Approval by parliament’s Finance Committee to three judges occupying state-owned apartments to purchase the flats was granted in violation of the constitution and Judges Act, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) revealed today, informing the committee to review its decision.
A press statement by the ACC explained that it investigated a complaint alleging three senior judges were occupying state-owned apartments while simultaneously receiving living allowances.
“The complaint states that giving flats only to certain judges is giving them unjust privileges,” ACC Deputy Chair Muaviz Rasheed told Minivan News in April.
The three judges living in flats leased during President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration by the former Justice Ministry and High Court – under terms that would see the now-defunct ministry and High Court gain ownership upon completion of full payment – are Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed, High Court Judge Ahmed Shareef and Civil Court Judge Abdullah Adheeb.
The three judges had reportedly been paying rent for the flats in the government-owned Sina-Male’ apartment blocks when the committee decided to grant them ownership upon completion of full payment.
According to its statement, the ACC found that the Finance Committee’s decision to register the flats to the judges was in violation of article 102 of the constitution and article 38 of the Judges Act as well as section 100(a)(11) of the parliamentary rules of procedure.
Article 102 of the constitution states that salary and allowances for members of the judiciary and independent commissions shall be determined by the People’s Majlis.
The Finance Committee’s decision – which was not endorsed by a vote on the Majlis floor – was officially communicated to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) on February 6 this year.
“If the decision is implemented, the result will be three judges receiving living assistance or additional benefits not afforded to other judges of the court in direct violation of article 39(b) of the Judges Act,” the ACC statement reads.
Article 39(b) of the Judges Act states that judges in the same court shall be given the same amount as living allowances and prohibits “different kinds of living allowance or benefits for different judges.”
Following its investigation, the ACC informed the Finance Committee on May 23 (Wednesday) to review the decision. The financial oversight committee is chaired by People’s Alliance MP Ahmed Nazim, who was cleared of corruption charges in February.
Meanwhile, the audit report of the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) for 2010 revealed that Supreme Court Justices used state funds in violation of the Public Finance Act to settle phone bills, cover expenses for an anniversary celebration and repair a state-owned car.
According to the audit report, the interim Supreme Court bench on October 23, 2008 decided to provide for each Justice “a post-paid line, a phone and to pay the phone bill without a set limit out of the court’s budget”.
“From October 2008 to December 2011, a total of Rf281,519.71 (US$18,256) was spent on phone bills,” the audit revealed, noting that phone expenses for Supreme Court Justices were not included in the salary and allowances approved by parliament.
In addition, the audit found that expenses for the Supreme Court’s annual anniversary celebrations were covered from the court’s budget, which included Rf22,100 (US$1,433) for corsages, Rf12,177 (US$790) for catering and Rf44,000 (US$2,853) to prepare two video documentaries.
To avoid a public announcement to seek estimates for the documentary, the audit found that the work was divided and awarded to the same party under two agreements.
The audit also discovered that Rf13,200 (US$856) was spent out of the apex court’s budget to repair a state-owned car used by a Supreme Court Justice.
According to the police report, the driver of the Justice’s car was responsible for the accident, which occurred on January 23, 2011. However, the official driver insisted the car was undamaged when he left it the previous night.
In a second case, the audit found that the Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz used two court drivers for his official car instead of taking the monthly car allowance of Rf6,500 (US$421) approved by parliament.
A total of Rf255,832.92 (US$16,590) was spent in 2011 to pay salaries and allowances for the two drivers, who had previously been used by the interim Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed.
Despite the findings of the audit report, in March 2011 the Supreme Court dismissed allegations of corruption reported in local media regarding phone allowances and use of court funds to repair Justice Ali Hameed’s car.
Meanwhile in September 2011 the ACC was asked to investigate an official trip to Addu City by Justice Abdulla Saeed from August 30 to September 2, which took place during a four-day government holiday for Eid al-Fitr.
Local daily Haveeru reported in the same month that the ACC was investigating allegations that over Rf50,000 (US$3,200) of state funds was spent on plane tickets for Justice Ali Hameed’s official visit to China in December 2010.