Nasheed appointed acting president of MDP as ‘Reeko’ Moosa resigns chairmanship

MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik announced his resignation as chairperson of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) at a meeting of the party’s national council today, which also saw former President Mohamed Nasheed appointed MDP’s acting president.

At the conclusion of today’s meeting, the outgoing chairperson said he decided to resign because he believed in democratic principles, urging other members in the party’s leadership to follow his example.

He added that former President Nasheed was in charge of the MDP’s election campaigns, which were conducted based on “his instructions and under his supervision.”

Moosa assured council members that there was no “negligence” on his part that was to blame for the MDP’s losses.

Today’s meeting was called to discuss restructuring and reforms following electoral defeats in the presidential and parliamentary polls, and to decide a date for the party’s next congress.

MP Moosa Manik announced his resignation at the start of the council meeting in Dharubaaruge this afternoon.

In the wake of the party’s poor performance in the Majlis elections, Nasheed told the press that the leadership should bear responsibility and called for new leaders to take the party’s helm.

The main opposition party fielded 85 candidates and won 26 seats in the March 22 elections, while the ruling Progressive Coalition secured a comfortable majority.

The coalition’s numbers in parliament grew to a two-thirds majority with yesterday’s defection of MDP MP-elect Mohamed Musthafa to the Progressive Party of Maldives.

A resolution to appoint Nasheed acting president was adopted with the support of 47 members out of the 54 in attendance at today’s council meeting.

The post of the MDP’s president has been vacant since the national council removed former party president Dr Ibrahim Didi with a no-confidence vote in April 2012.

The MDP national council today also decided to hold the party’s congress on June 6 and 7.

Among other decisions approved today, the national council voted to form a three-member committee to study reforms (Dhivehi) suggested by a group of party members. The committee consists of Youth Wing President Aminath Shauna, Ali Niyaz, and Ahmed Mujthaba.

A proposal by MP Ahmed Hamza to appoint members to vacant leadership posts within the next six months and a proposal by former National Social Protection Agency Chairman Ibrahim Waheed to make former presidents elected to office on the party’s ticket permanent members of the council were also passed.


President calls for constitutional reforms to curb “conflict” between state institutions

President Dr Mohamed Waheed  has called for reforms to the current Maldivian constitution in order to reduce “conflict” between different government institutions while carrying out their respective mandates.

The president stated during a campaign speech on Vaadhoo Island in Raa Atoll Thursday (April 11) that he too had faced difficulties in carrying out constitutional duties as a result of such conflicts between the different branches of government.

“The whole system would be complete only when the power, authority and responsibility rendered to a particular position by the constitution, was properly carried out,” he stated.

The president claimed that amendments to the constitution were therefore necessary to allow each institution to “use their powers” independently, since currently “great conflict” is sometimes encountered.

He stated that the Supreme Court ultimately held the final decision-making power to resolve constitutional matters and its decisions should therefore be respected.

The nation’s highest court has been involved in a number of disputes with the Maldives legislature in recent months.


UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers arrives in the Maldives

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, arrived in the Maldives on Saturday (February 16) for a visit scheduled to last until February 24.

During her visit, Knaul will “examine measures taken to ensure the independence of the judiciary, prosecutors and lawyers, as well as their protection, and the obstacles encountered for an adequate, impartial and independent administration of justice”, the UN said in a statement.

Knaul, a judge from Brazil, will then submit her report and recommendations to the government and the UN Human Rights Council.

In its concluding statement following the Maldives’ Universal Periodic Review in 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that the composition and functioning of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) “seriously compromises the realisation of measures to ensure the independence of the Judiciary as well as its impartiality and integrity.”

“The Committee is also concerned that such a situation undermines the judicial protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the [Maldives]. The [Maldives] should take effective measures to reform the composition and the functioning of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC),” the UN report stated.

“It should also guarantee its independence and facilitate the impartiality and integrity of the Judiciary, so as to effectively protect human rights through the judicial process,” it added.

Although unrelated, Knaul’s visit comes days after former President Mohamed Nasheed sought refuge from a court summons inside the Indian High Commission in Male’.

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, which is trying Nasheed for his detention of Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office, was created by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).

The JSC, which includes several of Nasheed’s direct political opponents including rival presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim, also appointed the three-member panel of judges overhearing Nasheed’s trial.

Parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee had declared that the JSC’s creation of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was unconstitutional.

However, the Supreme Court declared parliament overruled, issuing a statement that “no institution should meddle with the business of the courts”, and claiming that as it held authority over “constitutional and legal affairs” it would “not allow such interference to take place.”

“The judiciary established under the constitution is an independent and impartial institution and that all public institutions shall protect and uphold this independence and impartiality and therefore no institution shall interfere or influence the functioning of the courts,” the Supreme Court stated.

A subsequent request by the JSC that the Supreme Court bench rule on the court’s legitimacy resulted in a four to three vote in favour. The casting vote was made by Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed, also President of the JSC.

A troubled judiciary

Besides the UN Human Rights Committee, numerous international organisations and reports have challenged the political independence of the JSC and the judiciary.

