Parliament today voted 38 to 34 in favour of a motion of no-confidence to remove opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrashim Ali from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
The motion to dismiss controversial religious scholar Afrashim from the judicial watchdog body was submitted by Majority Leader “Reeko” Moosa Manik of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last week.
The DRP had issued a three-line whip in an effort to save the embattled JSC member during today’s vote.
Responding to the multiple charges of misconduct, Afrashim denied that his appointment as the JSC’s representative to the Supreme Court violated article 163 of the constitution, which requires a majority of the commission’s 10 members to be in attendance for a vote.
Only five members of the JSC had signed in as present at the meeting in question on February 6.
Afrashim argued that seeking the approval of JSC members through telephone calls was standard practice while meetings could be held without a majority in attendance “under special circumstances.”
If members participated through audio conferencing, he added, “they can be considered to be present in a meaningful sense.”
On the matter of drawing allowances, Afrashim pointed out that the decision to award committee allowances was made by the interim commission in January 2009, prior to his appointment to the JSC.
“When we were selected for the commission, the Judicial Service Commission’s administration informed us to give our [bank] account numbers to deposit money,” he said. “We didn’t even know what that money was for. This is not something that we decided for ourselves unlawfully.”
Article 164 of the constitution states that “A member of the Judicial Service Commission who is not a member of the Executive, the Judiciary, or the People’s Majlis shall be paid such salary and allowances as may be determined by the People’s Majlis.”
Afrashim insisted that the article does not explicitly prohibit remuneration for commission members already receiving state incomes.
Moreover, as the article states that parliament could approve salaries and allowances for all commission members, Afrashim argued that the annual JSC budget, including provisions for committee allowances, was passed by parliament “because it was not in violation of the constitution.”
The JSC budget obtained by Minivan News confirmed that JSC members were in some cases receiving up to Rf 9000 (US$700) a month as a ‘committee allowance’; a total of Rf 514,660 (US$40,000) in 2010.
The DRP MP for Ungoofaru also denied any wrongdoing in the vetting process of reappointing judges in August 2010 – which took place amid concerns about the competency and integrity – as stipulated by article 285 of the constitution.
Echoing claims by fellow opposition MPs, Afrashim alleged that the resolution to remove him from the JSC constituted “an attempt to politically influence the judiciary and transfer judges.”
In his closing statement after the two-hour long debate, Afrashim alleged that President Mohamed Nasheed had called him on former DRP MP Alhan Fahmy’s phone and requested that Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed “be removed even if it meant disregarding principles and procedure.”
Former President’s Member on the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, described today’s decision in parliament as “a victory for all reformists.”
“The Majlis’ decision to remove Dr Afrashim for breach of trust and acting unconstitutionally raises a fundamental question about the legality of the courts today,” Velezinee said, highlighting the JSC’s hasty and untransparent reappointment of all sitting judges in August 2010.
“I blame the Speaker [Abdulla Shahid] for having sat in the JSC during Dr Afrashim’s treason,” Velezinee added. “He has lost all authority to remain as Speaker and thereby hold his seat in the JSC. The Majlis must now ensure that Article 285 is honoured in full, and judicial reform in undertaken as guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Dr Afrashim’s allegations that President Nasheed had attempted to bully him into dismissing the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, “sounded to me like a last minute life line,” Velezinee said.
“Afrashim never mentioned that in the JSC. And having sat as the President’s appointed member, I can vouch that President Nasheed never made any such request of me.”