PPM MPs to vote Muhthaz for PG in defiance of party leader’s appeal

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs have decided to vote for Criminal Court Judge Muhthaz Muhsin as the new Prosecutor General (PG) despite the party’s leader, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, urging ruling party MPs to vote for his nephew Maumoon Hameed.

Majority Leader MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News today that 33 out of 38 MPs present at a parliamentary group meeting this afternoon voted in favour of Muhthaz.

Nihan – parliamentary group leader of the PPM – also confirmed that a three-line whip has been issued for all 43 PPM MPs to vote for Muhthaz’s approval to the vacant PG post.

The decision comes after PPM Leader Gayoom sent a letter yesterday – subsequently leaked on social media – appealing for the party’s MPs to vote for Maumoon Hameed, son of former Atolls Minister Abdulla Hameed.

Gayoom noted that President Abdulla Yameen had declared at a PPM rally that he wished to appoint Maumoon Hameed to the post and that the president had “sent a message through the PPM’s official viber group” requesting the party’s MPs to vote for the lawyer.

Vetting process

Following a vetting process, parliament’s independent institutions oversight committee had rejected both of President Yameen’s nominees last week.

While a minimum score of 75 marks was required for the committee to recommend a nominee for approval, Hameed received 33 percent and Muhthaz received 67 percent.

The committee’s evaluation report has been tabled in the agenda for debate at Monday’s sitting of parliament, after which the nominees will be put to a vote.

Meanwhile, Gayoom sent a letter to MP Nihan – also leaked on social media (page one and two) – last week demanding an explanation of the PPM-majority committee’s decision.

The oversight committee – chaired by PPM MP Ali Saleem – is comprised of five PPM members, one MP from coalition partner Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA), three opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs and two Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs.

In his letter, Gayoom contended that a committee meeting held on July 10 where the nominees were interviewed – where the chair had “acted arbitrarily” – was conducted in violation of parliamentary rules of procedure.

Gayoom said he had learned that the nominees were summoned without a vote by members and that an assessment criteria had not been passed prior to the interviews.

Moreover, he added, the marks sheets were not tallied in the presence of committee members.

Gayoom also argued that a sitting judge could not stand for the post of PG, citing article 151 of the constitution – which requires judges to “devote his full time to the performance of the responsibilities of a judge” – and a “legal norm” whereby judges who leave the bench must wait two years before practicing law.

While article 26(a) of the Judges Act stipulates that a judge who stands for a political post specified in law or the constitution would no longer be a judge, Gayoom noted that Muhthaz had not done so.

However, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has since said that judges could apply for posts in independent institutions.

Vacant PG post

Meanwhile, following the PPM parliamentary group’s decision today, MDP MP Rozaina Adam tweeted, “Could President Yameen publicly humiliate President Gayoom more than this? Yameen’s choice is very clear.”

She also alleged that Yameen had conspired for the previous parliament to reject Maumoon Hameed in April by ensuring that several PPM MPs would be absent for the vote.

Several pro-government MPs – including PG Leader Nihan who was with President Yameen in Japan and MDA Leader Ahmed Siyam – were conspicuously absent at the sitting, which saw  Hameed fail to garner the required 39 votes after falling just three votes short.

According to article 221 of the constitution, “The President shall appoint as Prosecutor General a person approved by a majority of the total membership of the People’s Majlis from the names submitted to the People’s Majlis as provided for in law.”

A majority in the 18th Majlis is 43 seats. In addition to its 43 MPs, the PPM’s coalition partner MDA has five MPs. The minority party announced today that its MPs would also vote for Muhthaz.

Following the previous parliament’s rejection of Hameed, President Yameen refused to submit a new nominee and opened up a third call for applicants, announcing his intention to nominate Hameed for a second time to the newly elected 18th People’s Majlis.

The PG’s post has been vacant since November 25 following the resignation of Ahmed Muiz ahead of a scheduled no-confidence motion in parliament.

Meanwhile, Acting PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation in early May brought the criminal justice system to a halt after state prosecutors went on strike, citing concerns of a lack of accountability in the absence of a PG.

However, the Supreme Court ordered prosecutors to resume work “without any further excuse” and ordered the seniormost official at the PG office to assume the PG’s responsibilities.


Oversight committee rejects President Yameen’s nominees for Prosecutor General

Parliament’s independent institutions oversight committee last night decided against recommending for approval President Abdulla Yameen’s nominees for the vacant post of Prosecutor General (PG).

According to opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Rozaina Adam, the committee awarded President Yameen’s nephew Maumoon Hameed 33 percent and Criminal Court Judge Muhthaz Muhsin 67 percent following a vetting process.

