Corruption charges pile up against former NDMC heads

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has accused former National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) heads Abdulla Shahid and Mohamed Shahid of defrauding the state of MVR 250,000 (US$16,181).

The two men (unrelated) had authorised payment from the state budget for an electricity generator, after it had been donated to Haa Dhaal Kumundhoo Island by MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed via a private company, the ACC said.

In June 2013, police and the ACC accused the former State Minister Abdulla Shahid and former NDMC Director Mohamed Shahid of fraud involving MVR24million (US$1.55 million).

Regulations on public finance management require state bodies to obtain multiple price quotations for any purchase worth more than MVR25,000 (US$1,618). The requirement can only be bypassed in a situation of emergency.

However, Abdulla Shahid had admitted there was no emergency in Kumundhoo case, said the ACC.

According to the commission, the Finance Ministry had allocated MVR250,000 in the 2010 state budget for procurement of a second-hand generator for Kumundoo on the President’s Office’s order.

The Finance Ministry specifically ordered the NDMC to disburse funds as per public finance management regulations, the ACC said.

Instead, the NDMC deposited the funds directly to a shareholder of the company involved in donating the generator for Kumundhoo. There only communications between the NDMC and the company were regarding the payment, the ACC said.

“Investigations prove this transaction violates the Public Finance Act. [The generator] was not procured by the state, but by an MP for his constituency in his personal capacity, and investigations prove the state’s payment for [the generator] is abuse of position to benefit a third party,” the ACC said.

The ACC does not clarify the connection between MP Nasheed and the company.

Mohamed Shahid is the brother of MP and former Speaker of the People’s Majlis Abdulla Shahid.

The commission has recommended the prosecutor general file charges against Abdulla Shahid and Mohamed Shahid for abuse of position and order them to reimburse the MVR250,000 to the state.

The Maldives Police Services in February 2013 arrested Abdulla Shahid and Mohamed Shahid in a corruption case involving MVR24 million after an Auditor General’s special report revealed the NDMC had photocopied, edited and reused ‘Credit Purchase Order Forms’ used in 2005, to withdraw the MVR24 million from the centre’s budget at the Finance Ministry.

The ‘Credit Purchase Order Forms’ were originally given to the Disaster Management Centre in 2005 to withdraw cash from the Tsunami Recovery Fund.

The auditor general’s report also suggested that the finance ministry was complicit in the alleged fraud.

Police have requested the prosecutor general press charges against Abdulla Shahid, Mohamed Shahid and seven other individuals.

The ACC in March 2012 had also accused the NDMC of corruption in a 2006 housing project worth MVR18million.

In 2013, the commission began investigation in 1316 cases of corruption, and completed 620 cases. The ACC forwarded 178 cases for prosecution.

Despite increased reports of corruption, the conviction rate is very low in the Maldives.


Majlis under threat, suggests outgoing speaker

“My projection of what I see for the next five years is very bleak,” says Abdulla Shahid.

“Those who want to make sure that the institution of parliament is a weak one – those who would like the institution to just be an executive office – have a majority today in the parliament.”

Shahid was today sworn in to stand alongside his fellow MPs in the 18th Majlis after having led the house from the speaker’s chair for the past five years.

With controversy already surrounding the appointment of his successor, Shahid has told Minivan News of his disappointment regarding what he sees as the persistent erosion of the institution’s powers and independence.

“What we are hearing, especially from President Abdulla Yameen today, is that the parliament has to be an institution which would continuously back the government, and that is what it has been from 1932 to 2009 – an institution that has always rubber-stamped whatever the executive or the president or the sultan wanted,” said the member for Henveiru North.

A member of the Majlis since 1995, Shahid was a founder member of the country’s second registered political party, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party – formed as part of the country’s democratic transition over the past decade.

However, in the aftermath of the chaotic transition of executive power in 2012 , Shahid switched his allegiance to the deposed Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), citing his fear that “opportunists & extremists” were trying to reverse the country’s democratic gains.

