Local NGO Transparency Maldives has said that recent claims by parliamentary speaker Abdulla Shahid that the Majlis has failed to meet the expectations of the public were not critical enough, and that the institution was also failing to meet its constitutional obligations.
The NGO’s comments followed a Minivan News interview with Shahid last week where he praised the Majlis for significantly increasing its work rate and increasing the amount of legislation being passed, despite accepting that it had fallen short of the “high expectations” of a public new to democratic reform in the country.
The speaker said that despite overcoming the challenges created by partisan political interests, official statistics had shown that 42 bills had been passed out of a total of 52 submitted to the Majlis last year compared to 2005, where 17 bills were proposed and only five were completed.
Aiman Rasheed, Projects Coordinator for Transparency Maldives told Minivan News that although it shared some of Shahid’s sentiments that there had been improvements within the effectiveness of the Majlis regarding the amount of legislation passed, the NGO was concerned that parliament had failed to work independently and pass vital bills such as a national Penal Code.
“Shahid is right when he says that parliament has failed to meet public expectations,” he claimed. “It is not just in meeting public expectations that is has failed, but constitutional expectations as well.”
Rasheed said that although parliament was holding the president and the executive accountable for their actions, he believed that there was a failure to review legislation in terms of financial and political impacts before it was being being passed from parliamentary committees back to the Majlis.
Rasheed said that the NGO had spoken with 15 MPs from across a number of political parties including the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) as part of a project called Parliament Watch designed to try and put a spotlights on governance and political decision making. From these discussions, Rasheed claimed that the NGO had uncovered a wide consensus of concerns over parliaments ability to review and research the legislative process.
“All the parliamentarians that we have spoken to said that they believed that the current set up is not sufficient for parliament to meet its constitutional requirements,” he said. “There is no proper system of review mechanisms [within parliament].”
Rasheed said that although there was a common practice to send bills to committee for review, the members were themselves MPs and authorities rarely sought to bring in outside assistance to help in the formation of new legislation.
“New regulations were adopted [by parliament] in May 2010 that would allow for external experts to be brought in to be used to help form legislation on certain uses,” he said. “MPs could do this. But they don’t.”
Rasheed claimed that independence was definitely an area parliament “could improve on”. Among other notable concerns raised by Transparency Maldives regarding parliament, the NGO project coordinator said that despite having passed a number of important regulations, the Majlis had still failed to prioritise passing vital regulations such as a Penal Code that has remained in parliament for two years.
“There is constant criticism of the judiciary when MPs know that the legal framework is not sufficient for the laws currently going to courts,” he said.
In addition to calling for greater use of independent review mechanisms within the legislative workings of parliament, Rasheed added that Transparency Maldives was preparing to launch the Parliament Watch project that he claimed is aimed at raising scrutiny and try and external assistance for bills in parliament.
“The aim of Parliament Watch will be to try and make sure bills are up to standard by speaking with MPs and the committees that review them and also try to offer assistance from international NGOs to help overcome any difficulties,” he said.
Speaker Abdulla Shahid last week accepted that bills such as outlining a clear and clarified Penal Code, as well as an Evidence Bill to outline judicial reform and policing, had been set back by partisan behaviour between rival parties within the Majlis that had potentially created the impression that there was no interest in having such bills passed.
In order to facilitate a faster moving reform of criminal legislation, Shahid claimed that talks had been opened between the various political stakeholders required to finalise any agreements.
“I met with party leaders and also the chair of all the committees yesterday. There is the general desire amongst the leadership to find ways of increasing the productivity rate of the house. We feel even though we continue to do work ahead of what any other parliament had done, still we are far behind in meeting the public’s expectations,” he said. “The reality is that we need to meet these public expectations. The committee chairs have given me an agreement that they will try and finds ways of fast tracking many of the bills, while political parties supplied an agreement that on issues on which they may disagree, they will endeavour to deal with the technical and more mundane bills faster.”