A minimum score of 75 percent or marks is required for the committee to recommend a nominee for approval. The pair were interviewed by the committee last Thursday night (July 10).

Marks were awarded following evaluation of their academic qualifications, experience, competency, management skills, leadership qualities, achievements, and integrity.

The nominees will however be put to a vote on the People’s Majlis floor.

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has a clear majority of the 85-member house with 43 MPs in addition to five MPs of coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).

The independent institutions oversight committee is comprised of five PPM MPs, one MDA MP, three MDP MPs and two Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs.

The final evaluation process took place at a closed session last night where opposition MPs reportedly awarded zero marks to both nominees.

In April, Maumoon Hameed failed to garner the required 39 votes in the previous parliament – falling just three votes short – four months after he was put forward by President Yameen.

Article 221 of the constitution states, “The President shall appoint as Prosecutor General a person approved by a majority of the total membership of the People’s Majlis from the names submitted to the People’s Majlis as provided for in law.”

The independent oversight committee in the 17th People’s Majlis had also rejected Hameed’s nomination after the lawyer failed to meet the assessment criteria.

“Approval is based on a preset grading scheme, and not on members’ opinions,” MP Rozaina told Minivan News at the time.

The PG’s post has been vacant since November following the resignation of Ahmed Muizz ahead of a scheduled no-confidence motion in parliament.

Moreover, Acting PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation in early May brought the criminal justice system to a halt after state prosecutors went on strike, citing concerns of a lack of accountability in the absence of a PG.

However, the Supreme Court ordered prosecutors to resume work “without any further excuse” and ordered the seniormost official at the PG office to assume the PG’s responsibilities.

President Yameen meanwhile refused to submit a new nominee to the 17th Majlis during the crisis and opened up a third call for applicants, announcing his intention to nominate Hameed – son of former Atolls Minister Abdulla Hameed – for a second time to the newly elected 18th People’s Majlis.

Meanwhile, at its meeting last night, the independent institutions committee also awarded 68 percent to President Yameen’s nominee for the Police Integrity Commission, Adam ‘Kurolhi’ Zahir.

The committee however approved the nominations of former MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur for the newly created post of Information Commissioner with 88 percent and Aishath Zahira for deputy governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) with 90 percent.


EC dismissals: Fuwad and Fayaz remain EC members, says Majlis committee

The parliament’s independent institutions oversight committee yesterday declared that the Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz still remain in their posts despite the Supreme Court’s verdict to the contrary.

Yesterday (March 10), parliament also sent a letter to Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Attorney General Mohamed Anil stating that the dismissals were contrary to the constitutional procedures governing their appointment and dismissal, as well as the Elections Commission Act.

The letter stated that the contents were based on the legal advice of parliament’s Counsel General Fathimath Filza after her analysis of the Supreme Court’s verdict.

Senior leaders within the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) have today criticised the letter, noting it did not represent a parliamentary decision and also that such statements were beyond the Majlis’ remit.

EC President Thowfeek, Vice President Fayaz and the remaining members – Ali Mohamed Manik and Mohamed Farooq – were also been summoned to attend a committee meeting at 1:30pm today (March 11).

The EC members have been summoned for the purpose of discussing how procedural matters were carried out during the case proceedings, as well as to discuss ‘suo moto’ proceedings as applied through the constitution.

The committee held discussions with the EC members as well as Thowfeek and Fayaz at a closed-door session today.

In addition to the members of the EC, the committee also decided to summon members of the Judicial Services Commission at 2pm today to debate ‘suo moto’ and the means of taking action against the Supreme Court.

Deputy Chair of the committee, MDP MP Rozaina Adam – who chaired Monday’s meeting – alleged that while the Supreme Court has the constitutional mandate of having final say in matters of justice, what is currently being observed is a tendency to abuse those powers.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy stated that “it is an obligation to criticise a court on which’s bench sits ‘naked’ judges” – referring to the leaked sex video of Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed. He added that there is no law which outlaws the criticism of courts outside of court hearings.

“What we are seeing today is judicial shamelessness,” Fahmy said, asserting that the Supreme Court’s verdict against the EC was unconstitutional.

“It’s a parliamentary statement, not a decision”: PPM PG Leader

PPM Parliamentary Group Leader Moosa Zameer has responded to the letter sent yesterday, stating he did not believe it was a parliamentary decision.

“I don’t believe it is a decision. On the other hand, the parliament can release a statement or send a letter to someone based on the advice of the Counsel General. However, that is not a parliamentary decision,” said Zameer.

“We don’t accept that the letter signed by the speaker and his deputy is a parliamentary decision. Parliamentary decisions are ones which are taken on the parliament floor,” Zameer is quoted as saying to local media.

