President seeking US$300 million credit facility from Saudi Arabia for “budget support”

The government has confirmed it is in discussion with Saudi Arabia, seeking a long-term, low interest credit facility of US$300 million to help overcome “fiscal problems”.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad confirmed President Waheed had held discussions with senior Saudi Arabian dignitaries including Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud over the proposed credit facility, during his recent visit to the country.

“The president has initiated the talks so it is just a matter of working out the details now,” Masood said, explaining that the funds would be used for “budget support” and development projects.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile said the government would still be required to secure parliamentary approval for the funding.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the heavily partisan parliament now effectively controlled state finances as a result of former opposition politicians – now part of President Waheed’s government – imposing tighter spending restrictions on former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.

Ghafoor argued that with the MDP failing to recognise the legitimacy of the present government due to the controversial transfer of power last February, he did not believe there would be support for approving the credit agreement with Saudi Arabia due to the government’s existing extravagant borrowing levels.

The party accused the current government of reckless financial management, pointing to a potential US$1.4 billion compensation bill facing the state for deciding last year to abruptly terminate a US$511 million airport development contract agreed with infrastructure group GMR.

The compensation claim amounts to four times that of the Maldives’ current state reserves should it be awarded by a Singapore court overhearing arbitration hearings between GMR and the government.

“Since we do net see this government as legitimate, we do not see why we should support them,” he said. “They have put us into debt with their handling of the airport development and another bill for a border control system.”

Earlier this month, Malaysian security firm Nexbis invoiced the Department of Immigration and Emigration for US$2.8 million (MVR 43 million) for the installation and operation of its border control system technology in the country, in line with a concession agreement signed in 2010.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali confirmed at the time that Nexbis had submitted a bill seeking charges for the period its system has been in use, as work continues on replacing the Malaysian company’s border controls with new technology provided by the US government.

Development delays

In April this year, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad sought authorisation from parliament to divert MVR 650 million (US$42 million) allocated for infrastructure projects in the budget to cover recurrent expenditure.

Jihad warned that government offices and independent institutions might be unable to pay salaries or electricity and phone bills if funds were not transferred from the MVR 1.8 billion (US$117 million) Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP).

Earlier the same month, Jihad also announced that the government had decided to delay all new development projects that were to be financed out of the state budget due to shortfalls in revenue.

The decision to suspend new projects was revealed after Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz told local media at the time that he had been instructed not to commence any further infrastructure projects included in the 2013 budget, such as harbour construction or land reclamation.

Both Finance Minister Jihad and Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

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Pro-Sharia march held in Male’

Men and women of various ages marched through the streets of Male’ yesterday (April 19), calling for Islamic Sharia to be fully implemented in the Maldives.

Yesterday’s march, which organisers claimed had no political backing, was said to have been led by a group of young people calling for Sharia to be fully implemented to protect the Maldives from “calamities” that it is presently facing, according to local media.

However, one local religious NGO has argued that Maldivian society was not presently ready to undergo such radical reforms to the nation’s legal system, arguing that any changes would need to be made gradually over a long period of time.

Commencing yesterday at 4:30pm by the social centre in the capital, the pro-Sharia march concluded just before 6:00pm at the artificial beach area.

A small number of demonstrators were in attendance, reported the Sun Online news website. Organisers have pledged that further pro-Sharia marches were anticipated in future.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and State Islamic Minister Mohamed Didi were not responding to calls at the time of press.

“Long process”

Co-founder of the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Nazim, speaking in a personal capacity, told Minivan News that he believed demonstrators may have been affiliated with fellow religious NGOs in the country.

Nazim said key figures behind the demonstration would have likely been religious conservatives, who in some cases may have held more “radical” views of Islam.

In addressing the key aims of the march, he added that from a personal perspective, Maldivian society was not presently an environment conducive for Islamic Sharia to be implemented outright.

Nazim argued that implementing Sharia law correctly would be a long process for the country. He took the example of other Islamic nations such as Pakistan that had sought to implement a complete adherence to Sharia law in a short period of time, resulting in power struggles and other political complications as a result.

