President Mohamed Waheed’s government spent £75,000 (MVR 1.81 million) on advice from former UK Attorney General and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Patricia Scotland, in a bid to challenge the Commonwealth’s “biased” stance on the Maldives.
The terms of reference document for the contract, obtained by Minivan News, is dated May 28, 2012 and is signed by both Scotland and the Maldives’ Deputy Attorney General, Aishath Bisham. It also carries the official stamp of the Attorney General’s Office.
The Maldives was suspended from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) – the Commonwealth’s democracy and human rights arm – and placed on its formal agenda after former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged that his resignation on February 7 had taken place under duress. Nasheed contended he was forced out of office amid a mutiny by police and armed forces, orchestrated by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and funded by several local wealthy resort businessmen.
CMAG swiftly challenged the impartiality of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) established by incoming President Mohamed Waheed to examine the circumstances of his own succession, and called on Waheed to hold early elections to restore the country’s democratic legitimacy.
After a number of countries – including the UK and EU – backed the Commonwealth’s stance, the government was pressured into reforming the CNI to include a member of Nasheed’s choosing and a retired judge from Singapore, GP Selvam. The reformed Commission is due to publish its findings in late August.
“The Maldives government is of the view that the Maldives has been placed on the [CMAG] agenda unfairly, and there is a general feeling that the Commonwealth and the CMAG view points are biased in favour of President Nasheed’s allegation of a coup,” the Attorney General’s office, stated in the terms of reference.
“The specific output expected from the assignment is a detailed legal opinion on whether the Maldives was unfairly placed on the CMAG agenda and whether this continuation of being on the agenda is unfair,” the document states. “In particular, the consultant will assess whether the CMAG had acted in contravention of its own mandate and powers and had demonstrated bias in their actions.”
The brief also calls for Baroness Scotland to “review the work of the Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Don McKinnon and the staff of the Commonwealth Secretariat”.
The contract called for Scotland to spend four days in the Maldives to “review all necessary documentation as well as video footage of events that led to the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed”, as well as meet “all important stakeholders” including the government coalition, “key figures in the opposition MDP”, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid and his deputy Ahmed Nazim, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), Elections Commission, CNI, as well as UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox.
Both the UN Resident Coordinator and the MDP said they had not had any meeting with Scotland.
“I think I was away on leave at the time, but I am not sure if my office got an approach for a meeting or not,” said Cox.
Elections Commission President Faud Thaufeeq had not responded at time of press.
“We were not even aware of this woman; she never approached us,” said MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.
“Now we hear she was in the Maldives, probably staying in a fancy resort with somebody interesting likely footing the bill. I hope the House of Lords looks into this,” he added.
“It is very disturbing that a member of the House of Lords from an 800 year-old democracy would come to a little banana republic to stir up trouble in league with the plotters of a coup d’état.”
Speaking to local television station VTV, President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza denied the allegations.
“It is not true that the government spent 75,000 pounds on a former British attorney general. It is part of the lies that the Maldivian Democratic Party is spreading,” Riza was reported as stating in Haama Daily.
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad meanwhile told Minivan News “I think that case was handled by [President Waheed’s Special Advisor] Dr Hassan Saeed.”
“[Baroness Scotland] did consult with us during the time CMAG was pressuring us, and we sought legal advice as to how to proceed,” Masood added.
Dr Saeed and Attorney General Azima Shukoor had not responded at time of press.
Minivan News is also awaiting a response from the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Finance regulation violation
The leaked document also includes a letter in Dhivehi sent from the Attorney General’s office to Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad requesting authorisation for Baroness Scotland’s “unprecedented work/expense” following her visit to the Maldives.
“There was no contract made. With this letter we ask if attached terms of reference are sufficient as a contract,” the AG’s office writes.
“This is in violation of the Public Finance Regulations of 11 February 2009, especially sections 8.21, 8.22 and 8.34 where consultancy work needs to assigned on the basis of a contract with specific terms agreed on matter listed in section 8.22 of the regulations,” observed former Maldives Foreign Minister, Dr Ahmed Shaheed.
Regulation 8.22 states that any award of work to be done for the government must be assigned after signing a mutually agreed contract, while regulation 8.21, concerning ’emergency work’, states that such shall only be assigned “after signing a mutually agreed contract stipulating the price and quality of work to be done”.
Furthermore, said Dr Shaheed, “a simple reading of the [Commonwealth’s] Millbrook Action Programme (1995) and the augmentation of that at Perth in 2011 will make it clear that CMAG can list countries on its agenda when the Ministers feel there are violations of the constitution. So it is a fairly straightforward, and clearly not worth 75,000 pounds.”
The bill for Baroness Scotland’s legal services comes at a time the Maldives is grappling with a crippling budget deficit of 27 percent, a foreign currency shortage, plummeting investor confidence, spiraling expenditure, and a drop off in foreign aid.
Story breaks in UK press
Baroness Scotland came under fire in the UK press after the story emerged in the Daily Mail. The Mail established that the peer and former Attorney General had not listed the payment from the Maldives on the House of Lords’ register of members’ interests.
“Her entry says she has set up a firm to provide ‘private consultancy services’ but says it is ‘not trading at present’,” the Daily Mail reported.
In a statement, Baroness Scotland confirmed she had been “instructed by the Attorney General of the Maldives to give legal advice”, and slammed the leak of the terms of reference and “all communications passing between myself and the Attorney General, whether written or oral, pertaining to the nature and extent of that advice, as confidential and legally privileged.”
She additionally claimed to have been approached by both the government and the opposition (MDP), and said she had accepted an invitation to chair a roundtable “at which all parties are to be invited.”
“I am a senior barrister with specific expertise in the area of constitutional law, criminal and civil law reform, and am skilled in mediation,” she explained.
Baroness Scotland was previously scrutinised by the UK press in 2009 after she was found to have been employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper in her London home.
As the story emerged, MPs from the UK’s Conservative Party – which has long backed Nasheed and the MDP – seized the opportunity to attack the former UK Labour Party Cabinet Minister.
Conservative MP Karen Lumley told the Daily Mail that is was “disgusting that a former British attorney-general should take a well-paid job advising the new regime, which has no democratic mandate. President Nasheed was overthrown in a coup and the Maldives is now very unstable. Many of my friends there have been arrested by the new regime.”
Conservative MP John Glen told the paper that Baroness Scotland should “hang her head in shame”.
“What happened in the Maldives was a military coup,” he said, adding that it was “outrageous” that the former AG should be “advising a regime responsible for ousting a democratically-elected president.”
Former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Farahanaz Faizal, described the government’s employment of Baroness Scotland as “absolutely shocking. If the government wanted legal advice to support the AG’s Office, the proper way is to request the UK government bilaterally.”