Majlis approves foreign freeholds in second amendment to constitution

The parliament has amended the constitution to authorise foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the Maldives with overwhelming support of 70 votes in favour, a day after the amendments were introduced to the People’s Majlis.

Ten MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and nine MPs of the Jumhooree Party (JP) also voted in favour of the unprecedented changes. Some 14 MPs voted No.

MPs opposed to the move expressed concern over possible Chinese military expansion in the Maldives, and the lack of time to review the amendments. The bill was submitted on Monday, debated and sent to committee for review at an extraordinary sitting last night, and put to a vote today.

The opposition MPs’ backing was necessary as a three-quarters majority or 64 votes was required to amend the constitution. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.

Shortly before the vote was called, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, leader of the PPM and half-brother of President Abdulla Yameen, urged the president to seek public opinion before ratifying the amendments. This is the first time Gayoom has publicly opposed president Yameen’s actions.

The amendments will allow foreigners who invest more than US$1 billion to purchase land within the project site. At least 70 percent of the area when the project is completed must also be reclaimed land. The constitution previously prohibited foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory, but allowed leasing of land for up to 99 years.

New Cold War

Speaking during the final debate on the amendments today, MDP MP Eva Abdulla said that a Chinese Yuan class 335 submarine passed through Maldivian waters and docked at the Karachi port on May 22, adding that Indian media called it “China’s deadliest attack submarine.”

Maldivian foreign and domestic policies should be based on ensuring Indian Ocean regional security as “Maldives is not in the South China Sea,” she said.

The Maldives is “a front line state” in the new Cold War and should not be a catalyst for conflict, the MP for Galolhu North added.

The MDP as a “centre-right party” supports free market policies and the principle of private land ownership, but could not support “selling land for China to build military bases” in the Maldives.

Eva said the MDP could support foreign ownership of land in the Maldives under a more transparent government and independent judiciary.

PPM MP Ali Arif conceded that the Maldives as a small nation is always vulnerable to influence from powerful nations. He said the committee addressed the concerns over sovereignty during its review process and added a clause to the bill stating that the Maldivian state will exercise complete authority over the territory designated for projects.

He added that 80 or 90 percent of the Maldives’ 112 luxury resorts are operated by foreign businesses and multinational hotel chains have invested millions of dollars in the lucrative tourism industry.

Majority leader Ahmed Nihan, who had submitted the bill, meanwhile assured the public that the ruling party would not compromise Islam or Maldivian traditions and sovereignty. He stressed that the amendments only apply to newly reclaimed land and that the government was not planning to sell existing natural islands or reclaimed land.

No public debate

Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem said she had proposed amending the bill to allow lease of Maldivian territory for up to 150 years, but the parliament secretariat did not accept her amendment as it was submitted after 12pm.

Anara said a single day was too short a period to approve such changes to the constitution without consulting stakeholders or experts.

Gayoom raised the same issue in a letter sent to President Yameen and shared with the media by the former president’s office. He urged his brother to hold a public referendum on the issue, noting the amendments were proposed without public debate.

Gayoom also stated that previous governments did not sell any part of Maldivian territory to prevent foreign influence over the country’s independence, sovereignty, and resources.

MDP MP Ahmed ‘ADK’ Nashid also expressed concern with passing the amendments without a debate among the public or an assessment of the pros and cons of the proposed changes.

Despite the economic benefits of attracting foreign investors, Nashid warned that the amendments could pose dangers to Maldivian sovereignty with foreign powers encouraging secessionist movements in a situation similar to Crimea breaking away from the Ukraine.

MPs Eva, Nashid, and Anara were among those who cast dissenting votes along with MDP MPs Rozaina Adam, Mohamed Rasheed Hussain, Mohamed Falah, Mohamed Aslam, Mariya Ahmed Didi, Imthiyaz Fahmy, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, and Fayyaz Ismail.

JP MPs Ali Hussain, Abdulla Riyaz, and Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof also voted against the proposed changes.

