Majlis notifies vice-president of impeachment vote

The People’s Majlis has notified vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed of a resolution calling for his removal, and granted him 14 days to respond to charges.

The notice was sent on June 30. Jameel must respond orally or in writing by July 13.

The motion to impeach has not been placed on the Majlis agenda yet, secretary general Ahmed Mohamed said.

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had secured 61 signatures on the impeachment motion. A two-thirds majority or 57 votes of the 85-member house is required to remove the president or the vice president.

Jameel is in London at present. PPM MPs have said that President Abdulla Yameen has ordered his deputy to return and answer the charges. But Jameel told an Indian newspaper that he had obtained permission before travelling to the UK for a human rights seminar.

The parliament has changed its standing orders to fast-track the process of impeaching the vice president. The new rules state the Majlis can vote on the vice president’s impeachment without an investigation by a select committee.

Jameel has called his party’s attempts to remove him a “constitution coup,” and suggested that the international community should intervene.

Speaking to the New Indian Express on Tuesday Jameel said, “There is complete disregard for parliamentary procedure just to get the tourism minister after me. This is personal vengeance.”

PPM MPs have publicly accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence and are seeking to replace Jameel with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Responding to Jameel’s allegations, Adeeb told Haveeru that Jameel had fled the Maldives after a failed coup attempt.

“A lot of people are accusing him of leaving with a lot of money and a lot of things. He is even now accused of dereliction of duty and fleeing the country. He has left the country because the coup he had planned has failed,” he said.

Adeeb also slammed Jameel’s call for help from the international community.

Jameel told the New Indian Express he had carried out his duties as ordered by President Yameen. “The President has to tell me that I have not performed properly, but he never told me that.”

Minivan News was unable to reach Jameel at the time of going to press.

Jameel had kept silent on the petition for impeachment, but released a statement on Twitter on Tuesday, in which he accused the PPM parliamentary group of greed and said that MPs have arbitrarily amended the constitution for their personal interests.

The parliament last week passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set the new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency.

Adeeb is now 33. The constitution previously stated that candidates must be 35 years of age.

The opposition’s backing for the amendment is widely perceived to be a deal made in exchange for jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.

The government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are now preparing to begin talks to end a six-month long political crisis.

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MDP agrees to begin talks without Nasheed

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has decided to begin talks with the government without former President Mohamed Nasheed as a representative.

The government had rejected Nasheed as the MDP’s representative on the grounds that the opposition leader is serving a 13-year jail sentence. He was transferred to house arrest this week.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told the press today that the party’s national executive committee decided to proceed with the talks last night with the expectation that Nasheed will be allowed to participate at a later stage.

“The decision was made after discussions with Nasheed as well. He did not want to be a barrier to discussions between the party and the government,” said Fahmy.

Parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih will be the sole MDP representative at talks.

Fahmy said the MDP’s main demand is the withdrawal of charges against opposition politicians and supporters arrested from protests.

Some 400 people have been arrested since Nasheed’s arrest in February and many face criminal prosecution, he said.

Fahmy said the charges against opposition protesters was a major concern for the party.

The opposition MPs’ backing of a constitutional amendment to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and vice presidency yesterday was widely perceived to be part of a deal made in exchange for Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest for two months.

Fahmy said at today’s press conference that despite “misgivings,” the MDP parliamentary group had voted in favour of the amendment as a confidence building measure ahead of the talks with the government.

“We believe compromise is a very important part in a democracy,” he said.

President Yameen had called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties last month to resolve the ongoing political crisis, two weeks after a historic anti-government demonstration on May 1.

The MDP had proposed Solih, Nasheed, and chairperson Ali Waheed as the party’s representatives. Waheed is currently overseas in the UK along with Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed.

The JP leaders have been charged with terrorism over the May Day mass protest. The pair, along with Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, are accused of inciting violence in their speeches during the rally.

Meanwhile, Nasheed’s lawyer Hassan Latheef said today that the former president believes he will able to contest in the 2018 presidential election.

Latheef also said that he expected a positive development in Nasheed’s case at the UN working group on arbitrary detention in September. Nasheed’s legal team had filed a petition urging the working group to declare his detention unlawful and arbitrary.

Opposition politicians are describing Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest this week and the vote for the constitutional amendment as a first step towards political reconciliation between Yameen’s government and the opposition.

