Parliament was cancelled today by Speaker Abdulla Shahid, after DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf reportedly approached MDP MP Alhan Fahmy, tapped him on the shoulder and informed him he was sitting in a DRP seat.
MPs from the major parties leapt to the defence of their respective party members, and the chamber quickly degenerated into a brawl.
Fahmy recently switched to the MDP from the DRP after being suspended from the DRP for voting against the party on the issue of a no-confidence motion against foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed. Mahlouf was particularly vocal regarding Fahmy’s decision to cross the floor, at one stage describing the MP for Seenu Feydhoo as a “political prostitute”.
After the battle, MPs were displaying their injuries to journalists outside parliament.
“They tried to attack us by force, try to create fear in the chamber. We are not afraid of them,” said DRP MP Ali Waheed, sporting a bandaged wrist. He would not say who attacked him, but said “everyone came after me because I am the tallest MP around.”
Mahlouf, he claimed, was punched in the lips.
“We are ready to fight back. As deputy leader of the party, my duty is to defend my party members,” Waheed said.
Staff at ADK hospital confirmed that MDP MP Shifaq Mufeed had been discharged after he was allegedly punched in the eye. Waheed, however, maintained that Mufeed’s injury was the product of make-up applied by MDP parliamentary group leader ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, a former movie star.
“We have a video of him without any damage before he went into the office of the MDP parliamentary group leader,” Waheed said, “and with a lot of injuries to his face afterwards. Reeko is a former movie star, and I congratulate him on the high quality of his make-up skills.”
Neither Fahmy or Mahlouf were responding to calls at time of press.
Stop the session
The chamber erupted during a debate on the report submitted by parliamentary finance committee calling for the dismissal of the Auditor General over charges of corruption.
The charges were made in a letter sent to the committee by former Anti-Corruption Commission member Hassan Luthfy.
“[MDP] disrupts parliament if there is anything not to their pleasure,” said Ahmed Nazim, deputy speaker and chairman of the finance committee.
“This will bring parliament to a total standstill, because the DRP will not back down on this one, and we cannot submit another committee report until we have concluded this one because they go in sequence.”
Mahlouf’s behaviour towards Fahmy “was probably uncalled for”, he said, “but the MDP members were protesting and not allowing anyone to talk. Mahlouf went up and told him he was talking from ‘one of our seats’.”
Nazim is himself no stranger to charges of corruption, recently pleading not guilty when charged with conspiracy to defraud the former ministry of atolls development.
At a press conference in August last year, Chief Inspector Ismail Atheef said police had uncovered evidence implicated the former Atolls Minister Abdullah Hameed, Eydhafushi MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, former director of finance at the ministry, and Nazim in fraudulent transactions worth over US$260,000 (Mf 3,446,950).
Meanwhile, Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem told the press on Sunday that the charges against him, which have now been forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s office, were “made by people attempting to harm [my] office because we are trying to bring all the [stolen] money back into the country.”
However Nazim said the committee’s four members were unanimous that the Auditor General was guilty and called for his dismissal.
MDP MP Ahmed Easa said the party’s concern was not the corruption case against the Auditor General, “but a procedural issue.”
“Nazim did not get the approval of the committee,” he said, claiming that key MDP members of the committee received text messages from parliamentary staff informing them that the meeting at which the findings of the sub-committee was discussed had been cancelled.
“Staff are informed by the chairman,” he said.
At today’s sitting, Hinnavaru MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said the committee had not “completed the process” in compiling its report.
Solih said the letter from Luthfy in June last year was never officially entered in the Majlis records and parts of its annex were missing when the committee first set down to deliberate.
Moreover, said Solih, when the committee later decided to summon the Auditor General and members of the Anti-Corruption Commission, DRP MP Abdullah Abdul Raheem withdrew his motion to recommend a no-confidence vote.
Nazim however claimed that the report had been submitted according to new rules of procedure, and that MDP’s response was a cynical attempt to disrupt the chamber so no vote could be taken.