“This is not something we can just implement overnight, we will require people to change their attitudes before we are ready for such a change,” he suggested. “It will be a long process for the country.”

When contacted about the implementation of Sharia in the Maldives, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad today recommended Minivan News contact the Islamic Ministry over religious issues concerning the state.

“I think it would be best to speak to the Islamic Ministry on this,” Masood said.

Meanwhile, a senior figure serving within the current government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed – speaking on condition of anonymity – argued that any significant changes to the country’s faith would always have to be made gradually and could not be made in a short period of time.

The source argued that the previous government of former President Mohamed Nasheed – which claimed to favour what it called a “more moderate and tolerant” form of Islam – had attempted to bring changes to the country’s perception of faith and religious conservatism in too short a period of time.

While claiming to personally favour a “more tolerant” interpretation of Islam, the source argued that the resulting opposition to the former government’s religious stance had likely led to the controversial transfer of power that saw former President Nasheed resign on February 7, 2012.  His resignation came on the back of a mutiny among sections of the police and military.

Islamic Sharia in the Maldives

Under article 142 of the Maldives’ Constitution, the judiciary is presently required to looked to turn to Islamic Sharia in any matters where the Constitution or the law is silent.

To this end, the country’s courts have in certain cases granted the death sentence to severe crimes such as murder, while also using punishments like flogging in certain sexual offence cases.

However, the acting Head of State under each of the last three governments has commuted death sentences to life sentences in every single case.

The last person to be judicially executed in the Maldives was Hakim Didi, who was executed by firing squad in 1953 after being found guilty of conspiracy to murder using black magic.

Legal Reform

In December 2012, former Attorney General Azima Shukoor drafted a bill outlining how the death sentence should be executed in the Maldives as part of ongoing consultations on enacting such a punishment.

Lethal injection was identified as the state’s preferred method of capital punishment in the bill, while further consultations were being taken on possibly removing the serving Head of State’s right to commute death sentences upheld by the Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed had pledged to review the possibility of legal reforms to bring an end to the use of punishments like flogging in the country’s justice system.

Addressing the scale of these potential reforms, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood said last month that all authorities involved in the process would have to tread “a very fine line” in order to tackle long standing “traditions” and beliefs in the country.

“Reforms must be undertaken, but this must be done gradually considering we are dealing with a process embedded in society,” he said, discussing the government’s commitments to bring an end to sentences like flogging. “A certain amount of compromise may be needed.”

The wider Maldives legal system has itself been brought under the spotlight after former President Nasheed controversially detained the Criminal Court Chief Judge last year.

Nasheed’s government argued the decision was necessary as the judge in question had become a threat to “national security” after ordering investigations into his own alleged misconduct halted.

Nasheed is presently facing trial in the country over the abduction of the judge.

Following the commencement of the trial, Gabriela Knaul, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, earlier this year raised several concerns about the effectiveness of the wider Maldives legal system following a fact-finding mission.

Knaul stated back in February that upon conclusion of her mission meetings, she had found that the concept of independence of the judiciary has been “misconstrued and misinterpreted” by all actors, including the judiciary itself, in the Maldives.

Addendum: This article earlier attributed views of Co-founder of the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Nazim to the organisation. He has subsequently clarified that his comments were made in a personal capacity.

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India should monitor developments closely: Eurasia Review

“All indications are that every effort will be made by the authorities in Maldives to prevent [former President Mohamed] Nasheed from contesting [in elections scheduled for later this year],” writes S Chandrasekharan for the Eurasia Review.

“The Maldivian President’s Spokesman Masood Imad had said that the elections will free and fair but will be ‘exclusive’ – in the sense will exclude those not meeting the legal criteria. The intention is clear- use all means constitutional or otherwise to prevent Nasheed from contesting.

Nasheed has already threatened that any verdict barring him from contesting the elections would result in a lot of people rising against the decision and trigger a very dangerous political insurgency.