The ruling coalition is seeking to replace vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with 33-year-old tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Before yesterday’s vote, pro-government MPs had publicly accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence. A Progressive Party of Maldives MP called on Jameel last night to resign or face impeachment.

Opposition politicians and some media outlets have meanwhile claimed that President Abdulla Yameen is seeking a loyal deputy ahead of a life-threatening surgery. The government, however continues to deny rumors over the president’s health.

 

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“Police did not beat them enough,” says Majlis majority leader Ahmed Nihan

Ruling Progressive Party Maldives’ (PPM) parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan has defended police brutality during a People’s Majlis debate today, accusing opposition MPs of putting up an act using tomato sauce to pretend police beat them up.

“Honorable Speaker, police did not beat them enough. Those who say they were brutalised, came to Majlis the next day in good health with makeup on. Their health is better than before. How can anyone who was brutalised get up on their two feet and speak on this Majlis floor [the next day]?” he said.

“They say they were brutalised, bloodied, and put on a drama on hospital beds, smear themselves with tomato sauce, and take photos and the next day they speak perfectly well at this Majlis and go off.”

Nihan appeared to be referring to police officers brutalizing several opposition MPs during a demonstration following the controversial ouster of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

On February 8, MPs including MPs Mariya Ahmed Didi, Reeko ‘Moosa’ Manik, Eva Abdulla and former MP Mohamed ‘Bonda’ Rasheed were severely beaten.

Nihan’s comments came during a debate on revising clauses in the 2008 Police Act that state the police must forward criminal cases to the Attorney General (AG) for prosecution.

The amendments – accepted by the Majlis today – propose placing prosecutor general (PG) instead of AG in clauses relating to prosecution, as the Constitution of 2008 states only the PG can press charges on behalf of the state.

Nihan said opposition MPs had politicised the issue by digressing from the debate and focusing on police brutality.

Death of officers

Nihan also suggested the deaths of police officers, Adam Haleem on Kaafu Atoll Kaashidhoo Island in 2012 and Misbah Abdulla in Malé in 2013 were linked to opposition’s defaming of the Maldives Police Service.

Referring to Haleem’s murder, Nihan said: “This is the result of a specific people protesting and calling for attacks on Maldivian police and soldiers during that week and weeks before that.”

Haleem was stabbed to death in July 2012 and several government officials including current Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed blamed the MDP for the death. The MDP said the government was politicising the death for political gain.

Abdulla was killed in an accident after a speeding motorcycle hit him while he was manning a vehicle checkpoint.

“In every event, in every discussion, [they say police] are brutal, arresting – were you arrested when you were prostrating [in prayer]?” Nihan said.

“Harassing police is harassing us, playing with our arteries, our blood,” he continued.

Police Brutality

On August 6, AG Mohamed Anil told parliament five February 8 brutality cases involving four police officers are ongoing at the Criminal Court.

At minister’s question time, MP Eva Abdulla asked how far investigations into police brutality – as recommended by the 2012 Commission of National Inquiry’s (CoNI) – had progressed.

“With respect to the administration of justice, in particular concerning allegations of police brutality and acts of intimidation, there is an urgent need for investigations to proceed and to be brought to public knowledge with perpetrators held to account and appropriately sanctioned,” read the second recommendation of the report.

While it concluded that the transfer of presidential power was constitutional, CoNI had found that “there were acts of police brutality on 6, 7 and 8 February 2012 that must be investigated and pursued further by the relevant authorities.”

Anil explained that the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) had investigated 45 cases of alleged police brutality and made a recommendation to the home ministry to dismiss six police officers. However, only one officer was sacked, Anil said.

February 8

Thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets of Malé on February 8, 2012, in a protest march after former President Nasheed declared his resignation the previous day had come “under duress” in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinying police officers of the Special Operations (SO).

Following an investigation, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) concluded that the heavy-handed police crackdown on the MDP walk was “brutal” and “without warning.”

The HRCM recommended the PIC investigate the “disproportionate” use of force that left dozens of demonstrators injured and hospitalised.

In May 2013, the PG’s Office pressed charges against two police officers accused of assaulting MDP MPs ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik and Mariya Ahmed Didi during the violent crackdown.

Amnesty International meanwhile warned that failure to prosecute police officers accused of human rights abuses and “serious failings in the justice system entrenched impunity”.

In June 2013, former PIC member Hala Hameed told parliament’s government oversight committee that the cases involving the six police officers were “not disciplinary issues, but crimes,” expressing concern with the home minister’s refusal to suspend the officers.

