Speaker thanks media for parliament coverage

Speaker of the People’s Majlis Abdulla Shahid has thanked all media personnel involved in parliamentary new coverage during the seventeenth People’s Majlis.

He made this remark at a meeting with some of the members of the Maldives Broadcasting Commision (MBC) and Maldives Media Council (MMC) at the Majlis yesterday.

Shahid assured that with the eighteenth People’s Majis a dedicated media gallery will established to allow journalists to work from the parliament bulding.


Majlis sittings to resume after March 22 elections

Sittings of the first session of the People’s Majlis for 2014 will resume after the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 22, Speaker Abdulla Shahid said today.

Concluding today’s sitting held to approve a nominee to the Elections Commission, Shahid said the decision was made after consulting political parties.

The first session of 2014 started on March 3 with the delivery of the presidential address, after which the speaker announced that normal sittings would resume after this month’s parliamentary polls.

The 17th parliament began its first session on May 28, 2009.


President Yameen delivers first presidential address

President Abdulla Yameen today delivered his first presidential address in the parliament’s first official session after recess.

President Yameen detailed his administration’s achievements – claiming success in all the 100-day initiatives.

He explained that the executive had now drafted a legislative agenda for the next five years which would be gradually submitted to parliament in the form of draft bills.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has described the address as “taciturn and rather nonsensical”, arguing that major issues such as the Supreme Court and the recent HIV scandal at IGMH were ignored.

Opening the ceremony, Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid noted that this was first instance where an MP has been unable to attend the presidential address due to incarceration, referring to MP Abdulla Jabir.

Shahid also condemned the attack on MDP MP Alhan Fahmy, calling for the cessation of all acts against the implementation of rule of law and legal obligations. Alhan attended today’s ceremony returning from Sri Lanka where he underwent spinal surgery following his February stabbing.

The president began his address by noting that, although national debt would increase this year to MVR31 billion, the debt percentage can be maintained at 78 percent of GDP in 2014.

Government developments

Yameen said that the government had decided to construct a youth city in Hulhumalé and that physical work on construction of a bridge connecting capital city Malé to the airport island Hulhulé will begin before the end of the year.

He added that once the development of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in Hulhumalé is completed, it can be maintained for use for a duration of at least 50 years, and that the construction of two new airports – in Kulhudhuhfushi and Felivaru – have now been opened for bidding.

Yameen also spoke of the need to strengthen investor confidence, and pledged to eradicate all obstacles and difficulties currently faced by foreign investors.

Yameen noted that the number of tourist arrivals had already increased to 348,000 in the past three months, stating that this added US$70 million to government earnings. He added that the government intended to introduce tourism to atolls currently not involved in the sector.

Regarding the fisheries sector, Yameen stated that a system has been put in place where fishermen who earn less than MVR10,000 a month will be given financial aid from the state. He added that this will commence in a period of two months.

He also pledged that scholarship schemes will be offered in the near future to students who pass a minimum of three GCE Advanced Level subjects.

On the topic of health services, Yameen stated that arrangements are being made to introduce new health facilities – including ambulance speedboats – to the country. He added that an initiative has now begun where existing health institutions are being categorised and supplied with the necessary medical equipment.

The president said that the government would shortly submit a bill to parliament seeking to provide financial aid to persons with special needs,as well as a bill seeking the establishment of special economic zones within the country.

MDP Response

MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy described President Yameen’s address as ignoring many pressing issues, suggesting that he appeared “disconnected with what is happening here and now”.

“To begin with, the whole country is appalled and in shock about the HIV infected blood transfusion at IGMH which recently came to be known of. And yet, there was no apology or even a mention of the matter,” said Fahmy

Fahmy suggested that the president spend excessive time discussing administrative issues such as queues outside government offices and phones not being answered efficiently at the expense of issues of wider importance, such as the judiciary.

“This is something the whole world is talking about, that our judiciary needs to be reformed. And yet, Yameen did not even mention them,” Fahmy continued.

“He also failed to condemn the way the Elections Commission is being unconstitutionally dragged to the Supreme Court at a time when there is an election looming overhead.”

The party’s official response will be delivered via the Majlis.