A report by independent observers of the Nasheed trial from the UK Bar Human Rights Committee concluded that “a primary motivation behind the present trial is a desire by those in power to exclude Mr Nasheed from standing in the 2013 elections, and notes international opinion that this would not be a positive outcome for the Maldives.”

A report by the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) in February 2011 found that many judges were lacking in qualifications and independent attitude.

“How often do ordinary Maldivians look to the courts for justice? Is there a sense that ‘We [Maldivians] have an independent judiciary that is capable of resolving problems?’ I think the answer is no,” surmised Roger Normand, former Director of the ICJ’s Asia Pacific operations at the time.

“Historically, [independent resolution] has not been the role of judges [in the Maldives]. Judges were an outcome or a product of the executive power. This is not a controversial statement, this is an outline of what their legal role was in the previous [government],” Normand said.

The ICJ was highly critical of the the JSC, which it said was “unable to carry out its functions” to impartially vet and reappoint judges on the basis of qualification and background.

“To date, JSC decision-making has been perceived as being inappropriately influenced by a polarised political environment,” Normand said.

Former JSC member and whistleblower Aishath Velezinee first raised problems in the judiciary and JSC in August 2010.

“My experience, from being part of the complaints committee in the JSC, is that whenever a complaint is received, we have two judges on the complaints committee who will defend the [accused] judge, trashing the complainant, and talk about ‘taking action’ against these people ‘who are picking on judges’,” said Velezinee, in a 2010 interview.

“Then they will put out a press release: ‘Nobody should interfere with work of judges.’ Their interpretation is that ‘nobody should criticise us. We are above and beyond the law.’”

She was subsequently stabbed three times in the back in broad daylight on Male’s main tourist street in January 2011.

A more recent report produced by local NGO the Raajje Foundation and supported by the UNDP and the US State Department, noted that the JSC’s mission under the 2008 constitution to ensure the new judiciary was was clean, competent, and protected from political influence, “has sadly gone unfulfilled.”

“The courts have essentially been able to capture the JSC so as to ensure that the old judiciary remained in place under the new constitutional order,” the report noted, predicting the most likely national outcome a cycle of failed states.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has insisted on the government’s independence of the judiciary, stating that the court case “”has nothing to do with my government. Upholding the rule of law means nobody is above the law. I would like to assure the people of Maldives that the law and order will be maintained,” he said, in a statement on Sunday.

“My government has upheld the rule of law and respected all independent institutions. I am pleased to note that unlike in the past, within the last year, the President has not interfered in the work of the judiciary, the police, or the independent commissions,” Waheed’s statement read.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel – formerly Justice Minister under the 30 year autocracy of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – told local media that it was “crucial [the judiciary] conclude the case against Nasheed before the approaching presidential elections, in the interests of the nation and to maintain peace in it.”

“Every single day that goes by without the case being concluded contributes to creating doubt in the Maldivian people’s minds about the judiciary,” Jameel said.


Q&A: Kirsty Brimelow, QC

Kirsty Brimelow QC is one of three UK legal experts on former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team. The new government has pursued criminal charges against Nasheed for his decision to detain Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, charges Nasheed contends are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him from contesting the 2013 Presidential elections.

Brimelow is an experienced criminal law specialist with expertise in international human rights, and has worked in a number of small island states including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago.

JJ Robinson: How much background knowledge did you have on the political situation in the Maldives prior to deciding to join Nasheed’s defence team?

Kirsty Brimelow: Very little other than the usual views of the Maldives as beautiful islands for romantic holidays – I had never been here before. I had heard about the climate change aspect of Maldives at the time of the Copenhagen summit – it was something I remember reading about. I thought that it would be terrible if Male’ was under water in 20 years.

JJ: How much had you followed the February 2012 transfer of power?

KB: No I hadn’t followed it. When I was contacted [to join Nasheed’s legal team] I looked it all up. I don’t know if it was reported in English newspapers. I don’t remember reading anything about it. At the time the news was dominated by news of Syria and starvation in the world’s youngest democracy, Sudan. I think they dominated the headlines, and the London Olympics more than anything else that was going on.

JJ: What was behind your decision to join Nasheed’s legal team?

KB: As an international lawyer there is a real interest in how rule of law operates in different jurisdictions. In recent years I’ve done a lot of work in small island states – I am Legal Advisor to the Constitution Commission of Fiji, I worked in Trinidad and Tobago as part of the team defending the chief justice, and was appointed Counsel to a Commmision of Inquiry into a massive international fraud inquiry in Antigua. I have also worked in Jamaica.

I suppose I am interested in the Maldives as a new democracy, and how that struggle is being played out. I am also really interested in the Maldives both as international and human rights lawyer. I have real interest in fairness of procedures and that there are independent and impartial judges. No court system can operate if you have biased judges, or judges who are of a standard such that justice cannot be carried out.

JJ: How much do you know about the Maldivian judiciary and its condition?

KB: I’ve read a couple of reports which have the same conclusion – that the judiciary is not functioning at a level that can deliver justice. But I read these reports as background – I have really been concentrating on this specific case.

