The 16-point guideline for conducting elections imposed by the Supreme Court on the Elections Commission (EC) has undermined the institution’s independence, EC President Fuwad Thowfeek told MPs on the government oversight committee yesterday.
In a meeting with the opposition-majority oversight committee to discuss budget constraints, Thowfeek said he did not believe the EC was fully independent as some of its powers and responsibilities were transferred to other institutions by the Supreme Court judgment that annulled the September 7 presidential poll.
“For example, having to consider the Department of National Registration’s (DNR) list as the basis in preparing voters list and compelling us to use a person from the police service to transport [election-related] material from one place to another,” he said.
Thowfeek also referred to the cancellation of polls in last year’s presidential election after candidates from the Progressive Party of Maldives and Jumhooree Party refused to sign the voters list, which was among the requirements imposed by the apex court.
As the Finance Ministry has not released funds allocated in the state budget for conducting the upcoming parliamentary election, Thowfeek said that financial constraints were also an impediment to the commission’s work.
Lack of financial independence poses difficulties and “restrictions”, he added.
EC members expressed concern at yesterday’s committee meeting over having to make individual requests to the Finance Ministry to pay bills and settle other expenses incurred in preparations for the polls.
Asked by MP Visam Ali if the commission was able to comply with the Public Finance Act and regulations under the law while it was forced to depend on the ministry for expenses, Thowfeek said the EC was being told to disregard provisions of the law.
“I have to say again that the first [institution] to do this was the Supreme Court. As far as I know, the sumoto mechanism they have made to prosecute Elections Commission members is against the constitution of the Maldives,” he said.
The EC did not have “any other option or choice” when the Finance Ministry instructs the commission to disregard the public finance law, Thowfeek said.
If the EC refuses on the grounds that “it’s against the law”, Thowfeek continued, there was a fear that the parliamentary election could not be held as scheduled on March 22.
Contempt of court
On February 12, the Supreme Court summoned EC members and began a surprise trial on charges of contempt of court.
The apex court invoked new ‘Sumoto’ – or ‘Suo motu’ – regulations that allow the court to initiate hearings and act as both prosecutor and judge in a trial.
The court contends that criticism by EC members of its decision to annul the first round of last year’s presidential election – citing a secret police report that has since been dismissed by a UN expert review and questioned by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives – constituted contempt of court.
At the last hearing of the trial, Supreme Court Justices used testimony given to the oversight committee to implicate EC members in contempt of court.
Article 90 of the constitution says no person will be subject to any inquiry, arrest, detention, or prosecution with respect to anything said in the People’s Majlis or any of its committees if such a statement is not contrary to tenet of Islam.
However, Supreme Court Justice Ahmed Abdulla Didi contended that the EC’s testimony at the committee obstructed justice – which he argued was a tenet of Islam – and could therefore be used in a court.
Asked by Committee Chair MP Ali Waheed if commission members were aware of the punishment for contempt for court, EC member Ali Mohamed Manik said he was informed by the commission’s legal team that there was no law specifying a penalty for contempt of court.
“They said there is no punishment. So I’m hoping that we haven’t committed a crime and there won’t be a punishment,” he said.
Manik referred to Article 223 of the constitution, which states that the supervision and prosecution of all criminal offences was the responsibility of the prosecutor general.
“But we didn’t see the prosecutor general there. We answered questions put to us by Supreme Court judges,” he said.
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