Parliament approves Habeeb to Elections Commission with unanimous consent

Parliament has approved Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem with 60 votes in favour and none against to the Elections Commission (EC) to replace former commission member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed.

Following Waheed’s resignation in October last year citing poor health, President Abdulla Yameen nominated three individuals to fill the vacancy on the five-member commission, submitting their names to the People’s Majlis.

All MPs belonging to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in attendance today voted in favour of approving Habeeb to the post.

After interviewing Yameen’s nominees last night, the opposition-majority independent institutions oversight committee awarded Habeeb the highest marks and recommended approving his appointment to the commission.

Presenting the committee report (Dhivehi) to the Majlis floor today, Deputy Chair MP Rozaina Adam noted that one of the three nominees – former Deputy Commissioner of Police Mohamed Rishwan – did not turn up for the interview.

Meanwhile, after interviewing the third nominee, Mohamed Tholal – chair of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) elections committee – the committee learned that his wife was contesting in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Rozaina said.

Tholal had conceded that he could face a conflict of interest in EC decisions concerning the Maradhoo constituency poll, she added.

In the ensuing debate on the committee report, PPM MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur said there were “no questions about Ismail Habeeb’s competence” as he had previously served as the EC’s executive director and director general.

Habeeb was sacked from the EC in January 2013 before contesting his dismissal at the Labour Tribunal. The tribunal ordered his reinstatement in August 2013, by which time he has been appointed to the Civil Court as its senior administrator.

Government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance MP Ahmed Amir meanwhile accused former EC members of “favouring a particular political party”.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed asserted that EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz had become “sacrificial lambs”, and praised their “hard work and service to the nation.”

The EC members had worked “like slaves during the time of the Pharaoh” under difficult circumstances to ensure citizens’ right to vote, he said, adding that unfounded allegations against the pair were “shameful”.

The outcome of last year’s presidential poll would have been different if the allegations were true, Nasheed said.


Habeeb’s confirmation to the EC today follows the Supreme Court’s controversial removal of Thowfeek and Fayaz on Sunday on contempt of court charges.

The dismissals left the EC without the three members required for a quorum to hold meetings and approve decisions, raising doubts over the commission’s ability to prepare for and conduct the parliamentary elections as scheduled on March 22.

The Supreme Court judgment also ordered the executive, parliament, and the EC to “make all necessary arrangements” for the polls within six days.

While the President’s Office invited interested candidates to submit applications in the wake of the apex court ruling, Speaker Abdulla Shahid sent a letter to President Yameen, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, and Attorney General Mohamed Anil contending that the dismissals were unconstitutional.

The letter – based on legal advice provided by parliament’s Counsel General Fathmath Filza – stated that the pair were removed in violation of procedures specified in both the constitution and the Elections Commission Act for the appointment and dismissal of EC members.

Based on the counsel general’s advice, the independent institutions committee decided that Thowfeek and Fayaz remained EC members and summoned all four commissioners to a closed-door session yesterday.

The oversight committee had also summoned members of the Judicial Service Commission to discuss the Supreme Court’s ‘sumoto’ regulations as well as possible actions against the apex court.

However, with the exception of Civil Service Commission Chair Dr Mohamed Latheef and Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, JSC members refused to attend the meeting, citing short notice.

The oversight committee decided to summon members of the judicial watchdog body again on Friday (March 14).

Meanwhile, MDP Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik told local media yesterday that the opposition party wished to see the Majlis elections take place as scheduled on March 22.

Moosa had adjourned an MDP national council meeting earlier this week without calling a vote on a proposal to boycott the polls, stating that the party’s 85 candidates should be consulted before approving such a decision.

The Hulhuhenveiru MP suggested that the polls could be held on March 22 if parliament approved a third member to the EC as most of the preparations had been completed.


Adhaalath Party President vows to dissolve parliament, force MPs to resign

Additional reporting by Neil Meritt

The Adhaalath Party has threatened to dissolve parliament for “not functioning constitutionally”, by pressuring members to resign “just as former President Nasheed was” in February 2012.

