Government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Shifag Mufeed has heavily criticised President Mohamed Waheed Hassan and his ministers for failing to cooperate with parliament.
Shifag made the remark while speaking during parliament’s National Security Committee on Wednesday, during the committee’s review of a bill proposing a nationwide ban on sale of pork and alcohol.
In October 2012, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Nazim Rashad submitted the bill, which was accepted to parliament in a narrow vote in which Speaker Abdulla Shahid cast the deciding vote after it reached a stalemate, with 24 votes on either side.
The former MDP MP who defected to PPM claimed that it was evident that President Waheed did not approve of his cabinet ministers appearing before parliament and parliamentary committees, which the MP claimed was essential in a system of separated powers.
“Evidence suggests that the head of state of this country does not intend to cooperate with the parliament,” Mufeed claimed.
He contended that all the parties in parliament aside from the opposition MDP were working very hard to defend the government and ensure its survival until the scheduled 2013 Presidential Elections, but said the government had found little time to appreciate the work of the parties.
The Fuvamulah MP’s remarks followed the failure of several cabinet ministers to appear before the parliamentary select committee in relation to its review of the bill concerning banning of sale of alcohol and pork.
Parliament had requested presence of Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – who is set to face a no-confidence motion on April 8 – Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb and Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.
Members of the National Security Committee claimed parliament had requested the ministers to appear before the committee on three different occasions, but said they were yet to receive any form of communication in response.
Presenting the bill, MP Nazim Rashad argued that the import of haraam (prohibited) products violates article 10(b) of the constitution which states that “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”
“We often hear rumours that people have alcohol at home in their fridge, available any time. We’ve heard that kids take alcohol to school to drink during their break. The issue is more serious than we think, it should not be ignored,” Nazim told the house.
The consumption of intoxicants and pork products are prohibited under Islamic law, although these products are available to foreign tourists in the country’s resorts – including those run by Maldivian resort owners.
In response to the December 23 coalition‘s campaign to protect Islam, which saw a number of these tycoons publicly back allegations that the party was ‘anti-Islamic’, the MDP government announced it was considering banning the import of pork and alcohol products.
After being asked in January 2012 for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives could import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.
The Court did note, however, that pork and alcohol have been imported under provisions of the Contraband Act and that there is a regulation in favor of the trade. As no law has declared the regulation unlawful, the import of pork and alcohol is indeed legal, the court claimed.
At the same time, the country’s constitution prohibits the enactment of any laws “contrary to the tenets of Islam”.
During the preliminary debate on the bill, former Chairperson of MDP, MP Mariya Ahmed Didi called for debate over the sale of alcohol to tourists in local guest houses, in a bid to promote mid-market travel to local islands.
She further argued that the issue of alcohol needed to be “clarified” and “addressed”.
“If this is a religious issue, that is if Islam bans sale of alcohol, it should not be sold in the Maldives as we are a 100 percent Islamic nation. If the sale is allowed, then the question to ask is whether alcohol is needed for the tourist trade to flourish,” she said.
She added that if alcohol proved to be a vital element in the tourism sector, then the sale of alcohol should be allowed for “registered places” to which a permit is given to accommodate tourists including resorts, safari boats and guest houses.
“If the objection to the sale of alcohol is on [religious] grounds, it should not be sold in places where Maldivians reside. But Maldivians do reside on resorts as employees. If we deny Maldivians the employment opportunities in the resorts, then the income from resorts will be restricted to those who own resorts, that would give way to increase in expatriate workers and foreign currency drainage,” she explained.
Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem – who voted in favour of accepting the bill – stated that as alcohol was banned under Islam, it was illegal in the Maldives to create laws and regulations concerning it.
Local resort and business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim – who owns the Villa Hotels chain and is one of the largest importers of pork and alcohol – abstained from the vote, along with fellow resort owners Abdulla Jabir and Ahmed Hamza.
Gasim was a central figure during the December 2011 demonstration, declaring that there was “no such thing as moderate Islam”.
“We don’t know there is a moderate, higher or lower Islam. We only know Islam, which is above all the religion. The only road we must follow is based of Allah’s callings,” the resort tycoon told the crowds.
According to customs records for 2011, Gasim’s properties – including the Royal, Paradise, Sun, and Holiday Island resorts, in 2011 imported approximately 121,234.51 litres of beer, 2048 litres of whiskey, 3684 litres of vodka and 219.96 kilograms of pork sausages.
Resort owner and leader of newly formed Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) Leader Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam voted in favour of accepting the bill, while Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed and PPM Parliamentary Group Leader and now Presidential Candidate Abdulla Yameen voted against accepting the bill.
Regulation permitting the sale of pork and alcohol in tourism establishments was passed by the Ministry of Economic Development in 1975. Parliament did not reject the regulation on the sale of pork and alcohol in 2009 following the introduction of the new constitution, thus allowing it to stand by default.
However the 2008 constitution explicitly states that no regulations against a tenet of Islam may be passed in the Maldives, in apparent contradiction of those laws allowing the import and sale of haraam commodities.