Constitutional amendment on foreign land ownership up for debate tonight

A constitutional amendment to allow foreigners to own land in the Maldives will be up for debate at an extraordinary parliament sitting tonight, only hours after it was submitted to parliament.

The amendment allows foreign parties to own land for projects worth US$1 billion. Ownership is dependent on the parties reclaiming more than 70 percent of the plot.

The constitution at present prohibits foreigners from owning land under any circumstances, but allows the government to lease land to foreign parties for up to 99 years.

The amendment is the second amendment proposed to the constitution since it was ratified in 2008. It was proposed by Ahmed Nihan, MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the majority leader.

Nihan said he has proposed the amendment to increase economic growth and to facilitate sustainable investment. It will allow foreigners free holds in the Maldives, and to transfer ownership or lease their plots.

The amendment comes amidst negotiations between the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The opposition has so far backed several unprecedented measures proposed by the government in hope of freedom for jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

MPs in June passed the first amendment to the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. Subsequently, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was impeached today. He is expected to be replaced by tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

The amendment may be put to a vote as early as tomorrow. Tonight’s sitting was scheduled after the parliament today approved changes to the standing orders to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law.

The legislative process includes three main stages: a preliminary debate on the floor, an extensive review by a committee involving consultations with stakeholders and experts, and a final debate on the committee’s report followed by a vote. However, under the new rules, all three legislative stages can be carried out consecutively and a final vote could be held on the same day as a bill is submitted.

The changes were approved with 56 votes in favour and 24 against.

The PPM in 2014 enacted a law on special economic zones with tax breaks and little regulation to incentivize foreign investment. The government previously said one SEZ project could transform the economy, but has so far failed to attract investment.

The amendment on foreign ownership comes amidst increased attempts by the government to woo Chinese and Middle-eastern investors.

The proposed change includes amending Article 251 of the constitution and adding a new chapter to the constitution. Below are some important provisions.

Article 302: If a project meets the set criteria, he Maldivian government may grant any party a freehold in the area designated for the project

Article 304: A project can only be approved if it meets the following criteria
(a) A project approved under a law passed by the People’s Majlis
(b) An investment of US$1billion in the territory of the Maldives
(c) When the project reaches completion, at least 70 percent of the land must have been reclaimed from the ocean and visible at medium tide

Article 305: The parliament can increase the threshold for investment by a law. However, such a change will not apply to projects approved before its enactment.

Article 251: No foreign party shall own land in the Maldives, except under the circumstances specified in Article 302. Allowing foreigners to own land under Article 302 does not undermine the Maldivian state’s sovereignty over its territory and does not amount to loss of territory.

Reporting by Hassan Mohamed, Ahmed Naish and Zaheena Rasheed. 


My life was under threat, says former vice president

Accusing President Abdulla Yameen and MPs of treachery and destroying the constitutional order, impeached vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said he had received threats to his life when he refused to resign.

“Every move in this campaign was organised. Every act was planned at driving a wedge between myself and the people who elected me. My reputation was threatened and finally I started receiving threats to my life. A message was sent to my family saying the president wanted me to resign. Otherwise, they were told, my family members and I could be framed as others have been,” he said, in an 18-page statement shared with the media ahead of the successful impeachment.

Jameel is currently in London. He left abruptly in late June within a day of the People’s Majlis approving a constitutional amendment that will allow President Yameen to replace him with the tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Jameel’s lawyer was barred from responding to charges on his behalf before today’s vote. He is accused of incompetence and disloyalty, and was removed with overwhelming support from the opposition.

In his statement, Jameel accused MPs of ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) of betrayal. Reminding them of his efforts to elect them, he said they have now succumbed to lucrative gifts of islands and plots of land, offered illegally from the state coffers.

Soon after the ex vice president’s family members received warning messages, Adeeb sent a message with the words “Let’s talk.” The meaning was very clear, Jameel said. Intelligence reports can be fabricated and evidence can be fabricated, he said, referring to the jailing of ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim on weapons smuggling charges. Nazim maintains he was framed by rogue police officers on Adeeb’s orders.

Jameel also accused President Yameen of undermining democracy.

“The president promised to strengthen democracy. But his actions indicate otherwise, the state of the independent institutions and the public broadcaster indicate otherwise. What has happened to dissidents and their properties is a joke. Licenses can be withheld all of a sudden, bank accounts frozen and agreements can be annulled. But they can be reinstated as quickly through opaque political negotiations.

“This is testament to the state of the rule of law in the Maldives. It is as if [President Yameen] has forgotten how weak he was when he assumed the presidency, and as if he has forgotten the great responsibility of his powers. It is as if the president now represents those who dare to act as they want, to accuse others without any basis and violate rights without any fear,” he said.

