Comment: Inquiring into the Inquiry

The Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), established under a Presidential decree by Dr Waheed, has been at the centre of much controversy since its inception. The establishment of an inquiry commission after a national crisis can often be seen as a quick win mechanism to demonstrate that the state is addressing people’s demands for answers and justice in lieu of a well functioning judicial system, or it can be a farce.

Waheed, as per usual, went down the farce route. Not so quick nor keen to address issues of legitimacy surrounding his accession to power, but in an effort to subdue national and international pressure (and mainly because of the fact that it wasn’t an early election he was giving into, but a well-staged inquiry) he went ahead with it.

However, if Waheed’s primary motive was to try and placate those ‘questioning’ his position and to stop the MDP from calling for an early election, he has failed. This is due to the individuals he chose to appoint, the terms of reference he assigned, and his coup coalition’s bullheadedness in defending the impartiality of this obviously partial commission. Most of all he failed to note that even those who don’t have the courage to call a coup a coup, – but don’t have anything to lose if it is so concluded – still want to get to the bottom of what happened on 7th February 2012.

Easier said than done, I suppose, when your authority depends solely on the conclusion of the events that took place on a day preceded by a police/military mutiny. While the political bigwigs of the country wheel and deal over the CNI, we must remember that the probable findings of this commission could have huge ramifications for many individuals in involved in this political crisis. The question arises- are we ever going to know what happened on 7/2?

Firstly, for a commission to inquire about a sequence of events as contentious as the ‘questionable transfer of power’, its existence, members and mandate are going to invite controversy. So why shoot it in the foot before it had even got started by appointing Ismail Shafeeu? MDP, CMAG, the wider international community and even ‘Thinvana Adu’ requested Waheed’s administration to ensure that the commission was impartial, and credible. Impartiality, I take to mean as having firstly no political affiliation or as having equal representation by all parties concerned, and secondly, credibility.

The CNI met neither one of these requirements for the almost three months that it was in operation. Time is no doubt crucial to an inquiry of this nature and while it is of an essence to the MDP, it is in the best interests of the Waheed regime for the inquiry to be delayed for as long as possible.

104 days of coup later, you have to wonder, what made Waheed change his mind over the CNI? If they don’t believe the CMAG has any right to a) put Maldives on the agenda or b) any grounds to make these recommendations, why bow down to them? Were some harsh facts made clear to him on his official visit to India? Either way, the gates of the CNI, no matter how reluctantly, have opened, albeit an inch or two. This has resulted in the appointment of a foreign judge as co chair, Nasheed being ‘permitted’ to propose a member to the Commission, and changes to the mandate of the CNI being strengthened, allowing it to summon individuals, accept statements, videos, photos, and most importantly request telecommunication and financial records. These agreements and the resumption of the all-party talks have been hailed as a thaw in national coup politics, and to be fair it is progress, but how much of it is sincere? I know. It’s a naive question, but humour me.

With regards to Nasheed’s representative to the CNI, the public is aware that he has proposed nine names, all of which have been rejected by Waheed’s regime for being too politicised. Nasheed has now been given two weeks to propose an individual to the CNI, who has not served in a political position in the past two years, must not have taken a public stand on the transfer of power, and must be of good behaviour and integrity.

The Commonwealth states that these conditions must apply to all members of the CNI, including ones previously appointed. I wonder what the parameters are for determining good behaviour and integrity, and who in Waheed’s regime decides whether these characteristics are up to par in any individual that Nasheed proposes. Are Waheed and Coup really not going to budge on the case of Ismail Shafeeu – whose stint as Maumoon’s former Defence Minister surely places his ‘integrity’ in question? Forgive me, I forgot this approval of Commission members scenario is a one way street. Coup coalition gets to say the yay and the nay, but MDP do it and they are seen as the uncompromising troublemakers.

Also of confusion is the fact that Waheed earlier stated that he had no role in changes to the composition of the CNI. His Commission members then contradicted this by turning the responsibility back to him. Then we have the fact that Waheed stated that the Prosecutor General is responsible for the Commission, yet all the negotiations and public statements have been given by Attorney General Azima Shukoor, and Home Minister Mohamed Jameel. Speaking of which, who is this all-elusive lawyer to be appointed to the CNI, if Nasheed’s nomination doesn’t meet with the coup coalition’s high approval?

There are also pressing concerns over the amendments to the CNI’s mandate and terms of reference. Although it has not yet been made clear whether the concluding report will still be the opinions of the CNI’s members, or whether the findings can lead to criminal cases, the ability of the Commission to now request phone records and financial statements give it more bite. I wonder how the CNI is ensuring the securing of this information. Are legal requirements going to be placed upon service providers, Dhiraagu and Wataniya, for their cooperation with the CNI? Are all banks operating in the country – notorious for their non-cooperation with the police over previous investigations into alleged corruption – now going to hand over their clients’ financial records without a fuss? And what about the intelligence departments of the Police and the MNDF? How does the CNI confirm that information relevant to the dates of interest to the Commission, obtained by these services has not been destroyed? Or what about officers under oath, who’ve signed confidentiality contracts? Does a summons from the CNI, waive them of the restrictions as applied by these documents? I also cannot get my head around how many of those who will be called upon to give evidence will be doing so without any suspension to their current duties as either law enforcement officers, government officials or civil servants.