President of the Adhaalath Party (AP), Sheikh Imran Abdullah, claimed parliamentarians were not conducting themselves according to the constitution or serving the Maldivian people.

Imran was speaking during a ‘National Movement’ event held at the Artificial Beach in Male’ on March 19, reported local media.

“If the parliament continues to fail to function according to the wishes of the people, Members of Parliament will be pressured to resign in in a similar manner as former President Mohamed Nasheed,” Imran declared.

“God willing, we will dissolve the parliament if it is not conducted according to the constitution. If they don’t want that, they should follow the constitution. We want the parliament to be an honourable place,” he added.

Imran claimed the recently ratified Parliamentary Privileges Act and Political Party Bill are not constitutionally valid laws.

“The Supreme Court has the authority to declare void laws that are enacted in violation of the constitution. So the recently-made Privileges Act and Political Party Act for which protests have been held after they were returned without ratification, are void.

“No action can be taken based on the void articles in these laws. We are not concerned about being accused of violating MPs’ privileges,” he said.

President Mohamed Waheed ratified the two controversial bills – the Parliament’s Privileges Bill and Political Parties Bill – despite previous claims that the two bills had several lapses and “unconstitutional” elements.

Following the President’s initial vetoing of the two bills, parliament overruled the presidential veto by a house majority and forced the bill into law, giving the president no option but to ratify the bills – one of which would see the dissolution of his own political party.

“Not a pressing issue”: Deputy Speaker Nazim

During parliament’s session Wednesday (March 19) MPs presented the issue to the Majlis floor considering Sheik Imran’s comments, a parliamentary official told Minivan News.

“Deputy Speaker of Parliament, MP Ahmed Nazim, who was chairing the sessions, said the matter was not a pressing issue despite concerns the comments were contrary to immunity provided for Majlis members.

“Pointing to parliament’s rules of procedure, Nazim requested any concerns on the matter be forwarded to the parliamentary committee overseeing MP privileges and immunity,” the official added.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) both reflected the parliamentary sentiments that Imran’s remarks were of no concern.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor dismissed Imran’s remarks while speaking to Minivan News today.

“Sheik Imran has no understanding of public opinion. Parliament is very popular and the public looks to their elected representatives to solve problems,” claimed Ghafoor.

“As usual, he has got it wrong as he found out people do not like the coup he helped pull off by radicalsing groups of police and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF).

“I think parliament is the only democratic institution left. The judiciary has been proven to be corrupt and my party has declared their intention to replace the supreme court bench,” Ghafoor added.

DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef agreed, telling Minivan News that Imran’s comments were merely rhetoric.

“Imran is not serious, it’s all rhetoric with no meaning or substance. No such thing [as in the dissolution of parliament] is going to happen. All political leaders have rhetoric, it’s not something to worry about,” said Shareef.

“In fact our political climate is so polarised political leaders seek to please their constituencies. If things our political leaders said were true, we would have landed on the moon by now.

“This is not the way it should be. It does a lot of damage over the long term. It’s very sad, but has become a commonplace reality of life,” Shareef stated.

Unlike Ghafoor, Shareef maintained that the supreme court is a legitimate institution.

“The supreme court is one of the properly functioning institutions. It is not colored by the polarised political climate here,” claimed Shareef.

The “national movement” was born out of the unofficial December 23 coalition of eight political parties and an alliance of non-governmental organisations that rallied to “defend Islam” in late 2011 from the allegedly liberal policies and “secularisation agenda” of former President Nasheed.

The Adhaalath Party and Progressive Party of Maldives were not responding to calls at time of press.


People’s Alliance confirms “attempts” under way to reconvene Majlis next week

Senior representatives from the government-aligned People’s Alliance (PA) party have said attempts are under way to reconvene the People’s Majlis by next week.  Parliament was indefinitely suspended late last month by Speaker Abdulla Shahid over concerns about maintaining order in the Majlis chamber.

