Resigning not the solution: Health Minister Dr Shakeela

Resigning in the wake of last week’s transfusion of HIV positive blood to a patient is not the solution to problems in the health sector, Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela told MPs on the government oversight committee on Friday (February 28).

Dr Shakeela told the opposition-majority oversight committee that “human error” was to blame for the incident at the government-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), as the lab technician reported the blood as negative despite the machine showing otherwise.

“My resignation isn’t going to solve this. I could resign if that is the case. My resignation is not going to solve it. That’s why I am saying, what is the solution? The solution is all of us cooperating and working together to improve the system,” she said.

Shakeela added that she had been receiving text messages calling for her resignation.

Asked by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Hamza if she accepted “full responsibility without any excuses” for the incident, Shakeela replied that she accepts responsibility for “providing benefits” to whomever it was owed.

The ministry would attempt to explain to the public that the incident occurred due to “human error,” she stressed, adding that she did not think members of the public would stop visiting the government-run tertiary hospital.

As the donor was found by the patient, Shakeela stressed that the blood sample did not come from the hospital’s blood bank. The donor was not previously registered as an AIDs patient.

The government was ready to take whatever measures were necessary to restore public confidence, she added.

The minister also denied that there was a cover-up, or that the revelation to the media was prompted by leaked information.

Shakeela urged MPs to consider the mishap as “a one-off” incident caused by a mistake.

“Don’t think that this will keep happening to us all the time. We are taking steps for example to try and go to a fully automated system, to improve it and reduce human mistakes,” she said.

ISO standards

Upon learning of the incident on February 19, Shakeela said she informed the World Health Organisation (WHO), seeking advice and assistance following an emergency meeting with high-level officials at the Health Ministry.

The Health Ministry acted in line with international best practices, she said, and immediately launched independent inquiries.

The incident was revealed to the media shortly after receiving a draft report from an independent committee, she added, noting that further investigations were taking place to identify shortcomings at the hospital.

The machines at IGMH were state of the art whilst the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and protocols were at international standards, she noted.

Health Ministry Director General Dr Sheeza Ali meanwhile revealed that the laboratory was presently not “ISO certified”.

“But we are starting work during this year towards ISO certification. It is likely that we might not reach the latest [standards] as we might not be able to fulfil all the requirements,” she said.

Budget constraints

While the Health Ministry had asked for a “realistic budget” of MVR4 billion, Permanent Secretary Geela Ali said the budget approved by parliament had only MVR2.5 billion earmarked for the health sector.

Of the MVR2.5 billion annual budget, Geela noted that MVR1.8 billion was allocated for the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA).

Shakeela meanwhile told MPs that the health sector was in disarray, with crumbling infrastructure and facilities due to insufficient funds allocated in the state budget for many years.

“If we look at machinery, a screw comes loose from the machine and it falls on the head of the patient who is taken into the operating theatre,” she said.

Moreover, attracting qualified foreign doctors was “very difficult” as the salary of doctors in the Maldives has not kept pace with pay rises for doctors in the South Asian region, she explained.

Due to the budget constraints, Shakeela said the ministry was seeking foreign assistance, and that machinery and equipment were “on the way”.

In response to complaints regarding the budget, MDP MPs on the committee pointed out that health policy was formulated by the government while the state budget was proposed by the Finance Ministry, reviewed by a budget committee controlled by the ruling coalition, and approved by the government majority in parliament.


IGMH lab technician responsible for HIV blood transfusion in custody

An expatriate lab technician at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) responsible for the transfusion of HIV positive blood to a pregnant Maldivian patient has been taken into police custody on Thursday night (February 27).

IGMH Deputy CEO Dr Mohamed Habeeb told MPs on the government oversight committee yesterday that the Indian national had admitted his culpability in the incident.

Local media has since revealed his identity and reported that the Criminal Court has extended pretrial detention to seven days.

Habeeb was summoned to the oversight committee along with Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela and senior officials at the ministry.

Briefing MPs on the incident, Habeeb explained that the blood test was done on February 2 and the transfusion took place the next day.

The technician at fault reported the blood as negative despite the machine showing that it was positive for HIV.

The error was discovered when the patient came in for a routine checkup on February 18, he continued, after which the blood test report was reviewed.

A high-level meeting with senior officials from the Health Ministry was held immediately after the discovery and a three-member committee was formed to look into the incident, he said.