Questions, questions, questions, my head is milling with them, and I wait with bated breath to find out Nasheed’s nomination. This individual who is going to have to be the incarnation of all things apolitical and integral in the world. Does such a Maldivian even exist? Someone very special to me who claims that Male’ is the cesspool of humanity would say, probably not. On the other hand, is there a point to all the analysis on the mandate and the members of the CNI? Surely, the findings have already been concluded. Hasn’t the unique Dr Hassan Saeed already alluded to them? There are three possible conclusions – coup/illegal transfer or power, legal transfer of power, or the middle.

I cannot imagine the CNI will conclude it is a coup, considering the fact that there are three members appointed by the coup boss himself on the Commission. Also think about the responsibilities of the international community if it is declared a coup. They’re not going to want the fuss of the Maldives, when they still have Syria, the Eurozone and the Olympics on their plate. Let alone the mess of where Indian High Commissioner Mulay comes into it. It also cannot be concluded as an entirely legal transfer of power, due to the blurry lines around mutinying politicised officers, resignations under duress, opposition politicians celebrating in the Police HQ, hijacking of state media and so on. The politically-easiest conclusion must therefore be the middle.

What will be of further interest is what happens next? What will the conclusions lead to? Criminal cases, blanket amnesties, an exit clause for Waheed, constitutional amendments and of course election dates? No doubt there will be an awful lot of political wrangling over the next few days with regards to the Commission. Political actors on both sides have specific interests. Waheed & Coup will want to seem democratic and budge on certain measures, whereas MDP will want to demonstrate that they are compromising and coming to the table, in order to drive home the importance of early elections. I hope that in the midst of this, civil society groups which claim to be the alternative, ‘third voice’ persist in emphasising that although political stability is important, a CNI that allows for the greatest level of truth and justice is far more essential to the future of the Maldives.

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Revised inquiry commission will include two Nasheed representatives, Commonwealth judge, claims MDP

The Commonwealth has proposed a revised composition for the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) into the circumstances surrounding February’s controversial transfer of power, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has claimed.

The MDP claimed the revised composition would include a further two representatives chosen by ousted President Mohamed Nasheed, and a experienced foreign judge provided by the Commonwealth, in addition to the existing three members appointed by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told media gathered on the steps of the Velanaage office building that following talks with Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon, the MDP expected the solution to be agreeable to all parties concerned.

“The people we are accusing of overthrowing the government in a coup d’état can’t be the same as the people investigating it,” Ghafoor said.

In its last statement in mid-April, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) challenged the independence of the commission as constituted by Dr Waheed, and gave the government a four week deadline to change it or face “further and stronger measures”.

Ghafoor noted that a delegation of three CMAG ministers who arrived shortly after February 7 described their investigation as inconclusive, and called for early elections.

“The government has said it will only hold early elections if it was proven to be a coup,” Ghafoor said. “We agreed, because we were ones who were desposed, so we were sure it was a coup.”

The announcement would “severely impact” the all party talks, Ghafoor noted, which the MDP has maintained are a “farce” after government-aligned parties challenged the legitimacy of the MDP’s appointed representatives.

“The [governing] coalition party representatives are not very united. They agree on their own legitimacy, but not on policy. They don’t have consistent positions,” he observed.

Ghafoor said under the proposed reconstitution of the commission, the deadline for the findings would be the end of June.

The proposed solution was “in the spirit of the CMAG [statements],” Ghafoor said. “I think today is a good day. If the investigation goes ahead as per the Commonwealth’s requirements, then we don’t see a problem. I’m confident we will soon be arresting Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz.”

The Commonwealth has not yet issued a formal statement on the proposal, however CMAG is expect to release one this week.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that government representatives in the talks would make a statement after they had concluded, as there was no final agreement yet to disclose to the media.

“The position of the government is that we have always been open to Commonwealth assistance,” he said.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) meanwhile reported President Mohamed Waheed as saying he was “terribly disappointed” with the Commonwealth, but was not in favour of leaving it.

“I don’t support the position that some people in Maldives have which is to withdraw from the Commonwealth. I don’t think that is the way to go. I think we need to be engaged,” Waheed told PTI.

Accusing the Commonwealth of “influencing” the national inquiry commission, Waheed suggested he was willing to accept the body’s terms.

“We have nothing to hide, I have nothing to hide. Therefore, we have agreed that we will agree on what is acceptable to Commonwealth and possibly an additional member on the panel,” PTI reported Waheed as saying.