He added that it was obligatory for all to obey the orders of the Supreme Court, and that the PPM’s stand echoed this principle.

When contacted by Minivan News for further comment, neither Zameer’s nor PPM MP Ahmed Nihan were responding to calls at the time of press.

President Abdulla Yameen has also criticised the letter, claiming that it is outside the parliament’s mandate to release such a statement.

Speaking at the launching of PPM’s Villimalé parliamentary candidate Ahmed Nihan’s campaign, Yameen stated that it was the norm in a modern civilisation to obey the rulings of the Supreme Court.

He reiterated that the government would follow the orders of the Supreme Court and that it would proceed to elect new members to the EC.


Supreme Court overrules Parliament’s decision to invalidate Hulhumale Magistrate Court

The Supreme Court has issued an order invalidating the decision of Parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee to not recognise the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed is currently facing charges in the Hulhumale Court for the detention of Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed during the final days of his administration.

The oversight committee this week declared the court illegitimate, claiming it lacked “constitutional and legal grounds” to support its legitimacy.

In an order, (No. 2012/SC-SJ/05) issued on November 28, the Supreme Court declared that no institution should meddle with the business of the courts, claiming that it held parental authority over “constitutional and legal affairs” and would not allow such “interference” to take place.

“Any action or a decision taken by an institution of the state that may impact the outcome of a matter that is being heard in a court of law, and prior to a decision by the courts on that matter, shall be deemed invalid, and [the Supreme Court] hereby orders that these acts must not be carried out,” the order read.

Though the order did not specifically mention the decision by the parliamentary oversight committee, it was issued shortly after the committee’s decision regarding the Hulhumale’ court.

Last Tuesday, the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee,following an issue presented by three sitting MPs, declared there were no “legal grounds” to accept the setting up and functioning of Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court based on the powers vested to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) under article 159 of the constitution and article 21 of the Judicial Service Commission Act, and based on the articles 53 and 63 of Judicature Act.

The members of the committee claimed there was a lack of any legal reasoning to recommence the works of the concerned court after its work had been suspended for five months after the Judicature Act came to force.

Article 63 of the Judicature Act states: “A Magistrate Court shall be established in all inhabited islands with the exception of Male’ where there are the four superior courts created in accordance with Article 53(b) of this Act and in an island where 4 divisions of these four superior courts are established in accordance with Article 53 (c) of this Act.”

However, the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee in its explanation of the decision stated that the exception of Male’ in the stated article included Hulhumale’, which for administrative purposes is considered a ward of the capital.  The committee argued Hulhumale’ could not be deemed as a separate island to establish a magistrate court.

No one should meddle with the courts: Supreme Court

In quashing the parliamentary committee’s decision, the Supreme Court stated that while the Maldivian constitutional system broadly entertained the principle of separation of powers, no one power of the state can go beyond the limits set out in the constitution.

“According to articles 5, 6 and 7 of the constitution that came to force on 7 August 2008, the Maldivian constitutional system has explicitly set out that the executive power, legislative power and the judicial power is independent from one another and the boundaries of each power being clearly set out, it is unconstitutional for one power of the state to go beyond its constitutional boundaries as stated in article 8 of the constitution,” read the order.

The Supreme Court also in its order maintained that as per the constitution, the judicial power of the state was the sole constitutional authority in settling legal disputes between the institutions of the state or private parties.

“The judiciary established under the constitution is an independent and impartial institution and that all public institutions shall protect and uphold this independence and impartiality and therefore no institution shall interfere or influence the functioning of the courts,” it added.

Not meddling with business of courts – Deputy Chair of Independent Institutions Oversight Committee

Speaking to Minivan News, Deputy Chair of Independent Institutions Oversight Committee MP Ahmed Sameer said the committee was not meddling with the business of the courts, but addressing a constitutional violation carried out by the JSC in establishing an illegitimate court.

Sameer – who is also the deputy leader of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group – stated that it was a responsibility of the parliament to hold independent institutions and other bodies of the state accountable, and that his committee was mandated with the scrutiny of actions of independent institutions.

“Initially, when we summoned the JSC to the committee, they refused to talk to us or provide any information to the committee. However, from the documents that the committee received later, we found out that the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was formed by the JSC which is a violation of the constitution and the laws,” he said.

Sameer argued that the constitution explicitly states that courts can only be formed by legislation and not “through a vote in the JSC”.

“The committee’s decision was made based on the findings of the inquiry. We have all the documents including the agendas of the meeting and the meeting minutes. It is clear that the JSC had formed and an act that is beyond the powers vested to the commission in the constitution and the JSC Act,” he added.

Sameer claimed that the decision by the committee was binding and no authority can overrule the decision.