Moreover, former PIC Chair Shahinda Ismail told Minivan News in September 2012 that a staff sergeant caught on tape kicking a fallen demonstrator “was promoted after this incident.”

In February this year, Shahinda told Minivan News that detainees arrested in Addu City on February 9 were “forced to walk on smoldering coals”.

According to the HRCM report, 32 people filed complaints concerning varying degrees of injuries sustained in the crackdown, while 20 people submitted medical documents of their treatment of injuries.

Two fingers on the left hand of one demonstrator were crushed, the report noted.

Al Jazeera filmed parts of the crackdown, reporting that “police and military charged, beating demonstrators as they ran – women, the elderly, [with] dozens left nursing their wounds”. The BBC meanwhile reported “a baton charge by police on crowds gathered outside one of the main hospitals.”

In a report in May 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur for Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul warned that there could be more instability and unrest unless serious human rights violations of Maldives’ authoritarian past are addressed.

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Goverment to amend Decentralisation Act

The Government has proposed an amendment to the Decentralisation Act in a bid to cut spending on the Civil Service.

The Act, regarding local councils, currently ensures that five council members must be elected for every island with less than 3000 people, while islands with more than 3000 people are entitled to seven councilors.

In cities, one councilor is elected for each constituency.

The proposed amendment amalgamates the island and atoll councils to a limited extent.

Individuals may belong to both councils, and there will no longer be separate elections for the atoll councils.

Ibrahim Muaz, spokesman for the President’s Office, said, “the president’s thinking is not to cut-down on the number of councilors. But to elect councilors based on the population of the islands. This is a move to curb State expenditure.”

The government hopes to implement the amendment before the local council elections in January.

However, Moosa Manik, MP for Hulhu-Henveiru and Chair of the Parliamentary National Security Committee, warned that it may be impossible to implement the changes before January.

The committee has recently passed other local council reforms, including designating any island with more than 10 000 people a city (currently 25 000) and inviting the president of the women’s committee into council.

The Maldivian Democratic Party had proposed similar legislation in 2010, aiming to cut down on administrative costs by establishing seven provinces in place of the twenty-one atoll system.

The bill was shot down by opposition MPs, mostly from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, on the grounds that the proposed changes were unconstitutional.

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Independent MP contests government agreement with GMR over ADC

Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed has said the government is circumventing the Civil Court’s ruling against a US$25 Airport Development Charge (ADC) by agreeing to deduct the anticipated revenue of US$25 million from GMR’s concession fee.

Nasheed also contends that the government has not breached its contract with GMR, but rather that the contract was breached by outside forces.

The minority Opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) has also announced that it will investigate the recent amendment to the government’s contract.

GMR was set to collect US$25 from all passengers departing on international flights starting January 1, 2012. The expected revenue was to cover certain costs for the development of Male’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

According to Nasheed, any agreement between the government and GMR will not undo the Civil Court’s ruling against the ADC. He argued that the court ruling rendered the clause allowing for an ADC null and void.

“That’s the only decision that interprets or explains the local law at the moment, and it has not been overturned, it has not been struck down by a superior court, therefore that is the position. You can’t circumvent it by deducting receivables from GMR,” said Nasheed.

“Now, the only viable option for the government would be to amend the legislation, allow for the GMR or any other party to collect ADCs or these kind of taxes in future, and then bring the GMR issue within the legislation as an amendment,” he said, adding that an amendment to the law would protect the government from incurring losses to ensure a base line of revenue for GMR.

A related bill is currently awaiting Parliamentary review in March. Nasheed understood that the ADC would be collected by the government only three times per year, yet “it is only January 10 and already the government is trying to make this agreement and circumvent the court decision.”

Meanwhile, the government is also awaiting the High Court’s verdict on the Civil Court case, which was appealed in December. Nasheed said a contract cannot be revised while it is before a court.

Previously, members of the government including President Mohamed Nasheed have expressed firm support for the contract with GMR. Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of a new terminal construction project at INIA, the President said the Maldives was “200 percent” behind the contract, while Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair yesterday stated, “it should be a matter of pride and joy for any Maldivian to help with the development of their airport.”

DQP previously voiced strong opposition to the deal with GMR, filing a case at the Civil Court and releasing a booklet entitled “Handing the Airport to GMR: The beginning of slavery.”

