JSC lawyer to be elected under new regulations

The Attorney General’s Office has compiled new regulations to elect a member to represent lawyers for the ten-member judicial oversight body.

The regulations publicised on Sunday set new qualifications for a lawyer to stand for the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). A lawyer must be above 25 years of age, and must not hold political party membership or a criminal record.

Further, if a lawyer has completed a five year term previously, they will not be eligible to stand again.

The election will be held at the AG office. The office will give ten days notice to all lawyers before elections take place. Polls will be open from 8:30am – 4: 30pm on election day. If the date falls during the month of Ramadan, polls will be open from 9:30am – 3:30pm.


AG withdraws from non-cooperation case against Raajje TV

The appeal case concerning the President’s Office’s refusal to cooperate with private broadcaster Raajje TV has been withdrawn by the Attorney General’s (AG) Office.

The office is quoted as saying in local media that the case was withdrawn because it was not the policy of the government to work against any media outlet.

An official from the AG’s office was quoted in online newspaper CNM as saying that the government’s policy was to provide equal opportunity to all media outlets.

On April 14, 2013, the Civil Court ruled in favour of the Maldivian Democratic Party-aligned Raajje TV after the President’s Office had barred the station from the then-President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s press conferences and functions.

The office told parliament’s government oversight committee that Raajje TV was not invited to press conferences as the station did not fit the criteria or standards of reporting set out by the President’s Office.

The policy of the President’s Office was to invite “responsible and experienced” media outlets, which included private broadcasters DhiTV and VTV, state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM), newspapers Haveeru and Miadhu, as well as internet publications Sun Online and Minivan News.

The Civil Court ruling was subsequently appealed at the High Court by the attorney general.

At the time, the Maldives Media Council also asked the prosecutor general to press charges against the President’s Office over what it found to be discriminatory treatment.

Raajje TV’s dispute with the President’s Office followed a similar disagreement with the Maldives Police Service (MPS) in 2012, during which police announced that they had stopped cooperating with the local broadcaster, alleging the station was broadcasting false and slanderous content which had undermined the services credibility of the MPS.

On February 5, 2013, the Civil Court ruled that a decision by the police to cease cooperating with opposition-aligned TV station Raajje TV was unconstitutional.

Raajje TV’s main studios were destroyed last October in a premeditated arson attack carried out by a group of masked men. After the police’s role in the incident was criticised by Reporters Without Borders, the Police Integrity Commission recommended charges be filed against two unnamed officers.

The station has also been the subject of a Supreme Court-ordered investigation into its alleged criticism of the court’s rulings. In December, police requested the Prosecutor General press charges against both the News Head of Raajje Television Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed and the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Station Abdulla Yameen Rasheed.


February 7 a failure of all state institutions, DRP: Umar Naseer

Prospective presidential candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Umar Naseer, has said the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012 happened as a result of the failure of all state institutions and the then largest opposition party, Dhivehi Rayiithunge Party (DRP).

“The HRCM (Human Rights Commission of the Maldives) had become an entity which was only good for releasing vague reports. We saw that only the PG was effective in that he did some work and made some strong, solid statements,” Umar said, speaking at a rally titled “In celebration of reclaiming the people’s government”, held by the PPM in celebration of the first anniversary of the change of power.

“The police and the MNDF had their hands tied by [former President Mohamed Nasheed], and could only do as he instructed them to. I’d describe the judges as having been kept kneeling on the ground. Even DRP’s leadership had failed at the time. This is why we had to leave them and form another party. But what I am saying is that at the time, even the opposition had failed,” Umar continued.

“As a result of the failure of all these institutions, the people came out, struggled through tear gas and rubber bullets, and finally succeeded in bringing Nasheed’s government to an end.”

DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom told Minivan News that the party “did not wish to comment on baseless, empty rhetoric.”

Umar told the approximately 600 people gathered at the rally that February 7 had been a result of “the hard work done by PPM members for the three years since November 11, 2008.”

“After having scored the golden goal and winning the match on February 7, our people bore many injuries when they went back home,” Umar said.

