MPs clash over amendments to Human Rights Commission Act

Pro-government MPs clashed with MPs of former coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP) and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) today over amendments proposed to the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) Act of 2006.

During debate on the government-sponsored amendments, JP MP for Dhagethi, Ilham Ahmed, objected to giving powers to the HRCM to suspend employees of state institutions for two weeks for not complying with the commission’s orders.

The proposed amendment to Article 26(b) of the HRCM Act also confers the authority to impose a fine of between MVR3,000 (US$195) and MVR25,000 (US$1,621) for non-compliance.

The JP deputy leader contended that the powers could be misused to either arbitrarily fine or “bring into disrepute” a state employee over “simple matters,” adding that HRCM members would be “under the control” of the majority party in parliament.

Some members of independent commissions have “for sale boards on them,” he alleged, and could be bribed to issue reports.

Responding to the criticism, Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan noted that the existing law empowers the HRCM to place individuals under house arrest for three months over non-compliance with orders.

Moreover, the commission has the authority to dismiss employees of state institutions for non-compliance.

Attempts to mislead the public were “regrettable” as the government’s intention was to “provide relief”, said the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) parliamentary group leader.

The amendments (Dhivehi) were submitted on behalf of the government at today’s sitting of parliament by PPM MP Jaufar Daood.

The purpose of the legislation was to bring the HRCM law in line with the new constitution adopted in August 2008, he said.

Some provisions in the HRCM law – enacted two years before the ratification of the new constitution – conflicted with articles 189 through 198 of the constitution, which specifies the responsibilities and powers of the commission, Daood said.

During the debate, PPM MP Saud Hussain argued that the current administration inherited the task of amending laws for adherence to the new constitution as the previous parliament failed to do so during the past five years.

Opposition MPs, however, contended that the then-opposition parties used their provisional majority in parliament to obstruct the MDP government.

The amendments to the HRCM Act are among a number of bills drafted by the Attorney General’s Office to bring outdated laws in line with the new constitution.

The current administration’s the legislative agenda is comprised of  207 bills, including 98 new bills and 109 amendments to existing laws.

During today’s debate, JP MP for Kendhoo, Ali Hussain, meanwhile contended that parliament and not the executive should decide among candidates who apply for HRCM membership.

The president should not have “all the powers” to decide whom to appoint as members of the HRCM, he added.

PPM MP Ali Shah noted, however, that the Majlis had the authority to reject nominees forwarded by the president for parliamentary consent.