MDP MPs Abdul Bari Abdulla, Abdul Ghafoor Moosa, Abdulla Shahid, Ahmed Marzooq, Ali Azim, Ali Nizar, Ibrahim Shareef, Ibrahim Naseer, Mohamed Nazim, and Mohamed Abdul Kareem voted in favour of the bill along with nine JP MPs and Independent MP Hussain Areef.

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Majlis votes overwhelming ‘Yes’ to Adeeb

Ahmed Adeeb, the influential tourism minister, has been sworn in as the Maldives’ new vice president at a ceremony at the President’s Office this afternoon. The People’s Majlis has approved his nomination with 70 votes in favor.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed administered the oath of office before the Majlis vote.

The new vice president thanked President Abdulla Yameen for his nomination.

He told local media he will only take half of his MVR75,000 salary and will reside at his home instead of the official vice presidential palace.

Adeeb will continue to handle the cabinet portfolio on tourism.

The seven No votes include opposition MPs Eva Abdulla, Mariya Ahmed Didi, Imthiyaz Mohamed Falah, Mohamed Aslam, Rozaina Adam, and Ahmed Mahloof.

The minority leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail, Jumhooree Party’s Ali Hussein, and Adhaalath Party’s Anara Naeem abstained from the vote.

Adeeb’s appointment comes after the parliament impeached Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel with multi-party support yesterday.

The impeachment process was initiated by the PPM-MDA coalition. Pro-government MPs accused Jameel of incompetence, dereliction of duty, links with the opposition, failure to defend the government, and excessive expenditure from the state budget.

Last week, the parliament also approved changes to its standing orders to fast-track the process of voting on a president’s nominee to fill a vacancy in the vice president’s post. The rules were changed to allow the speaker to call for a vote on the day a committee’s evaluation report is sent to MPs. Items are normally tabled in the agenda three days after the committee report is sent out.

In late June, the parliament approved a first amendment to the constitution to set age limits of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and vice presidency. Adeeb is 33 years old and was previously ineligible for the post as the constitution required candidates to be above 35 years of age.

Opposition MPs’ backing for the amendment was widely perceived as part of a deal in exchange for transferring imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed to house arrest.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is currently engaged in talks with the government and has expressed hope that the opposition leader could be freed ahead of July 26 when the Maldives marks 50 years of independence.

Adeeb’s supporters meanwhile launched a social media campaign backing Adeeb for the vice presidency whilst rumours spread about former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s opposition to appointing the tourism minister to the post.

However, the PPM leader has repeatedly denied favouring a particular candidate, stating that the appointment of a deputy is the sole prerogative of the president.

Minivan News understands that senior members of the ruling party were split over Adeeb’s appointment. Several PPM MPs had, however, publicly declared that Adeeb would be sworn in before July 26.

Shortly after the constitutional amendment lowering the age limit for the vice presidency was passed, the tourism minister reprimanded Gayoom’s son, newly elected MP Ahmed Faris, for his absence from the vote.

Accusing Faris of letting Yameen down, Adeeb said in a text message in English: “You cannot differentiate youth or any segment with educated, non educated, poor and rich, beyfulhu [aristocrat] or non beyfulhu [non-aristocrat] etc.”

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Parliament impeaches Vice President Dr Jameel in absentia

The parliament has impeached Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel with overwhelming multi-party support today, less than two years after the current administration took office in November 2013.

Jameel was removed from office with 78 votes in favour and two against.

The impeachment process was initiated by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives-Maldives Development Alliance (PPM-MDA) coalition, which controls 48 seats in the 85-member house. A two-thirds majority or 57 votes of the 85-member house was required to remove the vice president.

MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) also voted in favour of the motion. Independent MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Hussain Areef cast dissenting votes while Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem did not participate in the vote.

Jameel is currently in London and did not return to answer charges at the parliament. In a 40-minute verbal statement released online this morning, Jameel said he was sidelined four months after the presidential election and dismissed the charges in the impeachment motion.

