Maldivian economy grew by 8.5 percent in 2014, says MMA

The Maldivian economy grew at 8.5 percent in 2014, the central bank has said. Growth was driven by a solid increase in tourist arrivals and the strong recovery of the construction sector.

The government’s fiscal performance in 2014, however, was weaker than anticipated due to shortfalls in revenue and overspending on recurrent expenses, the Maldives Monetary Authority said in its Annual Economic Review.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in March provided a much lower figure of five percent for economic growth, and highlighted the need for improved data collection on macroeconomic statistics.

According to the MMA, the government’s total debt reached 65 percent of GDP in 2014, while the fiscal deficit stood at MVR1.6billion or 3.4 percent of GDP, higher than the estimated MVR1.3billion or 2.8 percent.

The tax authority has meanwhile collected MVR951.3million (US$61.9million) in tax revenue in March. The figure is 2.7 percent higher than forecasted as several tourism companies had paid late land rents and fines after the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) froze the accounts of some 20 businesses in April.

MIRA has received MVR 5.61 billion (US$ 360 million) in revenue this year, an increase of 27.3 percent compared to 2014. The tax authority, however, did not state if revenue collection meets targets.

Robust growth

Some 1.2million tourists brought in an estimated US$2.6 billion to the Maldives in 2014. Arrivals grew by 7 percent and was largely driven by arrivals from China. European arrivals recorded a marginal growth due to a decline in Russian tourists.

The growth in bed nights stood at 4 percent – slight lower in magnitude than the growth in arrivals – reflecting the decline in average stay from 6.3 days in 2013 to 6.1 days in 2014. The downward trend in average stay, which has become more marked since 2009, is due to a shift in the composition of inbound tourist markets towards countries such as China, the MMA said

Meanwhile, total tourist revenue remained buoyant and grew by 13% (20% growth in 2013) to reach an estimated US$2.6 billion during 2014. The significant difference between the growth in revenue and bednights may reflect the increase in tourist expenditure on high-end services in the industry, the MMA said.

Airline movements by international carriers, such as Mega Maldives, Cathay Pacific and budget airlines such as Tiger Airways, also increased during the year, and facilitated the growth in tourist arrivals.

Three new resorts were opened, increasing total registered number of resorts in the Maldives to 112. Registered guesthouses reached a total of 216. Some 80 new guesthouses were registered at tourism ministry, but only a total of 95 in operation.

The construction sector bounced back from two consecutive years of negative growth. The revival was mainly due to the ease in obtaining construction materials after India waived restrictions on the export of stone aggregate to in March 2014. This allowed the resumption of large-scale public sector infrastructure projects and major housing projects, the MMA said.

The fisheries sector declined by 6 percent,  following a strong growth of 8 percent in 2013, due to a decline in fish catch, and also because of the significant dip in international tuna prices.

The fishing industry in the Maldives represents about one percent of GDP in 2014. It accounted for 10% of total employment in 2010. Export revenue from fish and fish products accounts for 47 percent of merchandise exports.

Poor fiscal performance 

The government collected some MVR14.5billion in revenue in 2014. But total revenue fell short of the target as some of the new revenue measures planned in the budget did not materialize.

The implementation of of a T-GST hike – from 8 percent to 12 percent – was delayed from July 2014 to November 2014; tourism tax, initially anticipated to be collected throughout the year was only collected from February to November.

There was a “considerable shortfall” from the lease period extension fee collected during the year. The lump-sum resort acquisition fee from the 12 new islands planned to be leased out for resort development did not materialize either.

As a result, total revenue was MVR351.0 million less than budgeted and amounted.

The total expenditure of MVR16.5 billion was slightly lower than budgeted, but only because the government stopped spending on development projects and redirected funds to financing recurrent expenditure.

In the banking sector, the main area of concern continued to be credit risk, as indicated by the high level of poor-quality loans. Non-performing loans “remain a concern with a ratio of 16 percent,” the MMA said.

Gross international reserves increased to US$614.7 million at the end of the year. Out of this, usable reserves accounted for US$143.9 million. The “marked expansion” owed to the improvement in foreign currency receipts of the government, the MMA said.

 

 

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Maldives must empower Anti-Corruption Commission, says Transparency International

The Maldives must empower anti-corruption agencies to investigate and prosecute cases in order to fight corruption, says Transparency International.

“Maldives and Sri Lanka must ensure that their anti-corruption agencies are granted ‘suo motto’ powers to instigate both corruption investigations and prosecutions on their own initiative without prior government approval,” suggested the Fighting Corruption in South Asia (FCSA) report released today.

At present, the Maldives Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) can only initiate investigations, but not prosecutions. Instead, it has to forward cases to the Prosecutor General for any further action to be taken.

Analysing 70 institutions across 6 countries, the anti-corruption NGO concluded that a “serious lack of political will on the part of governments to make laws work” was hampering the regional fight against corruption.

The report also called on the government to enforce the Right to Information Law and ensure protection of whistleblowers.

Independence and Accountability

Although the report advocated greater independence for oversight bodies, it highlighted the need to balance independence with accountability.

Too much of either can lead to abuse of power, the report noted, arguing limited judicial accountability has resulted in the Maldives Supreme Court exerting excessive use of power over other branches of government.

One example that the FCSA uses to demonstrate their findings is the Maldives Supreme Court’s much-criticised decision to convict the president of the Elections Commission Fuwad Thowfeek for contempt of court earlier this year. The apex court acted as prosecutor, judge and jury during the trial.

The Maldivian Anti Corruption Commission itself has raised concerns over a Supreme Court rulings, in which the apex court ruled the body does not have the authority to prevent the state from entering into questionable contracts.

ACC President Hassan Luthfee has said a ruling on a legal battle involving Department of Immigration, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and Malaysian IT firm Nexbis in 2012 had rendered the organisation powerless.

“If this institution is simply an investigative body, then there is no purpose for our presence,” he said.

“Even the police investigate cases, don’t they? So it is more cost effective for this state to have only the police to investigate cases instead of the ACC,” Luthfee said.

