“We will not follow unconstitutional orders, even if a new president is installed tomorrow”: Police Commissioner Riyaz

Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz has said his institution will continue to refuse any orders it decides are “unconstitutional”, while expressing concerns over leaked proposals allegedly devised by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to reform the country’s security forces.

In an interview on the Maldives Police Service (MPS) website, Commissioner Riyaz expressed concern at a leaked policy paper that he alleged sought to dismantle and undermine law enforcement, calling for the opposition MDP to clarify if the policies were genuinely part of the party’s election policy.

“I don’t want to say anything specifically about something that has been prepared politically or for a political purpose, but we do have a constitution and the MPS is an institution formed by the constitution,” he said, speaking just over a month ahead of the 2013 presidential election.

Proposals in the paper – leaked on social media earlier this month – include transferring the police to the authority of city councils, similar to the system in the US, while providing salaries and allowances of officers through the Local Government Authority (LGA).

The MDP last week questioned the legitimacy of the leaked reform proposals, claiming the party had no knowledge of such a document, despite backing the idea of a ”transitional arrangement” to reform the country’s security forces after last year’s controversial transfer of power.

The opposition party continues to maintain that former President Mohamed Nasheed was deposed in a “coup d’etat” after being forced to resign from office following a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

The allegations were later rejected by a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) that ruled that there had been “no coup, no duress and no mutiny”, while also calling for action taken against unlawful acts committed by the country’s security forces following the transfer.

“Dismantle” fears

Commissioner Riyaz, who took office immediately after the power transfer, said proposals in the leaked documents could not be implemented within regulations outlined under the Police Act.

The commissioner also rejected the professional capacity of individuals behind the reforms, which he claimed sought to “dismantle” and undermine the large role security services play in the country.

“I’d like to tell the MDP that they should clarify whether it is their policy or not. If it is their policy, it is of great concern. This [police] institution will be very concerned,” he said. “Politicians should not try to play with this institution. Help this institution develop. Work to make this institution more responsible. To make it operationally accountable. Don’t use political influence to carry out political objectives through this institution.”

Riyaz alleged that certain senior government figures over the last three years had attempted to limit or weaken police in the country through the use of political influence that led to officers “straying from their path”.

He insinuated that police would not allow a similar event to happen again.

With an estimated 3,500 individuals employed within the MPS, including a large number of families, Riyaz questioned whether any political leader would seek to “discredit” the institution.

“I don’t believe that someone who is working to become the leader of this country will do this because of these reasons.  This country will do this because of these reasons,” he said. “To maintain law and order in the country, firstly no one can govern, unless they are able to maintain law and order.”

Commissioner Riyaz added that the mandate of the police was set out in the constitution, adding that any reforms to the institution’s work could only be enacted by a two-thirds majority in parliament.

“We remain firm. We will not follow any unconstitutional orders, even if a new president is instated tomorrow,” he said during the interview. “Even if I’m not here, the rest will also not follow these orders. Maldivian politicians should know this. I believe they do.”

“Whichever individual becomes President tomorrow can no longer just change the constitution, the existing law. That individual, holding the presidency,  can only bring such big changes with a parliamentary majority.”

When contacted to clarify the comments within the interview, Commissioner Riyaz today forwarded inquiries to Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef.

Chief Inspector Haneef defined an unconstitutional order for the police as something that contradicted Maldivian law.

“Operationally we are independent. We do not follow political orders, but we follow the country’s law,” Haneef said.

He added that officers would refuse to follow orders “outside the law” whether they were issued by a president, or a superior officer.

Asked who was responsible for determining whether a particular order was unconstitutional, Haneef said the decision would be made in accordance with regulations outlined in the Police Act, as well as official codes and procedures outlined by the MPS itself.

“It is very clear within the Police Act [as to how a constitutional order] is defined,” he said. “Every person must be accountable for the orders they give.”

At times of press, Minivan News was awaiting a response from the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) over the correct procedure for reforms and the definition of an “unconstitutional order”.

Reform mandate

Speaking last week, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor personally dismissed having knowledge of the leaked paper on police reforms, despite claiming that the opposition party had considered the need for a “transitional agreement” for reforms of the country’s security forces based on recommendations raised in last year’s CoNI report.

With the CoNI process concluded, Ghafoor accused the Commonwealth and the wider international community of failing to ensure reforms to strengthen democratic institutions called for in the report’s findings were met.

He alleged that the MPS had failed to fully be transferred from a militarised to civil institution dating back to the administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s before the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008.

“Gayoom had moved to separate the military and police into different bodies. In the end, he failed to do this adequately,” Ghafoor said.

Despite pledging to reform the police and military, the MDP said it was not planning a “witch-hunt”.

According to Ghafoor, the MDP was instead focused on trying to secure a “huge election majority” in order to carry out reforms with the mandate of the public.

“This will help solve everything,” he said at the time.