From the Indian point of view the situation needs careful monitoring. It is hoped that international pressure to have a free, fair and more importantly, an ‘inclusive’ election will continue.”

Read more.

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Statement accusing Mulay of interference was forged, says JSC

The High Commission of India in the Maldives has expressed disappointment with the Agence France-Presse (AFP) newswire after it published a story on what the high commission claimed was a “forged” media statement from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The statement, with JSC header and dubbed an ‘official translation’, said the JSC “regrets the interference of the High Commissioner of India in Maldives in his personal capacity with the judicial process of the Maldives, by keeping former President Mohamed Nasheed within the diplomatic confines  of the High Commission thereby impeding the due process of the Law.

“We appreciate the official stand of the Indian Government to refrain from interfering with the internal affairs of Maldives and respect independence of the judiciary,” read the statement.

It was emailed from an anonymous gmail account, [email protected]

The High Commission of India issued a press release on Sunday (February 17) admonishing the AFP for circulating the report based on the false JSC statement.

“The High Commission expresses its disappointment that a respected news agency like AFP has chosen to give undue publicity to such a cheap gimmick against the High Commissioner in the current sensitive atmosphere, without even bothering to check the veracity of the said letter with the JSC or High Commission of India in Male’,” the statement read.

The high commission statement was accompanied with an email from the JSC Secretariat denying having issued the release.

JSC Secretary General Aboobakuru Mohamed said the letterhead was “forged” and the statement was “false”.

“Regarding the issue of sheltering by the Maldivian ex-president, Mr Mohamed Nasheed within the compound of the High Commision of India, Male’, Maldives, we, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) of Maldives, categorically deny issuing any statement on this regard,” the statement said.

The Indian High Commission called on AFP “to immediately retract its report and issue an apology prominently for the damage caused to the reputation and good will of the High Commissioner and the Indian Mission.”

Various new outlets have reported senior Maldivian government officials echoing the sentiment of the “forged” JSC statement: “The fact of the matter is that some individual Indian diplomats are interfering in our internal affairs. This must stop,” a senior government official told AFP, asking not to be named.

Maldives-India relations

Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay was meanwhile summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday (February 17) – the first time a high commissioner has been summoned by the ministry according to local media.

Mulay reportedly delivered a brief diplomatic note discussing the Indian government’s accommodation of Nasheed.

“We have not interfered with Maldivian politics and have no intention of even doing so. India also wants the Maldives’ judicial process to go on. We also want stability and peace in the Maldives. We want political reconciliation through peaceful dialogue,” Mulay told local media afterwards.

Following India’s initial warning that a failure to allow all political leaders to contest the elections would call into question the integrity of the electoral process and perpetuate instability, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ministry declared it was “unfortunate that the government of India has decided to comment on the types of candidates that could contest the upcoming Presidential Elections in the Maldives scheduled for September 2013.”

Local newspaper Haveeru quoted an unnamed government official as stating that the “political atmosphere in the Maldives would reach a boiling point” if India allowed it.

Meanwhile, President Waheed Hassan Manik  promised to promote democracy and maintain law and order in a statement issued Saturday (February 16).

He emphasised his “dismay” that Nasheed had sought refuge in the High Commission, instead of heeding his court summons, which expired on February 13.

“There is no reason for him to remain in the High Commission and to instigate street violence. The court order has nothing to do with my government. Upholding the rule of law means nobody is above the law,” Waheed said.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad implied that India was trying to fuel political turmoil in the Maldives.

“Mulay should take direct responsibility for the fresh unrest and violence in the capital,” he told local media.

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

Nasheed’s trial

Former President Mohamed Nasheed failed to attend the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing on February 10, resulting in a court order for police to produce Nasheed for trial regarding his controversial detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

In response to rumours of Nasheed’s imminent arrest, he entered the Indian High Commission on February 13 seeking India’s assistance.

His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that the charges – based on his detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office – are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him contesting the 2013 elections.

