Attorney General unveils 207-bill legislative agenda

Attorney General (AG) Mohamed Anil unveiled a 207-bill legislative agenda last night for the current administration’s five-year presidential term.

Speaking at a ceremony held in Nasandhuraa Palace Hotel to launch the AG Offices’ strategic plan along with the legislative agenda, Anil said the the agenda was comprised of 98 new bills and 109 amendments to existing laws.

Anil observed, however, that bills should originate from parliament instead of the executive in “a perfect presidential system” and criticised the People’s Majlis for its lack of initiative.

“[Submitting bills] should be done by the Majlis as well. But we don’t see that spirit in the Maldives,” he said.

Of the 207 bills, Anil said the government hoped to submit 65 pieces of legislation to the legislature this year once the 18th parliament was sworn in after the elections on March 22.

“One of the highest priorities of the legislative agenda will be formulating bills for implementing the [policies] in the government’s manifesto,” he said.

The new legislation includes bills on establishing special economic zones, conducting public referendums, regulating the legal profession and health services, as well as new laws governing children’s rights, medical negligence, free expression, and implementation of the death penalty.

Anil said that the AG office was working with independent bodies to expedite and strengthen the functioning of new institutions created by the constitution.

The AG office has received assurances from the judiciary of its cooperation in drafting laws to strengthen the justice system, he added.

As a result of parliament’s failure to complete the legislative framework needed to enact the 2008 constitution, Anil said there were “many laws and provisions in our books that are contrary to the constitution.”

The new administration has commenced efforts to identify and abolish outdated and unconstitutional laws, Anil said, adding that the legislative agenda and strategic plan were formulated for that purpose.

Anil also criticised the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed – which took office three months after the ratification of the new constitution – for failing to pass legislation needed to strengthen and reform the judiciary.

He suggested that the Maldivian Democratic Party government did not prioritise legal reforms due to the political situation at the time. As a result, he added, the shortcomings of the justice system worsened over the years.

The AG’s office will review the problems in the judiciary and enact reforms during the next five years, he said.

Budget constraints and legislative framework

The AG also expressed concern with the MVR17 million (US$1.1 million) annual budget allocated for his office, which he said posed difficulties for executing its responsibilities.

While the office needed 43 lawyers, he noted that there were only 18 presently working at the office.

The AG’s Office should have a budget of similar size to that of the Prosecutor General, Anil insisted – which was MVR26 million (US$1.7 million).

The team working at the AG office was “inexperienced and young” but hardworking and determined, he added.

In August last year, parliament revealed that 43 bills were required to give effect to the constitution, of which 24 were submitted and 18 were passed by the 17th People’s Majlis.

Legislation currently under review at the committee stage includes the education bill, the penal code, the criminal justice procedures bill, and the evidence bill.

Among the 19 bills that have yet to be submitted included legislation governing public referendums, freedom of expression, press freedom, parliamentary ombudsman, state secrets, defamation, women’s rights, public services, trade unions, legal counsel, civil justice procedures, and national security.

The executive was also required to submit amendments to existing laws governing the Human Rights Commission, the Civil Service Commission, the auditor general, children’s rights, and family matters.

Meanwhile, prior to the ratification of the new constitution on August 7, 2008, parliament passed a General Regulations Act as parent legislation for over 80 regulations without a statutory basis, or which did not derive their authority from an act of parliament.

The parent act prolonged the lifespan of these regulations – deemed necessary for administrative functions and service provision – for a one year period until new legislation, such as a Criminal Procedures Act, Evidence Act, Freedom of Information Act and Political Parties Act, could be enacted.

Since the first deadline for passing the new laws elapsed in 2009, parliament has been extending the general regulations law for one-year periods. The last extension was approved in April 2013.