JJ: The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have made a case on the basis of challenging the legitimacy of the Hulhumale Magistrate Court where Nasheed is being tried, rather than defending the specific charges against him. Do you think this is a good approach, and can you argue that in court: “I don’t respect your legitimacy, your honour”?

KB: There are different arguments going on at the moment. The high court application [regarding the legitimacy of the Hulhumale Court] is a legitimate argument accepted as such by the Attorney General. It is a jurisdictional public law matter now removed from criminal law.

The validity of the jurisdiction of courts is fundamental – people can’t just set up their own courts because they feel like it, and they can’t just put in who they like as judges of that court. It has to be done in a transparent and independent way in order for the courts to have any respect.

JJ: Why should courts care about the respect of the public?

KB: The general public in any democratic society cares about its justice system because that underpins its democratic society. If you think your justice system is corrupt – that whatever evidence you have when you’re in court will be ignored because you have a corrupt system – then that is bad for democracy.

Democracy can’t survive with a corrupt justice system. I think people do care about that. But obviously the select people who want to keep it corrupt, don’t.

JJ: This is the first time there has been foreign legal representation applying to appear in the Criminal Court, as far as I’m aware. Are you allowed in?

KB: At the moment there is apparently a policy that says you have to be Maldivian and/or married to a Maldivian to appear in court. It is very restrictive. It is going to be a matter we are going to challenge.

It obviously depends on the particular country, but most small island states have developed a system where foreign lawyers are able to practice within that system on a case by case basis. For example I have appeared [in court] in the Caribbean. The reason is that the smaller the place the smaller the pool of lawyers, and the bigger the case, the more political difficulties and influences that could be brought to bear on people from that society. So if you bring someone in from outside it can bring the balance back.

It is also a good way to increase knowledge and expertise. For example my knowledge is based on international human rights law, whereas if you are practicing in a small state you don’t have that comfort of being able to specialise. International law is not foreign law – it is part of the law of the Maldives, and to develop it you need that knowledge running through [the system]. The way you do that is allow international lawyers.

The Maldivian lawyers I’m working with are keen to make the application so that I could represent President Nasheed in court together with them. It would be their application on my behalf.

JJ: Dhivehi can make the country quite inaccessible to outsiders – to what extent is that a challenge in this case?

KB: Of course it’s a challenge and as to how it would operate [in court], nobody’s ever tried it before. As far as I understand English is widely spoken fluently, and i’m told many Maldivians prefer to speak English. Obviously it would have to be translated in court – but that happens in many jurisdictions with no difficulty. I don’t see it as meaning that the position would be impossible – there would have to be systems in place.

JJ: The judges on the panel hearing Nasheed’s trial were appointed by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), and include two of Nasheed’s direct political opponents – Jumhoree Party Leader Gasim Ibrahim and Speaker of Parliament, Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) MP Abdulla Shahid. In this environment, and given the politicisation of the case, is it reasonable to expect that Nasheed can have a fair trial at all in the Maldives?

KB: I think at present if the trial were to go ahead in the Hulhumale Court, as presently constituted, there are real issues as to whether there is any chance at all as to whether Nasheed will have a fair trial. There are real issues and real concerns.

JJ: What is the approach then? The MDP has challenged the court’s legitimacy, but what about defending Nasheed’s decision to detain the Chief Judge of the Crimnial Court? Would you advise defending these charges or lean towards challenging the court’s legitimacy?

KB: Nasheed at his recent rally said that based on the evidence served against him, he should be acquitted.

The trial has two aspects: there are real issues as to fairness and those aspects fall into two categories, which relate to the court itself, which will be argued further, and the second aspect relates to the ability of President Nasheed to properly defend himself. I can’t go into details because those submissions have not been made to the trial court.

JJ: How similar are the challenges in the Maldives compared to other small island states?

KB: Each place is very different – but a common thread is the real difficulty getting a neutral tribunal to consider the evidence. Most countries have a problem where so much is in the newspapers already that people have formed opinions by the time the matter comes to court. In fact the trial is run in the newspaper, usually against the defendant, who isn’t in a position to present his defence in the newspaper as well, so it becomes one-sided and by the time the case comes to court people have the view that the person is guilty.

That would not happen in a larger jurisdiction where there are all sorts of laws to prevent people coming to court with a closed mind. That’s a problem here.

The Maldives has specific problems, such as those documented issues in relation to the judiciary, and those issues are quite extreme and are not found in many other small island states I’ve worked in. Many of those states such as Jamaica have a strong judiciary.

JJ: What would be some of those concerning issues?

KB: I don’t want to be upsetting the trial. I can quote from the reports though. Things like the statistics of those serving in the judiciary with criminal convictions and so on. It must be a concern to a fair minded observer as to what sort of justice is being dispensed if you are appearing before someone with criminal convictions, for example. That kind of thing is what I mean.

JJ: To what extent do you think the trial of Nasheed could be a catalyst for judicial reform in the Maldives?