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Male’ City Council to appeal following court order to hand MDP protest site to government

Male’ City Council (MCC) has appealed to the High Court asking for it suspend a Civil Court ruling to hand over the Usfasgandu area to the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has been using the area as a protest camp after it was allocated the land by MCC. According to a Civil Court order, the MCC violated the government’s land use plan because it lacks the authority to hand over the land to other parties.

MCC Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik told Minivan News that the city council allocated the Usfasgandu area to the MDP in order to keep them from protesting on the streets around Male’, and that a letter had been sent to High Court today (January 21) asking it to suspend the Civil Court’s ruling.

“Usfasgandu is not only for the MDP but for the whole of Male’. Without it (the MDP) would be on the streets. To prevent this we gave them the area.

“The government want the MDP to go onto the streets, that way they can say there is no stability in the county and prevent early elections from being held,” Manik alleged.

Asked if the MDP would be allocated another area should they be removed from Usfasgandu, Manik answered “If they request for it, we will reply”.

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

The area has been used for protests by the MDP since their former site near the tsunami monument was forcibly dismantled by police and military on March 19, 2012.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the threat of eviction is not an issue for the party who, if removed, “will simply have to find a new space”.

“Occasionally there are efforts made by the government to go to great lengths in order to restrict freedom of expression and assembly and this is one of them. This should not impact the MDP, we have grown in the past without space,” Ghafoor added.

“MDP are thinking in a nutshell”

Responding to allegations that the government is attempting to limit freedom assembly, President’s Office Spokesman Masood Imad told Minivan News that “if anything [the Usfasgandu handover] is facilitating freedom of assembly for everyone else”.

“By constantly being at Ufasgandu, are the MDP not limiting other people’s freedom of assembly and expression? If the Home Ministry is to take the site accessible for other parties to use the space as well as the MDP, it is not a restriction of assembly.

“They could make it like the artificial beach area so it can be used by all parties based on request, I am sure the MDP will be given the chance to use it,” Imad said.

Regarding Mayor Manik’s comments, Masood claimed the mayor needs to be more “Male’ mayor” than “MDP mayor”.

“Who is to say the MDP will start protesting on the streets if Usfasgandu is handed over? Why do some people think the [MDP] always protest?

“Contrary to what Mayor Manik thinks, I don’t think they go around making protests, I think the MDP are good guys,” Imad said.

Should MCC’s appeal to High Court fail to suspend the Civil Court’s order, MDP Spokesman Ghafoor stated it would be up to the National Executive Committee or the National Council to take the matter further.

“The reason for this would be because the MDP is being denied a constitutional right and cornerstone of the human rights based democracy we achieved through peaceful assembly,” he added.

The civil court’s ruling, which orders the area to be handed over within the next seven days, states that MMC’s current use of the area is in contradiction to the agreement made between the council, Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure, and Ministry of Finance and Treasury.

According to the agreement, the land “shall be kept empty for public use and that the land shall be developed in manner accessible to the public all times.”

Ghafoor further claimed the government has become “very adamant” in taking back control of land from local councils, alleging that the ultimate aim is to prevent freedom assembly.

Condoms and black magic: Previous Usfasgandu raid

In May 2012, Maldives’ cabinet announced its decision to hand over the Usfasgandu area to the Ministry of Housing and Environment.

Following the “non-compliance” of MCC in handing over the area, police were asked to intervene and “take over”.

Police raided the MDP protest camp at Usfasgandu on the morning of May 29, 2012, after obtaining a search warrant from the Criminal Court and cordoning off the area from MDP demonstrators.

Reasons for the search as stated on the warrant included: “suspected criminal activity”, “damage to public property”, and “suspected black magic performed in the area”.

Under evidence, the warrant alleged that people in the Usfasgandu area verbally abused police officers and damaged a police vehicle on April 20, obstructed a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) exercise of May 9, and on May 25 “MDP protesters threw a cursed rooster at MNDF officers.”

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Government seeks to dissolve Male’ City Council

Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish.