Referring the court’s, Luthfee said the ACC had no power to prevent corruption, arguing that anti-corruption bodies in other countries had powers of investigation, prevention, and awareness raising.

“If an institution responsible for fighting corruption does not have these powers then it is useless,” he said.

Right to Information

Another key finding highlighted in the FCSA report was what it regarded as the weak implementation of the Freedom of Information act, ratified earlier this year.

“In Maldives, although the new law has only just been passed, there are concerns about the level of citizens’ awareness of their rights, an issue which will need to be addressed as a matter of urgency,” the report states.

Under the act, an appointed commissioner has the power enforce a fine on information officers who deliberately refuse access to information. The President’s Office has today called for applications for the post which must be filled by mid July according to the new law.

The FCSA report categorises both the Maldives’ capacity to implement the law, and citizens’ awareness of the law as “weak”.

Additionally, the report highlighted the safety and protection of whistleblowers as a being major barrier to anti-corruption activities in the Maldives.

Noting the Right to Information Act provides protection to whistleblowers, the FCSA report called for more comprehensive whistleblower legislation with a broader scope covering both the public and private sectors.

Aiman Rasheed, Advocacy and Communications Manager at local Transparency branch Transparency Maldives said one the key findings of the report was the reversal of judicial reform after the February 2012 transfer of power.

“We had a new government set up. It was a positive environment. That has been reversed,” Aiman said.

He noted a “huge gap” between current systems and practices as politicians enjoyed an atmosphere of impunity following the controversial removal of President Mohamed Nasheed.

He went on to note that public engagement in holding officials accountable have been hindered by the lack of public debate in the local media.

“We have published a lot of reports on the public opinions of corruption, but we don’t see these being discussed in the media,” Aiman said.

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Politicians, gangs and religious extremists threaten media freedom

Maldivian journalists have reported threats from political parties, gangs, religious extremists, parliamentarians and the government.

A landmark “Threat Analysis Report” by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) found that 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis.

Journalists identified political parties to be the top source of threat. Gangs, religious extremists and parliament placed second while the government was rated third.

The MBC also unveiled a “Broadcast Content and Complaints During Presidential Election 2013” on Wednesday which found former President Mohamed Nasheed received the most negative coverage of any of the presidential candidates across all stations except opposition aligned broadcaster Raajje TV.

Threats

The Threat Analysis Report is aimed at identifying threats to journalism and media freedom in the Maldives between 2011 and 2013.

Of the journalists surveyed, 29 percent said they felt the threats were serious and could threaten their lives while 27 percent said they were hesitant to report due to threats.

Over 30 percent said they were reluctant to report on gang activity.

Threats came in various forms, with 20 percent delivered in person, 18 percent via social media and 15 percent through telephone calls. Journalists also reported being stalked and family members being intimidated.

However, a significant percentage of the journalists threatened (43 percent) did not report threats to the authorities.

Television stations meanwhile reported being vandalized. These include an arson attack that destroyed Raajje TV offices in October 2013 and an attack on Villa TV in March 2012. TV stations have reported these cases, but said they are not happy with police progress in investigating cases.

The TV stations have expressed concern that gangs and religious extremists may step up the scale and seriousness of attacks in the future.

Broadcast media told the MBC that media threats are caused due to attempts by political forces to control the media and failure by journalists to practice ethical journalism in a turbulent political environment.

Police refusal to support and cooperate with media outlets as well as lack of tolerance for different views were also identified as underlying reasons for threats against the press.

Access to information

All TV stations and 72 percent of journalists reported difficulties in obtaining information from the government and other state institutions.

Access to information is rated as the second biggest obstacle to free media in the Maldives. The top obstacle is political influence while discrimination in providing information is rated third.

The management of TV stations said stations are self-sustainable and said they do not believe their content is influenced by financiers.

However, they told the MBC that journalists do not practice fair, responsible and ethical journalism in the Maldives.

Meanwhile, 54 percent of journalists said their stations allowed practice of free, fair, responsible and ethical journalism. But 69 percent acknowledged presence of “activist journalists” in the Maldivian media.

Only four percent of journalists said there was no editorial independence at the stations they worked at.

Presidential election content

The MBC monitored prime time content of nine television stations before the first round of presidential elections – between August 7 and September 6, 2013 – to compile the report on Broadcast Content and Complaints During Presidential Election 2013.

According to the report President Nasheed received the least (8.69 percent) coverage on public broadcasting channel Television Maldives (TVM). Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim (18 percent) gained the most coverage on TVM  followed by current President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom (16 percent).

Each of the commercial channels monitored gave a significantly large percentage of positive coverage for a single presidential candidate.

The only exception to this was Jazeera channel which divided coverage more equally compared to other channels but favored Nasheed by approximately five percent, the MBC said.

The rest of the channels were divided among the candidates as follows; former President Dr. Mohamed Waheed dominated DhiTV, DhiFM and Channel One, Gasim dominated Villa TV (VTV) which he owns, President Yameen dominated Channel 13 and SunTV Plus, while President Nasheed dominated RaajjeTV.

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UN translates Special Rapporteur’s report on judiciary into Dhivehi

The UN has released an unofficial Dhivehi translation of Special Rapporteur Gabriela Knaul’s extensive report on the state of the Maldivian judiciary.

In her report, Knaul expressed “deep concern” over the failure of the judicial system to address “serious violations of human rights” during the Maldives’ 30 year dictatorship, warning of “more instability and unrest” should this continue to be neglected.

The report is a comprehensive overview of the state of the Maldivian judiciary and its watchdog body, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). Knaul examines the judiciary’s handling of the trial of former President Nasheed, the controversial reappointment of unqualified judges in 2010, and the politicisation of the JSC.

Knaul also examines parliament’s failure to pass critical pieces of legislation needed for the proper functioning of the judiciary and “legal certainty”, as well as raises serious concerns about an impending budget catastrophe facing the judicial system.