“Our people made their way through rubber bullets. Our people were hit by rubber bullets. Our people were admitted to hospital. Some of our people broke arms and legs. Many of them were arrested,” Umar stated.

“Many said to our people: ‘You won’t be able to do this’, but our people ignored these pessimistic remarks, ignored the pain they were in, and went forward to succeed.”

Citizens, police, MNDF changed government: Umar Naseer

Naseer alleged that had Nasheed’s administration not been toppled on February 7, Nasheed would have set in place “plans he had made to completely destroy the judiciary on February 8.”

Naseer alleged that Nasheed had planned to sideline the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and instead replace it with a self-appointed Judicial Reform Commission.

“The President’s Office has a copy of a circular that Nasheed had signed and prepared for release. This circular shows that he had made up a Judicial Reform Commission to which he had appointed Mariya [Ahmed Didi, former Chairperson and MP of MDP] as head, and other party officials who would do his bidding. He planned to have judges take oath in front of this commission instead of the JSC, and to declare that any judge who did not would no longer be allowed in our courts.”

Naseer compared the events of February 7 to other historical events in the Maldives.

“The day was similar to when the Portuguese tried to force alcohol down the throats of Maldivians. Bodu Thakurufaanu and his allies had come to Male’ and saved the country then. February 8 was about to become a day like this, but the people saved the country by toppling Nasheed on February 7,” Umar suggested.

“Even the Chief Justice was scared and apprehensive, not knowing just when Nasheed would send security forces to arrest him,” he alleged.

“The most ordinary people of this country came out and changed the government a year ago. They included police, MNDF soldiers and general citizens,” Naseer stated.

“February 7 didn’t happen due to any greatness of ours. It was a victory granted by the Almighty Allah. Of course, Allah only grants victory when some humans put in an effort, which is what we did.”

Legal action against Nasheed must be hurried: Naseer

Naseer further said that the state institutions were “once again leaning back on their hind legs” and failing to take legal action against Nasheed.

“The arson attacks on February 8 were the largest of their kind in the country’s history. It must be called the ‘big flame’. That day wouldn’t have come if this government had taken strong action against Nasheed. We would have been able to save so much then,” Naseer said, criticised the current government of which PPM is also part.

“But then, our government was very new at the time. It had suddenly ascended to power and had a lot of matters to settle. Maybe that’s why they failed to take necessary action.”

Naseer then said that the institutions were once again failing to function as mandated, citing their “failure to take action against the MDP who are orchestrating street protests and yelling near houses.”

“Mohamed Nasheed still comes out onto the streets. He does as he pleases. He says what he pleases. He goes to foreign countries. He is even destroying our tourism. He is calling out for various action to be taken against us. He is able to do all this, in my view, because our institutions continue to fail us. Please don’t let this happen,” Naseer said.

“Remember that this victory is only temporary. We will only have fully succeeded when we win the 2013 elections. PPM will do all possible to ensure this,” Umar said.

“But as our party does this work, I call on all state institutions, the Attorney General, Prosecutor General, judges in all the courts, to keep in mind the ‘big flame’ incident of February 8 and take necessary action against its perpetrators,” Naseer said.

“Most importantly, I call on them to very quickly look into Nasheed’s arrest of Abdulla Ghazee [Abdulla Mohamed, Chief Judge of the Criminal Court] and to take whatever possible legal action against him soon,” Naseer said, concluding his speech.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ahmed Thaufeeq was not responding to calls at the time of press. HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal and Prosecutor General Ahmed Muiz were also not responding to calls, as was MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor and MP Mariya Ahmed Didi.


Finance Ministry not working to recover funds lost through state incompetence: AG

The Finance Ministry has not been working to recover lost funds from the state, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim has alleged.

Speaking to local media, Niyaz said  the state treasury has suffered huge losses due to incompetence from state employees.

Despite audit reports revealing where money has been wrongly spent, Finance Ministry has not been working to recover the funds, Niyaz told local media.

“We are sending a copy of the audit reports from each institution to the Finance Ministry. We recommend the finance ministry to take action against them in which the ministry is involved.

