A Parliamentary decision passed yesterday by 38 votes to 34 to remove Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrashim Ali from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) raises further questions over the watchdog’s impartiality and reliance on political appointees, Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef has claimed.
Shareef, a DRP Deputy Leader, told Minivan News that he believed the no confidence motion against Afrashim, forwarded by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik, was an “alarming” move by the government that was passed with “no valid reason”.
“If anyone elected to a position is not doing a job properly and perhaps there are more competent people who can do better, then [the removal] wouldn’t be a problem,” he claimed. “However, the MDP reason [for the vote] is not based on this. The government wants to use the JSC as a vehicle for [its own interests].”
The composition of the JSC, which serves as a watchdog for the country’s judiciary, was criticised by one independent judicial review body for failing to ensure transparency in its workings.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has maintained that although it was not illegal to rely on mostly political appointees as opposed to judicial and legal figures to oversee a national legislative watchdog, it was perceived as “bad practice”.
Criticisms of the JSC have also come from within the body itself by a former member selected by President Mohamed Nasheed. Presidential appointee Aishath Velezinee served as a whistle-blower by forwarding allegations of what she called a “silent coup” taking place in the JSC against the government.
Shareef said that he personally held concerns about relying on political figures to serve as JSC appointees when it came to overseeing the country’s courts, despite the process being constitutionally mandated.
“The fact that political appointees are allowed onto the body is not the best for the JSC. I myself have raised the wisdom [of allowing this],” he said. “In my view the JSC should be made up of members of the judiciary. However [composition requirements] are outlined in the constitution and we have to live with that.”
With the removal by parliamentary vote of Dr Afrasheem from his JSC post, Shareef claimed it remained vital to try and ensure the government did not have the ability to potentially “threaten the judiciary” with political appointments to the JSC.
“We [the political opposition] have lost representation on the body and we need a voice,” he said.
With the president entitled under the constitution to appoint a member of his own choice to the body – a position formerly held by Aishath Velezinee before she was dismissed with presidential praise last month – Shareef said he believed the opposition should be allowed a similar appointment.
“The opposition should be given the opportunity to appoint a representative itself to allow for equilibrium in the JSC,” he claimed.
The ICJ said it could not be commenting on Afrashim’s dismissal without additional details.
However, a spokesperson for the ICJ said previous reports on the Maldives had raised issues regarding the composition of the JSC relating to the number of political appointments made to the body compared to legislative and judicial figures.
“[Political representation] was identified as a key issue [by the ICJ] at the time in preventing the JSC from acting in an independent way,” said the spokesperson. “We are in no doubt that this current JSC has had no success in trying to bring about independence in the judiciary. We are not blaming any individual for this, but the JSC is not acting as it should be.”
As a matter outlined under the country’s constitution, the ICJ source said that the organisation accepted that changing such a system and finding a solution was difficult.