Read the translation (Dhivehi)

Read the original report (English)

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Comment: Maldives’ future more optimistic than Ginsburg scenarios

Professor Tom Ginsburg’s analysis of the prospects for a democratic Maldives (written August 2012) is unjustifiably pessimistic. This letter outlines why an analysis more optimistic in its conclusions is warranted.

Professor Ginsburg considers the consolidation of constitutional democracy the least likely outcome, with either a series of ‘failed governments’ or domination by a hegemonic faction as more likely. This letter does not dispute that the two less appealing scenarios are real possibilities, nor that that bringing about a more democratic politics will require great effort. However, as is undoubtedly obvious to the reader, following any path – irrespective of where it may lead – is not going to be easy at this delicate moment of Maldivian history.

This letter contends that Professor Ginsburg’s analysis is flawed in the following ways: 1) failing to recognise fully the implications of the 2008 elections and the resulting change in governance, 2) the factors that he deems adverse to democracy are either factors that assist a democratic transition or are neutral, and 3) expecting too much progress in too short a time.

First: political scientists agree that a country is not a democratic one until two alternations of power have been achieved by democratic means. The October 2008 elections qualify as the first. 7 February 2012 does not qualify as the second. However, the 2008 election represents a democratic opening. The high rate of voting (83 percent, reported by Minivan News) indicated a politically active and engaged population, as do more recent collective actions — including party activity and street demonstrations. The fact that the Maldivian people managed to achieve that democratic opening, after decades without democratic, or any other meaningful, political participation speaks volumes about their resourcefulness and competence.

A critical mass of the population of Male’ (at least) is as politically engaged now as it was then, and any analyst would only at their peril underestimate the potential of this population to surprise. At the level of government, the qualitative leap in administrative steering and standards of policy research, design and implementation in evidence beginning in 2008 shows that better – although still imperfect — government is certainly possible in the Maldives.

Furthermore, social mobilisation and popular participation in the campaigns of 2008 and thereafter belie Ginsburg’s assessment that civil society is ‘inchoate.’ Civil society in the Maldives may not express itself as frequently in written form as Professor Ginsburg expects, but it is no less significant and politically effective for its orality, and for its active rather than discursive manifestations.

Second: the Maldivian economy does suffer from a variety of vulnerabilities; weaknesses which have increased since the writing of the consultation paper. Following over three decades of accelerated development, and leaps in human development indicators, the Maldives achieved its status as a middle income country in 2004.

Under the Nasheed administration, it posted real GDP growth of 9.9 percent in 2010 and 8.3 percent in 2011 (World Bank). Mr Nasheed, as Professor Ginsburg recognises, introduced tax reforms (including a tourism goods and services tax) that improved medium-term fiscal sustainability, even as Mr Nasheed was also correct in diagnosing the serious problems posed by public debt/spending, and by an unsustainably large and inefficient bureaucracy.

In the regional context of South Asia, the Maldives is by a wide margin the wealthiest country, with a GNI per capita of US$5,721 (World Bank). India, which is a democracy of long-standing, has a GNI per capita of only US$1,410. Even considering foreign workers and the rentier aspects of the Maldivian economy, the Maldives possesses (proportionately) greater ability to attract foreign currency than any other country in the region; this capacity can afford some insulation against the vicissitudes of the global economy. Recent reductions in poverty, and nascent efforts at developing research capacity and higher education show that even in turbulent times the Maldivian state is capable of harnessing the natural and economic assets of the country for collective benefit.

Ginsburg alludes to “slum-like overcrowding in the capital.” The comparison with India again is apt; if Male’ appears to be a slum, it is apparent that he is unfamiliar with the ‘slums’ and ‘overcrowding’ of any city of similar size in that democratic country to the north, India.

Ginsburg cites the involvement of external actors in Maldivian politics, as something ostensibly diminishing the prospects for democracy. While foreign intervention is no doubt (and perhaps understandably) unpopular, it is far from evident how it will prevent democratization. In fact, Ginsburg himself alludes to contrary evidence, acknowledging that external actors contributed both to the former President Maumoon Gayoom’s decision to acquiesce to the democratic opening, and in the drafting of many laudable aspects of the current constitution.

The youth of the Maldives are an asset – not a liability. 99 percent literacy (according to the Commonwealth Secretariat), and the internet connectivity (particularly of youth, as Ginsburg observes), and the involvement of young people in the democratic opening of 2008 demonstrate that they constitute a source of hope, rather than a demographic of despair. Ginsburg does not explain or support the statement that they are “not being adequately integrated into the traditional social and economic structures.” Furthermore, their detachment from traditional social structures could equally well be a reason to anticipate the continuing dynamism and political potency of Maldivian youth.

Third, Professor Ginsburg appears to expect a vigorous, flawless liberal democracy to have been born of a wholly autocratic womb. A sound administrative legal code, the institutionalisation of parliament, an independent, skillful judiciary – these are all extremely unrealistic demands to make of a country that only four years ago staged its first competitive election.

Ginsburg consistently overlooks the necessarily incremental nature of political development following (any) regime change; he underestimates the time needed, and the setbacks that even a country in otherwise ideal circumstances will invariably encounter. He also overstates the immediate importance of the judiciary and legal culture at the expense of social movements and electoral contestation; the lesson in constitutionalism which he prescribes is of rather less moment than preparing for the upcoming election. The judiciary that is in place now and that likely will be in place during the upcoming electoral cycle is arguably no more flawed than that which was in place in the last (free and fair) national election, in 2008.

In conclusion: political scientists distinguish structure and agency. Structure includes things like the economy, institutions, geography and demography. The things that are essentially set, and not easily or quickly altered. Agency on the other hand, is the human element. It is the human will: human ingenuity, determination, and the capacity to surprise.

Professor Ginsburg has taken up only the first of these two: the structure. An analysis based on an understanding of the Maldivian people would not so readily discount the chance of a new, and a more inclusive and participatory, Maldivian politics.