“However there has not been enough work towards taking action against them, especially in the cases where the incompetence of some employees and other loss,” Niyaz was quoted as saying in local newspaper Haveeru.

The Auditor General said that transactions made against the state finance act and violations of travel procedures in government offices were common issues repeated in the audit reports.

Niyaz added that as some offices are repeating these mistakes, there will be a period of three months whereby the offices have to improve prior to an assessment at the end of the time period.

Cases of incompetence or deliberate acts of fraud resulting in losses of state funds are also being submitted to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) by the Auditor General, according to local media.


Chief of Defence Force not responsible for Judge’s arrest: AG

The Attorney General’s (AG) office has said Chief of Defence Force Moosa Ali Jaleel can not be held individually responsible for the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

The AG had appealed the Criminal Court summons of Jaleel, who never appeared as per the court’s original summons.

Presenting the AG’s appeal at the High Court Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham reminded those present that Judge Abdulla’s lawyers had filed the case against Jaleel at the Criminal Court, citing the judge’s arrest by Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) on the request of Maldives Police Service, local media reports.

Usham contended that the decision to arrest the judge was made by MNDF, which therefore should be summoned to the court. As Chief of Defence Force, Jaleel cannot be summoned over a case with which he has no direct affiliation.

Usham said the Attorney General’s office would represent the MNDF at court in the event that it is summoned.

When asked to specify the reasons why the Chief of Defence Force could not be summoned to court over the matter, Usham referred the court to the AG’s office.

Observing that the constitution requires every person and institution to comply with court orders, the court next inquired why Jaleel had not presented himself at the Criminal Court.

Usham responded that the High Court had issued a counter-stay order.

According to local media, the court will announce its verdict at the next hearing.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Mohamed Faseeh has also been prevented from appearing at the Criminal Court by a counter stay order on appeal at the High Court.


Supreme Court backs down from issuing ruling on legality of selling pork and alcohol

The Supreme Court has rejected the government’s request for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives can import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution.

Pork and alcohol are prohibited items under Shariah law.

The judges unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.

The Court did note, however, that pork and alcohol have been imported under provisions of the Contraband Act and that there is a regulation in favor of the trade. As no law has declared the regulation unlawful, the import of pork and alcohol is indeed legal, the court claimed.

Meanwhile, Article 10 of the Constitution states that “No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

The Constitution also states that any law not struck down by the courts is valid.

The government last week requested a consultative opinion from the Supreme Court on the matter to level a heated debate over the compatibility of resort tourism and Maldives’ national religion Islam, prompted by protests on December 23, 2011 in defense of Islam.

Responding to demands made of the government by the protesting coalition of religious NGOs and opposition parties, the government issued a circular closing spas in all resorts and announced it was considering a ban on pork and alcohol, in a move to align government policies with Islamic standards.

While the trade of alcohol is not conducted by the government, the government receives a significant profit of the trade from the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

In particular, opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) Leader and MP ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim owns Villa Hotels resort chain and is allegedly one of the biggest beneficiaries of the alcohol trade.

A tolerant society with a dependent economy

Since resorts first opened in the Maldives in the 1970s, tourism has been the core of the island nation’s economy. To accommodate the industry as well as the national Islamic faith, in 1975 the Ministry of Economic Development regulated the sale of pork and alcohol to tourist establishments (Act 4/75).

While there is no regulation or set of guidelines specific to spa operations in resorts, Article 15(a2) of the Goods and Services Tax Act stipulates that spas are legally accepted in the Maldives as tourism goods, and therefore may be operated in compliance with tourism regulations.

After its formation in 2009 the Parliament had nine months to reject any legislation which did not conform with the Constitution.

Parliament did not reject the regulation on the sale of pork and alcohol in 2009, thus allowing it to stand by default.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, Attorney General (AG) Abdulla Muiz believed that although the regulations were clear, legal clarification would mitigate concerns. He suggested that the recent debate has had more to do with internal politics than the oft-cited public preference.

“We are quite a tolerant society, although there a few elements which walk a hard line,” he observed. “I don’t think there is a public concern over the sale of alcohol and pork in resorts.”