In MP Nasheed’s opinion, however, the government has allowed itself to be bullied into a compromise of terms.

The agreement implies that the government has taken responsibility for the ADC as stipulated in the original contract with GMR. If the ADC is charged for the duration of the 25-year contract, the government could potentially be facing a total payment of US$625 million for GMR’s investment of US$400 million in the airport project.

“The government gets peanuts at the end of the day,” Nasheed said.

“My argument to the government would be, Maldives government too must have gotten into this relationship based on certain calculations. Why should the Maldivian government suffer their calculations to keep GMR’s calculation unaffected by the court decision, over which the government has no control?”

Addressing the matter in a press statement yesterday, the Ministry of Finance claimed that the contract between GMR and the government would be violated in the event that GMR could not collect a stated fee. Therefore, the government had breached its contract.

The ministry did express support for the government’s recent agreement, however, stating that any damages should be deducted from GMR’s concession fee due the government.

Expressing shock at the Ministry of Finance’s statement, Nasheed clarified his intent to defend the government from the ministry’s first point.

“I would like to defend my government and say that the government did nothing on its own or within its control to breach an agreement. They have allowed certain charges to be made based on an opinin of the Attorney General that that charge was permissible under Maldivian law. Now, the Civil Court has said otherwise, and the government has not done anything to breach the contract. It’s a frustrating event that’s happened outside the contract and the government won’t take any responsibility for that.”

Nasheed today said he understood that a only small fraction (12 to 15 percent) of internationally-bound travelers leaving INIA are Maldivians.

“If the ADC was allowed, the burden of payment would have been born by international passengers, and only 12 percent Maldivians. And the government won’t have to bear any burden because the fee would be collected directly from passengers by GMR,” he said, reiterating that under the current arrangement the government would be paying revenue to GMR.

Minivan News asked whether exempting Maldivians from the ADC could put the matter to rest.

Nasheed believed exemption could improve the situation, and added that parliamentarians have discussed exemptions for Maldivians traveling to SAARC countries.

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Independent MP proposes amendment to “defend” local businesses from airport developer

Kulhudhuffushi-South Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed has proposed an amendment to the Business Registration Bill in a bid to reserve airport shops and services for local ownership.

India infrastructure giant GMR currently claims exclusive rights to certain duty free items to be sold at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), he said.

“My view is that GMR’s role has shifted from management to ownership,” Nasheed told Minivan News. “This is all about excessive and detrimental penetration into the local economy.”

A parliamentary committee is reviewing the bill and its proposed amendment.

In response to inquiries from Minivan News, GMR issued the following statement: “As part of the concessionaire we follow the terms and conditions of the agreement between the government of the Maldives and us and expect the government too to abide by it.

“The concessionaire agreement grants and specifies entitlement to directly or concession out retail activities at INIA.”

GMR is currently leasing Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) for a 25-year development project. Upon assuming management of the airport earlier this year, all airport shop contracts were set to expire on December 31, 2011 as per an earlier agreement with Maldives Airline Company Limited (MACL), with the exception of Spice Island.

The Economic Ministry today announced that GMR Male’ Retail has been registered in the Maldives. It is one of two locally-registered businesses under the corporation’s name.

Nasheed said his proposal refers to “duty free, customs clearance, cargo clearance, and the management of bonded warehouses,” industries which he believes can safely be trusted to Maldivian ownership.

“I have always objected to divesting ownership of Maldivian businesses with foreign investors when the business is within the local capacity and competency,” he explained.

“I respect that there are some areas of business and industry in which the Maldives has neither capacity nor competency. But the enterprises covered in my proposal have traditionally been local affairs. There is no reason to exclude them now simply as perks for foreign investors.”

Nasheed pointed out that many Maldivian businesses grew up around and depend on airport operations. Maldivian Island Aviation has allegedly lost business since the transfer of management, while the group running the Commercially Important Persons (CIP) lounge is now defunct.

In November of this year, GMR announced its intention to take control of cargo handling services starting in 2012. The move has allegedly forced Maldivian businesses Freight Forwarding Services and Bonito Group to lay off several employees.

In recent news, the Alpha MVKB duty-free shop at the airport was forcibly vacated by GMR and Customs officials eight months after GMR’s original notice. Rulings from the Civil and High courts upheld GMR’s right to terminate the shop’s contract, however company CEO Ibrahim ‘MVK’ Shafeeq has launched a protest under the slogan ‘Go GMR Go!’

