Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and some government-aligned MPs have claimed that the first amendment proposed to the Judges Act (act no. 13/2010) by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Dr Afrashim Ali, is has been “custom fitted” for former Chief Justice Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim.
Rasheed was the Chief Justice and the President of the Council of Islamic Affairs during former President Gayoom’s administration.
The bill proposes to amend the article 26 of the act, which describes the reasons for declaring the seat of a judge vacant. However, MP Afrashim Ali proposed to change the context of the clause to replace it with privileges of a retiring judge. Afrashim was formerly a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the judiciary’s heavily criticised watchdog body.
If passed, the amendment would mean that the stated privileges would apply to all judges who failed to qualify as a judge or were retired from their seats under 285(a) of the constitution.
According to the amendment, the privileges entitled to the retiring judges include formal titles and a pension ranging from 33-100 percent of the wages received by a serving judge, depending on years of service.
Judges would further be entitled to a lump sum on their date of retirement, again based on years served on the bench, as well as security services, transport benefits, and medical insurance for the entire SAARC and ASEAN region, also applicable to the judge’s spouse.
During the debate, several MPs raised concerns over the bill and questioned the ‘real’ intention behind its submission by PPM MP Afrashim, at a time the country was facing a huge economic crisis.
Speaking during the debate, Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed – who has been supportive of President Waheed’s government – spoke against the bill, claiming that it was a bill fashioned for a specific person: former Chief Justice Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim.
“Now all those Judges who were disqualified after the new constitution was ratified claiming that they too are entitled to receive the same privileges as those who are currently as serving judges. After two years, they are trying to again link to the past,” he said.
MP Nasheed also said that it was difficult to name Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim on the parliament floor, but that if he continued to pursue benefits and privileges then he has no choice but keep on saying his name.
MDP MP Ahmed Hamza said that he believed there were some “unfair benefits” included in the bill, and that he did not believe retired judges should receive the same benefits as those currently serving on the bench.
“The bill says that a person who has served as a Judge for 30 years should get the same amount of money and privileges as a serving judge. That is unacceptable,” he said.
MP Alhan Fahmy, who recently defected to the Jumhoree Party (JP) from the MDP, said that it was disappointing to see bills being prepared to benefit those who had “hijacked” the judiciary for 30 years, without having provided any betterment or justice to the country.
“We are continuously seeing attempts to protect and find monetary benefits from the national budget by those who were with Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom during his 30 rule,” Fahmy said.
MDP MP Eva Abdulla said that before the parliament began speaking about privileges granted to retiring judges, priority must be given to the quality of judges currently in the courts. She claimed that the MDP government had planned to invest over Rf 300 million (US$19.45 million) improving the judiciary but was stopped after then opposition brought down the government in a coup d’état.
However, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan spoke in favor of the bill, and stated that such privileges should be given to retiring judges and that even if it was targeted for former chief Justice Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim, he would still support it.
“As a chief justice, as a former Minister of Justice, [Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim] has done a lot of work for the country. We can’t simply abolish the value of his service,” Nihan said
Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor described the bill as “dirty” attempt to give unfair benefits to those that served former President Gayoom.
He further said the party will not stand in support of the bill, and said that he was getting the same impression from some of the opposition MPs.
He also added that this was another attempt to corrupt the judiciary, and that some business tycoons did not want to have justice established in the country.
“This is a nasty thing. The coup happened because we had a crippled justice system. Some of those in the coup government want it to remain the same way. But interestingly some of the opposition MPs have started taking our stand. This can be seen even in voting records for the Public Finance Committee’s report on Aasandha,” he said.
Ghafoor said the bill was likely to be thrown out of the house.
Speaking to Minivan News, former member of the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, alleged that the bill was an attempt to pay back the judges who had colluded in Gayyoom’s conspiracy to bring down democracy.
“Afrashim – who proposed the motion – and Speaker Shahid stand accused in the JSC’s high treason case pending in Majlis, and have effectively covered this up since 2010,” she said.
“I maintain that the country does not have constitutionally-appointed judges and that parliament has failed to hold an inquiry. Rewarding the corrupt is against national interest,” she added.
In an article written in 2010, Velezinee noted that the parliament had approved the reward “of a hefty lifetime allowance for interim Supreme Court Justice Mujuthaaz Fahmy, removed from the bench at the end of the interim period.”
“Mujuthaaz Fahmy has on record a conviction for fraud committed in 1996 for which he was ‘convicted’ in 1998. He was the chief engineer in co-opting the Judicial Service Commission as a tool in the silent coup to derail democratic government through rigging state-building [independent institutions],” Velezinee wrote in 2010.
Several MPs who are supportive of President Waheed suggested that the most recent bill be accepted and sent to committee, while others suggested rejecting the bill and throwing it out of the house.