President and inquiry commission pass responsibility for reforming CNI

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan on Wednesday claimed that it is was up to the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) to allow new members in its investigation of the controversial transfer of power on February 7, while the commission insists that it cannot self-enact changes to its composition.

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, Waheed contended that it was upto the commission to “allow new members” to join the investigation.

“It is a matter that commission has to decide on. I met with the commission’s president and mentioned it. Even though I had appointed the commission, I have said that it is an independent commission. I do not criticise or oversee their work,” Waheed observed. “I am open to work as they commission want.”

However, when contacted by Minivan News on April 17, a spokesperson for the CNI said that the commission was itself unable to enact changes to its composition.

“The CNI was set up by the president, so it will be for the government to discuss this [CMAG’s findings],” the spokesperson said.

The CNI was set up by Dr Waheed Hassan to investigate the controversial change of power on February 7 which the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintains was a coup d’état orchestrated by remnants of the former dictatorship, funded by several resort interests and carried out by mutinous police and military units.

However, the commission’s credibility has been challenged by both local NGOs and the Commonwealth which has urged the government “to review immediately the composition and terms of reference of the Commission to make it genuinely independent, credible and impartial.”

According to Waheed, discussions on reforming the CNI are underway, but stopped short from giving a date on when the changes will be finalised. The government-set deadline for producing the final inquiry report is May 31.

“Talks are underway on reforming the Inquiry Commission. But no decisions have been made yet. We will inform as soon as decisions are finalised,” Dr Waheed told the press.

Responding to Waheed’s remarks, Aiman Rasheed, Project Coordinator at Transparency Maldives today contended that the “changes should have been made months back”.

Transparency Maldives, Maldivian Democracy Network, Democracy House, and the Maldives NGO Federation, itself representing 59 organisations, joined forces to push for “immediate changes to the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) so that it gains public trust and confidence and is able to achieve its objectives.”

“To put it simply, the commission was established by a presidential decree. Therefore any changes to the commission’s mandate, composition or scope of investigation can only be made by the president himself,” Aiman pointed out.

He observed that the government has failed to respond to the civil society’s requests to reform the mandate and scope of the CNI based on cross-party agreement.

“If the CNI completes its investigation with the current composition, it is bound to create further chaos,” Aiman concluded.

Waheed noted that he has spoken to the head of the commission over civil society’s request for observer status and added that the decision must be taken by the commission.

Meanwhile, CNI has come under fire from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which released a statement last week giving the government four weeks to reform the body established to investigate the February 7 change of power lest CMAG consider “further and stronger measures”.

“The group was of the view that the Commission of National Inquiry, established to assess the events leading to the transfer of power on 7 February 2012, is not independent or impartial, and has failed to gain sufficient support in Maldives,” read the CMAG statement.

Subsequently, members of parliament backing President Waheed have called on the state to withdraw the country’s membership from the Commonwealth, during a debate on a resolution forwarded on Monday.

Newly sworn in Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen claimed at the same press conference that allowing foreigners to intervene in the domestic affairs would be an an “attack on our independence and national sovereignty”.

However, Waheed today noted that the “government does not consider leaving Commonwealth” and added that the international organisation in which Maldives participates, can continue to make recommendations, but the decisions on the national matters “will be solely made by us”.  “We are not going to do whatever someone tells us to do.”


Coup inquiry member reappointed after “conflict of interest”

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has appointed a new member to the Committee of National Inquiry, replacing Ahmed Mujthaba.

The commission, created to investigate the events that unfolded in the Maldives during the period from 14 January to 8 February, now includes former minister of defence and national security during President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration, Ismail Shafeeu, Dr Ibrahim Yasir, and new member Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef.

Mujthaba stepped down as he was also the convener of the all-party consultative meetings, and, according to a statement from the President’s Office, “the President believes a conflict of interest could arise in fulfilling the two functions.”

Ahmed Mujthaba was Gayoom’s former minister of tourism and the first president of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM).

Shafeeu will head the commission, the President’s Office stated.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has challenged the questioned the impartiality of the commission, particularly given the involvement of former ministers under Gayoom.

“How can [the government] carry out an impartial investigation, when they themselves were involved in the actions during that time period?” said MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor earlier this week.

“This is exactly the same type of commission that was formed during Gayoom’s regime to look into the events that unfolded in Maafushi Jail in 2003, including the custodial death of Evan Naseem,” Ghafoor said.

“Look what happened to the report they published then – people questioned it, and part of it was censored. We are calling for a third party consisting of international experts to come and into look into the matter. We absolutely do not believe that this commission will be impartial in investigating the matter.”

The Commonwealth concurred with the need for international involvement, stating that it “strongly felt that there should be international participation in any investigative mechanism, as may be mutually agreed by political parties in Maldives.”