The committee comprised of an experienced doctor, senior nurse, and retired lab technician, he added – none of whom were employed by the hospital.

The incident was revealed to the media hours after the committee shared its findings, he said.

The blood sample was taken from a donor found by the patient and not from the hospital’s blood bank, Habeeb stressed. The donor was not previously registered as an HIV patient.

While there were normally two technicians at the lab, Habeeb noted that the Indian national was alone on the day in question as it was a public holiday.

Habeeb revealed that the technician left for India on the day of the incident and returned to the Maldives about two days later.

The technician had been working at the hospital for seven years and had recently received an award for his performance, Habeeb said.

However, Permanent Secretary at the Health Ministry Geela Ali revealed that the technician had been fired from his previous job in 2006.


No legal grounds to question Speaker’s JSC membership: Majlis secretariat

Read this article in Dhivehi

There are no legal grounds to question whether Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid should remain in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) whilst seeking re-election, the People’s Majlis secretariat said in a press release today.

The statement follows Majlis’ removal last week of its representative to the judicial oversight body, MP Ahmed Hamza, who is also seeking re-election.

In a letter informing the commission of Hamza’s removal last week, Speaker Shahid said the decision was made in reference to Article 10 of the JSC Act, which stipulates that a commission member will lose his seat if he stands in an election.

Both Shahid and Hamza are contesting in the upcoming parliamentary polls on opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) tickets.

The Majlis statement explained that Article 161(b) of the constitution “clearly shows” that a member appointed to the 10-member commission by virtue of his office (ex officio) would remain a member as long as he holds the post.

The article states that the speaker, the attorney general, and the chair of the civil service commission would remain “a member of the Judicial Service Commission only as long as that office is held.”

“Therefore, as the person in the post of speaker of the People’s Majlis is a member of the commission by virtue of office, there is no room to raise legal questions over whether he will remain a member of the Judicial Service Commission as long as he is in the [speaker’s post],” the press release stated in conclusion.

The statement was issued following media reports casting doubt on Shahid’s membership on the judicial watchdog.

Hamza meanwhile told Minivan News last week that the speaker and Majlis representative should be exempted from Article 10 “as it creates a legal vacuum.”

Prior to the speaker’s decision to remove him from the commission, JSC President and Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla sent letters to both Hamza and President Abdulla Yameen claiming that the MPs’ position was vacant following his submission of candidacy papers to the Elections Commission.

Hamza responded by contending that Adam Mohamed’s attempt to remove him was intended to reduce the number of members who advocated for judicial reform and to block an investigation into Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed’s sex tape scandal.

Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman – the public’s representative on the JSC  – has also accused Justice Adam Mohamed of stalling the JSC’s investigation into the sex tapes.

Adam Mohamed had refused to schedule a vote on whether to suspend Hameed following his refusal to cooperate with the investigation, Hamza said.

“The JSC cannot be productive as long as Adam Mohamed remains the president,” he said. “I call on the public to pressure the JSC to table the motion to suspend Ali Hameed.”


Attorney General refuses to attend parliament committee regarding revenue bills

Attorney General Mohamed Anil has refused to attend the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing revenue bills after being summoned to a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

The rejection letter sent to the parliament secretariat argued that the bill of amendments to the Tourism Act and T-GST [Tourism Goods and Services Tax] bills include policies compiled by the Economic and Youth Council of the cabinet.

Anil stated that the only role played by the Attorney General’s Office had been to draft the bills as directed by the council.

“As this office has no comments to make on the content of these bills at this moment, I respectfully inform you that I excuse my office from sending staff to attend the meeting we have been invited to,” a parliament official quoted the letter as saying.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Hamza has suggested that the absence of the Attorney General (AG) suggests disapproval of government policies.

Upon forming a government late last year, President Abdulla Yameen divided his cabinet into two sub-divisions – a social council and an economic council.

Government aligned parties have initiated special sessions of the parliament in order to extend the duration in which bed taxes can be charged, and also to increase T-GST. The government has also proposed to take full payments as lease from resorts that have extended their contracts.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali stated that, while the attorney general’s reasons for refusal are “absolutely clear”, the cabinet has thus far not decided whether it will hold discussions on the relevant policies with the parliament committee.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ali Arif – who sits in the committee tasked with reviewing the revenue bills – stated that he would be able to further comment on the matter after deliberations with the attorney general.