The situation is unlikely to unravel soon, and already text messages calling for rallies and protests have begun circulating. Groups of MDP activists engaged in a running protest this afternoon around parliament, pursued by police, scenes likely to continue as parliament tries to resolve its deadlock tomorrow.
“It was sad to see such pictures in parliament,” noted Ali Waheed. “But we are ready to get dirty if that is what it takes to clear this mess.”
Web of corruption: the story so far
At a DRP rally last night, MP Ahmed Nihan pledged that the Auditor General would be removed from his post and would have to “pack his belongings” before 2.30pm.
Meanwhile, at an MDP rally, ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik called on party members to protest outside independent commissions to demand action against senior officials of the former regime accused of corruption, gross misappropriation and embezzlement.
He added it would take months to summon all complicit to court as they included the former president’s family, in-laws and associates.
“It would take more than 48 hours to read the verdict against even one of them because of all their theft,” he said.
The debate over the past two sittings proceeded intermittently as MDP MPs continually raised points of order claiming procedural violations and irregularities in the compilation of the report.
However, the Speaker ruled that as the case had not yet reached court, he had to table the report in the agenda.
Maafanu West MP Abdullah Abdul Raheem, who originally proposed the motion of no-confidence, accused MDP MPs of trying to “sabotage” the sitting and prevent the vote.
Presenting the report yesterday, Nazim said a sub-committee was formed to investigate the allegations against the Auditor General in a letter sent by former ACC member Hassan Luthfy.
The committee confirmed that the allegations in the letter were based on a report compiled by the ACC in June 2009 after reviewing financial records and documents at the Auditor General’s Office, he said.
There were four main allegations against Naeem: forging receipts to show that he paid for a trip to Baa atoll Thulhaadhoo; using office credit cards for personal purchases; purchasing health insurance through the office although it was included in his salary; and creating a “slush fund” of Rf6 million from the office budget for personal expenses.
After the subcommittee submitted its findings, Nazim continued, two motions were forwarded.
While MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih proposed summoning the auditor general, DRP MP Abdullah Abdul Raheem proposed a motion that the committee should recommend a vote of no-confidence.
Article 218 of the constitution states the Auditor General can be removed on the grounds of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence if “a finding to that effect by a committee of the People’s Majlis […] and upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting.”
Although Raheem later withdrew his motion, Nazim said it was done after the committee voted to pass it.
“Therefore, Abdullah Abdul Raheem’s claim that he took it back is a definite falsehood. It is misleading. It is being done by people who don’t want this to go ahead and wants to keep the auditor general in his post,” said Nazim.
Nazim was shouted down by MDP MPs who raised points of order, left their seats and engaged in acrimonious arguments with opposition MPs.
Nazim said Naeem wrote to the Bank of Maldives himself to get a Visa Credit Card and an American Express Credit Card, both with credit limits of US$10,000.
Although Naeem himself wrote the offices’ operating manual, said Nazim, the auditor general used both cards for personal use without reimbursing the office 14 months after the expenses.
The subcommittee found that Naeem spent Rf91,000 from the Visa Card and Rf422,000 from the American Express Card.
Further, Nazim said Naeem transferred Rf6 million from the office account at the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) to a BML account for personal use.
But, he added, the finance committee had ordered the account to be closed when it finalized the state budget for 2010.
Naeem’s actions were in violation of several provisions of the state’s finance and asset regulations, he said.
Further, the ACC had noted that a Sony VIAO laptop Naeem purchased in Singapore was paid for by the office and import duties were not paid.
Nazim concluded by proposing the motion approved by the committee to call a vote of no-confidence.
In the ensuing debate, MDP MPs said the report was intended to discredit Naeem and the audit reports he issued that alleged rampant corruption under the former government.
DRP MP Ahmed Nihan meanwhile observed that Naeem showed up first in Google searches for “corrupt auditor general”.
Naeem was nominated by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and approved by a DRP-dominated Majlis.