President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has decided to defy parliament’s decision to not endorse the transfer of the Immigration Department to the Ministry of Defence, and make the change without parliament’s consent.
The government of President Waheed on Tuesday sought parliament’s approval to move Immigration department, National Disaster Management Centre and Aviation Security Command under the Defence Ministry led by Minister of Defense, retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim.
However, the parliament by a majority of 27 to 23 votes decided to disapprove the departmental shuffling.
During the debate on the request by the President’s Office to endorse the changes to the defence ministry’s mandate, MP Mohamed Rasheed of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) proposed a motion against approving the changes.
The motion against approving the changes was passed after four MPs from the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), including its presidential candidate Yameen Abdul Gayoom, backed the MDP’s motion.
Other PPM MPs who voted with the opposition include MP Ahmed Mahloof, MP Mujthaaz Fahmy and MP Ibrahim Riza.
The article 116 of the constitution states that the President – despite having the discretionary power determine the jurisdiction of the ministries – is required to submit all information relating to the ministries and their areas of jurisdiction to the parliament for its approval.
In December 2012, the responsibility for overseeing the Department of Immigration and Emigration was switched to the Ministry of Defence and National Security. The President’s Office claimed the decision to move the department under the mandate of Defence Ministry was made in a bid to make administration of the country’s immigration system more efficient.
President Waheed on Wednesday decided to make the change anyway despite parliament’s objection, with the result that approval will again be sought via parliamentary vote.
Following parliament’s decision, Attorney General Aishath Bisham told local news outlet CNM that despite parliament’s disapproval, the Department of Immigration and Emigration can still operate under the watch of the Defence Minister.
According to Bisham, the president has the power to transfer the department to any ministry under section 35 of the Immigration Act. However, Bisham said the president had sent the matter to parliament to adhere to the requirement stated in article 116 of the constitution which requires parliamentary approval for changes in mandates of cabinet portfolios.
Bisham also said that the government would again resubmit the matter to parliament concerning the transfer of Disaster Management Centre and Aviation Security Command to the Defence Ministry.
Speaking to Minivan News, opposition MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy – who is also a member of parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee (EOC) – alleged President Waheed was undermining the constitution and the laws of the country by attempting to militarise state institutions.
“The constitution clearly states that any changes brought to the mandate of a government ministry must be approved by the parliament. If the president can do whatever he wishes to do, why is it in the constitution stated that such decisions require parliamentary approval?” Fahmy questioned.
Fahmy claimed that any decision disapproved by parliament would be deemed invalid and therefore could not be considered to have legal effect.
“The reason to obtain parliamentary approval for such decisions is to have proper accountability. It is the duty of the parliament to hold the government accountable,” Fahmy added.
The Immigration Department has come under heavy fire from the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) – the independent institution responsible for prevention of corruption and corrupt practices – over alleged corrupt activities including the signing of establishing a border control system with Malaysian mobile security provider Nexbis.
The ACC have taken the matter to Parliament’s Finance Committee claiming that the deal with Nexbis will cost the Maldives MVR 2.5 billion (US$162 million) in potential lost revenue over the lifetime of the contract.
The former Controller of Immigration Sheikh Ilyas Hussain – brother-in-law of President Waheed – stands accused of corruption charges over the Nexbis deal. The trial of Illyas Hussain is currently being heard at the Criminal Court, where he has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Ilyas is accused of omitting from the concession agreement clauses that required Nexbis to provide 29 scholarships and 200,000 identity cards free of charge. The clauses were in the original technical proposal submitted by Nexbis to the tender evaluation board.
If convicted, the state minister could face either a jail term of up to three years, banishment or house arrest.