“What the AG has actually said is that he has already provided his views on the matter to the cabinet’s Economic Council, and therefore he declines from attending the committee to present the same views,” Arif stated.

Opposing view

An opposition MDP member in the same committee has interpreted the AG’s refusal to attend the committee meeting in a different light.

“Reading between the lines, MDP feels that the AG refused to attend as he does not agree with some of the things proposed by the government,” MDP MP Ahmed Hamza told Minivan News today.

“One of the things we feel he disagrees on is the government’s proposal to change the payment terms for resorts, to cancel the extentions granted to payments in breach of what the government has previously agreed with resort owners,” he continued.

“The other thing is the bed tax. The law says bed tax charges are to be ceased from December 31, 2013. The government is now proposing to continue taking it from January 1, 2014, but there is no law to support this. We feel the AG does not support taking this in retrospect after a law is formed now,” Hamza stated.

The AG, Mohamed Anil, was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Supreme Court orders JSC to halt transfer of judges

Supreme Court has released a mandamus order on Monday halting the judicial oversight body’s decision to shuffle ten superior court judges.

The order states the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) does not have absolute powers to transfer and promote judges.

Unless a court is liquidated no judge can be transferred to another court unless by the explicit decision of the Judicial Council, the Supreme Court said.

The Supreme Court has previously annulled the Judicial Council and taken over the council’s powers. The JSC has been notified of the move and hence is mandated to discuss any shuffle of judges with the Supreme Court, the order said.

“The Judicial Service Commission’s decision dated December 9, 2013 – where without any contribution of the Supreme Court – the JSC decided to transfer judges of the Civil Court, Criminal Court, Family Court, Drug Court and Juvenile Court from one court to another from January 1, 2014 is hereby overturned, and we notify Judicial Services Commission, concerned courts and other concerned authorities that it cannot be acted upon,” the order signed by Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain reads.

JSC disregarded Chief Justice’s objections

Earlier in December, the Chief Justice sent a letter to the JSC objecting to the transfer, presenting the same arguments as in Monday’s mandamus order.

The JSC had at the time decided to disregard the objections, saying it lacked legal grounds.

“Even under the constitution and the JSC Act, the commission is vested with the power to transfer the judges,” JSC representative from the parliament Ahmed Hamza said at the time.

“Order is baseless but will abide by it”

Hamza stated that the JSC still maintains that its decision is a legally justified one.

“When the next term of parliament begins, we will work on this matter from within the parliament. Meanwhile, the JSC’s position is clear: we maintain our stand that our decision to transfer judges is legal and within our powers,” Hamza told Minivan News today.

“By releasing this order, the Supreme Court has undermined the powers vested in the JSC by the constitution. I do not accept that the Supreme Court has the power to do so,” he continued.

“The Supreme Court usually overrules things when someone files a case there, not of their own initiative as in this instance. It is very surprising how this has come about.”

However, Hamza stated that as the objection has come in the form of a Supreme Court order, the JSC will have to follow it.

JSC Member appointed from the public Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman stated that while the order held the same reasoning as the letter previously sent by Faiz, the JSC will abide by it as it has now come in the form of an apex court order.

However, commenting further in private capacity, Shuaib described the Supreme Court’s reasoning as “irrational”.

“The reasoning presented in the order itself is irrational, and off the topic. The only legal connection that they can show is Article 47 of the Judges Act. The thing is they are talking about the Judicial Council, which has been made void. How can they refer to something that has already been made void? The articles that the Supreme Court have pointed out in the order have nothing to do with the JSC,” Shuaib said.

Shuaib said that he does not accept the Supreme Court can adopt the duties of the Judicial Council after the council itself has been ruled void.


JSC’s transfer of superior court judges termed “unlawful” by Chief Justice

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain has stated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC)’s transfer of superior court judges to other courts is unlawful.

Following the JSC’s decision to transfer Judge Abdulla Mohamed from his post as Criminal Court Chief Judge to the same position in the Drug Court on Monday, Faiz sent a letter to the president of the judicial watchdog Adam Mohamed on Tuesday stating that the commission did not have the legal authority to carry out such transfers.

Faiz subsequently deemed such decisions made by JSC to be “unlawful”.