Scott Morrison is a political scientist (Columbia University 2004 PhD)

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]

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Maldives’ future “a cycle of failed governments”: report

The most likely short-term political future of the Maldives is a cycle of failed governments, according to a report produced by local NGO the Raajje Foundation, and supported by the UNDP and the US State Department.

“The Maldives finds itself at a critical juncture in its political development. The high hopes for the country after the new Constitution and first ever democratic election in 2008 have been tempered by the events of February 2012, in which President Nasheed resigned from office under claims of duress following weeks of public protests and increasing political tension,” writes Professor Tom Ginsburg from the University of Chicago Law School.

“This has led some observers to consider Maldives as a case of a broken transition to democracy, and there is growing disagreement among Maldivian commentators on what might the best or most desirable route forward.”

Democratic development in the Maldives is hampered by challenging conditions, including “a political culture that emphasises recrimination over reconciliation, a thin inchoate civil society, nascent higher education, limited transparency, a long tradition of patronage, massive wealth inequalities, difficult population demographics, weak politicised institutions, distorted labor market, and a narrow economy vulnerable to external shocks,” states Ginsburg.

“At the same time, the country is also confronted with major economic and social problems, such as the prospect of national insolvency and a young generation wracked by drug abuse, that would challenge much stronger states and more institutionally developed societies. This all renders the current moment one of very high stakes.”

The report documents an incendiary background for future political upheaval, noting that the 40 percent of the Maldives’ population aged under 21 are “not being integrated into traditional social and economic structures.”

Resulting issues included widespread youth delinquency and heroin addiction, affecting as much as eight percent of the population, the report notes.

“There are also other unstudied issues such as the slum-like overcrowding in the capital, increasing religious extremism, and a large illegal immigrant population, many of whom are believed to be trafficked as part of an organised racket in which the state seems either complicit or unable to control. Expectations are high but government capacity to deliver is low and a looming budget financing crisis means that there is very little room to maneuver,” it adds.

Researching such problems from the outside is difficult, Ginsburg writes, due to state obfuscation “by endlessly referring enquiries from one government office to another. Scholarship, policy analysis, and social data on the Maldives are almost nonexistent. It has for many been a very difficult country to learn about.”

“There is also very limited capacity in the Maldives for policy analysis outside a very few select government ministries. Indeed, there does not seem to be a culture of reasoned justification but rather any effort to provide a neutral perspective is assumed to be and is viewed as politically partisan.”

The report analyses the economic crisis facing the country, noting that ballooning public expenditure had reached the point where 10 percent of the population is employed by the government, and commented on the lack of an independent pay commission to prevent parliament and other commissions from effectively raising their own salaries to those akin to developed countries.

Independent commissions were in a position where they faced either accusations of selective enforcement based on politicisation, “or focused on fact-finding and other activities to keep them out of the heated political conflicts of the day.”

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC)’s mission 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,” writes Ginsburg.

“While the 2008 Constitution does include a provision allowing for five year terms for current judges before appointing them for a life term till the age of 70, presumably to allow some transition from the old regime, it is now not clear this provision will be exercised without some dramatic and unexpected change in circumstances.”

A raft of new civil society organisations which sprang up after 2008 were meanwhile accused of being “aligned with various political agendas”, while “a few organisations have obtained an effective chokehold on international funding and support, inhibiting the overall growth and competence of the sector.”

Three scenarios

Against this backdrop – “a cascade of serious structural weaknesses that undermine continued democratic development” – the report outlines three potential scenarios for the country: a cycle of failed governments; dominance of one hegemonic faction; and an eventual move towards constitutional democracy.

Scenario one: Cycle of failed governments

This scenario would be most likely to result ”if the current government pursues its legal case against former President Nasheed in a shortsighted and headstrong manner, or if Nasheed escalates conflict to try to ‘overthrow the government’,” Ginsburg writes.

In this scenario – the most likely – “personalities rather than policy differences continue to define the party system and alliances of political aspirants shift back and forth among two or three factions competing to secure access to state resources.

“These personalities, when in government, will therefore always have the incentive to stymie critically needed reforms for fear of cutting down the very patronage networks that sustain them and allowing their opponents to promise to restore this largess.

“In this scenario, true national leadership becomes the casualty. No one will be willing to take the tough decisions to put through the needed legislation, undertake essential bureaucratic rationalisation, and get the government on a proper fiscal footing. One government after another will find itself unable to do what is required in order to break through the cycle of repeated failure.”

With the state paralysed, “There will be almost no chance for the unanimous consensus required to make the constitutional changes needed to reintroduce rigorous judicial accountability or even rewind the country back to its transitional period.

“Given the politically weak bargaining power of the general public, and the large and still growing youth demographic in particular, radical ideologies and charismatic anti-establishment figures may become more popular with a frustrated but disempowered population,” Ginsburg predicts.

Scenario two: Dominance of a hegemonic faction

“Some already talk openly about a ‘Singapore option’ in which a single political party takes leadership and empowers a technocratic state apparatus to provide for the public good,” writes Ginsburg.

“The permanent collapse or suppression of one faction to another does not seem likely to occur without a use of force which would put Maldives in clear violation of its treaty obligations and basic international norms. Consequently, efforts to attain hegemonic control would actually likely lead to an even more adversarial version of the cycle of failed governments scenario in a way that is perhaps reminiscent of Maldives’ present situation,” he warns.

“With a still politically disempowered public unable to truly hold government to account, this scenario may similarly also lead citizens to look to more radicalised religious and non-establishment actors who claim to offer more equitable alternatives to the status-quo.”

Cautioning against comparisons with Singapore, the report notes that the Maldives “is coming from a completely different context and, more significantly, does not have a potential leader who could command the respect that Lee Kuan Yew earned in Singapore.

“Pursuing a strategy premised on the promise of enlightened leadership is thus risky and likely to fall back into a cycle of failed governments. It is also what the Maldives had sought to move away from in the first place by not supporting a continuation of its prior tradition of autocratic governance.”

Scenario three: Constitutional democracy

The most internationally-desirable forecast for the Maldives “is also the least likely”, writes Ginsburg.