“There have been times when I have been slightly satisfied that the Majlis and the country are on the right path, but the entire five years put into context – looking back – I think we have not met the aspirations of the people, or what the people aspired for in 2008.”

Oversight and immunity

Looking back on his term as the first democratically elected speaker of the first democratically elected parliament, Shahid described an institution whose constitutional powers were under concerted attack.

“If you can look at the last five years in parliament – the continuous battering that parliament as an institution took was immense,” he recalled, suggesting that the source of this obstruction was the legislature’s oversight mandate – unprecedented in the Maldives’ history.

“The people over whom we have the oversight wouldn’t have liked it – like the executive, like the judiciary, like the military, like the police – no one liked the parliament bringing officials, executives, or officers to the parliament.”

“Peoples representatives asking questions – they didn’t like it, so they used whatever means – and I’m sad to say this, but the media extensively, to batter the institution of parliament,” said the former speaker.

The 2008 constitution also determined that the proceedings of the Majlis must be open to the public, a consequence of which appears to have been a collapse in the public’s confidence in the institution, according to a recent survey by Transparency Maldives.

The culmination of this “systematic attack”, argued Shahid, was the erosion of parliamentary privileges, almost as soon as the privileges act had been introduced after overriding a presidential veto.

“There was once again systematic propaganda to mislead the public on immunities and privileges, which are two different aspects of the parliament, but they were combined – it was projected to be the same thing and as a result I would say the parliament has suffered immensely.”

In November, the Supreme Court voided a number of articles included in the privileges act and subsequently sentenced MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor to a jail sentence for his failure to attend court hearings scheduled during voting hours – later overturned by the High Court.

MDP MP Abdulla Jabir has also been handed a jail sentence in relation to refusal to submit to urine testing, while two other opposition MPs were removed by the Supreme Court over decreed debt.

Speaking at the launch of a book chronicling the history of the Majlis this week, Shahid noted that over 100 MPs had been convicted and removed from office during the institution’s history.

“The new parliament coming in on the 28th, and even the sitting parliament, we don’t have any immunities,” lamented Shahid. “All these have been incorporated into the immunities act and the constitution based on our experience in the last several decades but they’ve all been taken away.”

He called upon all incoming MPs to work to ensure the institution’s immunities are restored in order to ensure they can fulfil their roles as representatives of the people.

“I think all MPs coming into the new parliament should understand that they are coming with a direct mandate from the people. They are not elected because they have the duty to protect the government of the day.”

“My advice would be to try and bring back the immunities that have been taken by the executive, and by the judiciary.”

The new speaker

During the interview, conducted prior to today’s ballot, Shahid appeared to predict the dissolution of the governing Progressive Coalition which the election of a new speaker has brought about.

With President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) keen to place a member in the speaker’s chair, and with coalition partner Gasim Ibrahim receiving the backing of the opposition MDP, the PPM this week forbade the Jumhooree Party leader from standing.

Gasim’s refusal to defer to his electoral allies appears to have resulted in the splitting of the coalition, leaving the PPM and the Maldivian Development Alliance just short of what had previously been a handsome majority in the 85-seat chamber.

While  today’s vote was subsequently won by the PPM’s Abdulla Maseeh, Shahid’s thoughts on Gasim’s candidacy and the ensuing divisions in the house again echoed his concerns over parliamentary independence.

“I talked to Gasim in the parliament about the immunities and he agrees that these immunities should have been incorporated into the constitution,” said Shahid. “If anybody would have the experience and not let the same mistakes be repeated, it would be Gasim.”

Of foremost importance, maintained Shahid, was the appointment of a speaker who understands that the parliament has moved on from its traditional role as an extension of the executive.

“Nobody holds a majority in the parliament, so once again we would have a parliament which is dysfunctional, which is not controlled by anybody and which on many occasions I foresee working with the opposition trying to block things that the government would wish to do,” he said.