“With the committee’s decision, we do not plan to give the budget to the court and works are underway to in drafting an amendment that would specifically state the courts that would be formed under the law,” he said.

Sameer added that the parliament will not tolerate any decision that undermines its constitutional powers and responsibilities.

Arrest of Judge Abdulla

The issue concerning Hulhumale Magistrate Court’s legitimacy came to limelight following the Prosecutor General (PG) filing criminal charges against former President Mohamed Nasheed for the detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January  2012.

Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) on the evening of Monday, January 16, in compliance with a police request.

The judge’s whereabouts were not revealed until January 18, and the MNDF acknowledged receipt but did not reply to Supreme Court orders to release the judge.

Then Home Minister Hassan Afeef subsequently accused the judge of “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist”, listing 14 cases of obstruction of police duty including withholding warrants for up to four days, ordering police to conduct unlawful investigations and disregarding decisions by higher courts.

Afeef accused the judge of “deliberately” holding up cases involving opposition figures, barring media from corruption trials, ordering the release of suspects detained for serious crimes “without a single hearing”, and maintaining “suspicious ties” with family members of convicts sentenced for dangerous crimes.

The judge also released a murder suspect “in the name of holding ministers accountable”, who went on to kill another victim.

Nasheed’s government subsequently requested assistance from the international community to reform the judiciary. Observing that judicial reform “really should come from the JSC”, Foreign Minister at the time, Ahmed Naseemm said that the JSC’s shortcomings “are now an issue of national security.”

The judicial crisis triggered 22 days of continuous protests led by senior opposition figures and those loyal to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, which eventually led to the controversial toppling of Nasheed’s administration on February 7.

The PG’s Office filed charges based on the investigations by Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) on the arrest, which concluded that Nasheed was the “highest authority liable” for the military-led detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Along with Nasheed, the report concluded that the former president’s Defence Minister, Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu, was a second key figure responsible with others including Chief of Defence Force Moosa Ali Jaleel, Brigadier Ibrahim Mohamed Didi and Colonel Mohamed Ziyad.

Charges were also filed against all of those which the HRCM investigation report identified as responsible for the arrest in Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

Hulhumale Magistrate Court and legitimacy

During the first hearing of the trial, ex-president Nasheed’s lawyers took procedural points challenging the legitimacy of the court, but were rejected without justification. Nasheed’s legal team’s appeal challenging the legitimacy was initially rejected by the High Court claiming that it cannot look into a matter that was already being heard in Supreme Court.

However, the High Court later granted Nasheed an injunction temporarily suspending the trial of the former president at the contested Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.  The injunction is pending a ruling on procedural points raised by the former President’s legal team.

Following the injunction, Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court has announced that it had suspended all ongoing cases.

In its announcement, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court said it has suspended proceedings on cases involving marriage, divorce, guardianship, family matters, property lawsuits, civil cases, criminal cases involving extension of detention periods as well as other matters that could be affected by the questions raised over its legal status.

Following the High Court’s injunction granted to Nasheed, the JSC filed a case in Supreme Court asking it to look into the legitimacy of the court. The Supreme Court then instructed the High Court to halt its hearings on the appeal.

Supreme Court had previously ordered the Civil Court to send over all files and documents on a case submitted by a lawyer, Ismail Visham, over a year ago challenging the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

The Supreme Court on November 19, held the first hearing of the case concerning the legitimacy of Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court and Ismail Visham was decided as the respondent of the case.

Nasheed’s legal team also intervened in the court case. Nasheed’s lawyers stated that the case involved the interests of the former president as his case regarding the detention of the Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed is heard by Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

Meanwhile, several prominent figures have raised doubts over the legitimacy of Hulhumale Magistrate Court.

Former Chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Committee of the Special Majlis, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, in an article in his personal blog stated – “The [Hulhumale’ court] was created by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) without authority derived from law. Therefore the validity of any order or judgement issued by this court is questionable, and the constitution says no one has to obey any unlawful orders, i.e, orders which are not derived from law. Therefore, President Nasheed’s decision to ignore the summons has more than reasonable legal grounds.”

Ismail further writes that no court has the power, under any law, to issue a travel ban on a person without ever summoning them to court.

He also stated that there was ample to room to believe that the courts were acting with a bias against Nasheed, owing to a number of other politicians and business tycoons who were repeatedly defying court orders and summons.

Prominent lawyer and Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed – who is also the chair of Parliament’s Independent Oversight Committee – in his personal blog also echoed similar remarks explaining that a magistrate court could not legally be established at Hulhumale’.

However following the Supreme Court’s order, Nasheed told Minivan News said that he “wished to give a considered view soon” but refused to reveal a specific date by which he would respond.