The government has confirmed today it has requested the Local Government Authority (LGA) to dissolve Male’ City Council (MCC) – an elected body predominantly represented by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members.

The MCC has been involved in a number of disputes with the government during 2012 following February’s controversial transfer of power – most recently over the issue of funding and utility bill payments.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad confirmed to Minivan News today that any decision to dissolve the MCC would be made legally through a request to the LGA, which is presently chaired by the Home Minister.

“What I know is that we are getting complaints about [the council’s] inefficiency,” he said.

Masood was unable to comment further on the matter at time of press, forwarding inquiries to Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

Dr Jameel was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

However, Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem told Minivan News that the MCC had been informed that the LGA had been sent a request from the government to dissolve the council.

Of the eleven councillors of the capital, nine were elected on MDP tickets.

Kareem observed that article 66(a) of the Decentralisation Act grants the LGA authority to submit a case to the High Court requesting the dissolution, but believed no such motion had been filed at time of press.

“As far as I know, such a case has not been sent to the court,” he said

Kareem added that should the dissolution matter proceed, lawyers for the MCC were to appeal against any such motion, taking the case to the Supreme Court if it was unsuccessful during the High Court case.

Three grounds for dissolving councils are specified in article 66(a) for which a case could be submitted to the High Court.

These include repeatedly failing to carry out the functions and responsibilities of the council; misusing the council’s resources or facilities; and failing to carry out duties due to repeated failure to hold meetings.

Article 66(b) meanwhile states that the court must only grant the LGA request “if the court believes that there is no other way but dissolving the council.”

In the event that the High Court approves dissolving the council, fresh elections must be held within 45 days. The LGA would appoint caretakers in the interim to manage council affairs.

LGA member Ahmed Faisal told newspaper Haveeru today that the Home Ministry requested the MCC be dissolved following deliberations by the cabinet.

“We have received a letter signed by the Home Minister. But we have not tabled the issue in the agenda yet. And I don’t even believe that the Home Minister could order a council to be dissolved like that. Because there are a lot of things the LGA has to complete before that,” Faisal was quoted as saying.

Faisal accused Home Minister Jameel of requesting the city council be dissolved for “political purposes.”

Faisal also criticised Jameel for allegedly being unaware of the difficulties faced by councils in his role as chair of the LGA, the oversight body formed to coordinate with and oversee local council.

The LGA member stressed that dissolving councils was a long process and that the LGA has not made any decision yet, adding that dissolving the council without addressing difficulties it faced would be “unjust.”

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MDP expresses concern over legality of Immigration Department switch

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has questioned the legality of transferring control of the Department of Immigration and Emigration to the Defence Ministry amidst wider concerns over what it alleges are a number of “surprising coincidences” this week.

In a press statement, the opposition MDP accused President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik of acting suspiciously after parliament voted by 74 votes to cancel the border control system agreed with Malaysia-based IT service provider Nexbis.

The President’s Office said today it rejected any insinuations that it had operated outside the law, while declining to comment on any statements from the MDP.

The former ruling party’s allegations focused on the president’s decision to travel to Malaysia – where Nexbis’ head offices are located – for a personal visit just three days after the Majlis vote.

The MDP also maintained that the president’s decision to transfer the Department of Immigration and Emigration to the Ministry of Defence and National Security was an unlawful act.

The Immigration Department was previously under the mandate of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

According to the opposition party, the structures of the executive ministries compiled by parliament had placed the immigration department under the oversight of the Ministry of Home Affairs.  The party contended that the President’s Office decision to transfer any department outlined in this structure without prior parliamentary approval was therefore an unlawful act .

The Nexbis agreement was signed when President Waheed’s brother in law, Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, was serving as Controller of Immigration and Emigration.

Ilyas has since been transferred to the Ministry of Defence and National Security as a State Minister, to which the immigration department now reports. The MDP statement alleged that the transfer of the department effectively placed control of immigration back under the authority of Ilyas.

The statement alleged that the move was an attempt by Waheed to cover up allegations of corruption in the deal signed with Nexbis.

