The government has proposed scrapping a provision in a 1976 law that allows the president to banish or place under house arrest persons who evade mandatory national service after completing state-funded training or education at public schools.
Presenting the amendment bill (Dhivehi) on behalf of the government at today’s sitting of parliament, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdulla Rifau said the provision contravened article 55 of the constitution, which states, “No person shall be imprisoned on the ground of non-fulfilment of a contractual obligation.”
Rifau also noted that according to article 16(a) of the constitution, fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by chapter two could only be restricted or limited to any extent “only if demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
In the ensuing debate, PPM MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed argued that abolishing the provision would be a “cosmetic change” as it had become null and void with enactment of the new constitution in August 2008.
Advising a broader debate on national service, Nasheed noted that 80 percent of workers was employed by the government and 20 percent by the private sector when the law was passed in 1976 while the reverse was true at present.
“Our ground reality has changed while this law was on the books,” he said.
In 2013, Nasheed added, 7,623 students completed O’ Levels, out of which 3,123 students (43 percent) was eligible for A’ Levels after passing five subjects.
The number of students who completed A’ Levels in 2013 was meanwhile 1,725, he noted, of which 1,294 students (75 percent) was eligible to pursue higher education or bachelors degree.
While students who completed O’ Levels 40 years ago were forced to serve the government regardless of their grades, Nasheed said in the present day hundreds of people apply for job openings at government offices.
The 1976 law – comprised of 11 articles – requiring 80 percent of school leavers to join the civil service was therefore irrelevant today, he contended, with the exception of sections dealing with employees who refuse to return to work after completing government-sponsored higher education or training.
As the issue was not “clearcut,” Nasheed recommended “serious debate” on formulating new rules appropriate for present circumstances.
Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdul Gafoor Moosa meanwhile contended that the entire law should be abolished as it was unconstitutional.
The law was also in conflict with article 36 of the constitution on the right to education, which stipulates that the state should provide free primary and secondary education and ensure accessibility for higher education for all citizens.
While supporting the amendment, MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, however, accused the government of seeking positive headlines to mislead the public.
Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim recommended expediting the debate on the legislation “to save time” as there was consensus among MPs on approving the amendment. The JP leader noted that several similar amendments to laws in conflict with the constitution were before parliament.
Among other amendments submitted by the government to bring outdated laws in line with the constitution include revisions to the Immigration Act, Child Protection Act, and detention procedures.
In June, Attorney General Mohamed Anil told local media that 51 pieces of legislation will be submitted to the current session of parliament out of a legislative agenda comprised of 207 bills.