The AG pointed out that the majority of the nation’s citizens are primarily interested in the quality of their daily life. He added that the population of 350,000 is annually trumped by the over 700,000 tourists would come to- and invest in – the Maldives.

“If there is a decision prohibiting the sale of alcohol in the tourism sector, it will have a great impact on the economy. The 2012 State Budget of Rf14 billion [US$946.8 million] is very much based on the estimated revenue from the tourism sector. And the government has obligations to investors–it has leased 100 resorts and awarded 5o to 60 islands for development. I hope the Supreme Court will take the economy into account,” he said prior to the Court’s decision.

Muiz said a court ruling would assure investors that the current system is valid.

A problematic profile

Two months ago, protestors demanded that UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay be “slain” for her comment against flogging as a punishment for extra-marital sex. One month ago, the coalition formed by religious groups and opposition parties for the “defend Islam” protest called for stricter regulations in keeping with Shariah law, notably stricter regulations on the sale of pork and alcohol and the closure of massage parlors “and such places where prostitution is practiced.”

International media subsequently reported the story with varying degrees of accuracy, presenting a Maldives starkly different from widely-marketed white sand and turquoise waters.

Noting that the tourism sector had suffered many cancellations in past weeks, MATI Secretary General Sim Ibrahim Mohamed previously pointed out that “people get jittery when you talk about fundamentalism, radicalism, extremism–since 9/11 these have been very sensitive words.”

Speaking to Minivan News last week, religious conservative Adhaalath Party chief spokesperson Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said, “Maldivians are very nice people, you don’t see any country like the Maldives in the Islamic world, so why would we want to damage these people? These are Muslim people and they like moderate views.”

Calling tourism “the backbone of our national economy”, Shaheem said he was “100 percent sure there is no prostitution in the tourism industry here. It is very professional, it is the most famous tourism industry in the world and is accepted by the international community. Why would we want to attack ourselves?”


Elections Commission audit report reveals “irresponsible” spending

Elections Commission of Maldives (EC)’s 2010 audit report has revealed that commission members “irresponsibly” used state funds to cover lavish medical insurance, buy ipads and expensive mobile phones while failing to maintain office records and recover money withdrawn from the budget by political parties.

Between 2008 and 2010 EC members and their dependents “irresponsibly” chose the “most expensive” medical insurance scheme available from Allied Insurance at Rf.35,000 per person, raising the level of insurance paid through the budget to Rf1.1 million (US$70,500).

According to the report made public on Thursday, the five EC members illegally withdrew allowances from the commission’s budget to pay a their mobile phone bills, totalling Rf74,155 (US$4,809).

Members of both the Civil Service Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) committed this violation, wrote Auditor General (AG) Niyaz Ibrahim in the respective audit reports.

The AG steadily notes that the salary and benefits of independent commission members are determined by the People’s Majlis (parliament), and that benefits do not cover phone allowances.

An additional Rf81,861 (US$5,308) was spent on the phone allowances of EC staff, which the AG reports was spent without the Finance Ministry’s approval.

The commission has also spent a total of Rf248, 790 (US$16,134) to buy mobile phones over the past three years, while the AG notes that the chosen models were the “most expensive” ones available in the market at the time.

While some phones are now missing, others have been gifted to staff despite the laws prohibiting the gifting of any state property or item to staff, the AG observed. He recommended that the phone costs be recovered from the staff members concerned.

EC staff also received a total of Rf971,807 (US$63,022) as overtime pay, although there was no record to confirm their work.

The report further reveals that EC members bought five ipads worth Rf 77,500 (US$5,025) in September 2011, after neglecting the AG office’s advice to the contrary.

The commission had previously been asked to use the existing 97 laptops and 250 netbooks, of which some were inexplicably lost.

AG noted the laptops were bought in violation of public finance regulation during the 2008 elections, a case now forwarded by ACC to the Prosecutor General Office.

The report also highlighted inefficiencies in the current mechanism for allocating funds to political parties, a task mandated to the EC.

AG Ibrahim explained that the existing policy to distribute 60 percent of the total funds based on the number of party members, and 40 percent equally among the existing parties, provides an “opportunity to misuse state funds”.

