The Maldives has been ranked 143 in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perception Index, equal with Pakistan and below Zimbabwe.
The ranking represents a fall of 15 places since the 2009 Index, which itself fell 15 places from the 2008 Index.
The Maldives is now ranked well below regional neighbours, including India (87), Sri Lanka (91) and Bangladesh (134). Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore ranked first, while Somalia ranked last at 178, below Burma and Afghanistan.
The Maldivian index was calculated using three different sources, explained Executive Director of Transparency Maldives, Ilham Mohamed. These were the Asian Development Bank’s Country Performance Index 2009, Global Insight’s Country Risk Report 2010, and the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment 2009.
“I think [the decline] reflects changes we are going through as a democracy – political instability is also considered when calculating the index,” Ilham said. “But this reflects the fact that the international community considers us more corrupt since 2008.”
Despite having a new constitution the Maldives does not have “the enabling legislation” in place to combat corruption, Ilham said. “We don’t even have a criminal code.”
She hesitated to say whether corruption was “a cultural problem”, because this was “a common justification in many Asian countries.”
“Nepotism is nepotism no matter where it happens,” Ilham said. “Howver it could be that the index reflects that practices such as patronage and gift-giving – which weren’t perceived as corrupt – are now beginning to be recognised as such.”
Corruption has maintained a high profile in the Maldives throughout 2010, most dramatically in July when recordings of phone conversations between MPs were leaked to the press. MPs were heard discussing plans to derail the taxation bill, implement no-confidence motions against ministers, buy someone called “Rose”, the Anti-Corruption Commission, and the exchange of “millions”.
People’s Alliances party (PA) leader Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom told Minivan News at the time that while a voice in the sound clips might have been his, the conversations were ”not to borrow money to bribe MPs… [rather] as friends, we might help each other,” he said.
Meanwhile, “I need cash”, a recorded comment from Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed to an individual believed to be Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, quickly became something of a meme in the Maldives, with islanders in his constituency of Kulhudhufushi setting up a collections box on the beach.
However the debate quickly turned one of telecommunications legalities, with the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) issuing a statement condemning the recording of private phone calls.
Shortly afterwards parliament levelled a no-confidence motion at Education Minister Dr Mustafa Luthfy, the entire cabinet resigned in protest against the “scorched earth” tactics of the opposition majority parliament. The former ministers accused parliament of outright corruption and police arrested MPs Yameen and Gasim and charged them with treason and vote buying, for “attempting to topple the government illegally.”
Both were released when the Supreme Court overruled a decision by the High Court to hold the pair under house arrest for 15 days.
Police later that month arrested Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim, also of the PA, and ruling Maldivian Democratic Party MP Mohamed Musthafa on suspicion of bribing MPs and a civil court judge.
The Criminal Court ordered their release and several senior police lawyers giving evidence were suspended from court “on ethical grounds”.
Senior officers at the time expressed concern that investigations into “high-profile corruption cases” were compromised at “a very preliminary stage”, noting that the court had refused to even issue arrest warrants for a case involving more than a kilogram of heroin.
Police lodged that complaint with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), which has yet to review any of the nearly 120 complaints it has received this year.
Earlier in the year Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem was also dismissed in a no-confidence motion by parliament shortly after demanding a financial audit of all ministers, past and present, including former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) found Naeem guilty of buying a tie and boat transport with government money, and he was summarily dismissed.