Lawyers question reappointment of judges convicted of sexual misconduct

A group of lawyers have questioned the Judicial Service Commission (JSC)’s decision to reappoint two judges, previously removed from the bench for sexual misconduct, as magistrate court judges.

The lawyers, including Former Attorney General Husnu Suood, said on Thursday that  Gaafu Dhaalu Thinadhoo, Meeraaz Ahmed Shareef and Dhaalu Meedhoo Biloori Villa, Ali Shafeeg who were appointed as magistrate court judges had previously been convicted for sexual misconduct.

Speaking to Minivan News, Suood said the two judges were removed from bench in 2010 because they did not possess the “high moral character” required to be a judge according to the article 149 (a) of the amended constitution.

According to the records, Shareef – appointed to Gaafu Alifu Dhevadhoo Court – was sentenced to two months under house arrest on July 30 2001, for having an affair. He was former Chief Magistrate of Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

Ali Shafeeg, appointed to Kaafu Gaafaru Magistrate Court, was sentenced to four months banishment and subjected to seven lashes in 1989, for having an affair with a married woman.

Suood noted that, article 149 (a) of the amended constitution states “a person appointed as a Judge in accordance with law, must possess the educational qualifications, experience and recognized competence necessary to discharge the duties and responsibilities of a  Judge, and must be of high moral character”.

Referring to the previous convictions of the Judges, Suood said that the “two judges were not up to the moral standards required and that’s why they were disqualified in 2010”.

“We are preparing the documents to submit to JSC requesting them to investigate the case. It’s up to the JSC to hold the integrity of the judiciary,” he said.

JSC spokesperson Hassan Zaheen noted that Shareef and Shafeeg were also removed in 2010, under the article 285, which allowed  JSC to dismiss judge failing to meet the requirements in article 149.

However, he added, that Shareef and Shafeeg were reappointed “because the Judges Act now allows it.”

According to the article 15 of the Judges Act – which came into effect five days after the reappointment of judges with life time tenure – a judge will be considered as failing to meet the required ethical and moral standards if they had served a sentence for a criminal offence in the seven years prior to the appointment.

“Shareef and Shafeeg were sentenced before the seven year period,” Zaheen added.

In 2010 when Shareef was dismissed from the bench, he also protested against the JSC in court, claiming his conviction was 11 years old when he was removed from the bench on August 5, 2010, and his sentence had been suspended. The Judges Act was being debated in the parliament at the time of Shareef’s removal.

Therefore, JSC pointed out at the time, the Judges Act post-dated its decision to remove Shareef from the bench, and argued that it could not be expected to rely on legislation that did not exist.

The JSC reiterated that he was removed from bench under the article 285, that allowed JSC to dismiss the judges failing to meet the moral and ethical requirements of article 149.


Dhiraagu begins laying 1253 km of fibre optic cable

President Mohamed Nasheed inaugurated the cable laying of the Dhiraagu’s new fibre-optic submarine cable network in Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhufushi on Tuesday.

Dhiraagu described the US$21.7 million mega project signed with Japanese communications group NEC as the “back bone” of  Dhiraagu’s High-speed Network Rollout Program, aimed at expanding broadband service across the country.

NEC will be using its existing experience of working on the country’s cable system to lay 1253 kilometres of fibre optic submarine cable beneath the sea from the north to south, connecting the whole country.

According to Dhiraagu, the cable network will encompass  eight strategic locations including Kulhudhufushi (starting  point), Baa atoll Eydhafushi, Hulhumale’, Alif Dhaal atoll Dhangethi, Laamu atoll Gan, Gaaf Dhaal atoll Gahdhoo, Seenu atoll Hithadhoo and Fuvahmulah (ending point). Cable landing stations have been built.

“We are expecting to finish the cable laying process by the end of this month. Then we will continue testing the cable, connectivity and monitoring the traffic. We are hoping to complete the project by the second quarter of next year,” Dhiraagu’s Manager of Marketing Communications and Public Relations, Mohamed Mirshan Hassan, told Minivan News on Wednesday.

He highlighted that the project was a significant part of the Dhiraagu High-speed Network Rollout Program to expand broadband services, under which the company plans to enhance the microwave network, 3G service, wireless broadband services and upgrade the internet core network.

Dhiraagu plans to invest a total of about US$70 million on the project over the next five years.

According to Mirshan, the implementation of the project will mark a “new milestone” for the nation’s telecommunications.