“That is the only encouraging part in this scenario, because many of the things that the current government would want to do – based on what they have been talking about in their rhetoric – is making sure that there is a slide back to autocracy.”


State prosecutors halt all criminal trials

State prosecutors at the Prosecutor General’s Office have refused to attend hearings in the absence of a Prosecutor General (PG) and a deputy PG.

The office’s leadership is currently vacant with former PG Ahmed Muizz’s resignation in November 2013 and deputy PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation yesterday. Shameem said he was unable to carry out his duties due to the Criminal Court’s “obstruction” of criminal justice.

Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed told local media today the court will continue with criminal trials even in the absence of a PG or Deputy PG unless the Supreme Court indicates otherwise. Mohamed had previously halted all criminal proceedings for three weeks in January citing state failure to appoint a PG within the 30 days,

In response, PG office Spokesperson and lawyer Hussain Nashid told Minivan News state prosecutors were now in a “legal void,” and could not attend court.

“We have sent a letter to all courts where cases were scheduled, informing them we refuse to attend court, due to the legal void we are currently facing in the absence of a PG or a Deputy PG to lead us. We have not yet decided what action we will take in the future, but the general consensus is to wait till a relevant authority decides on the matter,” he said.

Shameem’s resignation and the state prosecutors’ refusal to attend court brings the criminal justice system to a halt.

Extraordinary session

Shameem has called on President Abdulla Yameen to submit a new PG nominee and the 17th People’s Majlis – currently in recess and rapidly nearing the end of its five year term – to approve a candidate immediately. The newly elected 18th People’s Majlis is to take the oath of office in late May.

Chair of the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee Ahmed Sameer has called on the current Majlis to find “a permanent solution” rather than wait on a Supreme Court ruling.

“The solution is to hold another meeting before May 28 and select a PG. I call on the relevant bodies to do so,” he told local media.

But Speaker Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News the Majlis cannot approve a new PG unless Yameen submits a new nominee. The president’s first nominee – his nephew Maumoon Hameed – narrowly failed to garner enough votes in March.

“How can the parliament sit to decide on the matter when there aren’t any submitted nominees?” he said.

President Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Shahid also added that he is not authorized to call an extraordinary session unless the President declares a state of emergency or one-third of the MPs request an extraordinary session.

“If a minimum of 26 members sign a motion asking for a special meeting to be held to decide on a matter in the parliament agenda, then it can be done. The government coalition has over 26 parliament members, so they will be able to do this if they so wish,” he said.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said the governing coalition has not held any discussion on the matter as many MPs belonging to the coalition government are out of capital city Malé.

“This matter had not risen back when the last meeting of the parliament was held. At the time, there was no indication that the Deputy PG would resign. So we haven’t really discussed the matter yet. I believe that we might be having an internal meeting relevant to the matter tonight,” he said.

Obstruction of justice

In his resignation statement yesterday, Shameem highlighted the Criminal Court’s failure to prosecute foreigners involved in drug trafficking, delays in issuing rulings on drug related offenses and “unreasonable obstacles” in filing cases at the court.

The Criminal Court and PG office have been at loggerheads since January, with the court agreeing to proceed with criminal cases only after two Supreme Court orders in three weeks. However, the court formulated new procedures to delay and impede the PG office’s ability to submit criminal cases, Shameem has previously said.

“These issues obstruct the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. I am deeply saddened to note the extreme delay on the part of those who have the power to address these issues,” he said yesterday.

MP Sameer contended Shameem cannot resign in the absence of a PG. It is the PG who appoints a deputy and hence the deputy cannot resign if there is no PG, he argued.

“Surely, the President cannot accept this resignation. That is something that can be done by a Prosecutor General. There is no one at the moment to accept the Deputy PG’s resignation. However, if Shameem is not getting the necessary cooperation and is unable to fulfill his duties, then he can stop serving for the time being. I do not see any other possibilities in this matter,” Sameer told Haveeru.

But lawyers have told Minivan News no person can be “forced” to remain in any particular position.

