The People’s Majlis has unanimously voted to pass the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The act – first introduced to the Majlis in 2009 – was passed as presented by the Social Affairs Committee with minor amendments with the support of the 67 MPs.
Introducing the bill to the floor, the committee chair MP Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed said the committee had sought assistance from local media and international experts in revising the bill
The bill was first sent to the People’s Majlis in 2007 but was rejected. It was reintroduced to the current People’s Majlis in November 2009, and underwent a complete overhaul at the Social Affairs Committee.
Local NGO TransparencyMaldives (TM) which has advocated for the act for a long time described its passing as “an important step towards increasing transparency of the state institutions, ensuring greater accountability of public officials, and fighting corruption”.
“Transparency Maldives hopes that President Abdulla Yamin Abdul Gayoom will expedite the ratification of the bill.We call on all actors and institutions to provide their full support towards successfully implementing the law once ratified” said the organization in a press released issued today.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed said the act was one of the best legislation passed by the Majlis.
Once the bill is ratified, subsidiary regulations will need to be passed, an Information Commissioner will need to be appointed and a support structure will need to be implemented, Aiman said.
If ratified the act will bring about major changes to the Maldives access to information regime. Although the current RTI regulation introduced in 2008 through an executive decree applies only to government offices, the new act will apply to all state funded institutions including the parliament, judiciary and independent institution.
Other key features of the act include the establishment of an information office in all state institutions, instituting a seven day period of response for information requests and a thirty day period to proved the information or reason for failure to do so.
An independent Information Commissioner will also be appointed by the parliament from names proposed by the president. Issues with acquiring information can be appealed to the Information Commissioner.
Supporters of both the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) protested outside parliament today while MPs remained deadlocked over the decentralisation bill.
Protesters from the two rival parties gathered behind police lines on opposite ends of the road with megaphones and loudspeakers, responding to each other’s taunts.
Like the four previous sittings, today’s sitting was also called off, making it the third consecutive day of cancellation following heated rows between MPs.
“Abdullah Shahid – resign! The corrupt deputy speaker – resign,” chanted the large group of MDP activists behind police barricades.
They called on MPs to pass the legislation with the government’s proposed model of dividing the country into seven provinces.
The opposition dominated committee selected to review the bill voted to scrap provinces, prompting MDP to propose over 700 amendments to reverse the changes.
A DRP protest led by a small group of supporters outside the president’s office was disrupted by police.
But the DRP activists gathered outside parliament to continue the protest.
“Ganjabo [pothead] – resign! Beer drinker – resign! Kenereege [President Mohamed] Nasheed who has hijacked the People’s Majlis – resign!” they hollered.
Meanwhile, on the other side, MDP supporters accused the former government of ignoring the atolls in favour of concentrating development in Male’.
“Give us 40 per cent of the resources in our area and we won’t come here to beg for healthcare, for a harbour, for housing,” yelled the activist with the megaphone.
Ahmed Shareef, 36, a senior DRP activist, told Minivan News opposition supporters were protesting because the government’s division of the country into seven provinces was unconstitutional and intended to weaken the people.
“The MDP members in Majlis have been working to rob the people of their rights,” he said. “I condemn it strongly. The people’s representatives should not be acting that way.”
During the parliamentary debate, opposition MPs argued grouping three or four atoll into a province was unconstitutional as 21 administrative areas were clearly defined in the appendix.
While the constitution required atoll councils to be elected from within the atoll, they said, the government’s bill would elect a province council with unequal representation.
But, MDP MPs argued the constitution left the model of decentralisation up to legislation to be passed by parliament, while economies of scale would not be possible if decision-making powers were devolved to single atolls.
Shareef said the police employed force and used pepper spray to disrupt the DRP protest outside the president’s office.
All three activists who were taken into custody have since been released.
“They took us by force without any warning, used pepper spray on us and put us in handcuffs,” he said, showing bruises on his body.
He added the current government was “dictatorial” and needed to be changed.
Shareef said the protest will continue tonight when parliament is scheduled to restart at 8.30pm.
‘Malini’ Ibrahim Ahmed, 41, an MDP activist, said he was disappointed with the way police handled the protest.
“They used force, they used pepper spray and cuffed people’s hands behind them,” he said.
But, he added, all MDP activists taken into custody were shortly released.
Police Sergeant Ahmed Shiyam said a number of people who refused to comply with orders were taken into custody, but no one was arrested.
In the early stages of the protest, when MDP supporters sat down in front of parliament, police forcibly moved them back, picking off a number of activists in the process.
One man was taken into custody after he accused an officer of using pepper spray without provocation. “You watch out, I’ll beat you up,” he said.
The riot police immediately jumped on the man, citing regulations which empower police to arrest anyone who threatens an officer of the law.
Starting off today’s sitting, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim said MPs could either vote on the amendments or the government could withdraw the legislation.
While MDP had requested negotiations and submitted proposals, he continued, the DRP has refused to engage in discussions.
Negotiations were ongoing between the MDP and the Speaker, he said.
Some MPs have recommended calling a public referendum to decide the issue of provinces.
After numerous points of order, Nazim called out the names of five MDP MPs who refused to sit down, invoking the power of the chair to remove them from the chamber.
But, all MDP MPs were on their feet and protesting loudly, leading Nazim to cancel the sitting.
Mid-Fuahmulah MP Shifaq Mufeed, Baarah MP Mohamed Shifaz, Hoarafushi MP Ahmed Rasheed, Machangoalhi South MP Mohamed Rasheed and Ihavandhoo MP Ahmed Abdullah were ordered to leave the chamber.