“High-speed broadband internet service will facilitate services such as e-health, telemedicine, e-government and other online services in the country, which would bring immense socio-economic benefits,” said Mirshan. “Communication and connectivity is a prerequisite for the development of a nation,” he added.

He noted that online businesses and the tourism sector would benefit immensely from the project, as their online operations such as ticketing, bookings and payments would be become easier with the high speed network.

“The disparity in the services offered to remote islands will also be significantly reduced, allowing them to enjoy the same service packages currently offered in the capital Male’,” Mirshan added.

Speaking at the inauguration event on Tuesday, President  Nasheed said that the exchange of information was of extreme importance to national development.

The “slow speed of broadband internet in the country prevents full accessibility to telecommunications across the Maldives”, and often led to system failures, President said.

However, he believes Dhiraagu’s submarine cable project will bring significant improvements to the nation telecommunications, by “making the conveyance of information easier, better and speedier in the future”.


Independent institutions raise concerns over budget cuts

Several independent institutions, including the Maldives National University (MNU), have raised concerns over cuts made by the Finance Ministry to their proposed budgets for 2012.

The program-based budget submitted by some of the institutions was revised by the Finance Ministry to maintain recurrent expenditure in line with projected income.

The Rf 14.6 billion (US$946.8 million) state budget for 2012, was submitted to parliament on November 28 by Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz. It is now being reviewed by parliament’s budget review committee headed by local business tycoon, MP Gasim Ibrahim.

The committee met with senior officials of the Local Government Authority (LGA) and the MNU this week, as well as several other institutions, during which they  complained about cuts made by the Finance Ministry during the revision process prior to the submission to parliament.

MNU Chancellor Dr Musthafa Luthfy told the budget review committee that the initial budget proposed by the university was Rf191 million (US$12 million), which was reduced to Rf174 (US$11 million) on the Finance Ministry’s request.

However, according to Dr Luthfy, the ministry then cut down the university’s budget by a further by 22 percent, reducing the total budget for 2012 to Rf136 (US$9 million) – which he noted was “too small to run the university development programs planned for next year”.

He also said the university would be unable to hire qualified professors, and that new courses starting in 2012 would be negatively affected.

Local Government Authority (LGA) members said the Finance Ministry had downsized the proposed budget by 63 percent, reducing it to Rf13.8 million. Major reductions were made to the budget allocated for training and salary items.

According to the authority, the budget cuts will bring forth several problems in consolidating the decentralisation process.

Meanwhile, the budget proposed for two city Councils has also been reduced. Though a total budget of Rf295 million (US$19 million) was proposed by Male City Council, it was reduced to Rf140 million (US$9 million) and the proposed budget for Addu City Council was cut down by Rf100 million (US$6.5 million) leaving only Rf69.3 million (US$4.5 million).

Members from both City Councils have been quoted in local media as saying the cut backs would hinder city development plans and would cause the Council to fall behind in delivering services. They have asked the parliament to revive the amount.

Speaking to Minivan News, Deputy President of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), Muaviz Rasheed, said that the commission needs a minimum Rf27.7 million (US$1.8 million) for 2012 to smoothly run the office, provide training and conduct investigations.

However, the Finance Ministry had allocated Rf22 million which was Rf5 million less than the proposed budget, and slashed the staff training budget to “zero”, according to Muaviz.

“We need to provide professional training to staff to develop their investigation skills. There are also ACC employees who are gaining professional education abroad who are contracted to continue work here upon their return. But with no training budget, we won’t be able to continue financing their education. It would be a great loss to the institution,” he said.

With mounting concern from several institutions about the budget cutbacks, the parliament committee is expected to revise the budget before submitting it to the floor for final vote.

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz told Minivan News today that the ministry is currently discussing “budget concerns” and will make a formal statement on Tuesday.

During the budget introductory statement he made at the parliament, Inaz said the program-based budget was prepared with special focus on producing results and maintaining recurrent expenditure in line with income.

“The programs included in the budget are based on the Strategic Action Plan,” he explained. “Special attention has been given in the budget programs to provide adequate and quality service to the public. The government’s aim is to match up the figures in the budget with development plans and ensure that all state expenditure is made to achieve a stated target.”

Steering committees have been formed to oversee the 31 programs in the budget, Inaz continued, urging MPs to also evaluate the progress of implementation over the course of the year.