Attorney General Aishath Bisham told parliament’s Government Oversight Committee yesterday (June 4) that official meetings of a state institution would not be valid if a member with disputed legal status was in attendance.
In response to a question by MP Ali Waheed, the committee’s chair, Bisham insisted that Mohamed Fahmy Hassan would not have to be reinstated as chair of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) after the Supreme Court ruled that his removal by parliament was unconstitutional.
“My stand on this has not changed at all,” she said.
While Fahmy returned to work following the Supreme Court judgment, both Bisham and her predecessor Aishath Azima Shukoor had contended that he could not remain in the post.
Despite the previous Attorney General informing Fahmy of her legal opinion, the CSC later revealed that Fahmy resumed work after a letter from the President’s Office authorised him to do so.
Fahmy also began participating in meetings of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as an ex-officio member in his capacity as CSC chair.
Bisham told the oversight committee last night that she had shared her concerns with the JSC but refused to answer further questions on the issue.
Fahmy was in attendance at a JSC meeting on May 29 where a petition by Bisham to indefinitely suspend High Court Chief Judge Ahmed Shareef was voted through with three votes in favour and one against. Fahmy reportedly abstained in the vote.
Local media meanwhile reported yesterday that the JSC nominated Fahmy to represent the commission on the 13-member Zakat Committee, which was set up to oversee the Zakat trust fund.
At last night’s committee meeting, MP Ali Waheed asked Bisham whether a meeting of any state institution or independent commission with the participation of a member whose legal status was disputed could be valid.
“It would not [be valid],” she replied.
Following her concession, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Thohdhoo in Alif Alif atoll thanked the Attorney General and immediately adjourned the committee meeting.
Supreme Court ruling
Fahmy was dismissed from his CSC post in November 2012 in a no-confidence vote in parliament following an inquiry by the Independent Institutions Committee into allegations of sexual harassment against a CSC employee.
Both Fahmy and the victim were summoned to committee after the complaint was lodged in the first week of June.
Fahmy was alleged to have called the female staff member over to him, taken her hand and asked her to stand in front of him so that others in the office could not see, and caressed her stomach saying ”it won’t do for a beautiful single woman like you to get fat.”
MPs voted 38-32 to approve the committee’s recommendation to remove Fahmy from the post.
The Supreme Court however ruled 6-1 in March 2013 that Fahmy would receive two punishments for the same crime if he was convicted at court following his dismissal by parliament (double jeopardy).
The apex court contended that the Independent Institutions Committee violated due process and principles of criminal justice procedure in dealing with the accused.
Delivering the judgment, Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Saeed reportedly said that a person should be considered innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law and was entitled to protect his reputation and dignity.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Muthasim Adnan – the only Supreme Court justice with a background in common law – however noted that article 187(a) of the constitution authorised parliament to remove members of the CSC “on the ground of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence.”
Article 187(b) meanwhile states, “a finding to that effect by a committee of the People’s Majlis pursuant to article (a), and upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting, calling for the member’s removal from office, such member shall be deemed removed from office.”
Justice Adnan argued that an inquiry by a parliamentary committee into alleged misconduct would not be a criminal investigation. Therefore, he added, the oversight committee would not be required to prove guilt to the extent required at trial before making a decision.
He further noted that parliament’s dismissal under the authority of article 187 and a possible conviction at a late date could not be considered meting out two punishments for the same offence.