MPs clashed today over a resolution proposed by MP Ahmed Mahlouf to postpone parliament’s upcoming recess at the end of April to complete legislation currently at committee stage to reform the criminal justice system.
Several MPs from both main parties argued that convicts were not “roaming free and committing crimes with impunity” because of parliament’s failure to pass necessary laws.
MP Mahlouf – who has sided with the “Zaeem DRP” in the ongoing factional strife within the main opposition party – came under fire from his former Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) colleagues for taking a holiday after submitting the resolution.
Last Wednesday’s sitting of parliament was cancelled reportedly because Mahlouf, who was supposed to present the resolution to the floor, was out of the country.
Defending himself from the intraparty criticism, the DRP MP for Galolhu South asserted that he had not been “sun tanning on the beach” but had faced a family emergency.
“I would deeply regret it if you vote against the resolution saying ‘Mahlouf took a holiday,’” he said.
In the ensuing debate however, DRP MPs Ali Azim and Abdulla Abdul Raheem accused Mahlouf of submitting the resolution “with the intention of deceiving the public.”
While Azim claimed that Mahlouf was “the MP that took the most number of holidays during the past session,” Abdulla Abdul Raheem accused the DRP Youth Wing President of ulterior motives behind the resolution.
Raheem alleged that Mahlouf’s true purpose in delaying the recess was “to conduct business transactions with certain people here.”
Praising Mahlouf for “continually raising the issue of curbing gang violence” in parliament, ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group leader “Reeko” Moosa Manik however contended that the necessary bills “cannot be finished in one night with us cooking rice pudding and staying here overnight.”
Moosa concurred with other MPs that the absence of legislation could not be blamed for either unenforced sentences or dubious judgments by judges.
Following consultation with the National Crime Prevention Committee and law enforcement authorities, the Minority Leader explained that a sub-committee was in the process of drafting temporary legislation containing crucial provisions of the three belated bills.
If opposition leaders could “control voting by their parliamentary group,” said Moosa, the bill should easily be passed on Thursday.
“Increasing the number of days we spend talking here is not going to bring a solution,” said People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakr, arguing that the resolution would not make a difference “one way or the other” as the bills in question were at committee stage and the reviewing process could continue during the recess.
MDP MP Mohamed Riyaz however backed the resolution and criticised opposition MPs for questioning Mahlouf’s intent.
On the issue of unenforced sentences, the MDP MP for Dhandhoo claimed that there were 622 convicts out of jail when the previous government left office.
“Those who killed people [in custody] in Evan Naseem’s case are at home today,” he said, referring to eight former prison guards found guilty of beating a 19 year-old inmate to death in September 2003.
Moreover, Riyaz continued, failure to locate former Atolls Minister Abdulla Hameed to face charges of corruption shows that Commissioner of Police Ahmed Faseeh has “failed.”
MDP MP Ibrahim Rasheed meanwhile criticised the “lazy attorneys” at the Prosecutor General’s Office for failing to secure enough convictions.
In his turn, DRP Deputy Leader Ali Waheed argued that as the Maldives had a presidential system, it was President Mohamed Nasheed who should bear responsibility for the crime situation.
While police have recently revealed identities and crime records of 17 dangerous criminals, Waheed said that according to police statistics there are over 600 youth active in gangs in Male’ alone.
Moreover, he added, estimates from different state institutions of the number of convicts not serving sentences did not match.
Implying that he did not support the resolution, Waheed suggested breaking for recess to “give counselling to our political leaders” as they were “obsessed with winning power” instead of serving the public.
Independent MPs Ismail Abdul Hameed and Ahmed Amir meanwhile called for constitutional amendments to entrust wider powers to enforcement authorities, such as a longer period of detention and more legal discretion for judges.
Meanwhile in the continuing war of words between the rival opposition factions, DRP MPs Azim and Raheem alleged today that Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim – who was presiding over the sitting at the time – had dodged Criminal Court court summons eight times to date on the grounds that he was busy at parliament.
In March 2010, Nazim pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the former Ministry of Atolls Development.
As the common man was routinely sentenced in absentia, said MDP MP Ahmed Easa, “what law is missing that the Honourable MP for Dhiggaru can’t be taken to court?”
Responding to accusations against the “missing” former Atolls Minister, MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem loudly denied the allegations against the long-serving Speaker of the People’s Majlis.
“There were big thieves in the previous government, why don’t you go find them?” he suggested.