“This would involve potential alternation in power among political groups, a focus on policies as the basis for political decision-making, along with a deep infrastructure to support the development and implementation of policies, significant constraints on extra-constitutional governmental action, and a sense of political maturity that has heretofore been lacking,” he states.

The report outlines a number of recommendations to achieve this scenario, particularly constitutional education to encourage the kind of public pressure “that ensures that politicians and government agents comply with the orders of courts, independent agencies and the intent of the Constitution.

“Ignorance of the public on their own Constitution is by far the most obvious gap within the Maldives’ democratic transition,” the report suggests.

In terms of judicial reform, “There must be mechanisms to ensure that the judges obey the law and apply it consistently. there are reasons for concern about the current situation, in which the legal framework is underdeveloped and the Supreme Court has foreclosed many of the extant channels of ensuring accountability.”

Ginsburg proposes a more active and independent, self-regulating bar association, with lawyers freed from the requirement to be registered through the attorney general’s office. He notes that the International Bar Association “has repeatedly offered its assistance”, but suggests that the prospect is unlikely “given the politicisation of the various groups who would have come together for such a purpose.”

Programs such as citizen-initiated ‘court-watch’ initiatives, common in other countries, were hampered by the lack of open courtrooms. Moreover, “rules squelching discussion of court decisions form a major barrier to this or any other channel of accountability.”

The report proposes the use of laymen in adjudication, with four to five citizens “sitting with two to three judges in serious criminal cases such as murder.” However, “the challenges of implementing such a system in the Maldives with its dense network of family ties should not be underestimated.”

The report cautions that donors supporting the development of judicial capacity in the Maldives “must tie this to developing enhanced mechanisms of accountability.”

Read the report

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CNI report “based on false premise that Abdulla Mohamed is a constitutionally appointed judge”: Velezinee

The Commission of National Inquiry (CNI)’s report into the circumstances surrounding the controversial transfer of power on February 7 mistakenly presumes that the Maldives has an independent and constitutionally-appointed judiciary, former President’s Member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Aishath Velezinee, has stated.

The report, focused on the events of February 6 to 8, claimed there was no evidence to support allegations by former President Mohamed Nasheed that he was ousted in a coup d’état, that his resignation was under duress, or that there was any mutiny by the police and military. It dwells heavily on “unlawful orders” given by Nasheed as justification for police disobedience and protests, in particular his ordering the detention of Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed by the military.

“The report, by its failure to probe the events leading up to the removal of Abdulla Mohamed and the January 2012 protests, fails to recognise the systematic breach of the Constitution by the JSC and Majlis that forced President Nasheed to use the powers of Head of State to address the issue of Abdulla Mohamed,” said Velezinee, in a detailing statement responding to the report.

“The inquiry is based on a false premise, the assumption that Abdulla Mohamed is a constitutionally appointed judge, which is a political creation and ignores all evidence refuting this,” she stated.

Velezinee noted that Article 285 of the constitution – concerning the appointment and qualification of judges on conclusion of the interim period – was discarded by the JSC in 2010 as “symbolic”, “the CNI report indirectly legitimises a judiciary where at least 196 judges sworn in by the JSC/Interim Supreme Court between 4 August and 7 August 2012 are a nullity, having been appointed without due procedure, and without fulfilling the qualifications and qualities required of a Judge under the Constitution.”

She noted that many of the “prominent lawyers” and politicians who protested the arrest of Abdulla Mohamed’s removal “were MPs with criminal cases before Abdulla Mohamed and their lawyers.”

Furthermore, “the report does not mention that many of the ‘prominent lawyers’ who protested at the removal of Abdulla Mohamed now sit in office.”

“Suspicion is further raised when it is observed that the MPs who led the January 2012 [protests] were the same MPs who had obstructed attempts to get a parliamentary inquiry [into the JSC] by disrupting Committee [hearings], and included the current Chair of the Majlis Committee,”

The report further failed to note recent observations by the UN Human Rights Committee in July 2012 substantiating the JSC’s nullification of Article 285, she noted.

In its concluding observations, the UNHRC noted “concerned at the fact that the composition and the functioning of the 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 State party (art. 2 (3), 14).

“The State party should take effective measures to reform the composition and the functioning of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). 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.

The CNI report itself recognised the poor standard of the judiciary, Velezinee observed, citing from it:

Perhaps the most fundamental requirement for a vibrant democracy is the rule of law which appears weak in the Maldives. Notably, the Commission was confronted regularly by allegations of the breach of the rule of law and clear absence of confidence in the institutions which are entrusted with upholding it.

Indeed, this appeared central to the frustrations of government under President Nasheed and his own lack of recourse to the judiciary to redress grievances and settle disputes. He did not appear alone.

Despite this, Velezinee noted that the report failed to recognise “that judicial reform is a fundamental Constitutional requirement under Article 285, or comprehend the centrality of Article 285 to the establishment of de facto independence of the judiciary in a state where de jure Independence of the judiciary was first introduced with the ratification of the Constitution in 2008.”

Instead, Velezinee stated, the report “explicitly politicises judicial reform as the political agenda of President Mohamed Nasheed and the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP); and fails to note that the political pledge in the MDP’s manifesto echoes Article 285 of the Constitution and its’ obligation upon the state of Maldives.”

