New Indian High Commissioner emphasises “unshakable” relationship with the Maldives

The new Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives Rajeev Shahare has emphasised the “unshakable” long-standing relationship between between both countries during a meeting with local media yesterday (April 10).

The new commissioner, who speaks fluent Arabic, previously served in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Geneva, Mauritius, as well as held the position of Joint Secretary in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’, West Asia North Africa division.

Shahare presented his credentials to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik yesterday morning, before later discussing his initial observations on the country with local media.

“It is a great honour and privilege to represent the government of India in a country such as the Maldives. With its azure blue and turquoise water, this is a phenomenal God-gifted country,” he stated during yesterday’s media event.

“During my tenure, I will endeavor to further strengthen the relationship between India and the Maldives, which is already very strong with an unshakable foundation.”

“Highs and lows”

Shahare also stressed there had been no change in the relationship between the Maldives and India, despite media reports of increased tension between both nations in recent months.

“In any relationship there are highs and lows, but the relationship carries on its course normally,” he said.

“Engagement between the Maldives and India has been constant. We are pretty much on course.”

Shahare emphasised that the Maldives held a “special place in the hearts of Indians” given the deep historical ties, common language and ethnic background the countries share.

“India is home for many Maldivians, we share a strong ethnic affinity,” he said.

He claimed that India would continue to support the Maldives and provide for the country’s needs when requested.

“India has always been there for the Maldives. It is in a state of readiness to provide whatever the Maldives requires,” Shahare stated.

Shahare also thanked the Maldivian government for arranging the ceremony “in record time”, praising local authorities for their “magnanimity” in allowing him to meet senior government officials prior to presenting his credentials to the president.

Shahare has replaced former Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay, who left the Maldives last month to take the position as India’s Consul in New York.

Earlier this week, Mulay told the Times of India publication: “there is no expert on the Maldives in India and awareness regarding the country and its geopolitical situation is very low.”

He also emphasised the importance of understanding Maldivian political, economic and social changes which “may have a major impact on India”.

Referring to the large number of Chinese tourists outstripping Indian visits to the Maldives, Mulay stressed that “One must be aware about the clout of a country from which there is such a big tourist inflow”.

Mulay also discussed the “commensurate increase in the points of connectivity between the two countries”, adding that Indian investments in the Maldives are increasing.

Diplomatic strain

The Maldives’ relationship with India has appeared strained since the Waheed government’s decision last November to evict Indian infrastructure giant GMR from the country with seven days notice.

The US$511 concession agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport was declared ‘void from the start’.

The government’s sudden eviction of the Indian investor did not appear on a list of 11 grievances handed to all senior Maldivian reporters by the Indian High Commission this January.

The list of Consular issues affecting the India-Maldives relationship included a number of concerns: discrimination against Indian expatriates, the keeping of passports of Indian nationals by employers, exploitation of Indian workers and repatriation of mortal remains.  Threats towards the country’s diplomats, a disparity in visa charges between the two countries and the repatriation of salaries were also raised as issues.

The list’s release was followed by the Indian High Commission issuing a statement in early February slamming local media in the Maldives for “misrepresentation and twisting of issues”.

“The High Commission has noted a recent trend in a section of local media to publish negative, unsubstantiated reports, while blacking out objective and positive news on Indian issues,” the Commission said at the time.

Shortly thereafter, political parties supporting the current government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan criticised the Indian High Commission for allowing former President Mohamed Nasheed to seek refuge inside its protected diplomatic territory for 11 days.

The Adhaalath Party (AP) later condemned the Indian High Commission and the Indian government “for assisting a criminal fleeing from trial”.

The AP was also a vocal opponent of GMR and the concession agreement signed by the previous government to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. During one of the party’s rallies last year, several senior government figures mocked and insulted the former Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay calling him a “traitor to the Maldives”.

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed also expressed his disappointment over the Indian government’s decision to provide refuge to Nasheed in the Indian High Commission. He said that attempts by any country to prevent a person from facing charges pressed by an independent Prosecutor General (PG), could be described as interfering domestic matters of a sovereign state, local media reported.

Following Nasheed’s exit from the High Commission and subsequent arrest on March 5, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh highlighted “free, fair and credible” elections as the “best course” for overcoming political uncertainty in the Maldives.


Parliament postpones no-confidence votes against Home, Defence Minister over issue of secret ballot

Parliament called off scheduled no-confidence votes set to be taken today (April 8 ) against Home Minister Mohamed Jameel and Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim, after Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs objected to the vote not being made in secret despite a parliamentary decision otherwise.