Extraordinary sitting of parliament called off

Today’s extraordinary sitting of parliament was called off without debating the government’s revenue raising measures after opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs objected to the proposed tax hikes and alleged obstruction of the upcoming local council elections.

With MDP MPs taking consecutive points of order, Speaker Abdulla Shahid adjourned proceedings 15 minutes into the sitting, stating that he would consult the majority and minority leaders.

After the sitting resumed at 1:50pm, Shahid said that discussions with party leaders were “regrettably not that successful” and attempted to proceed with the debate on government-sponsored legislation for raising revenue.

However, MDP MPs continued to raise points of order and Shahid brought the sitting to a close at the end of normal time.

Today’s sitting was held during the ongoing recess upon request by 27 government-aligned MPs stating that failure to pass the revenue bills during the last session of 2013 was hampering implementation of the budget.

The three bills submitted by the government include an amendment to the Goods and Services Tax Act to raise T-GST from eight to 12 percent as well as two amendments to the Tourism Act intended to reintroduce the discontinued flat US$8 bed tax and require resort lease extensions to be paid as a lump sum.

Following the Majlis’s failure to extend the tourism bed tax before the end of last year, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told local media that the resulting losses to state revenue would be MVR100 million a month.

Among other revenue raising measures proposed by the government include revising import duties, raising airport departure charge for foreign passengers from US$18 to US$25, leasing 12 islands for resort development, and introducing GST for telecommunication services.

In December, parliament passed a record MVR17.5 billion (US$1.16 billion) budget for 2014, prompting President Abdulla Yameen to call on the legislature to approve the revenue raising measures, which the government contends are necessary to finance development projects.


Parliament privileges committee seeks Majlis intervention in MP Hamid appeal case

The Majlis Parliamentary Privileges Committee has unanimously decided parliament should intervene in the appeal case of member Hamed Abdul Ghafoor, who was sentenced to six months for failure to attend Criminal Court hearings.

“The committee was of the opinion that the Criminal Court had acted outside of the boundaries of the law by summoning MP Hamid to court on a day when the parliament as well as committee sittings were scheduled,” said Deputy Chair of the Committee and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy.

“Therefore this action by Criminal Court was clearly against the Privileges Act, thus a violation of privileges of both an MP and the parliament as a whole. On this grounds the committee has sent the report to Majlis Speaker to which the Speaker.”

Hamed was handed the custodial sentence during a month-long period of refuge sought within the grounds of parliament, which ended following the conclusion of the presidential election on November 16.

Hamed was originally asked to appear in court regarding an alleged refusal to produce a urine sample when asked by police following his arrest on suspicion of drug and alcohol possession last year.

He was arrested on the island of Hondaidhoo along with a number of senior MDP party members last year.

The MP himself, however, maintains that his stay in the parliamentary grounds was intended to highlight the importance of MP privileges.

“My holding up in the Majlis was in defense of parliamentary privileges, which was not reported in the media. We have found out members privileges are not understood,” Hamed told Minivan News today.

The Henveiru South representative suggested that Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed scheduled a hearing to clash with the parliamentary schedule as the case against him was failing.

He has subsequently been placed under house arrest, with the newly appointed Home Minister Umar Naseer telling local media that the state did not have the resources to transport the MP to and from Dhoonidhoo island prison in order for him to fulfil his parliamentary duties.

During his period of sanctuary, Hamed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) amended the parliament’s standing orders to allow an MP convicted of criminal acts to continue to attend Majlis sittings.

Hamed, as well as the Speaker of the House Abdulla Shahid, have consistently maintained that the summons to appear clashed with the MP’s parliamentary duties, contravening the Parliamentary Privileges Act.

“He has been issued court summons in violation of the Privileges Act. He has been issued a sentence because he took the privileges he is legally afforded as an MP,” Shahid told Minivan News earlier this month.

“I have written about this matter to the Prosecutor General [PG]. The Prosecutor General agrees with me. He has written a letter to the Supreme Court. He feels that the judiciary in this case has gone out of its way to punish Hamid.”

The PG Ahmed Muiz has since resigned as the Majlis prepared no-confidence proceedings against him – the President’s Office is currently accepting applications for his replacement.