KB: I think it is an important trial for the Maldives, and it could be a catalyst for reform in that the issues which are being raised are fundamental to a functioning justice system, and they are serious, so it should at the very least trigger debate in parliament in a democratic country.

There has to be a robust system which will regulate judges objectively, so someone coming to court can have faith in the system. If there is no check on judges in terms of their independence and honesty, as well as ability, then the courts just simply become a means of reaching a preordained result that everyone has already predicted.

Then quite simply it is not a justice system – it is a figleaf. Everything else flows from that – stability, fairness in terms of elections, parliament; if you’ve got a vacuum in your justice system you quite simply don’t have democracy.

You have to have a robust system to deal with complaints [against the judiciary]. In international law and particularly the Convention of Civil and Political Rights it sets out that privileges and immunities for judges can only go so far, and that they are not meant to stretch to afford protection ‘no matter what’.

My interest is in fair trial procedures, and that fair trial rights are upheld. There are real issues in this case, which is why I’m part of the legal team.


MDP decides to stop following court orders until judicial system is reformed

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has released a statement saying it will no longer follow any orders given by the courts of the Maldives until the changes proposed by international entities are brought to the Maldivian judicial system.

The party said the decision was reached as to date, they had observed no efforts to improve the judicial system based on the recommendations put forward in reports released by numerous international organizations.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem proposed a motion regarding the matter at the party’s 128th National Executive Council (NEC) meeting Thursday, which was seconded by Former Minister of Environment and Housing Mohamed Aslam.

The motion stated that the party believed the increasing number of arrests and allegations of serious crimes like terrorism against a large number of citizens, parliament members, city councillors, and other elected political leaders were politically motivated. It further stated that this was unjust manipulation of the judiciary by the government to weaken political competition, and an attempt to prevent Nasheed from contesting in the upcoming presidential elections.

The MDP also states that with reference to the reservations put forward by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team on Wednesday, it does not believe any of the existing courts would be able to give Nasheed a fair and just trial.

MDP furthermore intends to go ahead with the trips to the atolls planned to commence on October 1, after the motion was passed unanimously at the NEC meeting.

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court has placed Nasheed under island arrest effective from Tuesday, with regard to a case concerning the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed last year.

In reaction to this, MDP has also announced its intention to conduct a nationwide protest on Friday.

A number of international actors, including the UN Human Rights Committee, Amnesty International, European Union and the United States have previously emphasised the importance of judicial reform in the Maldives.


CMAG lobbying anticipated to be key focus during Nasheed’s UK visit

Former President Mohamed Nasheed is expected during a visit to the UK this week to lobby the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to keep the Maldives on its agenda and assist in enacting reforms to civil society institutions, his party has said.

With Nasheed this week making his first visit to Europe since February’s controversial transfer of power, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said it anticipates the former president will lobby during the trip to keep the Maldives on CMAG’s agenda as well as to help set clear targets for a Commonwealth-backed reform agenda.

The MDP has claimed that it is now advocating for an agreement on “structural adjustments” that would help address concerns raised in the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report.  The report, released last month, rejected accusations by Nasheed and his supporters that he was forced to resign from office.

The current government has meanwhile said that it would be difficult to look into concerns raised by the CNI concerning the events between February 6 to February 8 this year without potentially implicating Nasheed for his role in the alleged use of “excessive force” by police during his tenure.

The President’s Office also maintained that any reforms to the country’s judiciary or civil society would have to be made through the country’s independent institutions such as the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC)

Nasheed left today for the UK, where he is scheduled to meet senior UK government officials and MPs as well as top Commonwealth’s figures and human rights organisations. He will be joined during the visit by former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem and the party’s Deputy Chairperson (Finance) Ahmed Mausoom.

As well as speaking both in London and Scotland on the theme of democracy in the Maldives, the MDP today said it anticipated Nasheed, who is presently chosen to represent the party in the next general election, would also be likely to lobby to keep the Maldives on the agenda of the CMAG.

CMAG had placed Maldives on its formal agenda in February, at the time citing ‘the questions that remain about the precise circumstances of the change of the government, as well as the fragility of the situation in Maldives’ as reasons.

The government has maintained that the CMAG ‘lacked mandate’ to place Maldives on the agenda. Following this there has been multiple instances where the government had expressed disapproval in what it termed ‘interference’ by the Commonwealth.

MDP MP and spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that it was anticipated Nasheed would seek to have GMAG retain the Maldives on its agenda in order to pressure the Waheed administration to meet a number of commitments such as those raised in the CNI’s findings.

“I expect there will be strong lobbying for our position [on CMAG],” he said. We have agreed to go ahead with the CNI recommendations, though with the reservations raised by Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed.

Saeed was chosen to be Nasheed’s representative on a reformed CNI panel charged with investigating the events surrounding the transfer of power on February 7. However, he resigned the day before the findings were released over concerns at what he claimed was omitted evidence and witness accounts from the final report.

Ghafoor added that with the CNI report suggesting a need for structural adjustment of certain civil society institutions along with the judiciary – a major concern for the Nasheed administration in its last few months – he hoped the Commonwealth would support such reforms.