The Supreme Court in March struck down the amendment to parliament’s standing orders that allowed no-confidence votes to be made through secret ballot, declaring the amendment unconstitutional. The majority opinion of the Supreme Court contended that the move contravened article 85 of the constitution as well as parliamentary principles and the norms of free and democratic societies.

During today’s parliament session, Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader of MDP, MP Ali Waheed, contended that the Supreme Court’s ruling itself had been unconstitutional as it had exceeded its own mandate as under the constitution parliament is deemed a separate power of the state – which the Supreme Court does not have the jurisdiction to meddle with.

Waheed also warned that the MDP would not allow the speaker to go forward with the vote without making it a secret ballot.

Several other opposition MPs argued that government-aligned Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) was prepared to vote with the opposition should the ballot be a secret ballot, giving the vote the 39 MP majority needed for it to pass.

However, Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader of DRP MP Abdulla Mausoom denied the claim stating that the party’s stand was to abstain from the vote.

Mausoom told local media outlet Sun Online that the party had come to the decision in an attempt to prioritise national interest ahead of party politics and to prevent chaos and confusion among the public.

During the debate on the vote, members of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) spoke in favour of both Jameel and Nazim claiming that the vote was a tactic employed by the opposition to intimidate and harass the ministers.

Speaking during the debate, former Interim Deputy Leader of PPM, MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla said that Jameel a remarkable background and was one of the most educated and able ministers in the current government.

He also said that PPM was defending the Minister not because the party felt that the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan was doing any good, but because PPM MPs loved the nation and its well being.

Raheem Abdulla also applauded the minister for his “remarkable reforms” brought to the police institution, claiming that the police force “was a mess” during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.

Speaking in the debate, MP Ali Waheed questioned the Home Minister as to why the police were excessively spending public funds on fireworks and celebrations when the country’s largest hospital IGMH did not even have enough doctors.

Meanwhile Independent MP Alhan Fahmy stated that although he did not question Jameel’s academic qualifications, he argued that the minister had failed in executing his duties and accused him of being negligent in looking into police misconduct.

Responding to the allegations levied against him, Jameel told parliament that the no-confidence motion filed against him by the MDP MPs lacked any basis.

Jameel, former Justice Minister during President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration, claimed that allegations against him were “misleading and politicised” and that the motion was put forth to achieve “political leverage”.

“When I took over as the Minister, the whole police institution was in a mess. I cannot fix everything in a year. Under my leadership, the role of the police has been expanded throughout the country. Demonstrations can now be held anywhere in the country peacefully,” he said.

Jameel also contended that police are now more professional and do not discriminate when executing their duties and responsibilities.

Order in the chamber was lost halfway through the morning session after Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim entered the parliament floor wearing his military colours.

Opposition MDP MP Mohamed ‘Kubey’ Rasheed took a point of order contending the parliamentary regulation did not allow Defense Minister – who was accompanied by his lawyer and the Deputy Attorney General – to enter the parliament floor with military colours.

Several other MPs also joined Rasheed in protest and the session had to be suspended for few hours.

Before the break, MPs decided to hold the debate on Defence Minister’s impeachment behind closed doors.

The parliament session reconvened at 1:00pm and when Speaker Abdulla Shahid called for the vote, MDP MPs began protesting, claiming that the vote should be a secret ballot.

After several failed attempts by the Speaker to calm the MPs, the session was cancelled. Speaker Shahid also announced that the matter raised by MDP MPs regarding Supreme Court’s decision had been sent to parliament’s General Affairs Committee.

Speaker Shahid stated that the committee with review the decision and will begin its work on Tuesday.

In October last year, the MDP submitted its first motion against Home Minister Jameel over concerns from the party of what it called an “unprecedented” increase in murders and assault in the Maldives since the transfer of power.

Despite the MDP withdrawing the no-confidence motion against the home minister a month later in November for an unexplained reason, a second no-confidence vote was submitted by the party in December.

A statement issued by the MDP accused Jameel of failing to control civil peace and order in the country, which it said had led to the loss of eight lives.

The MDP further referred to an incident in which a man on a motorcycle was killed after a police officer struck a second motorcyclist with his baton, causing him to collide with the first.

The MDP alleged that Home Minister Jameel had tried to cover up police involvement in the death.

A no-confidence vote was also due to be taken against Jumhoree Party MP and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s position on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), which has come under fire internationally amid questions over its conduct and impartiality.