By concluding that Judge Abdulla was just the “focus of their antipathy and antagonism”, the report “disregards major events that led to the events of January 2012, including but not limited to:

  • Events of 2010 around Constitution Article 285 and re-appointment of Judges
  • JSC’s unconstitutional nullification of Article 285 declaring it a “Symbolic Article” and re-appointing the sitting bench without due check
  • Failure of the Majlis to hold an inquiry into the JSC’s alleged Constitution breach and loss of an independent judiciary despite a commitment to hold an inquiry given by the Independent Bodies Oversight Committee on 2 August 2010
  • The fact that amongst those MPs and other political figures leading the January protests calling to “Free Judge Abdulla”, and seen celebrating President Nasheed’s “resignation” on 7 February 2012, were those same MPs who had obstructed all attempts to probe the said issues in Majlis Committees
  • The fact that these MPs, instead of upholding their duty and establishing the truth of the matter by holding an Open Inquiry allowing me to present evidence, politicised the issue and resorted to publicly attack myself, engaging in defamation and character-assassination whilst denying an inquiry. Action that gives good reason to believe in a cover-up, and a wider conspiracy against Constitutional Democratic Government that link events of 2010 (and beyond) to the events of 7 February 2012.
  • The fact that the matter of Abdulla Mohamed being a threat to national security was known to the Judicial Service Commission, the Maldives Police Services, the Maldives National Defence Forces and the Parliament in addition to the President; and that the system had failed to hold Abdulla Mohamed accountable, or the JSC accountable. Instead the JSC and Majlis were covering up for each other.”

The CNI report, Velezinee stated, “fails to consider how the collapse of Rule of Law could possibly have been engineered by those in positions of power, despite evidence of JSC’s Constitution breaches and Majlis cover-up provided to the CNI by myself.”

“The case of Abdulla Mohamed takes a completely different turn if it is established that Abdulla Mohamed is a political plant of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and is unconstitutionally retained by political influence, and placed as Chief Judge of Criminal Court by law, with the Majlis encroaching upon Constitutional powers given to the Judicial Service Commission alone,” Velezinee concluded. “Were it so, it is incumbent upon the Head of State to exercise his powers to prevent abuse of the Criminal Court by a political plant.”

“I am deeply concerned that the CNI report legitimises a dangerous precedent to permit de facto lowering of international standards despite the assurance of the highest standards of democracy as practiced in an open democratic society throughout the Constitution.”

CMAG to meet

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is due to meet and a consider the report in the next week.

The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, on Tuesday issued a statement acknowledging its release.

Senator Carr will chair next week’s meeting of the CMAG which suspended the Maldives from the organisation’s human rights and democracy arm and placed the Maldives on its formal agenda after the events of February.

“Australia urges all party leaders to take part in discussions which pave the way to free and fair elections and strengthen Maldives’ democratic institutions,” Senator Carr said.

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Comment: So long, and thanks for all the democracy

On the night of August 29, groups of uniformed officials of the Maldives Police Service were observed going around Malé in trucks, singing songs and mocking opposition MDP activists – the same ones they brutalised in a nationally televised theatre of violence during the events of February 7th and 8th.

The next morning, large groups of uniformed police were huddled together on the streets in their riot gear, their faces concealed by balaclavas, while the country awaited an announcement from the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) appointed by the Waheed regime to ‘investigate’ the controversial transfer of power.

The announcement surprised exactly nobody; the council of pigs had found in favour of Napoleon. There was no coup, it ruled. In fact, there wasn’t even a police mutiny. And if there was one, it didn’t quite break any law, the report found.

By evening, the Waheed regime’s Police Service – now apparently empowered to make their own laws – had declared that calling them ‘traitors’ was now a crime, and any person indulging in the act would be arrested.

The declaration followed in the footsteps of two citizens being arrested in recent days for the offence of calling Waheed a ‘traitor’. Journalists witnessed one lady being taken away on 30th August, allegedly for the crime of taking photographs of the police.

Over the course of the day, scores of MDP protesters would be detained by the police in ancticipation of large scale protests against the findings of the report, and the continued demands for early elections.

With the international community apparently eager to wash its hands off the Maldives, there will be plenty of time and opportunity for the police to deal with troublesome critics over the remainder of Waheed’s rule.

The CoNI Report

Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed, the sole representative of President Nasheed on the 5 member Commission, resigned the day before the report was to be made public. In a press conference following the publication of the report, Saeed pointed out what appear to be serious lapses in gathering evidence and recording testimony in preparation of the final report.

Among them, he highlighted that CCTV footage was provided for only 3 out of 8 cameras around the MNDF area, and even those had hours of footage edited out. No sufficient explanation was given by the security forces.

The Commission was not provided any CCTV footage by the Police and the President’s office, according to Saeed. Nor was CoNI granted access to information gathered by the Police Integrity Commission.

Furthermore, no interviews were held with any official of the notorious ‘Special Operations’, the highly trained riot control force that played a crucial role in the ouster of the first democratically elected government, as well as the subsequent targeted attacks on civilians, MDP leaders and party activists. Also missing was the testimony of Umar Naseer, the Deputy Leader of PPM who has publicly declared his role in the overthrow of the elected government, and revealed the existence of a ‘command centre’.

According to Saeed, other prominent interviewees alleged to have played a role in the coup d’etat appeared to have been coached, with all of them giving standard, non-commmital responses.

None of these alleged lapses or limitations were highlighted in the final report.

Illegal duress

Section 4F of the report, defining ‘Coercion in Law’ begins as follows:

“Coercion, as used in the Decree, refers to the American legal concept of illegal duress or the English legal concept of intimidation. This is a real threat delivered by one or more wrongdoers to another to harm and injure the latter or his family if the victim does not do something as demanded”

But surprisingly, the report makes no mention of the leaked audio recordings, first aired by Australia’s SBS Dateline program, that clearly reveal the President pleading for the safety of his family in return for his resignation on the morning of February 7.

There were a few other sections of the report that raises eyebrows. Regarding an allegation about an SMS purpotedly sent by the then Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Environment, allegedly asking for the disbursement of 2.4 million Rufiyaa to the mutinying cops, the Commission had this to report:

“[Mr. Saleem] debunked the message effortlessly, claiming that he did not recall sending such a message. After hearing him, the Commission would not invade and investigate the privacy and personal affairs of all and sundry…”

While the first sentence suggests some truly extraordinary levels of trust placed by the Commission in the testimony of the accused, the second reveals an inexplicable reluctance in pursuing every possible avenue of inquiry to uncover all relevant facts behind the power transfer – which, by definition, was the Commission’s job.