The motion accused Jameel of incompetence, dereliction of duty, links with the opposition, failure to defend the government, and excessive expenditure from the state budget.

The main opposition MDP parliamentary group had issued a three-line whip last night to vote in favour of the impeachment motion.

Opposition MPs’ backing for a constitutional amendment passed last month to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and vice presidency was widely perceived as part of a deal in exchange for transferring imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed to house arrest.

During the debate on the impeachment motion, ruling PPM parliamentary group leader MP Ahmed Nihan said the vice president was in charge of the cabinet’s social council tasked with overseeing the health and education sectors, but had failed to show progress.

Pro-government MPs accused Jameel of disloyalty and plotting to depose the president while opposition MPs stressed that the ruling party was seeking to remove their own vice president.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla said the only reason for the opposition party to vote to save Jameel was the “dim hope” that he might create divisions within the government.

Jameel had obstructed the MDP’s efforts since its inception, she said, and had vowed not to hand over the presidency even if the party’s candidate won the 2013 presidential polls.

“I don’t see that an MDP member could vote to save Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed,” she said.

Several MPs meanwhile questioned the necessity of the vice president’s post and suggested amending the constitution to dissolve the post.

MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi observed that successive presidents have lost confidence in their deputies.

Former vice president Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik had perpetrated a “coup d’etat” with the opposition in February 2012 to assume the presidency, she said, while the current ruling party has also lost confidence in the incumbent vice president as well.

Due process

Jameel had appointed former attorney general Husnu Suood as his lawyer, but Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed informed the vice president yesterday that the lawyer could not respond to the charges on his behalf.

Maseeh said today that he had received a letter from Suood’s law firm shortly before the sitting began, but could not accept the written statement it contained as it did not bear Jameel’s signature.

Article 100(d) of the Constitution states that the vice president shall have the right to defend himself in the sittings of the People’s Majlis, both orally and in writing, and has the right to legal counsel.

JP MPs Ali Hussain and Faisal Naseem as well as some MDP MPs expressed concern with the parliament not granting Jameel the right to defend himself.

The pro-government majority in the parliament had amended the parliament’s standing orders so that an investigation by a select committee was not required before impeaching the vice president.

Ali Hussain said fast-tracking the impeachment process was against the letter and spirit of the constitution, adding that the historic impeachment vote would be remembered as a “dark day” in Maldivian history.

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PPM MPs slam Commonwealth ‘bullying’ as opposition MPs warn against isolation

Pro-government MPs have accused influential countries in the Commonwealth of “bullying” the Maldives and interfering in domestic affairs in a parliamentary debate on quitting the inter-governmental body. Opposition MPs warned that the current administration’s foreign policy would isolate the country.

President Abdulla Yameen had sought parliament’s counsel on the country’s membership of the Commonwealth following lobbying efforts for an assessment of Maldives’ alleged violations of the organisation’s principles with the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

In a letter to the speaker – read out at today’s sitting – the president noted that the cabinet had suggested a review of the Maldives’ role in the Commonwealth and requested the parliament’s advice on the issue.

In the ensuing debate, ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said some Commonwealth members are trying to place restrictions on the Maldives and harm the country’s economy and tourism industry through the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group’s (CMAG).

The Maldives’ treatment in the Commonwealth was akin to “the weakest or quietest kid in the class being bullied by the biggest group or kid,” he said.

If the government decides to leave the Commonwealth, the PPM parliamentary group leader said he would fully back the decision.

PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed meanwhile called on MPs to propose immediately leaving the Commonwealth to the government.

The Commonwealth was demanding opposition leader Nasheed’s release from prison, Riyaz claimed, which was contrary to separation of powers and the constitution adopted in 2008 with the organisation’s assistance.

“[The Commonwealth] does not want Islam in the Maldives. They want to spread false religions here, they want to build temples here, they want to elect a leader here who can carry out their agenda,” he said.