Parliament to hold no-confidence vote against Home Minister Jameel, Defence Minister Nazim, JSC member Gasim Ibrahim

Parliament has scheduled a series of no-confidence votes for tomorrow concerning Home Minister Mohamed Jameel, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and JSC member Gasim Ibrahim.

Parliament rules state that a minimum of 39 votes are required to successfully pass a no-confidence vote against a government minister. The opposition MDP currently has 29 MPs, short 10 votes of the required majority.

While the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has said it will back the trio, the DRP, which has 15 MPs, has said the party will “decide tomorrow”.

Following the scheduling of the vote, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan told local media that he was confident that the government-aligned parties would “defend” his ministers from impeachment.


MP ‘Colonel’ Nasheed blames Home Minister Jameel for evidence bill delay

Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed has claimed that Home Minister Mohamed Jameel’s failure to give a professional opinion on the pending Evidence Bill is the reason for the bill’s delay.

The remark by the Nolhivaram constituency MP comes at a time where both the Home Minister and Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz have expressed concern over parliament’s delaying of the essential bill.

During a debate in parliament last Wednesday, MP Nasheed claimed that the committee currently reviewing the bill had on numerous occasions requested a professional opinion from the Home Minister.

“We were forced to park the bill because [Jameel] could not spare us time. We are waiting for an opinion from him. Therefore, before opening his mouth to condemn parliament, he must look back at his own actions,” said MP Nasheed.

He contended that along with the evidence bill, other pivotal bills such as the criminal procedure code require professional opinions from the attorney general, the Supreme Court and other members of the judiciary, as well as the police and Home Ministry.

“They are not able to give time for any of this. Kulhudhufushi-South Constituency MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed has neatly carried out parliament’s end of the bargain. He initiated the drafting and other relevant work required from parliament. But, we have to face the truth that [the delay] is due to the Home Minister’s failure to give us his time,” he said.

“We have given time for him on four different occasions, but every time for some reason he calls us and cancels the appointment in the nick of time. How can the evidence bill be passed?” Nasheed questioned.

He reiterated that even though the country was run under a presidential system with separated powers of state, it does not mean that two of those powers could not collaborate in running the affairs of the state.

Police Commissioner’s concerns

Meanwhile, Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz has said it was of utmost importance that a mechanism be set which would speed up the process of obtaining witness statements before the witness is “influenced”.

In a video released on the police website following the Criminal Court’s acquittal of six suspects arrested in connection with the stabbing murder of Ali Shifan, Commissioner Riyaz stated that many people are afraid to give witness to the courts because of threats they face afterwards.

“In several countries, there are mechanisms to protect witnesses. That can only be achieved through legislation. According to our information, a draft witness protection act is currently submitted to the parliament,” he said.

He said such key bills should become law as soon as possible in order for police to continue curbing criminal activities.

“Laws should be made in such a fashion that they guarantee the safety and protection of the people. Importance should be given to that. We hope that the necessary bills are passed as soon as possible which will remove a lot of barriers we are currently facing. It would be a huge assistance,” he said.

The commissioner of police added that it was important to know the extent to which the court would go to accept circumstantial evidences and forensic evidences such as DNA.

He stressed that the constitution clearly mentioned that investigations be carried on the basis of evidence collected, but said there was no evidence act currently in place.

“DNA is one of the most authentic forms of evidence. Another is the fingerprint. Similarly, video evidence id very authentic too. We are talking about the fact that there is no legislation that dictates as to how such evidences will be accepted by the court.”

Following claims that the initial evidence bill proposed in 2009 “made no sense at all”, a new draft of the bill was proposed to Parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee on October 2012.

The bill was drafted by former Minister of Legal Reform during President Gayoom’s presidency, the current MP for Kulhudhuffushi- South, MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed.

Home Minister Jameel was not responding to calls at time of press.


India should stop meddling with Maldives’ domestic matters, says Home Minister Jameel

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has expressed his disappointment over the Indian government’s decision to provide refuge to former President Mohamed Nasheed in the Indian High Commission.

The former President was due to attend a hearing regarding his detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Instead of appearing in court, Nasheed sought refuge in the Indian High Commission, claiming his trial was politically motivated and an attempt to bar him from running in presidential elections scheduled this year.

Speaking to local newspaper Haveeru, Jameel said that attempts by any country to prevent a person from facing charges pressed by an independent Prosecutor General (PG), could be described as interfering domestic matters of a sovereign state.