“The Deputy PG can most definitely resign. A person cannot be forced to stay in a position based on the possible outcomes of a resignation. If the PG can resign, then the Deputy PG can resign too. If the law does not define a course of action in the instance that the country is lacking a PG and a Deputy, it is the lawmakers who must come up with a solution. It cannot be reason to force someone to remain in a position against his will,” lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh said.

Another lawyer – on condition of anonymity – echoed Wajeeh’s views, adding “in the instance that we did not have a PG, it was the Deputy who was answerable to the oversight committee in parliament. Under that same logic, he can also resign if the PG can. The law must be interpreted in such a way that it does not allow for anyone to be in any position under force.”


Majlis to consider PG appointment at sitting on Monday

The Majlis has scheduled the sixth sitting of its current session for Monday April 14, when it will discuss reports on the appointment of new members to various institutions, including the post of prosecutor general (PG).

Earlier this month the independent commission’s oversight committee rejected President Abdulla Yameen’s nomination to the PG’s role, while the appointment of Dr Azeema Adam for the post of Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority was approved.

A new member of the Police Integrity Commission was approved during the same meeting and will also be discussed on Monday.

The committee of the whole house will also review amendments to the Airport Service Charge Act and the Act on Export and Import.

The house has not convened since April 2, with local media last week reporting that nothing had been scheduled on the agenda.

Secretary-general Ahmed Mohamed told Haveeru that the hiatus allowed committees to continue their work, with Speaker of the House Abdulla Shahid urging MP’s to hasten their efforts as the 17th Majlis draws to a close.

The final sitting of the current Majlis will take place later this month before the swearing in of the 18th Majlis next month.


Vandals attack campaign offices of Majlis speaker

Speaker of the People’s Majlis and MP for Keyodhoo constituency Abdulla Shahid has today condemned an attack on his office, following the news that two campaign offices had been vandalised in the early hours of the morning.

“It was more than damage, it was an attempt to intimidate,” Shahid told Minivan News, declaring that he “would not back down” in the face of “intimidation”.

Police have confirmed that two attacks that took place in the early hours of this morning (March 13).

Speaking with Minivan News, Shahid confirmed that he was awoken at around 4am by supporters saying that there had “been some damage to the office”.

“It looked like it had been a big piece of rock damaging the class panel, and caused considerable damage,” explained Shahid.

A police statement reveals that as well as vandalism carried out at Shahid’s campaign hall, the campaign offices of Machchangoalhi Dhekunu constituency candidate Hassan Mamdhooh.

Shahid is campaigning for the 18th Majlis on a Maldivian Democratic Party ticket, while Mamdhooh is running as an independent.

The police said they are investigating the matter, but that no suspects have been arrested.

Shahid suggested that the perpetrators were intending to “intimidate the public. They want to send a message to the people that politics is violent, politics is not safe, a message to the public to lay off politics.”

Earlier this week, Shahid’s name appeared on a letter sent to the chief justice and attorney general, stating that the recent dismissal of the president and vice president of the Elections Commission (EC) was contrary to the constitutional procedures which reserved such powers for the Majlis.

The letter – also signed by Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim – was based on legal advice from the parliament’s consul general after an analysis of the Supreme Court’s verdict.

Currently, the vacant seats in the EC are being filled in an effort to keep the parliamentary elections timely. So far, parliament has approved Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem to replace former commission member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed.

When asked about the parliamentary elections, Shahid remarked: “I’m hoping against hope that it will happen,”  adding that any more delays in the elections “will destroy the democratic process of the country”.

He finished by stating that the political system will only work when there is a “peaceful environment” in which it can flourish.


Speaker expresses concern over weakening of parliamentary privileges

Speaker of the People’s Majlis, Abdulla Shahid has expressed concern over the weakening of parliamentary privileges and fears over a return to how pre-2008 restrictions on politicians.