“Whilst in government, we had previously participated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a voluntary basis whilst in government to undergo structural reform,” he claimed. “It required bitter medicine, such as in the sacking of some civil servants, but it was vital in trying to cut the state debt.”

Ghafoor added that he hoped CMAG could provide similar assistance in setting up a structural adjustment programme that set clear dates by which key reforms in areas like the judiciary or civil society were to be enacted.

“We have agreed to move ahead with the CNI with reservations, but we want to see wrong doings identified in the report being addressed,” he said, pointing to the actions of some police and military figures in the transfer of power.

While the Commonwealth was scheduled to last week rule on whether the Maldives would be removed from the investigative agenda of CMAG, it announced the decision would be delayed until its next meeting on September 28.

The President’s Office at the time expressed confidence that the country would be taken off the agenda at the next meeting, saying that this move had been supported by all but one of those present for the teleconference. Local media have reported that the delayed decision has been a result of a “technical glitch” during a live CMAG webcast, a situation Ghafoor claimed that he had yet to received clarification on.

“I’m not aware of any hitch taking place during the CMAG meeting. What we hope is that they will would keep us on the agenda and back a structural adjustment programme that would call for certain commitments to be met at specific dates,” he claimed.

Parallel to Nasheed’s UK visit, Ghafoor claimed that the MDP’s national council was also engaged in pressuring the party’s parliamentary group to boycott the People’s Majlis once it reconvenes, at least until the party was given guarantees about certain concerns it held about reforms.

“The national council on Thursday decided to try and pressure the parliamentary group to boycott Majlis,” he said. “We are discussing this today as a party. We are clear that we would wish to disengage from the Waheed regime unless our concerns are addressed.”

Responding to the MDP’s comments, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News that in looking to address the concerns raised by the CNI concerning security forces and the country’s judiciary, it would continue to rely on independent institutions in the country.

“I understand that the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has already looked into some of the matters raised. I don’t know what they are looking at or what stage they have reached right now. Similarly, President Dr Waheed has also promised to refrain from interfering with the judiciary here, even when he has not been made aware of what is going on,” he said.

Masood stressed that the government would not however be able to set up any additional commission or mechanism to oversee reforms.

“Independent institutions can come in and oversee this. We would encourage them to do this and will not interfere with their work,” he said.

However, in terms of addressing the CNI’s concerns about the transfer of power, Masood also claimed that Nasheed himself faced possible criminal action for the events occurring on February 6 and February 7 before his resignation.

“During the events of February 6 to February 8, I wouldn’t say that Nasheed was in power, but he was in office, resulting in excessive force being used by police up to his resignation,” he said.

Masood said that President Waheed has accepted that police had used “excessive force” during protests held on February 8 after he came to power and condemned such acts.

“President Waheed has already said he will take action against those with involvement [in the use of excessive force], due process would be taking place through groups like the PIC,” he said.

However, Masood added that any calls from the EU or Commonwealth to investigate the events surrounding the transfer of power would lead to difficulties over the actions of Nasheed in the build up to his resignation.

“Any investigation would have to focus on Nasheed’s role in this, the Commonwealth and EU countries are asking us not to touch him,” he said.  “While the independent institutions can look into this, the EU and Commonwealth will be unhappy if their boy becomes involved in investigations. This will happen as there are many questions [Nasheed] has to answer.”

Nasheed, who is presently set to face trial over his role in the controversial detention this year of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, has alleged that charges against him are politically motivated in order to prevent him from standing as a candidate for the MDP at the next general election.  Nasheed has alleged that Judge Abdulla had been detained over fears he was a threat to national security.

Independent institutions

Despite the government’s decision to rely on the country’s independent institutions to help oversee any reforms or investigations into the CNI’s recommendations, groups such as the Elections Commission have this month found their work under increased scrutiny following the release of the CNI report (CNI).

Prominent members of both the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) have this month questioned the ability of their own institutions to fulfil their mandates.

Aiman Rasheed of local NGO Transparency Maldives’ suggested that weak and unassertive institutions must take some of the blame for the events of February 7 and the surrounding political crises.

“The independent institutions need to step up their game by standing for and protecting the values for which they were constituted,” said Aiman at the time.


Home minister notes “better environment” after CNI report

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel has said the Maldives now provides a much “better environment” for the country’s political factions to work towards stability following the publication of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report.

Speaking following a parade held yesterday in Male’ to commemorate the country’s Independence Day, rescheduled from earlier this year, Dr Jameel claimed that with the conclusion of the CNI’s work late last month, the government was now able to move ahead with its duty of serving the public.

The CNI’s findings, welcomed by the Commonwealth, US and the UN, rejected accusations that the present government came to power illegally, despite claims from former president Mohamed Nasheed that the report’s findings were flawed and failed to include key witness statements and evidence in its findings.

The now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – of which Nasheed is the current presidential candidate – today said that it continued to hold severe structural concerns about the CNI’s conclusions. The concerns themselves were highlighted in a report prepared by Sri Lankan legal experts after a request from the MDP.