Furthermore, the report seems to paint a picture that the President was completely secure and faced no threat inside the MNDF HQ, when in reality it is undisputed that sections of the already outnumbered military had broken ranks and joined with the hostile police and opposition protesters in rioting outside.

Video recordings aired on National television showed military officers refusing to obey the President’s orders. Retired colonel Mohamed Nazim, in the video clip where he is seen addressing the mutinying forces outside, talks about being received warmly inside the MNDF HQ.

Indeed the CoNI report itself quotes him as saying “When I entered the military headquarters I was given a very happy scene. Everyone within the military lifted me up and very completely revealed their support for me. God willing, things will happen today as we want”.

If one is familiar with the fate of former Maldivian rulers facing chaotic mobs, then one realizes that guns were not necessary to threaten the President’s life. All that was required was for a solitary soldier to throw open the gates.
The report itself states elsewhere that all command and control was lost.

All of this appears entirely contradictory to the conclusions of the report that asserts that President Nasheed remained in control and had legal options to employ force to deal with the situation, which he refused to do – and therefore could not claim he resigned under duress.

This lends some credence to President Nasheed’s claims that the report was prepared with the political situation in mind, rather than with any serious ambition of uncovering facts.

Options before the MDP: Way forward

It is unrealistic to imagine that ordinary civilians, no matter how numerous or passionate, can topple a regime that is protected by a modern, trained, unsympathetic – and in this case, hostile – police and armed security forces.

The police have superior training, equipment, strategy, organization, intelligence gathering and other resources to counter and defeat any move that civilian protestors could possibly make. The same forces that protected the dictator Gayoom against an overwhelming tide of unpopularity can sufficiently protect his alleged puppet.

Given these realities, it is wise that President Nasheed has chosen to make a major concession and accept the findings of the report, while calling to implement its much welcome recommendations that include the strengthening of various institutions such as the HRCM, Police Integrity Commission, JSC and the Judiciary while also calling for swift action to be taken against rogue cops, who the report acknowledges had engaged in acts of brutality towards civilians.

While there remain serious injustices to be addressed and plenty of reasons for the MDP to be rightfully outraged, the path forward necessarily involves having to break the political gridlock that has paralyzed the nation since late last year.

It is clearly in the best interests of the public that the All Party talks resume and the daily business of running the nation and fixing the economy take centre stage again.

There are important lessons to learn from February 7. President Nasheed and the MDP need to introspect and reflect on their own considerable mistakes and poor judgments. The most important among them, perhaps, is committing to uphold the rule of law without any compromises, no matter how morally justifiable it may be.

With under a year left for the next scheduled elections, the MDP would be well advised to direct its efforts and resources on going back to the people and rallying them behind larger ideals.

Ultimately, one must remember that it was the people who handed a mandate to President Nasheed in 2008, and despite the ugly precedent set by the police and military, it will hopefully be the people once again who will make the decision in 2013.

So long, and thanks for all the democracy

With the publication of the CoNI report, and the apparent willingness of the international community to confer the same legitimacy on Waheed that it once granted the iron-fisted Gayoom – ostensibly with ‘stability’ in mind – the clocks have effectively been turned back a few years.

The Maldives’ unprecedented democratic revolution that began in the early 2000’s has ended prematurely, and many of the gains made since then have now effectively been reversed.

After three years, the Police have once again become an entity to be feared and loathed. The familiar intimidation of the media, and bullying tactics that were so widely prevalent during the Gayoom dictatorship is also back.

Waheed’s regime has been outright hostile to the free media, repeatedly barring the only opposition-aligned TV station from covering President’s office press conferences, and permanently withdrawing police protection for the channel’s reporters – despite explicit constitutional safeguards upholding media freedom. There is plenty of visual evidence of Raajje TV’s reporters being harassed and pepper sprayed at close range by the police; targeted attacks on the station by pro-government goons in August forced the station to interrupt services.

Citizens now face arrest for merely calling Waheed and his police forces ‘traitors’, whereas his regime regularly and unapologetically refers to citizens demanding early elections as ‘terrorists’.

The runaway judiciary remains weak and ineffectual, and there is no longer an elected President in power with any interest in fixing this crucial, but broken third leg of the base on which the country’s democracy was built to stand.

With a spineless media, a lethargic civil society, an incompetent Judiciary, weak institutions and watchdogs, a heavily politicized Police and military, not to mention the overarching influence of money and corruption in the whole process, the gargantuan task of achieving practical democracy in the Maldives appears forbidding, if not downright impossible.

To sow the seeds for a new revolution, the MDP needs to go back to the grassroots and educate the public.

February 7: the legacy

February 7 has left in its wake some very unwelcome precedents and niggling questions.

First among them is the newly acquired role of the police and military in determining the transfer of power, which the constitution had originally envisaged as being the sole prerogative of the voting public.

Will all future governments of the Maldives be required to buy the loyalty of the uniformed services with a range of perks, pay hikes, unprecedented promotions and turning a blind eye to their excesses and brutality in order to remain in power, as demonstrated by the Waheed regime?

Shall the Maldives follow in the footsteps of Pakistan that, over 65 years since independence, has failed to see a single democratically elected government complete a full term?

Finally, will the Maldivian judiciary ever become a house of justice for the public? Or will it remain perpetually overrun by incompetent fools, resistant to any external attempt bring them in line with the ideals enshrined in the constitution?

Does the Maldivian public really stand a chance to complete the democratic transition process we embarked on nearly a decade ago? Or will the next guy to attempt this Herculean task also pay the same price that Mohamed Nasheed did?

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 editorial[email protected]

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CNI criticism will “complicate” resolving all-party talks: Thasmeen

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has today welcomed efforts to resume the stalled all-party talks, despite warning that any agreement on resolving political tensions in the Maldives had been “complicated” by opposition criticism of a draft report of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).

The all-party talks, which were last held back in June, are one track of the international community’s response to the political turmoil in the Maldives, together with the Commonwealth-backed CNI.

DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali said today that his party had no objections to resume these all-party talks and subsequent discussions over the possibility of setting early elections.