“As the speaker of the People’s Majlis I would like to say that all the constitutional rights guaranteed for the members of the parliament to express themselves without any fear in order to protect citizens’ rights have now been taken away,”  he said, speaking at the inauguration of a campaign center for MDP Gaddhoo-Vaadhoo constituency candidate Ibrahim Ameer,

Shahid noted that Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim was imprisoned under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration for expressing an interest to become the speaker of the People’s Special Majlis(constitutional assembly), after which Abbas Ibrahim -Gayoom’s brother in-law – was elected speaker.

He said it was to prevent such thing from happening that the Parliamentary Privileges Act had been designed in a way that no MP could be detained during a no-confidence vote against the president, cabinet, or institutions.

“We made that decision because such things have happened in the Maldives’ past. But this article has now been invalidated by the supreme court,” he said, stating that the government can now once again control votes by arresting MP s over petty charges.

Shahid also said that,  if the government coalition wins a majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections, the constitutional mandate for the People’s Majlis to hold the government accountable will become ‘useless’, adding that was crucial for the opposition MDP to win the election for this reason.

“The Majlis has a duty to hold the government accountable, how can one hold oneself accountable? If those who control the government win the parliament, Article 70 (b) 3 of the constitution will become useless.”

The article in reference states that parliament has the power to supervise the exercise of executive authority and to ensure executive authority is accountable for the exercise of its powers.

Shahid said that, prior to the 2008 constitution, Maldivians never got the chance to hold their government accountable and that anyone who dared to do so faced suffering, pain, and torture.


MDP will empower local councils: Nasheed

Former president Mohamed Nasheed has said the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will not allow the Maldives to become a “unitary state” and will empower local councils.

Speaking at an MDP rally held last night at Alimas Carnival area in Male’, Nasheed said that if MDP wins majority of the seats in the parliament, the party will arrange an uninhabited island for every council and provide councils with the means of making an income.

He said MDP will work within the parliament to ensure councils are given the authority to utilize land, and with that councils will fulfill the pledge of providing citizens with housing.

He noted the importance of allowing the councils to have the funds they earn in their own accounts.

Nasheed said the MDP accepted the presidential election result knowing that it was achieved through a court, and will work twice as hard to win the upcoming local council and parliament elections.

He announced his plans to visit every inhabited island of Maldives before 22 March.

“Maldives is clearly proving that a coalition government have no place under the constitution, President Yameen cannot rule except with the twenty six percent he won.” Nasheed said, reiterating his criticism of coalition governments.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom won 25.35 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections held on September 7. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the election and ordered a revote. Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) won in the second round with 51.39 percent of the vote after third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim backed the PPM.

People’s Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid also echoed Nasheed’s concerns over the state of local governance in the Maldives.

Describing decentralization as the biggest changed brought about by the 2008 constitution, Shahid accused then opposition parties of confusing the meaning of the decentralization act.

MDP candidates for local councils were announced at last night’s rally. The local council elections will be held on January 18 and Parliamentary elections are scheduled for March 22.


Maldives hosts 7th SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians Conference

The Maldives is hosting the 7th Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians (ASSP) at Bandos Island Resort and Spa.

President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated the three-day conference yesterday evening, and reiterated the Maldives’ commitment to furthering regional cooperation.

Calling on SAARC to be more relevant and responsive, Yameen said: “To keep abreast with the expectations of our peoples, we need to increase the relevance of SAARC, both as a tool for multilateral cooperation among our Member States, as well as in global politics and in international trade.”

Speakers from Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the secretary of Afghanistan’s parliament are in the Maldives for the conference.

Parliamentary delegations of Bangladesh and Nepal were unable to attend as Nepal had only held new parliamentary elections in November while Bangladesh’s parliament has been dissolved with new general elections set for January.

According to the people’s Majlis, the themes -“Strengthening democracy through institution building” and “Democracy and Inclusive Development – achieving SAARC  MDGs” – will be discussed at the conference.

The ASSP was established in 1992, with the aim of exchanging ideas and information on parliamentary procedures and information among parliaments and to strengthen South Asia as a stable and independent region.

