Several MPs yesterday objected to a clause in proposed legislation for a new Maldives Police Service Act limiting presidential prerogative to appoint the Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, during preliminary debate on the bill (Dhivehi) submitted by Independent MP for Kulhudhufushi South Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed.
While all MPs supported the 137-page legislation as a whole, most MPs insisted that the presidential prerogative to appoint the Commissioner of Police should remain unchanged and that the head of police should answer to the commander-in-chief.
Presenting the draft legislation to parliament, MP Nasheed said he sought to “restrict the role of the Home Minister over police” by limiting the minister’s powers.
The Home Minister’s role would be limited to entrusting responsibilities to police for achieving “strategic requirements” or objectives pledged by the ruling party’s manifesto, as well as providing necessary resources and monitoring the implementation of “instructions concerning the main policies and objectives for developing and strengthening the institution”.
“The minister should not state how particular investigations should proceed and interfere in such matters,” he said. “Police should be provided the operational independence or operational autonomy to do police work.”
The bill would also provide new powers over police to the parliament’s Security Services Committee (241 committee) and the Prosecutor General, he added.
Under the proposed procedure for appointing a Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, senior officers from the executive command would themselves apply for the post or propose colleagues, after which the Home Minister would submit their names for evaluation by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the police professional command unit.
Based on the reports by the PIC and professional command, the minister would then take a vote on the chosen candidate among senior officers of the executive command through secret ballot.
The Home Minister could only propose a nominee to the President if he or she is approved by “a majority of the total number of members of the police executive service.”
Moreover, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner would be appointed for a four-year term.
As all powers currently exercised by police were derived from a regulation formed under one article of the existing Police Act, Nasheed said one of the purposes of the new law was to ensure that all powers vested in police were derived from specific articles in the law.
“These are not just one or two amendments to the Police Act currently in force. These are basic changes to everything in the Police Act from cover to cover,” MP Nasheed said.
Nasheed said MPs and the major political parties had the choice to leave the police service in its current form or “modernise” the institution in light of past experiences.
Police was the one institution that came under the fiercest criticism during the reigns of Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed and Dr Mohamed Waheed, the MP said.
He added that the new law was intended to “bring fundamental, revolutionary change” to the institution.
If passed, the new law would come into effect on November 11, 2013, which would be the end of the five-year presidential term that began on November 11, 2008 and the ostensible date for the swearing-in of a newly-elected president.
During yesterday’s debate, MPs from both the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and parties in the ruling coalition objected to the proposed procedure for appointing the head of police.
Jumhooree Party (JP) MP for Kaafu Atoll Kaashidhoo, Abdulla Jabir, warned that the police service could become “a small government” if the president could not directly appoint and dismiss the Commissioner of Police.
“If not, wouldn’t that be like riding a horse without a saddle?” he asked.
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP for Thaa Atoll Thimararushi, Adam Ahmed Shareef, concurred that the executive or parliament should have the power to appoint the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner
“My proposal is that the highest authority in the police, that is the Commissioner of Police, should be appointed, in my view, with parliamentary approval after a nomination by the President,” he said, adding that the President should have to seek parliamentary approval for removing the commissioner.
MDP MP for Faafu Bilehdhoo Ahmed Hamza meanwhile objected to the procedure specified in the bill for dismissing a Police Commissioner – which was in effect a no-confidence vote by senior officers.
Hamza contended that the bill “mixes up the three powers” as it was unclear whether the President, parliament or Prosecutor General would answer on behalf of police.
He added that turning the Home Minister into a “symbolic” official was “unacceptable” as ministers in the executive should be accountable to the public.
Contrary to most MPs’ belief that the proposed reforms would free police from undue political influence, Hamza argued that the institution would become more politicised when its chief could be removed through “an election.”
“The Commissioner of Police should be answerable to the Home Minister and the Home Minister should be answerable to the President,” he said.
However, Hamza said the bill should be accepted and amended during the committee stage.