“Way forward”

Despite these concerns, the MDP has claimed the CNI report’s publication had provided the party with a “way forward” to push for institutional reform and early elections, whilst also lobbying to keep the Maldives on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).  The party has contended that remaining on the agenda will help maintain international pressure on the government to enact a reform agenda – the need for which was raised in the CNI’s findings.

Home Minister Dr Jameel told Minivan News today that from the government’s perspective, the issue of February’s transfer of power had been firmly settled through the CNI’s findings. Dr Jameel claimed that any further political resolutions should be settled domestically.

“We will not dwell further on the same issue [CNI]. As a nation, reforms to the government and other institutions is an ongoing agenda like any other nation,” he said. “I do not believe that any international organisation, country or individual has the mandate or authority to dictate to us our national priorities and reform agenda – be it the Commonwealth or its Secretary General. We appreciate their engagement, but [the Commonwealth] should also recognise our need to move forward and allow us to find local solutions to local problems.”

Dr Jameel claimed that rescheduling the national Independence Day parade from July until yesterday was a timely reminder of the “importance of national unity, mutual respect and shared values.”

“It is more relevant now than at any point in history as the country is increasingly seen to be drifting away from those values due to political emotions, opinions and other exposures,” he said.

The Independence Day parade, which was concluded with a special ceremony at the  Galolhu Stadium in Male’, was attended by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan and his wife,  First Lady Ilham Hussain.

Independence Day is celebrated on July 26, though Dr Jameel, who was also in attendance at the ceremony, said that the parade had been delayed from July owing to “time constraints” and had to be rescheduled to consider outstanding engagements of its participants.

Better environment

Addressing the home minister’s claims that the Maldives was now a “better environment” to address political differences following the CNI’s publication, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the MDP had offered to try and work with the government to pursue institutional reforms.

Ghafoor claimed these efforts had included attempts to try and work within Dr Waheed’s coalition government in what it called the “common interests” of the public –  a strategy that was later rebuffed.

“We do not want to be working with this government, we ourselves want to see early elections as soon as possible,” he said earlier this month.

Ghafoor claimed today that despite its reservations about the validity of the CNI’s findings, the party would continue to lobby to keep the Maldives on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to maintain international pressure on the government for early elections and institutional reform.

“We simply do not believe that the CNI report legitimises the government. If the [transfer of power] was not a coup then why are the country’s former opposition now leading the executive,” he said. “The structural issues that we have [with the CNI’s findings] will not just go away. Things are not going smoothly in the country.”

Ghafoor claimed that while attempts to have the People’s Majlis and Supreme Court rule whether the MDP should be regarded as the country’s main opposition or governing party had not been successful so far, the party still had power in the Majlis through parliamentary committees to meet aims for fresh polls.

“Right now we see the way forward is to continue to push for early elections. We will also push to keep us in the CMAG agenda and ensure there is a third party international pressure to ensure the government are held to a schedule regarding the CNI’s recommendations on institutional reform,” he said.

“We do see CNI report as a way forward and we would wish for CMAG to keep a watch on the country. So on the back of our reservations of the CNI report, we will coniute to lobby to keep the Maldives on CMAG’s agenda.

Despite the MDP’s lobbying, the government has this week urged CMAG to remove the country from its agenda.

Both Dunya Maumoon, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Dr Hassan Saeed, Special Advisor to the President, have publicly argued that the Maldives had been treated unfairly, suggesting that the country should leave the Commonwealth should it not be removed from the CMAG agenda without delay.


Comment: Challenges to an infant democracy

The following speech was delivered to India-based think tank, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) on August 3, 2012.  The original transcript can be read here.

It’s an honour and a great pleasure for me to speak to you at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), this morning.

As many of you would know the Maldives has recently experienced significant political change. In 2008, we ratified a new constitution, based on the principles of a modern democracy and had the first multi-party election.

This election resulted in a historic change of a 30-year regime. However, despite the change, the aspirations of the people for a more democratic future did not materialize. On top of that just after 3 years into his presidency the new President Mr Nasheed resigned. And now he is challenging the circumstances that led to his resignation and this has created further political disharmony and tensions.

Today, I would like to briefly share with you some of the challenges that the Maldives faces as an infant democracy. None of the challenges will be of great surprise to you. Indeed you have faced very grave challenges yourself.

Today, you have emerged as a mature democracy, making rapid strides in your developmental efforts. This is a source of great inspiration not only to the Maldives, but to all emerging democracies around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, in a few days the Maldives will celebrate the 4th Anniversary of our new constitution. The process of constitutional enactment in the Maldives included a referendum on the system of government. The people favored a presidential system to a parliamentary system. We all had high hopes for our new constitution, and for a smooth transition from a largely autocratic system to a multi-party democracy.

The new constitution stipulates the separation of powers and for the first time it guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms. It mandates the formation of independent commissions and other institutions that are vital for a democracy to function well.

The new constitution also introduced the concept of decentralised governance of atolls and islands by elected local councils instead of the traditional presidential appointees. The initial major test for the new constitution was the first multi-party presidential election.