The letter states that although Article 159(a) gives the JSC the authority to appoint, promote or transfer judges other than those from the Supreme Court, it “must not be interpreted as an absolute right”.

He then stated that the Judges’ Act mandates any transfer of a judge from his appointed court can only be carried out following deliberation with the Judicial Council.

The Judicial Council, meanwhile, is compiled of the seven judges sitting on the Supreme Court bench. Faiz stated in his letter that no judge should be transferred without consulting the Supreme Court first.

The Senior Legal and Complaints Officer Hassan Faheem Ibrahim – acting head at the JSC – confirmed to Minivan News that the commission had received the letter today.

“Since it is the Chief Justice who has sent this letter, we will not have any views on it or comments to make about it. It is the commission who will decide after they have deliberated on the matter. No meetings for the matter have been scheduled yet,” Faheem said.

Article 159(a) of the Maldives Constitution states that “The Judicial Services Commission is entrusted with the responsibility and power to appoint, promote and transfer Judges other the Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court, and to make recommendations to the President on the appointment of the Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court.

Article 49 of the Judges’ Act refers to temporary transfer of judges from one court to another and states “Temporary appointment of a Judge to preside over cases in a court will be decided upon by the Judicial Services Commission under the advice of the Judicial Council”.

Speaking to Minivan News on Monday, appointee from the Parliament to the JSC, Maldivian Democratic Party MP Ahmed Hamza said that about eight judges have so far been transferred from the courts they previously presided over. He added that the decision to transfer Judge Abdulla Mohamed was made to strengthen the courts by transferring experienced judges to different courts so as to spread knowledge and expertise.

Judge Abdulla Mohamed has previously been under investigation from the JSC, for allegations of ethical misconduct and obstruction of corruption investigations among others.

The decision of President Mohamed Nasheed to detain Mohamed in January 2012 fuelled a series of protests by then-opposition political parties, eventually leading to a police and military mutiny and Nasheed’s resignation.


President Waheed takes week-long holiday

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has taken a one-week holiday, Cabinet Secretary Dr Abdulla Nazeer told parliament’s Government Oversight Committee today.

Nazeer was summoned to the parliamentary committee over delays in the swearing-in of parliament’s newly-elected representative to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Hamza.

Nazeer told MPs that the ceremony could only take place once Dr Waheed returns on October 31.

Following the cabinet secretary’s remarks, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali tweeted,


Parliament approves MDP MP Ahmed Hamza to Judicial Service Commission

Parliament today approved Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Hamza as the People’s Majlis’ representative to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) with 43 votes in favour, 27 against and one abstention.

The MP for Faafu Bilehdhoo was approved after a proposal backed by pro-government Progressive Party (PPM) of Maldives and Jumhooree Party (JP) to appoint JP MP Ilham Ahmed to the judicial oversight commission was defeated 34-39.

Hamza’s name was proposed by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed and seconded by MDP MP Eva Abdulla.

The opposition party’s success in approving its member to the JSC confirms a new-found majority for the MDP with the provisional support of the DRP, which is currently backing MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed in the upcoming presidential election.

The MDP currently has 33 seats in parliament while the DRP has nine.

The 10-member independent judicial watchdog body meanwhile consists of three judges from the three tiers of the judiciary, the chair of the Civil Service Commission, the Attorney General, a member appointed by the president, the speaker of parliament, an MP approved by parliament, a member of the general public selected by parliament, and a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners of the legal profession.

The slot for the parliament representative was vacated after JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim accepted the loss of his seat in July after lawyers questioned the legality of a presidential candidate remaining in the JSC.

Article 10 of the JSC Act states that a member of the commission will automatically lose his seat in the event that they “file to contest in an election for any political position under the constitution of the Maldives”.

The newest member of the JSC, Ahmed Hamza, is an experienced lawyer and long-serving MP.


Revised penal code will “destroy Islam,” insists Sheikh Ilyas

A draft penal code under consideration by parliamentary committee will “destroy Islam” in the Maldives if the bill is passed in its current form, Sheikh Ilyas Hussain of the Adhaalath Party (AP) repeatedly insisted at parliament today.

The chair of the religious conservative AP’s scholars’ council and member of the Fiqh Academy was summoned to the committee after claiming that the draft legislation (Dhivehi) did not include Shariah penalties for fornication, apostasy and violent robbery.