The association’s work stagnated in the late 90’s due to political turmoil in the region, and was revived recently on the initiative of India’s Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, the People’s Majlis secretariat have said.

Welcoming the delegations, Maldives Speaker Abdulla Shahid noted all South Asian countries are now led by civilian governments.

Shahid noted the current parliament in the Maldives is the first fully elected parliament, but MPs have faced and overcome “almost every conceivable constitutional challenge.”

Further, the rights guaranteed to the parliament had constantly been tested by the executive and legislative branches of government.

Meanwhile, Kumar stressed the importance of parliaments and parliamentarians as democracy advances in the region and said SAARC parliaments can learn a great deal from each other’s parliamentary experiences.

Pakistan’s National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said South Asia consists of one-fourth of the world’s population, but continues to be the largest concentration of impoverished people.

South Asia is currently at a crossroads, of breaking with its past and possibly becoming the second largest economic powerhouse after China and East Asia, Sadiq said.

Meanwhile, female parliamentarians and the secretaries general of SAARC parliaments met on Saturday morning to discuss the opportunities and challenges for women’s political participation in South Asia and the methods to ensure a cost effective secretariat respectively.

The Women’s Committee has pledged affirmative action to increase women’s political participation whilst the secretaries generals proposed amending the charter of ASSP to constitute a Young Parliamentarians forum.

The Association’s General Assembly is to take place at Bandos Island Resort and Spa today and tomorrow (December 22 and 23).


MP Hamid calls for Majlis intervention to overturn Criminal Court sentence

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor has called on Members of Parliament to intervene in a High Court appeal to overturn a Criminal Court six month jail term issued in absentia.

Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed handed Hamid a six month sentence for disobedience to order after the MP refused to attend a separate trial over refusal to provide urine.

Hamid contends the Criminal Court’ summons were unlawful as hearings for the urine trial were scheduled during Majlis work hours in violation of the Parliamentary Privileges and Powers Act. He then sought refuge inside the Parliament House when the Criminal Court ordered the police to arrest him and present him at court.

“The Criminal Court first issued court summons in contravention to the Parliamentary Privileges Act and then sentenced me in absentia for making use of my parliamentary privileges,” Hamid said.

Hamid filed an appeal at the High Court to overturn the Criminal Court’s sentence but the case was dismissed today when Hamid’s lawyers failed to attend the hearing over an administrative error. Lawyers will resubmit the case tomorrow, he said.

Claiming the Criminal Court sentence endangers all MPs, Hamid said: “I call on all Members of Parliament to intervene in this case. This is not about refusal to provide urine. This sentence has clearly violated parliamentary privileges.”

Today is Hamid’s 28th day inside the Parliament House.

In a letter to the Speaker Abdulla Shahid, Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz said Judge Abdulla has acted against the norms in Hamid’s case.

Hence, People’s Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid has written to Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz to overturn the sentence contending the ruling violates the privileges afforded to MPs in the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act.

MP Riyaz Rasheed raised a point of order during today’s Majlis sitting to debate the state budget over Hamid’s “unlawful” presence in the Majlis.

In response, Shahid said he has asked the Chief Justice to advise him on the issue and stated: “As the Majlis Speaker I must uphold the laws you, honorable MPs, have passed when rulings against an MP is issued in violation of the privileges afforded to an MP in the Parliamentary Privileges Act and when such rulings are being implemented.”

Hamid has said the Criminal Court was on a “personalized hunt” for him and added: “I believe the objective of these show trials with manufactured narratives of drinking is a smear campaign targeted at reducing the number of my party Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs.”

The Inter Parliamentary Union has expressed concern over “the frequent intimidation, harassment and attack of MPs as they go about their work.”

A total of eight MDP MPs currently face criminal charges whilst MDP MP Ali Azim and MDP aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Mohamed Nashiz were disqualified from their seats by the Supreme Court in a controversial ruling over decreed debt in October.