Aspiring politicians can now be jailed and their voices silenced on false accusations, he said. The opposition, instead of upholding the rule of law, is more interested in government’s promises of commuting sentences, withdrawing charges and ceasing investigations, he alleged.

All 20 MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) voted to impeach Jameel today. Negotiations are ongoing between the MDP and the government. The party has suggested jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed will be freed soon. Since negotiations began, the government also removed a freeze on opposition Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses.

Clemency for two ex defence ministers, and the leader of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party are also on the table.

Champions of individual rights have now sacrificed the constitution and democratic principles for personal gain, Jameel said.

Reminding MPs of accountability in the afterlife with Quranic verses, Jameel said that MPs have no right to abrogate the electoral will of the people on baseless allegations of incompetence and disloyalty.

The former vice president said he was sidelined and isolated, while any attempt at carrying out the duties of his office was seen as a move to create an independent power base. He was forced to stop calling on the public and the sick at the hospitals.

Every move was viewed with suspicion and reported to the president. Ultimately, it was seen as dangerous for others to keep up relations with him. Anyone who spoke up on his behalf was sidelined too, Jameel alleged. Finally, even the cutlery at the vice presidential palace was taken away, he said.

“The treatment I received was worse than that any other vice president has received. The staff of the president’s office will bear witness,” he said.

“Since I was elected the vice president of the Maldives, it is as if I have been on the blade of a sharp sword. If I attempted to promote the government, it was deemed an illegal activity. My silence is now seen as even worse,” he said.

Correction: This article previously stated the vice president had said his family had received messages saying they will be tried and sentenced as others have been. The correct translation would be “framed as others have been.” Minivan News apologizes for the error in translation. 


Parliament impeaches Vice President Dr Jameel in absentia

The parliament has impeached Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel with overwhelming multi-party support today, less than two years after the current administration took office in November 2013.

Jameel was removed from office with 78 votes in favour and two against.

The impeachment process was initiated by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives-Maldives Development Alliance (PPM-MDA) coalition, which controls 48 seats in the 85-member house. A two-thirds majority or 57 votes of the 85-member house was required to remove the vice president.

MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) also voted in favour of the motion. Independent MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Hussain Areef cast dissenting votes while Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem did not participate in the vote.

Jameel is currently in London and did not return to answer charges at the parliament. In a 40-minute verbal statement released online this morning, Jameel said he was sidelined four months after the presidential election and dismissed the charges in the impeachment motion.

The motion accused Jameel of incompetence, dereliction of duty, links with the opposition, failure to defend the government, and excessive expenditure from the state budget.

The main opposition MDP parliamentary group had issued a three-line whip last night to vote in favour of the impeachment motion.

Opposition MPs’ backing for a constitutional amendment passed last month to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and vice presidency was widely perceived as part of a deal in exchange for transferring imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed to house arrest.

During the debate on the impeachment motion, ruling PPM parliamentary group leader MP Ahmed Nihan said the vice president was in charge of the cabinet’s social council tasked with overseeing the health and education sectors, but had failed to show progress.

Pro-government MPs accused Jameel of disloyalty and plotting to depose the president while opposition MPs stressed that the ruling party was seeking to remove their own vice president.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla said the only reason for the opposition party to vote to save Jameel was the “dim hope” that he might create divisions within the government.

Jameel had obstructed the MDP’s efforts since its inception, she said, and had vowed not to hand over the presidency even if the party’s candidate won the 2013 presidential polls.

“I don’t see that an MDP member could vote to save Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed,” she said.

Several MPs meanwhile questioned the necessity of the vice president’s post and suggested amending the constitution to dissolve the post.

MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi observed that successive presidents have lost confidence in their deputies.

Former vice president Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik had perpetrated a “coup d’etat” with the opposition in February 2012 to assume the presidency, she said, while the current ruling party has also lost confidence in the incumbent vice president as well.

Due process

Jameel had appointed former attorney general Husnu Suood as his lawyer, but Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed informed the vice president yesterday that the lawyer could not respond to the charges on his behalf.

Maseeh said today that he had received a letter from Suood’s law firm shortly before the sitting began, but could not accept the written statement it contained as it did not bear Jameel’s signature.

Article 100(d) of the Constitution states that the vice president shall have the right to defend himself in the sittings of the People’s Majlis, both orally and in writing, and has the right to legal counsel.

JP MPs Ali Hussain and Faisal Naseem as well as some MDP MPs expressed concern with the parliament not granting Jameel the right to defend himself.

The pro-government majority in the parliament had amended the parliament’s standing orders so that an investigation by a select committee was not required before impeaching the vice president.

Ali Hussain said fast-tracking the impeachment process was against the letter and spirit of the constitution, adding that the historic impeachment vote would be remembered as a “dark day” in Maldivian history.