An assessment of the effectiveness of Maldivian institutions in preventing and fighting corruption points to a “stagnation in democratic consolidation and a reversal in democratic gains,” anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) has said.
Institutions of the National Integrity System (NIS) – consisting of the three branches of the state, public sector agencies, and non-government actors – were evaluated on their resources and independence, mechanisms to ensure transparency, accountability and integrity, and extent to which each institution fulfilled their assigned role in preventing corruption.
The Elections Commission (EC), the Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Auditor General’s Office were ranked the strongest pillars, while political parties and civil society received the lowest scores.
“The findings show that most institutions do not fully adhere to the legal framework, meaning there is a gap between practices and mandates afforded by the law, and that oversight mechanisms are not working as intended,” TM’s Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed said.
Noting the erosion of the separation of powers and the judicial attempts to undermine the independence of the EC and the ACC, Aiman said he was concerned over the lack of public outcry in instances where the powers of key democratic institutions are undermined.
“What is most worrying is the culture of impunity in the Maldives. There is no outcry from civil society, meaning those who undermine democratic consolidation can get away with almost anything,” he said.
A strong and functioning NIS serves as a bulwark against corruption and as a guarantor of accountability, while a weak system harbors systemic corruption and produces a myriad of governance failures, the report said.
Although the 2008 constitution established a mechanism for separation of powers, the period between 2008 and 2013 saw the legislature and judiciary curbing the powers of the executive and independent institutions, the report noted.
It specifically cited an amendment to the Public Finance Act in 2010, which curtailed the powers of the executive with regard to public finance management and state assets. The revision allows an opposition-dominated parliament to prevent the exercise of governmental policy.
A Supreme Court in September 2012 also limited the ACC’s powers to halt projects or issue binding orders and injunctions, it noted.
‘The verdict has made the commission toothless. We believe the ACC must at the very least have the power to suspend actions perceived as corrupt,” Aiman said.
He also said the 16-point guideline imposed by the Supreme Court on the EC in October is a blow to the commission’s independence.
“There are questions on how much authority the commission has in making decisions on electoral processes and the conduct of elections. The events of the past cycle of elections had had a tremendous negative impact on the Election Commission’s independence,” he said.
Political parties associated with powerful individuals dominate the People’s Majlis, and their self-serving political practices have constrained the legislature’s ability to function with independence, the report noted.
Although there are provisions to hold the executive in check through budget review, appointment of cabinet, and questioning ministers on policies, in practice, the extent to which the executive was held accountable depended on the level of support the president’s political party enjoyed in the Majlis.
Meanwhile, allegations of political influence within the judiciary, and concerns over the qualifications and suitability of serving judges have raised questions over the independence of the judiciary, the report said.
But key oversight institutions, such as civil society organisations and the media, lack adequate resources and the professionalism necessary to effectively influence government policy for the betterment of society, the report continued.
Systemic weakness in upholding democratic institutionalism was demonstrated by the controversial transfer of power in February 2012, the report said, arguing that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation under questionable circumstances created doubts over the political system’s ability to guarantee democratic governance.
“Although the Constitution of 2008 created a democratic Constitutional Government, the traditionally transmitted undemocratic political practices are also embedded in the new politico-institutional framework, thus weakening the overall institutional framework, and leaving room for misgovernance and political malpractices,” a press statement accompanying the report said.
The report recommended the enforcement of a comprehensive code of conduct for MPs, political appointees, and judges, with penalties for non-compliance.
MPs and political appointees must declare their assets and business interests, and legislation that limits party cross-over in the Majlis must be established, it said.
The executive must be granted more independence in determining public spending, albeit with strong measures to ensure integrity and transparency in decision-making.
Qualification and experience requirements of judges stipulated in legislation need to be enforced and the Supreme Court must exercise greater judicial restraint in interpreting its powers, it said.
The report also called on greater powers to be granted the ACC, Police Integrity Commission, and said that financial and human resources must be provided for the efficient functioning of all political, economic and social institutions.
Read the report here