However, Thasmeen claimed criticisms of the CNI’s findings by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s own representative on the commission threatened to compromise the chances of finding a potential resolution through dialogue.

The DRP is presently one of several parties serving in the coalition government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

President Waheed announced on Friday (August 24) during an official visit to Sri Lanka that he would be inviting “political parties” to attend fresh all party talks, initially launched to try and resolve an ongoing deadlock in the country surrounding the controversial transfer of power that brought him to office in February.

While welcoming fresh talks, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which alleges that President Waheed came to power in a “coup d’etat”, has raised several concerns over the “conflicting statements” made by the government concerning talks of early elections and discussions on the potential outcomes of the CNI report.

The independence of the CNI’s report into the events surrounding the transfer of power on February 7 was itself today questioned by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s appointee to the commission, Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed.

Saeed alleged that certain information and evidence provided to the CNI had been omitted in a draft report of the body’s findings drawn up by the commission’s co-chair.

“There are significant gaps in the draft and it does not include evidence and statements given to the commission by many people. I believe remaining silent on the unfolding of events would be an injustice to this nation and to the people of the Maldives,” he announced today.

“Taking positions”

DRP Leader Thasmeen contended that Saeed’s comments had potentially compromised the success for all-party talks to resolve the current political tensions, as key players had now begun taking positions on the CNI’s findings before they had even been released.

“One party is now making judgements on the CNI, when the whole idea was to set out potential responses to the CNI before its findings are released,” he said. “Now people are changing their positions on how they will respond to the findings and things will be much more complicated on reaching acceptance on the report.”

Thasmeen contended therefore that “regardless of the CNI’s outcome”, all parties should accept its findings.

In moving forward with all-party talks, Thasmeen claimed that the DRP itself had no objections to the nature of potential topics on the agenda – a consideration that had seen earlier all-party talks stall on a number of occasions.

“Preconditions are not healthy in these talks, but today’s events have made things much more complicated now,” he said.

Thasmeen added at the time of press that he had not yet been made aware of whether a formal invite to the all-party talks from the president had been received by the DRP as he had been away travelling.  He added that while the DRP welcomed talks between political representatives “at the highest level”, the party would wait to see who else would be attending the discussions before nominating its own candidate to take part.

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – a government coalition partner of the DRP – last night announced it would also be accepting President Waheed’s invite to participate in talks.

PPM Leader and former Maldivan President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom told local media that the party’s decision to previously abandon the all-party talks had followed the start of what he claimed were “illegal activities” and protests carried out by the MDP.

PPM Deputy Leader Umar Naseer declined to comment today when contacted by Minivan News about the party’s participation in the talks or its response to the CNI’s findings.

While also welcoming the possibility of fresh talks today, MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that President Waheed had continued to be acting “irresponsibly” by giving conflicting statements regarding his support for talks.  Ghafoor said this was seen particularly in the manner the president had addressed issues such as discussing early elections and the possible outcomes of the CNI.

“[President Waheed] has said in Colombo that is the opposition who are destabilising the country at present, but it is his own conflicting positions that are doing this,” he alleged.

Ghafoor pointed to claims made by the president in both international and local media during his visit to Sri Lanka over the last week that he said showed conflicting viewpoints with his stated desire to resume the talks.  President Waheed and his government in a number of interviews ruled out Commonwealth calls for early elections, as well as maintaining there would be no discussion on the outcome’s of the CNI until its work was completed.

“We would welcome the all-party talks. On August 14 we proposed discussions on three potential outcomes of the CNI. By August 18 we had got a reply from the government, who have since then been giving conflicting statements to the media,” Ghafoor claimed. “[President Waheed] has now called for all parties to join in talks and discuss the previous six point agenda, which includes the issue of early elections. He has also said that early elections are out of the question as the Commonwealth doesn’t understand the present situation.”

Following Saeed’s statement today, the MDP convened an emergency meeting of its National Council, where a resolution expressing concern on the draft CNI report was adopted with unanimous consent.  The resolution was proposed by former minister Mohamed Shihab and seconded by MP Mariya Ahmed Didi,

Despite the party’s criticism of the investigation, Ghafoor contended that there remained time to find consensus among the members of the CNI panel concerning the findings before they were released to the public on Thursday (August 30).

“The CNI report should be something that all its members have to agree upon so without MDP’s word, the report would not be authentic,” Ghafoor said. “There is a draft out there that appears to conclude that there was no police mutiny [on February 7], this is just not acceptable given what the public saw,” he claimed.

President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza and Media secretary Masood Imad were not responding to calls by Minivan News at the time of press.

However, speaking to local media following the release of Saeed’s statement today, Abbas claimed that Nasheed’s representative on the CNI panel had “violated” the agreement with the Commonwealth concerning disclosing details of the investigation.

“The Commonwealth agreement Nasheed signed states that a Singaporean judge will reside in CNI. No one must interfere with the work of the commission and also states that everyone must accept the findings of the commission,” he was quoted as saying in newspaper Haveeru. “But the representative from Nasheed sharing the draft report with the public is an indication that Nasheed does not respect any agreement.”

Abbas reportedly added that as a draft report, the CNI members still had room to discuss finalising the findings before their release.

Discussion focus

The previous round of the UN-mediated all-party talks, held at Vice President Waheed Deen’s Bandos Island Resort and Spa in early June, collapsed after parties aligned with the government presented the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) with a list of 30 demands.

The list included calls that the MDP “stop practicing black magic and sorcery”, “stop the use of sexual and erotic tools”, and “not walk in groups of more than 10”.

Following the Bandos retreat meeting, Convenor of the All-Party talks, Ahmed Mujuthaba, acknowledged the lack of progress and suggested that “In the end, the most senior political leaders will need to create an atmosphere conducive to discussions, and come together prepared to work in good faith.”

Earlier this month, informal parliament-initiated talks – running parallel to the formal All-Party talks – were deemed to have stalled after participants failed to reach a consensus on resolving wider ongoing political deadlock and the suspension of the People’s Majlis.

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