Among the wheeling and dealings we’ve seen in the Majlis, the issue of Cabinet Ministers has been one of the most convoluted and silly arguments we’ve seen.
Can the Cabinet Ministers be questioned? Can’t they be accepted or rejected together? Are they just nominated or actually appointed? And therefore once chosen by the President, are they Ministers or Ministers-in-waiting? And in what capacity are they beholden to the Majlis?
Within two days the Supreme Court will decide on these questions. In two days, hopefully the drama will end, rather than begin anew.
Why are they going to court?
The Majlis has rejected seven Cabinet Ministers. MDP does not like this and would like all of their Ministers to keep their portfolios. Was approval necessary? Yes. Can the Majlis reject a Cabinet member without a vote of no confidence? Yes, but only when the President asks for their approval and acceptance of that appointment.
Nowhere is it written in the constitution that there is only one way to remove a Cabinet Minister, as Reeko Moosa suggests.
Article 101 of the Constitution states that a vote of no confidence is possible, but it does not say that a vote of no confidence is the only way to remove a Minister. There are in fact two ways: 1) A vote of no confidence; or 2) A rejection when appointed.
Once appointed, s/he is a Minister
The opposition claims that individuals were nominated rather than appointed. They claim that the President can choose people, and that those people would only become Ministers once they have approval. This is false.
The President does not nominate, he appoints. The moment those individuals take their oath by either the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or his representative, those individuals become Ministers of the Cabinet of the Republic of the Maldives as per Article 131 of the Constitution.
Article 131 states: ‘A member of the cabinet shall assume office upon taking and subscribing, before the Chief Justice or his Designate, the oath of office.’
The only thing that might be left up to debate is whether the Chief Justice could choose to simply not provide himself or his representative to swear the appointees in, and refuse to do so until each individual had parliamentary approval.
But in this case, Abdullah Saeed (Chief Justice at the time) did not do so. If you think back, though, you will remember that the cabinet was re-sworn at the same time that the MNDF had locked up the Supreme/High Courts and taken away the key. Not surprisingly, after Abdullah Saeed had sent his representative to swear in the cabinet he was given back the key to his office.
Nonetheless, once these individuals were sworn in, they were fully fledged Ministers, with every power, right, authority, and responsibility afforded them. All talk claiming they were just acting as ministers is just silliness. But if these people are already Ministers, do they still need approval? Isn’t it just a formality?
Approval or rejection necessary
Article 129C and D of the Constitution state:
C. Except for the Vice President, the President must receive the approval of the People’s Majlis for all appointments to the cabinet.
D. The President shall submit to the People’s Majlis, within seven days of making appointments to the Cabinet, the names of the appointees to the Cabinet for approval to the People’s Majlis.
Article 129C clearly states that the President “must receive approval” of the Majlis. Therefore, if any Cabinet Minister is rejected, then they are no longer Ministers of the cabinet. The only way they can continue is if the President swears them in again, where they will then have seven days before the President is required to send their names to the Majlis for a second time.
I do not believe there is any impediment to repeating this as many times as the President wants. Though I’m sure rejection after rejection by the Majlis would appear a complete farce in the eyes of the public.
Together or one by one
As to the issue of whether the cabinet should be approved together or individually, that is completely up to the preference of the Majlis Members. It is a tiny insignificant point that the constitution makes no reference to.
MDP thought there would be a bigger chance to get everyone approved if they are lumped together, because then DRP could be made to look stubborn and completely against all betterment of the nation if all of the cabinet members were wholly rejected.
One usually expects the entire cabinet to come to approval only once in a presidential term. It was assumed that after the approval of the entire cabinet, if a minister was dismissed, it would be done on a case by case basis.
But alas, that was not how things went down in this scenario. In this case, there is another instance which was particularly odd as well in the issue around whether Minister’s couldn’t be questioned.
So, can a Minister be questioned? Of course, but only about the job at hand.
The opposition wanted to evaluate and judge each Minister before giving their approval. They claimed that a summons for this purpose required Ministers to come.
This is false. Ministers are only required to attend the Majlis for questions regarding their duties and responsibilities – not their qualification. In fact, under Article 98 of the Constitution, they can question any head of any government office if they so chose to. To answer falsely, or withhold information would directly violate the constitution.
The Supreme Court agreed with this evaluation in stating at the article in the Majlis rules of procedure that required their presence to judge their qualifications was outside of the constitution.
The bottom line and 2011 budget
The seven Ministers who were rejected by parliament remain rejected. However, until that rejection was decided by a vote of parliament, they were proper Ministers.
They were therefore required to answer summons that related to their job, but not to summons to simply scrutinize them on their qualifications.
The only way for the President to have Ali Hashim, former Finance Minister, present the budget is to reappoint him and swear him in. I believe Ali Hashim is one of our most capable Ministers, and if not for being caught in the crosshairs of political maneuvering, his position would not be in question.
It is a shame and a travesty that this issue is dominating so much of the public’s time and that these Ministers are losing their livelihoods over it. It is a shame that so many other bills that need passing, like those on drugs, evidence, and the penal code are left on the sidelines while we quibble about Ministerial portfolios.
While I have my own claim and object to GIP (Gaumee Itthihaad Party) not receiving its three cabinet portfolios in Economic Development, Education, and Fisheries as was understood in the MDP Itthihaad Coalition agreement, I still do not condone spending time on this issue when so many more desperate issues are waiting to be addressed.
There are procedures for cabinet appointments that should have been followed. There once was a clear understanding of how to go about all of this. But instead of it being a simple and day long matter, it has led our nation to constitutional crisis. Instead of following procedure we all now look at the constitution from a thousand different angles and wrest every type of meaning we can from every line before proceeding in the way most beneficial to us.
I am not a government apologist trying to hide constitutional violations, nor an opposition sympathizer trying to topple the government. I’m just trying to make sense of a now convoluted issue.
I pray that the Supreme Court protects the constitution and laws it was created to uphold and that their life time tenures ensures justice free of political sway and maneuvering.
I pray that we can move forward from this upcoming Supreme Court decision and find a way to create a whole government dedicated to the MDP Itthihaad manifesto confirmed two years ago.
I pray our conscience prevails and sanity finally reigns.
Note: Article 87 states:
A. Unless otherwise provided in this Constitution; all decisions made by the People’s Majlis shall be decided by a majority of the votes of members present and voting (Approval or rejection of Cabinet Ministers is done this way as it is not mentioned anywhere else.
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