According to him, several parties have gained additional money by manipulating the number of party members, a concern often raised by the Elections Commission.

AG added that it is “financial fraud” and urged to take legal action against the responsible parties, while recommending that the fund distribution mechanism be revised.

He also highlighted that among the existing 15 political parties, several do not have the requisite 3,000 registered members while others are politically inactive.

Therefore, he recommends to stop funding parties with membership below 3,000. According to report statistics, nine existing parties would not qualify.

Since the state budget is a deficit budget, AG also recommends that funds allocated for political parties be determined by state income instead of the total state budget.

Currently, 0.1- 0.2 percent of state budget must be allocated to political parties.

In the past five years the commission has fined seven political parties up to Rf435, 000 (US$28,210) for not submitting the annual financial report on time. However, AG notes that 60 percent of that sum has not yet been collected.

AG also concluded that the EC’s financial statements for the past year do not show the “commission’s financial status accurately and honestly”.

The AG concluded that Rf11.4 million (US$740496) was allegedly distributed to atoll offices during the 2011 elections by the EC as an “expense in the financial statement”, however it has “not been spent in real” and some money still remains in island bank accounts.

Of the Rf75.2 million (US$4.9 million) released as an annual budget to the EC in 2010, the report found that only Rf52.3 million was recorded as spent.


High Court backs Gahdhoo Court order for AG representative to appear

The High Court has backed a summon chit sent by Gaafu Dhaalu Gahdhoo Court to the Attorney General Abdulla Muiz.

Gadhoo court ordered AG Muiz to appear on December 11, stating that he had failed to send a representative from the Attorney General’s Office (AG) concerning a case filed by a person claiming state pension for a 13 year tenure at a 100 percent state owned company.

The AG however appealed the case in High Court.

High Court noted that the Gadhoo court had sent four notices to the AG requesting to send a representative, prior to the summon chit sent directly to AG Muiz on December 4.

According to the High Court, a recipient of the summon chit must appear in court,  however noted that the AG is exempted, under the article 133 (c) of the constitution.

The article 133 (c) states, “The Attorney General has the right of audience in all courts of the Maldives, and the State shall be represented in all courts by the Attorney General or by a person delegated by him, except for those matters deemed to be the 49responsibility of the Prosecutor General in this constitution”.

Therefore the court decided that the Gadhoo court’s summon chit cannot be terminated as it does not “force” the AG to appear adding that he holds the right to send in a representative.

According to the local media, the Gahdhoo Court Judge claimed that AG Muiz was  guilty of contempt of court and requested the Prosecutor General to take action against him, and said that no exemption would be made if Muiz defied the summons.

The court has the authority sentence a person to up to three months for contempt of court.

Attorney General Muiz was not responding to calls at time of press.


High Court rejects Gassan’s case

The High Court has rejected the appeal submitted by Attorney General (AG) to re-arrest Gassan Maumoon, son of Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and to rule that his arrest was lawful, after the Criminal Court last week found that his detention was unlawful and ordered his release.

According to local newspapers the High Court rejected the case because the case was presented 48 hours after the ruling was made, and secondly because the case was presented by the AG.

The High Court said the AG cannot present criminal cases to the court on behalf of the state and that only the Prosecutor General (PG) has that authority.

Gassan Maumoon was arrested after a 17-year-old boy was severely injured in a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest against the judiciary that started near the Supreme Court and later moved towards the residence of former President.

The 17-year-old was struck in the head by a wooden plank that was allegedly thrown down from the former president’s residence. Gassan was subsequently accused of the violent act.

After the Criminal Court ruling, the police said they were confused whether the arrests made in the past will be lawful and said they were considering the release of many dangerous criminals who were arrested according the same procedures used with Gassan.

Following the ruling the police met with PG Ahmed Muiz for advice. The PG allegedly told the police officers to leave his office immediately.

The government concluded that it cannot work with the current PG and decided to forward a no-confidence motion against Muiz, which would lead to dismissal if passed.

However, the no-confidence motion has not been forwarded.