The Maldives should not be “afraid” of the Commonwealth as unlike India and China the organisation has not provided significant aid to the country, he continued.

Earlier this month, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm for a second time in four years.

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG’s agenda in 2012 “on an unfair basis, based on false allegations, and the country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly as a result,” Dunya said.

In mid-June, Canada had called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda,” prompting Dunya to accuse the Canadian government of hypocrisy. “Canada should address the cultural genocide it is alleged to have committed against native Canadians before trying to teach other nations about values of democratic principles and human rights,” she said.

Echoing Dunya’s criticism during today’s debate, ruling party MPs said the countries pushing for action against Maldives has committed serious crimes, such as “electoral fraud” and “cultural genocide.”

Others also called on the Commonwealth to apologise to the Maldives for taking action against in the wake of former President Nasheed’s controversial resignation in February 2012.

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG agenda from March 2012 to March 2013 after Nasheed resigned amidst a police and military mutiny. He later alleged he had been ousted in a coup d’état, but a Commonwealth-backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be constitutional.

Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Ahmed Didi advised the government to accept criticism from international partners “instead of saying we’re an independent country and becoming isolated from the world.”

The Maldives is dependent on imports and tourists and could not survive with an isolationist stance in an inter-connected world, she said.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla said Maldivian teachers, students, doctors, and athletes have received numerous opportunities through the Commonwealth in addition to assistance from member states.

The Commonwealth offers a platform for the Maldives to have its voice heard in the international arena, she said.

The Maldives could not achieve development and progress in isolation from the rest of the world, she continued, and foreign policy should be shaped accordingly.

“Temporary benefits or quarrels” should not dictate foreign policy or bilateral relations, Eva said.

The debate will continue tomorrow.

The CMAG in a recent meeting in London decided not to review the Maldives.

The president is authorized to determine. conduct and oversee the Maldives’ foreign policy according to the constitution.

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Quitting Commonwealth will be “a huge mistake,” says vice president

Appealing to lawmakers to support the Maldives’ continued membership in the Commonwealth, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel has said that quitting the intergovernmental body will adversely affect the Maldivian youth, women and business community.

The People’s Majlis, at the request of president Abdulla Yameen, is set to debate the benefits of Maldives remaining in the Commonwealth today.

Some member states are lobbying the body’s democracy and human rights arm, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), to take punitive action against the Maldives over alleged repeated violations of the organization’s principles, including the jailing of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Quitting the Commonwealth will be a huge mistake, Jameel said in a statement issued from London today. “We should never allow the heat of politics to cause long lasting damage to national interests.”

The vice president noted that many of Maldives’ important partners are Commonwealth member states, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Continued good relations with Commonwealth member states is vital for the Maldives’ economy and security, he said. “It will be extremely naïve to think that snubbing an association in which our neighbours and partners play a leading role will not undermine our relations with them,” he said.

“It will be particularly foolhardy to quit the Commonwealth to spite the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group at a time when regional countries like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are sitting on CMAG,” he added.

Jameel is meanwhile facing impeachment by the People’s Majlis. A vote is expected on July 21. He abruptly left the Maldives within a day of the parliament approving a constitutional amendment that will allow President Yameen to replace him with the tourism minister.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ attempt to impeach Jameel is the latest in a series of dizzying turn of events in Maldivian politics. The opposition backed the constitutional amendment in exchange for opposition leader Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest. Subsequently, the opposition and the government began talks in late June, raising hope of an end to a six-month long political crisis.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Yameen to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two ex defense ministers, a former ruling party MP and the leader of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

The Maldives was first placed on the CMAG agenda after Nasheed’s ouster in 2012. A Commonwealth backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be legal.

As efforts to place Maldives on the CMAG’s agenda for a second time intensified in July, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon threatened to leave the Commonwealth, claiming the “country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly” as a result of the events of 2012.

The CMAG, however, decided not to review the Maldives at a recent meeting in London.