“If it is passed, there is no doubt that there will be no religion in this Muslim society that claims to be 100 percent Muslim. There will be no Islamic punishments,” Sheikh Ilyas stated in a sermon delivered at the Furqan mosque in Male’ on March 23.

Sections of an audio recording of the sermon were played at the committee meeting today.

Ilyas however stood by the assertion and pointed to the bill specifying two years banishment as the punishment for fornication, instead of public flogging as prescribed in the Quran.

“Refusing [to incorporate] a single Hadd [fixed punishments specifically mentioned in Quran] is destroying Islam,” he said.

Other hudud crimes include murder, theft, highway robbery, consuming alcohol, apostasy and defaming a chaste woman.

Responding to Ilyas’ allegations, MP Ahmed Hamza, chair of the committee, noted that the draft penal code specifies as offences zina (fornication), theft, alcohol consumption and illegally toppling the government.

Following tense exchanges between Ilyas and MPs in a question and answer session, Hamza however conceded that “some [hudud] punishments” were not included in the draft legislation.

Hamza explained that a provision (article 1205) was added by the committee after the draft penal code was opened for public comment, under which sentencing persons convicted for premarital sex to 100 lashes is left to the discretion of judges.

Hamza also observed that a high degree of certainty is required in Islamic Shariah to convict a person of a hudud crime, such as four witnesses to prove fornication.

The hudud punishments were not incorporated because the Maldivian judiciary does not have the competence and public confidence to deliver fair judgments, Hamza said.

“I believe that our justice system has not developed to the level of establishing hadd,” he said, adding that the Prophet’s (pbuh) sayings advised against meting such punishments if there was the slightest doubt.

The six-member select committee reviewing the revised penal code includes MPs Ahmed Hamza, Imthiyaz Fahmy and Nazim Rashad from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), MPs Abdul Raheem Abdulla and Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur from the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and MP Ahmed Mohamed (Vice Chair) from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

A revised penal code was submitted to parliament in late 2009 to replace the existing law put in place in the 1960s. The bill has since been at committee stage.

The initial draft of the penal code was prepared by legal expert Professor Paul H Robinson and the University of Pennsylvania Law School of the United States, upon the request of the Attorney General in January, 2006. The project was supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Professor Robinson’s team have published two volumes (Volume 1 and Volume 2) consisting of commentaries on sections of the draft legislation.

“The author’s review suggests that the Maldivian criminal justice system systematically fails to do justice and regularly does injustice, that the reforms needed are wide-ranging, and that without dramatic change the system and its public reputation are likely to deteriorate further,” Professor Robinson wrote in his summary conclusion.


At today’s meeting, MDP MPs accused Ilyas of “lying” and misleading the public when he swore by God during his sermon that Shariah punishments were not included in the revised penal code.

MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said he deeply regretted Ilyas’ remarks in his sermon that implied that members of the committee were not Muslims.

“I am aware that I am a Muslim, not because of any relation between myself and Sheikh Ilyas,” Imthiyaz said. “I am a Muslim because of a connection from the bottom of my heart to God.”

Inciting religious hatred was a crime under both domestic and international law, he added.

DRP MP Ahmed Mohamed said that the first draft of the bill was in conflict with Islamic Shariah but the committee has made significant changes at the advice of religious scholars.

He went on to defend the committees’ efforts in reviewing the bill in consultation with state institutions, religious scholars, legal experts and the Islamic Ministry.

PPM MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur meanwhile asked Ilyas why he chose to make allegations in public and sow discord instead of sharing his concerns with the committee.

He stressed that the review process was ongoing with the input of experts and religious scholars.

“When you say this is a law intended to destroy Islam, what happens is that we face threats,” he said. “People who love religion even called us kafir (non-believers) at the time. So this is a dangerous matter.”

The PPM MP for Laamu Maavah also disputed Ilyas’ claim that the bill did not specify consensual sex between adults as an offence.

In response, Ilyas said it was his duty to inform the public after the committee invited views and comments as most people were not well-informed on religious issues.

Ilyas also objected to a provision (article 411) exempting a woman from being lashed even if she confesses to fornication, if the man denies it and four witnesses are not produced.

“This is definitely against Islamic Shariah,” Ilyas said, adding that a confession at court should lead to punishment.

Sheikh Ilyas argued that such provisions contravened the constitution as article 10 stated that no laws contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.