Parliament has narrowly voted MP for Maamigili Gasim Ibrahim as its representative on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the commission tasked with overseeing the country’s judiciary.
38 members of of the 77 member parliament voted in favour of Gasim, while 36 voted against him. The other candidate for the position, former Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Mariya Ahmed Didi, narrowly missed the required votes with 36 MPs in favour of her appointment and 37 against.
Gasim is a well-known business tycoon, media owner and leader of the opposition-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP). He was last year accused by the government of treason and bribery after phone calls of his conversations with People’s Alliance MP and the former President’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen were leaked to the media.
Gasim will replace DRP MP Dr Afrashim Ali on the JSC, after Afrashim was dismissed by parliament 38-34 in favour earlier this week amid claims of misconduct and corruption.
Former President’s Member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Aishath Velezinee described Gasim’s appointment to the JSC as “the worst thing that could possibly have happened. It means nothing will be looked at, and I expect [the JSC] will become worse than ever. I can already hear the judges celebrating.”
Gasim, Velezinee said, “is a man of wealth, and every seat he has ever sat on has benefited him. We can expect the same from the JSC. I don’t think anyone is under any other impression – there is no comparison between Mariya and Gasim in terms of legal knowledge and integrity. The people’s representatives have sold out to the devil, and this is a very sad day.”
DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef said he felt that Gasim “has the experience, wisdom and the capacity face the challenges.”
“What is required is sincerity. We need to build a judiciary that is competent, efficient and capable of delivering justice,” Shareef said.
Asked whether Gasim’s extensive business interests could prove a potential conflict of interest when overseeing the Maldivian justice system, Shareef said “that is a real possibility. I think the judiciary must be totally free from political influence. We have to see how this unfolds – this is a small country and it is hard to have complete impartiality.”
Gayoom thanks MPs
Following Afrashim’s removal from the JSC on Monday, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom publicly thanked DRP MPs for voting in Afrashim’s favour.
“Afrashim was the front man for what went on in JSC. It wasn’t him alone, but he was the front man,” said Velezinee, who contends that the opposition had used its parliamentary majority to control the JSC, subvert Article 285 of the Constitution and reappoint the judges handpicked by the former administration.
One result of this, Velezinee said, was the impossibility of prosecuting any instance of serious drug crime in the Criminal Court. She referred to a decision made yesterday by Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed to throw out charges of drug trafficking against two businessmen for lack of evidence, after more than a kilogram of narcotics was found in the trunk of one of their cars.
“The evidence that the JSC has hidden away suggests that Abdulla Mohamed is under the influence of senior politicians and businessmen alleged to be involved in serious crime, and the decisions of the criminal court gives every reason to believe this is true. The JSC is acting unlawfully by not forwarding this to the relevant authority,” she claimed.
Afrashim had sat on the committee charged with investigating Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, formed on December 30, 2009.
“Until the day I left the JSC we had no reports on the progress of the investigation,” Velezinee said, “despite the fact that the JSC Act states that a written report must be submitted every 30 days for every investigation.”
Velezinee observed that the opposition’s factional battle was laid aside in its efforts to save Afrashim during Monday’s vote.
“The factionalisation of the DRP was forgotten. They all joined together. In my mind there is now no doubt that there was a silent coup, and Gayoom’s coming out and thanking the MPs is as much a confession to being the leader. I cannot imagine this happening in any developed country, there would have been riots.”
Velezinee’s concerns about the independence of the JSC appeared vindicated with the publication of a report on the Maldivian judiciary by the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ).
“How often do ordinary Maldivians look to the courts for justice? Is there a sense that ‘We [Maldivians] have an independent judiciary that is capable of resolving problems?’ I think the answer is no,” surmised Roger Normand, Director of the ICJ’s Asia Pacific operations at the time of the report’s publication.
Velezinee claimed the JSC had routinely doctored information given to international groups such as the ICJ who were unable to interpret the original Dhivehi documents.
“No international organisation or authority would believe that such an institution would be handing out doctored documents and changing their minutes. I have seen shocking things. But when I speak of them, I am the one labelled a fool. I have a different view to rest of the country because I sat in a seat not accessible to anyone else, and witnessed this happening.”
Parliament’s dismissal of Afrashim on Monday on grounds of misconduct had raised the possibility that Article 285 could be revisited, Velezinee said.
“The JSC Act states that if any member of the JSC has acted outside conduct in any decision making, that decision must be revisited – but that’s for the JSC to decide,” she said.
“But in this case I suspect we are in an an area not covered by the act. Parliament has found out about this, not the JSC, and the complaint has been there since February 2010.
“When parliament took the decision [to remove Afrashim], it clearly stated that Dr Afrashim acted unconstitutionally and breached trust. In that case there is good reason to demand Article 285 be readdressed. Just because a certain period has passed does not mean [the reappointments] are valid. The obligations under the Article were not fulfilled.”
It was, she said, a matter of “laying the foundation for an independent judiciary that will uphold this constitution.”
The judges reappointed by the former Ministry of Justice had been guided in passing judgements, Velezinee said – “It is clearly evident from documents we have. Many of the judges were handpicked by different ministers, who are now complaining to the press that the President is interfering in the judiciary. Their lawyers want to keep the existing bench.”
The JSC’s actions had, however, closed the bench for the next 40 years, “and that is really scary.”