Jameel today praised Dunya for her “policy of engagement” and said her efforts had prevented the Commonwealth from taking punitive steps against the Maldives.

Calling on the Maldives to foster existing relationships, Jameel noted that many of Maldives’ students study in Commonwealth countries and benefit directly or indirectly from opportunities linked to the Commonwealth.

As a developing country, Maldives also benefits from various capacity building programmes in the Commonwealth, he said. The inter-governmental body plays a vital role in supporting the integration of small states into the global economy.

While maritime security is an important priority for Maldives, the partners it relies on for operational capacity and effectiveness are mostly from the Commonwealth, he said.

“At every major challenge the Maldives had faced over the past 30 years, the Commonwealth has proved to be a vital partner, supporting, guiding and assisting us to attain success. These include strengthening national sovereignty through the small state security initiative in 1989, claiming a vast portion of the Indian Ocean and its seabed to expand our national wealth in 2010, or in supporting democracy-building as in 2005-2008, and facilitating national healing through supporting the work of the Commission on National Inquiry in 2012,” he added.

President Yameen in November 2014 had declared a foreign policy shift to the East, claiming that economic cooperation with China does not involve the same challenges to remaining an Islamic state as posed by some Western powers.

The Maldives joined the Commonwealth in 1985.

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Bill proposes criminalizing ‘expressions contrary to national interest and Islamic tenets’

The Attorney General’s (AG) office has drafted a new law that would criminalise expressions contrary to national interest or tenets of Islam.

The draft legislation (Dhivehi) on freedom of expression – obtained by Minivan News – states that four types of “expressions contrary to national interest” will constitute criminal offences: encouraging harm to a person or damage to private party, calling for the illegal overthrow of the government, threatening the country’s independence, sovereignty, and security, and accusing a person of committing a hadd offence without conclusive evidence.

Free expression can be restricted on the grounds of national security only if the following circumstances arise: if there is a need to protect the nation or its territory, if Maldivians or foreigners threaten national security with the use of force, and if the government’s ability to defend the nation is endangered.

If the state restricts freedom of expression in such cases, the state must show that the right has been restricted as narrowly as possible, that the restriction is permissible in a democratic society, and that the expression in question poses “a serious danger to national security.”

Hadd offences are crimes for which punishments are prescribed in the Quran or the hadith (sayings of the Prophet), including theft, fornication, making unproven accusations of illicit sex, drinking intoxicants, apostasy, and highway robbery.

The punishment for falsely accusing a person of committing a hadd offence is a jail sentence of between one to three years and a fine of between MVR50,000 (US$3,242) and MVR100,000 (US$6,485)

The bill states that encouraging harm or damage to property – excluding calls for a boycott of goods – and calling for the illegal overthrow of the government can be prosecuted under sections 222 (threatening catastrophe) and 610 (rioting or forceful overthrow of the government) of the new penal code.

Expressions that threaten independence, sovereignty, or national security are punishable by a jail sentence of between three to five years and a fine of between MVR100,000 and MVR500,000 (US$32,425).

The bill states that individuals can be prosecuted for the offences if he or she is unable to prove the truth of a claim under standards followed in civil defamation cases.

The freedom of expression bill was among the government’s 207-bill legislative agenda. It was scheduled to be submitted to parliament during the second session of 2014, but has yet to be submitted.

In May, prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin said his office was looking into prosecuting opposition politicians for libel and slander following allegations linking President Abdulla Yameen and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb with the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in 2012.

“People are acting however they want. They are trying very hard to defame state institutions in front of the public. The constitution does not give us the right to commit crimes hiding behind a political party,” he said.

“People in responsible posts are publicly accusing others of murder. We are researching on pressing charges against individuals who accuses some one of a crime and which the punishment is hadd.”

Later that month, President Abdulla Yameen threatened to prosecute Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who had said the president and tourism minister would know the truth behind the murder.

“I am being accused falsely. This government will penalise them. I want to file charges against those who are making these accusations. Not that of defamation, but criminal charges. I will file charges against Sheikh Imran,” he said.