PA MP Moosa Zameer told Minivan News today that Majlis Deputy Speaker and fellow PA MP Ahmed Nazim had confirmed that the speaker was committed to restarting parliament by next week – despite no agenda yet being set.  Both Nazim and Speaker Shahid were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile said it had been aware of the speculation over reconvening parliament next week, but added that it was “impossible to say” ahead of an MDP National Executive Committee meeting today whether an agreement could be reached on the matter.

Just last week, informal parliament-initiated talks – running parallel to the formal All-Party talks – were deemed to have stalled after participants failed to reach a consensus on resolving wider ongoing political deadlock and the suspension of the Majlis.

Following last week’s meeting, resort tycoon and leader of the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP), Gasim Ibrahim, called for the resignation of the speaker after he did not appear at the high-level talks.

Shahid said he had decided to suspend Parliament indefinitely pending a resolution to the ongoing political turmoil.

Parliament temporarily reconvened for a one-off emergency session in early August as government-aligned and opposition MPs agreed to extend the General Regulations Act until April 2013.  The Majlis has not held a session since the vote was passed.

However, MP Zameer claimed today that ahead of a Majlis recess scheduled for next month, it was important to reopen discussions between elected MPs through parliamentary channels.  Zameer claimed reconvening parliament remained the most viable path to ensure a potential political breakthrough.

“I think we need to go back to the Majlis, once we have dialogue there, we can begin to discuss key issues,” he claimed. “We need to get back to the Majlis to see what can be done and at least talk about finding a solution.”

Quoting MDP MP Ali Waheed, who represented the opposition party at last week’s informal talks, Zameer said that it had been agreed that it was down to Speaker Shahid to decide on reconvening the Majlis.  He claimed therefore that the MDP was not taking responsibility for the suspension.

The MDP has itself been criticised in local media by the government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) for its conduct and perceived role in having parliament suspended, which was claimed to be an “infringement” of democratic rights in the country.

DQP Vice President and Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed was at the time quoted by local newspaper Haveeru in calling for parliament to press ahead with its work to amend and enact national legislation such as through restarting various parliamentary committees.

However, despite the ongoing political stalemate, Zameer contended that it has been possible, despite the current highly partisan environment, to reach compromises in parliament; such as with the recent reconstitution of the Majlis’ committees.

“During the events of the last two months we have discussed and agreed to a compromise that I proposed for the MDP to have more members on the Government Oversight Committee,” he said.

The PA – led by Deputy Speaker Nazim – last month gave up its seat on the Government Oversight Committee to the former ruling party in exchange for one of the MDP’s four seats in the Finance Committee.

Zameer claimed that although there was still concerns amongst government-aligned parties about the MDP’s commitments to ceasing street protests, he believed the Majlis remained the only institution at present where an agreement had the potential to succeed.

“It is certainly a lot better than sitting at home doing nothing,” he said.

Should parliament reconvene next week as speculated by the PA, Zameer added that there were “a lot” of pending issues needing to be addressed, including a number of reports compiled by parliamentary committees that needed to be returned to the floor for debate.

“Had the Majlis convened one week earlier [than currently anticipated] you’d have seen a lot of work being done by MPs,” he claimed.  “There are issues lying there right now that have a wide consensus to be enacted ,” Zameer added, not providing specifics.

MP Ali Waheed, who represented the MDP during last week’s informal parliament-initiated talks designed, was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

However, MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the issue of resuming parliament would be discussed at a meeting of the MDP National Executive Committee today. Ghafoor claimed no agreement had yet been reached on setting a date for parliament to resume.

“My understanding is that we will give our cooperation to the Majlis for it to conduct meetings once we have seen how talks are progressing,” he claimed.

Ghafoor claimed that, with the MDP continuing to question the legitimacy of the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, the party was waiting for progress in securing early elections through ongoing road-map talks before returning to the Majlis.