No confidence motion against Speaker disqualified

A no-confidence motion submitted by the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) against People’s Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid was disqualified while it was being debated on the parliament floor on Thursday.

According to the Parliament’s Standing Orders, a no confidence petition must have the support of 15 MPs. Today’s motion was disqualified when two of the 15 MPs who signed the petition withdrew their signatures while the debate on the motion was ongoing.

The two MPs were  Ahmed Shareef and Ibrahim Ameen.

Speaking to Minivan News, Shahid said the no confidence motion was a “baseless, judgmental and a reaction to the broader political divide in the country.”

“I feel once again, that the MPs have recognised my contribution in a very politically turbulent time,” he said.

The PPM tabled the motion claiming Shahid was an “obstruction in the maintenance of law and order” alleging he had violated the sanctity of the People’s Majlis, abused the powers of his position, challenged the Supreme Court’s orders and helped MDP MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor evade justice by offering him refuge in the parliament building.

In response, Shahid said he welcomed the no confidence motion as the current Majlis is the only parliament in Maldivian history where MPs were allowed to express or withdraw support for a Speaker.

Before the ratification of the 2008 constitution, it was the president who had the authority to appoint or dismiss the Speaker.

Noting that the Maldives’ presidential system mandates an active political role for the Speaker, Shahid said: “In the aftermath of a very tight political presidential election, it is expected that one or more political parties may have grievances against the Speaker.”

He said he had upheld the constitution and the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act, reminding the Majlis that they had passed the act with a two thirds majority after the president vetoed the bill.

Parliamentary privileges are not duty free cars or diplomatic passports, but the privilege to speak on behalf of the people without any fear, Shahid said and noted that several MPs were in jail when the special assembly to write the new constitution held a vote to select the Speaker of the constitutional assembly in 2005.

Every MP is an elected representative and as such Shahid had facilitated every MP’s right to represent their constituency and express the citizen’s views within the law, he argued.

Pointing to the Majlis refusal to hold sittings when President Mohamed Nasheed had arrested MPs Gasim Ibrahim and current President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, Shahid said he had stood up for the rights of every single MP without regard to political party.

“I will not hold any enmity towards any of you for any action taken against me as I speak the truth,” Shahid said.

Shahid has been an MP since 1995 and had survived a no confidence motion submitted against him by the MDP in June 2012 with 45 MPs voting against the motion.

Shahid joined the MDP in April 2013.

The MDP has withdrawn a no confidence motion against Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim


Run-off parties seek JP leader Gasim’s endorsement

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – have met Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim, seeking the third-placed candidate’s endorsement ahead of Saturday’s presidential run-off.

Speaking to press after meeting the MDP leaders at his residence in Male’ last night, Gasim said the party’s presidential candidate had also called asking for his support in the poll against PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen.

“I said [to Nasheed] we have made our statement on behalf of our party. There have been no further developments to say anything at the moment against our statement, [which was] to not support any presidential candidate, under the present circumstances. Nonetheless, we are close friends, we are not enemies,” Gasim said.

Nasheed emerged the frontrunner in the November 9 revote with 46.93 percent while Yameen polled 29.73 percent. The JP candidate finished third with 23.34 percent of the vote.

As no candidate reached the required 50 percent plus one vote, a run-off election has been scheduled for November 16.

While Gasim announced on Sunday night (November 10) that the JP council had decided not to back either candidate, he told reporters last night that “everything is subject to change”.

“Not that I’m saying it will change. What they mentioned is a request of theirs. Each of us should believe that taking the right steps always after thinking about the nation is the best way. So what I have to say is that I can’t make a definite statement, even personally on my own, at the moment,” said Gasim.

“But there are possibilities of saying later what I wish or think, isn’t there? So there is no enmity. There is close friendship. With everyone. There is no personal problem,” he said.

Meeting with Gayoom

In a message aired on his Villa Television on Sunday, Gasim had said the JP had decided not to back either candidate “because, based on past experiences, people who worked to bring [a candidate] to power gets blamed and feels shame due to certain things that the president does while in power.”

The JP national council reportedly voted against a proposal to support the PPM candidate.