After a strong contest with 6 candidates representing a wide range of Maldivian opinion, that election ended President Gayoom’s 30 years of rule and Mr Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate, supported by a coalition of other parties was sworn in, on November 11 2008, as the 4th President of the Maldives. However, after just over 3 years into his 5-year term, President Nasheed resigned on 7th February.

As stipulated in the new constitution, the Vice President, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, was then sworn in as the 5th President of the Maldives.

President Nasheed resigned in front of the media accompanied by his cabinet, saying he resigned for the national good. However, the next day he argued that he resigned under duress.

This has created substantial controversy and has led to the establishment of a Commission of National Inquiry to look in to the circumstances of the transfer of power. This has been the subject of a lot of speculation and featured in the media and discussions in India and elsewhere.

As I said earlier the people had high hopes for our new political system. The people expected vast improvements over the previous system of governance; they did not want law and order to be influenced by politics; they wanted the judiciary to be free from political and other influences; they wanted job security in the public sector to be independent from politics; they wanted to see greater transparency in awarding public sector contracts; they wanted a system of local governance where things that are directly related to their welfare to be, by and large, determined by their representatives at the local level; the people wanted a free and fair media; and most of all they wanted their life to be better under the new democratic system.

These aspirations were not met. This was because, the new government on the one hand, did not have the sincerity to see through the democratic process that we adopted. On the other hand there was a tendency to carry out reforms regardless of the means by which those reforms were implemented.

This increased the room for corrupt practices and other inefficiencies resulting from moral hazard. I believe, in lending support to the democratic process, the means of achieving national development objectives is as important as the ends of development themselves.

From the outset, the new government was not sufficiently sensitive to the values of sincerity and patience. It is important to underline the fundamental importance of these values in making the system work. The people need to be reassured that democracy can meet their needs in their day to day lives and serve to fulfill their aspirations for a better future.

If we are to be a successful modern multi-party democracy we need to give the people confidence that the vision and ideals that inspired the 2008 constitution are still relevant.

Let me explain in some detail some of the instances where these important fundamentals were breached by the Nasheed government.

Historians, legal and constitutional experts, and indeed citizens more generally, I’m sure would agree that the establishment and maintenance of the rule of law is a fundamental pillar of democracy.

One of the major challenges that the Maldives faces, even today is maintaining the rule of law. The people were fed up with the earlier system where the executive had a direct influence on the police service and the criminal justice system. The new constitution introduced a very different criminal justice system with a number of safeguards. For instance the establishment of an independent judiciary, and an independent prosecutor general among other measures, were impartial mechanisms to dispense justice.

The parliament had also established an independent Police Integrity Commission, which was important in setting the parameters for these institutions to function within a democratic framework. Where there is no rule of law there cannot be a meaningful or successful democracy. However, Mr Nasheed – when it suited him, totally disregarded this key principle.

A landmark transition towards democracy was the formation of a police service in 2008, accountable to the Home Ministry, ending the decades old system of military having to attend to the policing function as well. Before this positive change, the outgoing government of President Gayoom was blamed for alleged police brutality. This was a key theme of the MDP presidential campaign in 2008.

With Nasheed’s government in place, Maldivians anticipated that the military and police would be freed from any attempt by the government to use them to promote any political agenda or ends. Sadly that assumption proved to be wrong. The police and in some cases even the military were mobilized on many unlawful political tasks, some of which even defied Maldivian Supreme Court rulings.

In any consideration of the events of earlier this year, it should always be remembered that the nationwide protests and demonstrations that lasted 22 days in Male’, leading up to President Nasheed’s resignation was sparked by the unlawful detention and arrest of a Senior Judge of the Criminal Court by the military while President Nasheed was the head of the armed forces.

Therefore, despite important institutional changes, the Nasheed government influenced the police to act in ways that were favourable to MDP. As such, when MDP conducted demonstrations they received preferential treatment, while opposition rallies were summarily dispersed.

Ladies and gentlemen, Let me now turn to a brief consideration of the influence of politics on the civil service. In the Maldives, where the civil service is the single largest employer, any policy that impacts the civil service has an immediate and lasting effect on the welfare of a significant proportion of the workforce.

Prior to the Civil Service Act of 2007, the appointment, dismissal and the setting of remunerations and all other benefits related to them were directly controlled by the President’s Office.

However, with the enactment of the Civil Service Act, an independent Civil Service Commission answerable to the parliament was established with total responsibility to oversee the functioning of the civil service.

Yet, President Nasheed’s government undermined the role of the civil service. Firstly, this was by drastically increasing the number of political appointees, both by making new appointments at executive levels and by registering existing civil service employees as political appointees. This increased the number of public service employees that were directly under the purview of the executive.

Secondly, the president formed public corporations which did not come under the purview of the civil service. This enabled the executive to control large numbers of public sector employees. One example of this was the National Health Service, which was brought under a system of health services corporations and made responsible for providing health services to the community.

This meant that large numbers of civil service employees in the health sector were shifted to the health corporations. This, in turn, meant that a large number of public sector employees were suddenly dependent on the executive for their livelihood. These tactics enabled the executive to exercise undue political influence on a large number of public employees and, in effect, compromised the effectiveness of the Civil Service Act.