He said the charges levied against the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate were serious as they involved the “abduction of a senior judge”.

In January 2012 while in power, Nasheed’s Home Minister Hassan Afeef wrote to the Defense Ministry requesting the judge be detained as he posed a threat to both the country’s national security and the criminal justice system.

The judge had previously obtained an injunction from the Civil Court against his further investigation by the judicial watchdog, which had complied.

The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) subsequently arrested Judge Abdulla and placed him in military detention on Girifushi – a military training centre near Male’, also used for Nasheed’s famous underwater cabinet meeting in 2009.

In an attempt to give a legal justification for the involvement of the armed forces during the arrest, the former Home Minister alleged the judge had “taken the entire criminal justice system in his fist”, and posed a threat to “public order, safety and national security”.

After his sudden resignation on February 2012, Nasheed is now facing criminal charges for violating Article 81 of the Penal Code, which states that the detention of a government employee who has not been found guilty of a crime is illegal.

Jameel – a former Justice Minister under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30 year autocracy – has previously said it was “crucial to conclude the case against Nasheed before the approaching presidential elections, in the interests of the nation and to maintain peace in it.”

“Every single day that goes by without the case being concluded contributes to creating doubt in the Maldivian people’s minds about the judiciary,” the home minister said at the time.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s contended that the charge against its presidential candidate was a desperate attempt by the government to destroy its political opponents and bar Nasheed from contesting the scheduled elections.

The UK Bar Human Rights Commission – which is has been observing Nasheed’s trial – concurred in its recent report, agreeing that the trial was politically motivated.

“BHRC is concerned that a primary motivation behind the present trial is a desire by those in power to exclude Mr Nasheed from standing in the 2013 elections, and notes international opinion that this would not be a positive outcome for the Maldives,” the report stated.

However Home Minister Jameel has disputed the MDP’s claims, arguing that the trial was not politically motivated but a sincere attempt by the current government to uphold the rule of law.

Expressing his frustration over Nasheed’s presence in the Indian High Commission, Jameel said he had “never previously seen the international community trying to protect a convict or an individual who is being tried in a court of law”.

“I describe this action [by Indian High commission] as very unusual,” he said. “For example, it would be very unusual for a murderer to seek refuge in a diplomatic office.”

Jameel said the country needed assistance from the international community to look into the arrest of the judge, and “not to protect an individual who stands charged with a serious crime”.

Tweeting last night, the Home Minister implied that India was meddling in the Maldives’ internal affairs: “What’s happening now gives us an indication of the extent and level of interest some countries prepared to take in our internal matters,” he said.

“I would strongly urge everyone to let our institutions deal with the challenges, and allow the Maldives to uphold rule of law,” he tweeted.

Jameel was not responding to calls at time of press.

In a statement released by Ministry of External Affairs, the Indian government called on its regional counterpart to strictly adhere to “democratic principles and the rule of law, thereby paving the way for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections”.

“Following the arrest warrant issued against him by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, the former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, who is a candidate for the Presidential elections in Maldives scheduled for September 2013, is in the Indian High Commission and has sought India’s assistance. We are in touch with the relevant Maldivian authorities to resolve the situation,” the statement read.

“Now that the President of the Election Commission of Maldives has announced that Presidential elections would be held on 7 September 2013, it is necessary that the Presidential nominees of recognised political parties be free to participate in the elections without any hindrance.

“Prevention of participation by political leaders in the contest would call into question the integrity of the electoral process, thereby perpetuating the current political instability in Maldives,” it added.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs concluded its statement by contending it was “not in the interest” of the Maldives or the region to prevent any candidate from contesting the country’s presidential elections later this year.

“India would call upon the government and all political parties in Maldives to avoid any actions that would vitiate the political atmosphere in the Maldives,” its statement read.

In a statement released by the office of the former President, Nasheed welcomed the Indian statement.

“The events of the past year – the mass arrests, the police brutality, the politically motivated trials – demonstrate that Dr Waheed cannot be trusted to hold a free and fair election. Waheed should do the right thing and resign from office. An interim, caretaker government should be established that can lead the Maldives to genuinely free and fair elections, in which all candidates are freely able to compete,” he said.

Nasheed in the statement also reiterated his belief that that his trial was “a politically motivated sham” and said the Hulhumale Magistrate Court – established to hear his case – was illegal and created “with the sole purpose of disqualifying me from standing in the presidential elections”.