PPM candidate Yameen had visited Gasim shortly before the provisional results were announced and claimed at a press conference that Gasim “has expressed his support for us.” The party told local media yesterday that it was still hoping to persuade Gasim to back its candidate in the run-off.

Gasim received former President Gayoom at his residence this afternoon and told the press that he would ask the JP council to reconsider its decision not to support either candidate.

Gayoom told reporters that respect for Gasim among the public would increase if he decided to endorse Yameen.


Referring to Nasheed’s appearance on the state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) last night, during which he defended the party’s Islamic credentials, Gasim said that the MDP candidate had dispelled “doubts and suspicions concerning Islam.”

“He has said that Islamic norms and principles will be followed in his government. That was something that people had been talking about repeatedly. He has cleared up something that we had also misconceived,” he said.

Speaker Shahid – who joined the MDP in April – thanked Gasim for his remarks.

“False allegations” regarding religion had been made against the MDP to create doubts among the public, Shahid said.

MDP Parliamentary Group Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih noted that the party “began our efforts for reform with Gasim.”

“What we learned after today’s discussion is that we can work with Gasim again like we did before. Both sides have that assurance. There is no difference between our thinking and ideology to develop the country and Gasim’s,” he said.

Gasim concurred with the Hinnavaru MP and noted that he had “praised President Nasheed’s economic policy,” which was “nearly identical” to the JP’s policy.

“I would like to believe that I am more of a reformist than a politician,” he added.

Past history

Gasim was a founder member of the MDP and served as the Speaker of the Special Majlis convened in June 2004 to revise the constitution.

Following his brief imprisonment on August 13, 2004 in the wake of a crackdown on an unprecedented pro-democracy gathering, Gasim was appointed finance minister during the final years of President Gayoom’s 30-year reign.

Gasim resigned from Gayoom’s cabinet in July 2008 saying he did not want to take the blame for failed budgets and ran for president on the JP ticket.

After coming fourth in the first multi-party democratic election in October 2008, Gasim backed MDP candidate Nasheed against the incumbent.

However, the MDP-led coalition quickly disintegrated and Gasim resigned as Nasheed’s home minister 21 days into the new administration.

Speaking in a TVM programme on October 14 about pro-government parties fielding one candidate against Nasheed, Gasim said a survey of his supporters showed that 60 percent would not vote for Yameen even if he endorsed the PPM candidate.

“Not all of the people in the Jumhooree Party are anti-MDP people. There are people who support President Nasheed or MDP among us,” Gasim had said.
Yellow flags were put up outside the JP’s main headquarters in Male’ last night, with Gasim’s slogans painted over.

MPs vandalise Speaker’s Office

MPs belonging to the government aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), and one MP of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), trashed People’s Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid’s office this afternoon.

According to Majlis secretariat staff who witnessed the scene, the MPs led by DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed and MDP MP Abdulla Jabir first shattered a picture frame and broke the name board outside the Speaker’s office. They then broke through the security system on the door, entered the office, damaged furniture and a laptop on the Speaker’s table.

Shahid was not present in the office at the time.

In addition to Riyaz and Jabir, PPM MPs Ahmed Amir, Ali Arif, Thimarafushi,Ahmed Shareef, Ahmed Saleem, and Mohamed Rafeeq Hassan participated in the vandalism, the secretariat staff said.

The attack comes after the Majlis’ Sergeant at Arms Mohamed Haleem told Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz to leave the parliament building. Muizz had come to the Majlis to attend the parliament’s Finance Committee, of which Jabir is the chair.

The Majlis secretariat issued a statement today saying those summoned to the Finance Committee had been summoned in violation of the parliamentary committee procedures and hence had been asked to leave.

Jabir was the only MP who had attended the Finance Committee. He had summoned the entire cabinet to the committee, but Muizz was the only minister who had attended.

According to parliament regulations, the majority of a committee must agree to summon any individual to a committee. But such a motion was not passed by the Finance Committee.

According to local media, after Muizz was sent away, Jabir called and threatened Shahid that he would remove him from the position of Majlis Speaker.

“If you challenge me and do things that way, today will end very badly,” Jabir told Shahid, local newspaper Sun has reported.