Religious unity

The Maldivian constitution guarantees “the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

The draft freedom of expression bill criminalises insulting Islam, questioning the validity of a tenet of Islam, and threatening religious unity or causing religious disputes, strife, and discord.

Persons accused of anti-Islamic expressions can be prosecuted under section 617 (criticising Islam) of the new penal code.

The bill, however, exempts “constructive opinions” expressed respectfully regarding Islamic tenets for academic or research purposes or at a public forum.

The proposed law states that permission must be sought from the Islamic ministry to preach, deliver religious sermons, or inform the public about religious edicts and specifies a fine of between MVR50,000 and MVR100,000 for violations.

Teaching Islam at a school, college, or university without the ministry’s permission will also be punishable with a fine of between MVR10,000 and MVR50,000.

The 1994 religious unity law will be repealed once the proposed law comes into force. The Islamic ministry must enact new regulations on issuing permission based on education and experience and put in place a mechanism for investigating complaints.

Under the new law, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives will investigate complaints of expressions contrary to national interest or Islamic tenets and forward cases to the prosecutor general’s office.

The bill states that defamation will not be considered a criminal offence and specifies civil remedies. The Supreme Court is mandated to enact regulations specifying rules for determining compensation for damages.

Defamation cases can only be heard in cases where the complainant has suffered damages.

Defamation was decriminalised in 2009 when parliament abolished section 125 of the old penal code, which stated: “Where a person makes a fabricated statement or repeats a statement whose basis cannot be proven, he shall be punished with house detention for a period between one to six months or fined between MVR25 and MVR200.”

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Rules on removal and appointment of vice president changed

A committee has approved changes to the People’s Majlis standing orders to offer the vice president just 30 minutes to respond to an impeachment motion, and proposed changes to fast-track the process of voting on a new vice presidential nominee.

The standing orders did not previously specify a time period for the impeachment debate.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) is seeking to remove vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and replace him with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

A motion to impeach Jameel is likely to be included in the agenda for Monday’s sitting of the People’s Majlis. Jameel is currently in London. He is yet to respond to PPM MPs’ charges of incompetency and disloyalty.

Explaining the change to the response period for impeachment, PPM MP Ali Arif, who chairs the general affairs committee, told CNM that the vice president will now have 10 minutes to make an opening statement, 10 minutes to respond during the debate, and 10 minutes to make a closing statement.

MPs will have an hour and half to debate the motion.

Arif said the changes were approved today with the backing of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs on the committee.

Since the committee has the authority to determine time periods for agenda items, the changes will not have to be put to a vote on the floor.

The general affairs committee also approved changes to the rules today to fast-track the process of voting on a president’s nominee to fill a vacancy in the vice president’s post. PPM MPs have said Adeeb will be sworn in as the new vice president by July 26, the golden jubilee of independence from the British.

The rules were changed to allow the speaker to call for a vote on the day a committee’s evaluation report is sent to MPs. Items are normally tabled in the agenda three days after the committee report is sent out.

The changes will have to be put to a vote on the Majlis floor.

In June, the parliament also amended its standing orders to fast-track the vice president’s impeachment process. Under the new rules, the parliament can vote on an impeachment motion in the vice president without an investigation.

A two-third majority or 57 votes will be needed to remove the vice president. The ruling coalition has 48 seats in the 85-member house, but appears to have secured the backing of opposition MPs to pass the motion, which was submitted with 61 signatures.

Jameel has labeled his imminent impeachment a “constitutional coup” and called for the international community to intervene.

In response, Adeeb accused Jameel of plotting a coup d’etat with the opposition.

“A lot of people are accusing him of leaving with a lot of money and a lot of things. He is even now accused of dereliction of duty and fleeing the country. He has left the country because the coup he had planned has failed,” he said.

President Yameen is meanwhile yet to publicly comment either on the vice president’s impeachment or a favoured candidate for the post.