“I understand the contractual obligation on the government’s part, and I respect the bidding process and the business competition that comes with it,” Nasheed reflected. “The airport is a gateway for tourism, but GMR’s excessively favorable terms are excessively disadvantageous to Maldivians.”

The Maldivian government signed a 25-year contract with GMR on 28 June 2010.

Under the contract the Maldivian government receives:

  • A sum of US$78 million as advance payment which is to be deducted from the profit due to government.
  • 1% of the Gross Revenue in the first four years (2010-2014) and 10% of the Gross Revenue from the general business in the remaining years.
  • 15% of the Gross Fuel Sales in the first four years and 27% of the Gross Fuel Sales in the remaining years.
  • GMR is also to invest US$375 million over a period of 25 years in construction of the new terminal.

Nasheed claimed that the government saw the GMR deal as an income generating source to solve income problems at the time. “But the deal wasn’t revised over the years,” and GMR has meanwhile made significant profits from jet fuel sale.

“GMR gets its fuel from State Trading Organisation (STO). STO rates have remained the same over the past year, however GMR’s rates have been raised twice.” He added that landing and airline fees have increased, and voiced concern that the price hike would deter business.

Meanwhile, GMR has recently opened a 30-office Airline Offices Complex, and several airlines including Ethihad and Hainan have lately begun services to Male’.

The Business Registration bill reserves certain areas of business for local owners. Nasheed said his proposal aims to enlarge that domain by two to three commodities.

“I intend to use my role as a parliamentarian to propose this amendment,” he said. “It’s just an initial step for the proposal, and I’m not sure whether it will survive the whole process. But I’m hopeful and I feel good about having done it.”

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Amendment to open visa laws sent for further review

An amendment to the Immigration Act was sent to the National Security Committee for review with 56 votes in favour and 31 against.

The bill, presented by Hulhu-Henveiru MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik, would give foreign businessmen and investors in the Maldives easy access to resident visas. The amendment bill is part of the government’s 18-bill economic reform package.

The amendment would make visas available to foreigners married to Maldivians; legal guardians of children born in marriages including a Maldivian; investors; investors involved in government material and financial development projects; and foreigners providing technical service.

An amendment to the parliamentary rules of procedure to allow foreign heads of state and dignitaries to address parliament was meanwhile passed 59-2 at today’s sitting.

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Independent Bodies Committee reviews ACC, JSC, and others

Parliament’s Independent Bodies Committee is reviewing the activities of independent state groups, reports Haveeru. Among the groups reviewed are the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The committee, chaired by independent MP Mohamed Nasheed, is assessing the challenges to productivity among certain state groups. Nasheed said the committee will also review opportunities for growth.

The committee is said to have found some significant reasons for concern.

Nasheed said these issues would be addressed with budget reform measures and amendments to existing laws.

A report on the committee’s findings is due before parliament in October.


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Amendment to Decentralisation Act allowing joint development projects among atolls defeated in Majlis vote

An amendment to the Decentralisation Act was rejected by a 5 vote majority in the yesterday’s sitting of the Majlis – 37 MPs against, 32 MPs in favor.

The current Decentralisation Act states that only the Majlis can authorise inter-atoll projects or combine two or more administrative units (an atoll or part of an atoll designated as an administrative unit) for economic, social or administrative purposes.

The amendment aimed to provide more leverage to the administration to implement joint economic and social projects between two or more atolls, or administratively divided parts of an atoll, reported Miadhu Daily.

DRP MPs spoke strongly against the amendment, and criticised the current administration.

President Nasheed (a member of the MDP) signed the Decentralisation Act into law on 17 May 2010.

MDP MPs criticised the DRP and other opposition parties for voting against government proposals which would benefit the Maldivian people, reported Miadhu Daily. MDP MPs said that the DRP’s words do not match their actions which they described as a sign of an irresponsible opposition, and MDP MPs said that DRP’s main strategy at the moment was gaining support through creating fear against the MDP administration and destroying the trust between the administration and the people, reported Miadhu Daily.

MDP MPs also said the opposition parties were conducting a major smear campaign in its efforts to oust the executive government before the end of its 5 year term, reported Miadhu Daily, and MDP MPs also cited examples from EU and ASEAN showing that joining two or more administrative units for economic purposes would bear fruit because unity is the key to development.

The amendment had been presented to the Majlis by the MP for Henveiru-South, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

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