Nexbis has denied all allegations of corruption in its Border Control System (BCS) deal, while last week filing a case with the Maldives Civil Court claiming parliament lacked the jurisdiction to order the government to terminate the IT company’s contract.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad also dismissed the MDP’s claims, stating “This government will never do anything unlawful. We review actions carefully before doing anything. It’s MDP that conducts unlawful activities.”

Masood refused to comment further on the matter, stating “MDP releases lots of statements. I do not wish to comment on what they have to say in those.”

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Government “not aware” of request to temporarily halt hiring of senior civil servants

The government has said it is “not aware” of a Civil Service Commission (CSC) request to cease recruiting for any position higher than the role of assistant director until 2013, despite reports in local media to the contrary.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said he had not been made aware of any requests to amend government recruitment practice and would need to clarify the matter, and referred Minivan News to the CSC.

Minivan News was awaiting confirmation at time of press both from Masood and CSC President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan over whether an official request had been made to curb government offices hiring senior civil servants.

However, local media, citing an an named government source, speculated that the reported CSC request was linked to “financial difficulties” currently facing the state.

The government official told the Sun Online news service that despite the need for new employees within the Finance Ministry, the recruitment process for such roles had been halted in line with the CSC’s request.

Earlier this week, Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad claimed the government was currently unprepared to meet its recurrent expenditure – including salaries – for the final three months of 2012 without a US$25 million loan promised by the Indian government.

While unable to confirm if the reported CSC request was linked to Finance Ministry fears over insufficient funding for state wages, key economic figures within the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan have maintained that more drastic budget cuts are required to balance expenditure.

Despite government commitments to cut departmental budgets by 15 percent in 2012, Jihad told Minivan News last month that even with financial assistance promised from China and India, further cuts would need to be made to state salaries over the next year to deal with deficit concerns.

Jihad and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Ahmed were not responding to calls at the time of press.

CSC President Fahmy said in September 2012 that as no request had so far been made by the government to reduce the size and budget of civil society organisations, it did not have concerns about potential job cuts.

“Our mandate is to provide human resources to the government. As long as there is no effect on the salaries or number of civil servants, we will not seek to intervene in the policy of government,” he said.

With state income lower and expenditure higher than predicted, this year’s budget deficit had been forecast to reach MVR6billion (US$389 million), equivalent to around 28 percent of real GDP.

Despite this deficit, President Waheed has been campaigning this week in Faafu and Dhaalu Atolls, reportedly to reassure the public that the economy was running smoothly, whilst criticising those who he claimed sought to weaken it.

Waheed is also reported as having said that he would not resort to borrowing from foreign governments in order to finance government activities.

“I will not try to run the government by securing huge loans from foreign parties. We are trying to spend from what we earn”, he was reported to have told the people of Nilandhoo.

“The Maldivian economy is fine. Don’t listen to whatever people say. We don’t have to [worry] about the Maldivian economy being in a slump,” he was quoted as saying during a rally in Meedhoo.

US$25 million in funding from India was agreed upon last month as part of the $US100 million standby credit facility signed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2011.

Unpaid bills

However, despite president Waheed’s reassurances, a number of state owned institutions have this month faced disconnection from the capital’s power grid as bills amounting to around MVR 150million (US$9.7million) were said to be owed to the State Electricity Company (STELCO).

Responding to blaming of his ministry, Jihad told Sun that the finances were simply not there, pointing to the adoption of spending policies of the previous administration.

“We are not receiving foreign aid as was included in the budget. How can we spend more than we receive? That’s why those bills are unpaid. We can’t spend money we don’t have,” he told the paper.

Former Minister of Economic Development Mahmood Razee has previously told Minivan News that this increased expenditure in the face of a pre-existing deficit represented the government “ignoring reality.”

“If they don’t get the loan, they will have to cut travel expenses, stop certain programs – take drastic measures or get another loan,” said Razee, claiming that the only alternative would be to sell treasury bills.