In a meeting with the PPM parliamentary group last week, Yameen reportedly showed MPs proof of Jameel’s correspondence with opposition politicians ahead of a mass anti-government protest on May 1.

In the messages, Jameel reportedly asked if the opposition will let him assume the presidency if Yameen is ousted.

The opposition says Yameen wants to replace Jameel because he is fatally ill and is seeking a more loyal deputy ahead of a major surgery.

A constitutional amendment was also passed with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice-presidency.

Adeeb is now 33. The constitution previously stated that candidates must be 35 years of age.

The opposition’s backing for the amendment was widely perceived to be a deal made in exchange for jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.

The government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party are currently engaged in talks to resolve a six-month long political crisis.

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New national integrity commission will ‘cure PIC toothlessness’

The government has submitted a bill to replace the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the Customs Integrity Commission (PIC) with a single ‘National Integrity Commission’ (NIC) with greater powers.

The PIC, set up in 2009 investigates public complaints regarding police conduct, but cannot take punitive measures. It is only authorized to make recommendations to the home minister. The NIC, however, will have a wider mandate.

“We held extensive consultations in drafting the bill, especially with the PIC. They shared a lot of concerns, and the shortcomings in their current functioning is worrying. Although recommendations are given, there appears to be no compliance with a single recommendation,” deputy Attorney General Ismail Wisham said.

The new oversight body for the law enforcement agencies – including the Maldives Correctional Services and the immigration department – will investigate alleged violations of laws and regulations by employees, take administrative action, and forward cases for a police investigation to pursue criminal prosecution.

The commission can also recommend changes to regulations and procedures and assess the effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies.

“The NIC will cure the current toothlessness of the integrity commissions. There is really no use to a commission without powers. The new bill has provisions that will empower the commission,” Wisham said.

Fathimath Sareera, the chair of the PIC, was not available for comment at the time of going to press.

According to the PIC annual report for 2014, the commission investigated 141 complaints.

The CIC was established in January 2014. The commission investigated just one complaint in 2014, according to an annual report.

In a recommendation to reduce expenditure in December 2012, the parliament’s public accounts committee had advised merging the PIC and CIC to form a national integrity commission (NIC) with oversight over all state institutions.

Both the PIC and CIC have five members while the NIC will be comprised of five members. If the law is passed, the PIC and CIC will be dissolved and its staff will be transferred to the NIC.

The new commission will also take over pending cases. It will have the authority to form task forces, seek expert assistance from other state institutions, and summon witnesses.

The proposed law states that the five members must have experience or educational qualifications in five areas: legal affairs, governance or public administration, commerce or business administration, human resources, and the economy.

Commission members must also have a first degree and seven years of work experience and must not have parents, wife, husband, or children serving in a law enforcement agency.

The president will appoint members to the commission for a five-year term in consultation with the parliament. The draft legislation does not state that nominees must be put to a vote for parliamentary approval.

The president’s office said the bill was submitted to the parliament last week. The purpose of the new law is to strengthen the functioning of law enforcement agencies and lay out procedures and rules for investigating complaints.

Other independent institutions include the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, the Judicial Services Commission, the Anti- Corruption Commission, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Auditor General’s Office.

 

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President to appoint members to university governing council

The parliament has amended the 2011 national university law authorizing the president to appoint nine members to the university’s 13-member governing council.

The government-sponsored amendment bill was passed with 38 votes in favour and 16 against at today’s sitting of the People’s Majlis.

Under the existing law, the president only appoints the chancellor of the university, who becomes the head of the governing council.

Once the amendments are ratified, the president will appoint the chancellor, vice chancellor and deputy vice chancellors in addition to five members from outside the university to the council.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had warned that the changes will compromise the university’s independence and politicise the institution.

Politicising the university would pave the way for hiring and dismissing officials for political reasons as well as the “misuse of the university’s students, employees, and resources to achieve political purposes,” the party said earlier this week.

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