Ladies and gentlemen.  One of the positive changes people anticipated as a result of the new constitution was the system of decentralised local governance. However, when the first local council election delivered an overwhelming victory for the opposition the decentralisation process was slowed down by the Nasheed government.

Elected local councils are, by law, empowered to carry out many aspects of governance at the local level, yet with many of the councils having at the time a non MDP majority, the government refused to decentralise power.

Instead former President Nasheed created national administrative centers, accountable just to him. This added an overbearing administrative layer to the existing structure of decentralisation. Such actions were undemocratic, partisan and led to a waste of resources at a financially difficult time.

Another key aspect of a modern democracy was the establishment of an independent media. A free and an independent media, which is often referred to as the fourth pillar of the state, received considerable attention during the process of democratic change in the Maldives.

A free and an independent media provide the necessary checks and balances within the democratic system of governance. This led to the creation of the institutional framework that governed the operation of free media, and created the space for the development of private media, particularly the development of private radio and television for the first time in the Maldives. This also led to the establishment of the concept of an impartial public broadcaster that was essentially free from political influence.

During the 30 year rule of President Gayoom, state media was used largely as a propaganda tool for the regime. This was seen as a very visible example of the absence of democracy in the Maldives at the time. One of the strongest demands when people were calling for democratic reform from 2003 onwards was for a free and independent media.

It should be noted that one of the key points in the MDP’s 2008 manifesto was a pledge to establish a public broadcaster by the parliament. However, when the MDP government came in to power they refused to transfer the assets of the state broadcasting corporation to the new statutory body, the MBC (or, the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation), that was formed as the public broadcaster. The MDP government essentially refused to comply with the legislation simply because the members of the MBC board of directors appointed by parliament was not to their liking.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are some of the key challenges confronting the Maldives as the country faces a new dawn of democracy.

Let me conclude by making a few remarks about the way forward.

The year 2008 saw the beginning of a democratic transition in the Maldives. The enactment of the new constitution was the crucial first step of this transition from an autocratic system to a modern democracy. Enacting the constitution itself however, is not sufficient to establish a functioning modern democracy.

Democratic transition is a process that needs a number of further steps in order for it to be successful. Some of these steps are outlined in the constitution. They include holding the first multi-party presidential election, the establishment of the Supreme Court, holding of the first multi-party parliamentary elections, setting up various independent bodies, holding of the first local council elections and the enactment of various pieces of legislations. Further, it is also important to strengthen the democratic institutions through capacity building.

Some of this work has already been completed. The remaining tasks need to be undertaken and completed over the coming months and years.

As the Maldives heads towards its second presidential elections under our new constitution, much needs to be done to rebuild people’s confidence at this stage of our infant democracy.

To develop such confidence amongst the people the leadership must show commitment and conviction in adhering to the principles of democracy. The leadership must have the courage to see through the process of democratic change.

Unfortunately, the first government under the new democratic constitution did not display the courage and patience to follow the path of democratic governance. As a result it has held up the transition process.

The way forward has been further complicated because of the current political tensions resulting from President Nasheed’s contention that he was forced to resign. This has resulted in further widening the political polarization within Maldives society.

Further, there is a very real fear that the people are getting increasingly frustrated that their aspirations are not being met. And when there is political instability it can undermine economic prosperity which can have a direct impact on the quality of life.

Therefore, it is important to have dialogue among the main stakeholders in order to create stability and reduce political tension. If the parties are unable to reach an amicable solution, meaningful progress in the democratic transition can only happen after the presidential elections due next year.

On a positive note, despite the frustrations, I believe, the peoples aspirations for democratisation has not changed.

We appreciate the continuous engagement by the government of India to facilitate an early resolution to the political stalemate in Maldives, particularly the timely engagement through repeated visits by the Foreign Secretary, His Excellency Mr Ranjan Mathai.

I also commend the important role of the Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives, His Excellency, Mr Mullay, for his dedication and hard work during these trying times. Also I greatly appreciate his efforts to enhance relations between our two countries, sometimes under very difficult circumstances.

The road to democracy is no doubt, long and hard, with many challenges along the way. But through persistence and good will, I’m sure the fruits of democracy will be as sweet as the future is bright.

Ahmed Thasmeen Ali is an MP and leader of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP).

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Government plan to waive import duties, reduce costs

President Mohamed Nasheed has said the prices of goods will drop after the government implements a plan to waive import duties on certain products, starting January 2012.

Yesterday, Nasheed paid visits to several Male’ shops to observe the impact of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which went into effect on Sunday, October 2.

Several shop owners said they had noticed several difficulties from the start of the GST, but that Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) was taking necessary actions to resolve these issues.

Others noted that the majority of businesses had been well prepared for the new tax system.

The tax system was applied to the Maldives as a means of increasing state income, which in turn is expected to support the growth and development of national public services such as social security, public welfare, and health coverage.

Nasheed said a more efficient tax administration system would be established once legal formalities are completed.