Jabir is currently facing criminal charges for possessing and consuming alcohol. If found guilty, he may lose his seat.

The attack comes on the day of the end of the current presidential term. The Majlis in October passed a resolution authorising the Speaker to assume the presidency in the absence of a president elect.

However, the Supreme Court on Saturday struck down the motion and has declared President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administration will continue until a new president is elected.

Waheed has declared he will continue in his position until the second round of presidential elections are held on November 16.


Waheed arrived at President’s Office with resignation statement but we advised him to stay, say ministers

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adheeb and Acting Foreign Minister Mariyam Shakeela have said the cabinet advised President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to stay on after the end of the presidential term at midnight on November 11 and despite international pressure to hand over the presidency to People’s Majlis Speaker.

Waheed gave a televised statement last night declaring he will stay in power beyond the conclusion of his presidential term, but will resign on the day of the presidential run off on November 16. His deputy Waheed Deen resigned yesterday morning.

Speaking to the press at noon at the President’s Office, Adheeb said Waheed’s decision to continue with the presidency “is the strongest, most courageous decisions taken in the history of this country.”

Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid has meanwhile sent a letter to Waheed informing him that he was no longer in command of the country and could only extend his term by amending Article 107 of the constitution, which limits a presidential term to five years.

The Majlis with the backing of 39 MPs approved a resolution for the Speaker to assume the presidency in the absence of a president elect on November 11. The government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives and Jumhoree Party boycotted the vote

The Supreme Court on Saturday struck down the motion and ruled that Waheed’s administration will continue until a new president is determined.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Maldives Sir Donald McKinnon has also expressed “dismay” at Waheed’s decision to remain in office “against the letter and spirit of the constitution.”

Shakeela said Waheed had arrived at the President’s Office last night with two statements, one of which stated his resignation. However, the cabinet had advised him to stay on to keep the country from descending into “chaos and a constitutional void.”

“There was a lot of international pressure yesterday and a lot of quick decisions had to be taken. There were a lot of proposals up until the moment the president gave his statement,” Shakeela said.

One of the proposals included the Speaker assuming the presidency on conditions such as the international community guaranteeing the ensure safety of all cabinet members and their families. But Waheed’s final decision was of his own volition, the ministers said.

“The next four days is not the time to let the country descend into a void and chaos. Especially given the Supreme Court’s verdict. Actually, we did not pressure the president. We told him we remain steadfast with him,” Adheeb stated.

Waheed is currently on presidential retreat island Aarah and will come to the President’s Office only if needed, the ministers said. Over the next four days, the government will only carry out day-to-day operational tasks and will not start any new projects.

Adheeb accused the Shahid of committing “mini coups” through the Majlis and said the Speaker had attempted to overtake the presidency with international backing.

Arguing that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the constitution, and since the constitution did not envision a situation where a president-elect is not determined at the end of a presidential term, Adheeb claimed the Supreme Court’s rulings take precedence over any Majlis decision.

Adheeb said the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) – which emerged the front-runner in Saturday’s presidential polls with 46.93 percent of the vote – was scared to contest elections after Saturday’s results. Elections that had taken place under Waheed had been free and fair, he said.

The PPM has assured Waheed in writing that they will not delay run off elections on November 16, Adheeb said. Adheeb is one of the four Vice Presidents of the PPM, which gained 29.73 percent of the vote.

Adheeb alleged former President Mohamed Nasheed had left the Maldives on the verge of bankruptcy, and Waheed had returned it to “safe shores”.

“We brought this country this far, to these shores, from a state of bankruptcy. I am not saying we have solved everything. We did not have the time. But we have taken it in the right direction,” he claimed.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told parliament just last week that tourism growth had flat-lined due to “political turmoil”, declining 0.1 percent in 2012 after years of double figure growth, while political instability meant outside banks had stop lending to the Maldives at rates less than 11 percent, forcing the government to draw on dwindling central bank reserves.

At the same time the State Trading Organisation (STO) warned that the Maldives was imminently about to run out of oil unless it was immediately bailed out with US$20 million to pay debtors.

The Maldives Monetary Authority Governor Fazeel Najeeb reported that the Maldives was on the verge of having to print money to pay its recurrent expenditure.