Germany will provide Rf 6 million (US$390,000) over the next two years for the expansion of the UNDP’s Access to Justice project in the Maldives.
Speaking at a signing ceremony held in the President’s Office today, attended by most cabinet members, German Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Jens Plötner said it was Germany’s “firm conviction that without a functioning justice system there can be no democracy.”
“In the recent history of the Maldives a few brave women and men fought for democracy, citizens of the country then conquered democracy through the ballot box, but to keep democracy it takes justice – without that people will very quickly lose faith in democracy and the system,” Plötner said.
“We ourselves as a country with a tragic history, after two world wars, lost faith in ourselves. We didn’t know what to be proud of any more given what had been committed in German name.
“What finally emerged was that we were proud of the justice system we have today in Germany. We followed constitutional patriotism, because we are proud of the way law and right is delivered in Germany. This is the essence of the hard lessons we have learned through two world wars started in our name.”
Himself a former student of law, Plötner observed that the concept itself was “something very abstract and philosophical.”
“But it is also about men and women sitting there in impressive robes in big buildings, and breaking high principles down to day-to day-sentences for somebody smashing up a car – or something more awful.
“To do that you need good training, but that’s not enough. The judge and all those who work with him or her are such an essential element of democracy that they have to eat drink and breathe democracy every minute of the day. If they do that, democracy is stable.”
President Mohamed Nasheed said German support for judicial reform in the Maldives had its beginnings in a conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last year.
“She was wondering what were our main challenges as we embarked on a new era of democratic governance,” Nasheed said.
“People’s desire for democracy in the Maldives was fundamentally because of a need for justice – things were often done unfairly and very harshly. That was a situation a fair number of us wanted to overcome. To that end we felt the first building block should be peaceful political activity. It took us a fair amount of time to do that, but we achieved it.”
Looking at the assembled ministers and political appointees, Nasheed said “a number of people in this room did not believe that political pluralism was appropriate for this society. We all had an idea of a singular form of government through which we might dispense justice as well as governance. But a few of us felt it was difficult to reinvent the wheel. We kept asking for political pluralism and parties, and finally we were successful.”
During the drafting of the new constitution, Nasheed acknowledged that “very little thought” was given to how the new judiciary was arranged, despite the urging of many lawyers in the system.
“When the powers were separated and the Maldivan Democratic Party (MDP) became the executive we came into a situation where the previous regime had a majority in the parliament.
“But in many minds the situation with the judiciary was far more worrying. Nothing had changed – we had exactly the same people, the same judges, the same manner of thinking and of dispensing justice.”
The constitution did not ask for an overhaul of the justice system, Nasheed noted, but it did ask for the formulation of a new Supreme Court bench.
“We ran into a number of difficulties. Firstly, the interim bench decided they were a permanent bench. That created all sorts of issues, finally to the extent that the executive had to step in and say ‘No, we have to have a new bench, and we are not going to open the Supreme Court without it.’”
It was, Nasheed admitted, “all very risky, challenging and difficult. But finally we came up with a bench – and with the support of every MP.”
However the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), tasked with regulated the judiciary, was a difficult task to reform “as the JSC as a whole was very imbalanced politically.”
“Again we are having to step in and we will reform the JSC, although not outside the framework of the constitution.”
Nasheed observed that the government’s new financial changes – such as the introduction of a new system of taxation, were “perhaps far more radical that introduction of political pluralism in the semi-liberal society that we had. Again there is the anger, antagonism, frustrations and uncertainties.”
The President said he felt the country was moving in the right direction, but expressed concern that the Maldives had slipped in the anti-corruption index.
“I like to think this is not because were more corrupt than we used to be, but rather that we have come to understand how corrupt we are through our new found freedom of expression – we are able to point fingers more readily, and the information available on corruption is far higher than it has ever been before.”
He noted that the government had 27 Auditor General reports detailing embezzlement and misuse of state funds “that we have done nothing with – partly because we need to strengthen our judiciary before we can embark on this.”
“We don’t want to go into a witch-hunt, or use the strong arm of the law, we want to use rationale and reason. We want to be able to prosecute, and dispense justice.”