Following reports in August that the government was attempting to raise funds through the sale of treasury bills, former Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz said that this would not address the concerns of the IMF, prolonging economic uncertainty.

China has also made large commitments towards the Maldives’ economic development in recent months, although Razee said he believed that current changes within the Chinese government in the upcoming month made this an inopportune time to look there for additional financial aid.

In August, the current Finance Ministry announced its own austerity measures intended to wipe over MVR2.2billion (US$143 million) from this year’s budget deficit though few of these propositions have as yet been followed through.

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Waheed government submits bill to facilitate death penalty

The government has announced its intention to introduce a bill to the People’s Majlis in order to guide and govern the implementation of the death penalty in the country.

“It is currently a punishment passed by the judiciary and a form of punishment available within the penal system of the Maldives,” said Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

“But for full guidance and matters governing the matter, legislation is required,” he added.

A meeting of the cabinet yesterday strongly condemned last week’s murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali and urged President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to start taking immediate measures to ensure safety and security in the country.

President’s Office spokesman Masood Imad said that the government had received a large number of calls for implementing the death penalty.

“We are having enormous pressure since these high profile murders,” he said. “We have indications – the talk around the town – that there will be more murders.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has this week proposed a no-confidence motion against the home minister, citing the unprecedented instances of murder and assault in the country since he assumed office in February.

Afrasheem’s murder was the 10th in the small country this year, sparking much debate on the death penalty.

Following the murder of high profile lawyer Ahmed Najeeb on July 1, two people were sentenced to death after Najeeb’s heirs opted for qisas (equal retaliation) rather than blood money.

Public outcry over Najeeb’s murder prompted Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz to declare that full enforcement of the courts’ rulings is necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the judiciary.

A case was submitted to the High Court in August, requesting that it annul the President’s ability to commute death sentences to 25 years imprisonment, provided in the Clemency Act.

Similarly, in April Ahmed Mahloof – parliamentary group member from the government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) – proposed an amendment to the Clemency Act to ensure that the enforcement of the death penalty be mandatory in the event it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

In a comment piece written for Haveeru following Najeeb’s murder, however, Special Advisor to the President Dr Hassan Saeed warned that implementing the death penalty could be both arbitrary and prohibitively expensive.

Judiciary and human rights

The last execution in the Maldives came in 1953 when Hakim Didi was charged with attempting to assassinate President Ameen using black magic.

Since that time, the Maldives has retained the practice of the death penalty for murder although Islamic Shariah tenets also give the courts the power to pronounce capital punishment for offences such as sodomy, fornication, apostasy and other crimes against the community.

Statistics show that from January 2001 to December 2010, a total of 14 people were sentenced to death by Maldivian courts.

Jameel said that there was to be no re-consideration of the Clemency Act but that “necessary reform to legislation governing the criminal justice system will be undertaken by the government.”

Concerns over the judiciary were confirmed in the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report which investigated the events surrounding the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February.

The final report recommended that immediate steps be taken to improve the performance of the judiciary.

“The judiciary must enjoy public confidence and where there are allegations about judges’ conduct, the Judicial Services Commission must act in a timely and definitive way and report,” read the report.

Aishath Velezinee, formerly Nasheed’s appointee to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), has said that corruption and an unreformed judiciary were the primary causes of crime in the country.

“Islam upholds justice, and not only has death penalty; it has very clear qualifications for judges too. Neither MP Mahloof, nor any of the Sheikhs, has expressed alarm that the judges are far below standard and some of them are convicted criminals themselves. This is pure politics and abuse of Islam,” she told Minivan News in a previous interview.

In July, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) said it was “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives,” as well as calling for the abolition of the death penalty, in order to ensure the Maldives’ compliance with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

After speaking with a Maldivian delegation headed by Jameel, the council released a statement saying that the state had acknowledged both that the independence of the judiciary was severely compromised and that the death penalty did not deter crime.

Today marks World Day Against the Death Penalty – organised by an alliance of more than 135 NGOs, bar associations, local authorities and unions seeking the universal abolition of capital punishment.

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