“It is impossible to say if an agreement will be reached on resuming parliament. I have been made aware of such suggestions, but there has been no public announcement on this matter,” he said. “Right now this talk [of reconvening the Majlis] is just speculation. There is no room for speculation in the current climate.”


Deputy Speaker Nazim submits six witnesses in corruption trial

Deputy Speaker of Parliament MP Ahmed Nazim submitted six witnesses in his defence last week at the ongoing corruption trial at the Criminal Court.

The minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) MP is facing multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the former Atolls Ministry.

Among the witnesses submitted by Nazim at Thursday’s hearing were MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, who is also facing similar charges of corruption for his role in the alleged scam as director of finance at the now-defunct Ministry of Atolls Development.

The fraudulent purchases of harbour lights, national flags and mosque sound systems were first flagged in an audit report released in early 2009.

Following an investigation into the allegations in the report, Chief Inspector Ismail Atheef said at a press conference in August 2009 that police had uncovered evidence that implicated former Atolls Minister Abdullah Hameed along with MPs Saleem and Nazim in a number of fraudulent transactions.

Police exhibited numerous quotations, agreements, tender documents, receipts, bank statements and forged cheques showing that Nazim received over US$400,000 in the scam.

A hard disk seized during a raid of Nazim’s office in May 2009 allegedly contained copies of forged documents and bogus letterheads.

Police maintained that money was channelled through the scam to Nazim who laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies.

Thursday’s hearing meanwhile focused on charges that Nazim used employees of Namira Engineering while he was the company’s Managing Director to submit bids in the name of two companies called Tech Media Service Pvt Ltd and Standard Electric Works Pvt Ltd to provide 220 harbour lights to the Atolls Ministry.

Nazim allegedly received Rf1.9 million after Namira Engineering was awarded the project.

Nazim however presented as witnesses two directors of Tech Media Service and a director of Standard Electric Works to prove that both companies were aware that a bid was submitted in their names.

MP Saleem and a former employee of the Atolls Ministry, Moosa Naeem, was submitted as witnesses to establish that the ministry received the 220 harbour lights.

The prosecution meanwhile presented as evidence the police investigation report, cheques issued by the state and bogus letterheads found during a police raid on Namira Engineering in May 2009.


Media Council condemns Criminal Court for excluding journalists from Deputy Speaker’s corruption trial

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has condemned the Criminal Court for barring journalist from a corruption hearing involving Parliament’s Deputy Speaker and People Alliance Party (PA) MP Ahmed Nazim.

The council issued the statement following the Criminal Court judge’s decision, stating that the court’s claim that journalists were blocked because they gave a negative perspective on the court was not probable grounds to disallow journalists from hearing the trial.

The Council said that the Criminal Court’s decision would prevent the court from gaining public confidence.

The MMC’s press statement said the decision to bar journalists from the trial was “a huge challenge” for people’s right to a free press, as outlined in the Constitution.

Last Thursday, the Criminal Court refused to allow journalists to observe the hearing of Nazim’s ongoing corruption trial. Nazim is facing charges of multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the former Atolls Ministry.

Local dailies Haveeru and Sun Online reported that the hearing was scheduled to start at 12:00pm, but was actually conducted one hour earlier at 11:00pm. The court had not informed any of the reporters who registered at the court that morning of the time change.

According to Haveeru, court reporters who learned of the time change and requested entry were told that “the judge has decided to hold a closed hearing.”

When asked by reporters to offer a reason for the closed hearing, the court official asked the reporters to wait, went inside and did not appear until the hearing was over.

Almost two hours after the hearing concluded, Criminal Court Media Officer Ahmed Mohamed Manik told the court reporters that had not been allowed to enter because “negative perceptions of the court were being created [among the public] because of some journalists.”

Queried by the court reporters, the Criminal Court official insisted that the judge was authorised to exclude the public from trials under article 42 of the constitution. Members of the public were allowed to attend today’s hearing.

Under normal court procedure, only trials involving child sexual abuse are closed to the public.