Today’s main parliamentary session was cancelled the basis of there being no work on its agenda.
Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom has meanwhile claimed that the Majlis was nonetheless “on track” with its legislative duties and was being unfairly criticised for a perceived spike in gang violence across the country.
Speaking to Minivan News, Dr Mausoom claimed that despite the cancelation of a scheduled meeting in the Majlis’ main chamber today, committee work was still continuing in the parliament, which he believed was playing its part in pushing legislation to allow law enforcement officials to deal with violent crimes, despite certain “public perceptions” to the contrary. The opposition party MP claimed that parliament was stepping up its workload to ensure the government, as the country’s executive branch, had the right powers and capabilities to uphold the law.
While alleging that current statistics indicated that there were an estimated 460 people on the country’s streets who should be held in custody over their suspected involvement in criminal activity, Mausoom said he believed that national media had incorrectly created an impression that potential parliamentary failings were solely responsible.
“There are people who have been sentenced [for criminal behaviour] that are currently out on the street. There is a public perception that a lack of legislation has led to this,” he said. “The media perception is that more legislation is needed to do their work and that they have to be detained somehow. However, I do not think this is the case.”
Mausoom said that the formation by the president of a National Crime Prevention Committee and the passing during the current parliamentary session of a number of bills, such as measures to punish individuals carrying items that can be used as weapons, served to highlight that the Majlis was working to try and deal with public concerns about gang violence and other major crimes.
“MPs and opposition parties have made agreements to try and work together to ensure major bills are passed quickly,” he said. “Two of the bills currently in the Majlis relate to criminal process and witness protection, but these will take time as they are very technical.”
Mausoom added that he understood possible frustrations from the public that parliament’s main session had been cancelled and would not reconvene till next week after Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim said that certain MPs wishing to present bills to the floor were unavailable to do so today.
However, Mausoom claimed that “public perceptions” about the cancellation of today’s main session and wider concerns that MPs may not be acting professionally were failing to address wider societal problems concerning crime that he believed represented a failure of the government to deal with the issue.
“The Majlis is not the executive [governing] branch, we are the legislative branch,” he said. “My question to the government would be; what is the missing piece of legislation that is preventing you from doing your jobs and protecting people?”
Mausoom’s comment come after parliamentary speaker and fellow DRP MP Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News last month that he believed that while the Majlis had become much more productive in the number of bills and legislation it was passing, the institution had still failed to live up to public expectations.
“The three branches of government are trying to deal with a situation where, as in any transition, the expectations of the public are at a very high level. When you have a new democracy come in, citizens will be wanting things to change overnight. [These expectations] have been seen in many countries,” the speaker said at the time. “The challenges that we have here – with the judiciary and parliament – are not because we are unable to perform, but that we are unable to perform to the expectations of the people.”
Shahid accepted that subjects such as outlining a clear and clarified penal code, as well as an Evidence Bill to support judicial reform and policing, were vital areas needed to be addressed by MPs, with partisan behaviour between rival parties within the Majlis creating 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 during March between the various political stakeholders required to finalise any agreements.
“I met with party leaders and also the chair of all the committees yesterday (March 30). 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 added. “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.”
Aside from MPs working along partisan lines, Shahid said that the issue of language was another significant challenge for members to overcome – especially in translating very technical proposals relating to legal definitions into Dhivehi from other languages.
While other Commonwealth countries were able to take existing legislation and adapt the document accordingly, the Speaker took the example of the Penal Code. In its original English draft, put together by Professor Paul Robinson at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the code was said to have perfect sense, yet the Speaker said it did not translate directly into the Dhivehi language.
The speaker’s comments were generally shared by certain local NGOs like Transparency Maldives, which claimed that it believed parliament was additionally failing to meet its responsibilities as set out in the national constitution.
Aiman Rasheed, Projects Coordinator for Transparency Maldives, told Minivan News earlier this month that although it accepted that there had been improvements within the effectiveness of the Majlis concerning 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 at the time. “It is not just in meeting public expectations that the Majlis has failed in, 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 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 DRP as part of a project called Parliament Watch designed to try and put a spotlight on governance and political decision making. From these discussions, Rasheed claimed that the NGO had uncovered a wide consensus of concerns over parliament’s 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].”