Speaker of the People’s Majlis Adbulla Shahid has that discussions regarding the reconvening of Parliament are ongoing. Despite his belief that a sit-down with all party leaders was not currently possible, Shahid stated that talks were being held on a party by party basis.
Shahid added that details of these discussions, if released prematurely, could damage progress. “That’s why in this crucial and sensitive juncture, I urge all political parties to recognize the importance of dialogue and thus refrain from actions that would impede the discussions.”
The scheduled opening of Parliament last week was cancelled after MPs from the Maldivian Democratic Party blocked Shahid’s entry to the chamber in protest against the government’s reluctance to fix a date for fresh elections.
In response to this, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progresive Party of the Maldives (PPM) joined the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) withdrew from the roadmap talks, which are aimed at ending the current political crisis.
Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid believes the People’s Majlis has had success in passing legislation, at least statistically, yet he concedes parliament has still failed to meet the public’s expectations in terms of its conduct.
Speaking to Minivan News, Shahid – a member of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – claimed that since constitutional amendments were introduced in 2008 to try and transform parliament from a “ceremonial” institution to a functioning national body, vital regulation was beginning to be passed. He conceded though that changes were not necessarily occurring in line with public sentiment.
“The three branches of government are trying to deal with a situation where, as in any transition, the expectations of the public are at a very high level. When you have a new democracy come in, citizens will be wanting things to change overnight. [These expectations] have been seen in many countries,” the Speaker said. “The challenges that we have here – with the judiciary and parliament – are not because we are unable to perform, but that we are unable to perform to the expectations of the people.”
Shahid said that after living for decades under a non-democratic system, he believed peoples’ demands for political reform have been “suppressed” for such a long period of time that their sudden release created a “huge burst” of energy to ensure change that the Majlis was not always succeeding in providing.
“These expectations have been let out, so the public wants changes not today or tomorrow, but amendments that should have perhaps occurred yesterday and the day before,” he claimed, adding that parliament has in recent years undertaken a much more prolific workload regards to passing legislation.
However, Shahid, who is also a member of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), stressed that he was optimistic that, despite recent criticisms of judicial reform and even government economic policy, parliament would be able to catch up in meeting these expectations.
“To give a feel of how much work has been done in the parliament, when you look at the statistics, in 2000 for example, there were four bills submitted to the parliament and these were all completed. In 2001, seven bills were submitted and two of them were completed. In 2004, eight were submitted, four were completed,” he said.
By 2005, Shahid added that official statistics showed 17 bills were proposed and five were completed, followed a year later by another five bills being completed from a total number of 30 that were put forward. The Speaker claimed that there was limited media experience among the various outlets to detail the work being conducted in parliament.
“No one was talking to the public that 30 bills had been submitted to parliament and only five were completed. No one was talking about this,” he said.
By 2008 – the year that the current Maldivian constitution was put in place -the same parliament-supplied figures showed that out of a total of 25 bills submitted, 15 were put into practice.
By the formation of the currently serving 17th national parliament in May 2009, Shahid said that over the second half of the year, a total of 55 bills, including a number of outstanding pieces of legislation, were all passed.
“The government sent everything back, they just changed the covering note and submitted it, so 55 bills were passed. That year, when the 17th parliament came in with the new constitution, we were faced with the challenge of devising the standing orders and the broader mandate of how to cope with the constitution,” he said. “When the constitution was drafted and adapted, there was no work done to get [parliament] to catch up with constitutional demands. The [Majlis] was just as it was in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. It was just a ceremonial set up here. But the new constitution demanded more constructive development needed to be done.”
As a result of trying to implement these changes, by last year Shahid said that the statistics showed 42 bills had been passed out of a total of 52 submitted.
Amidst this seeming rise in the output of parliament during recent years, the parliamentary speaker said that private and public media, as well as new rights protecting freedom of expression in the country, were responsible for furthering debate between people over whether parliament was functioning properly.
However, the Speaker accepted that subjects such as outlining a clear and clarified penal code, as well as an Evidence Bill to support judicial reform and policing, partisan behaviour between rival parties within the Majlis was creating the impression that there was no interest in having such bills passed.
In order to facilitate a faster moving reform of criminal legislation, Shahid claimed that talks had been opened between the various political stakeholders required to finalise any agreements.
“I met with party leaders and also the chair of all the committees yesterday. There is the general desire amongst the leadership to find ways of increasing the productivity rate of the house. We feel even though we continue to do work ahead of what any other parliament had done, still we are far behind in meeting the public’s expectations,” he said. “The reality is that we need to meet these public expectations. The committee chairs have given me an agreement that they will try and finds ways of fast tracking many of the bills, while political parties supplied an agreement that on issues on which they may disagree, they will endeavour to deal with the technical and more mundane bills faster.”
Aside from MPs working along partisan lines, Shahid said that the issue of language was another significant challenge for MPs to overcome, especially in translating very technical proposals relating to legal definitions into Dhivehi from other languages. While other Commonwealth countries were able to take existing legislation and adapt the document accordingly, the Speaker took the example of the Penal Code. In its original English draft, put together by Professor Paul Robinson at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the code was said to have perfect sense, yet the Speaker said it did not translate directly into the Dhivehi language.
In the previous parliament, Shahid said that the question had therefore arisen as to whether the text should be adopted as it was or be amended.
“If we adopt something that we ourselves [parliament] can’t make sense of, can the Appeal Court, which is going to punish the average person on the street, use it?”
Under the current parliament, a committee was now said to be reviewing every individual article in the document to ensure it was to the satisfaction of parliamentarians.
Shahid added that similar issues had also been raised in relation to an evidence bill that had been adapted, originally from a Malaysian document.
With the bills now in the process of engagement with the Attorney General and Prosecutor General’s office, both of which the speaker acknowledged parliament had not had “the best of relationships with” during the previous year, there was optimism they could be passed.
“The Attorney General has taken the bill back for redrafting and I understand that it will be submitted back to the committee very soon,” he said. “The process of ‘throwing it out’ or rejecting the bill has not taken place because if we reject the bill, then the message again to the public is mixed: ‘We don’t want the evidence bill’. This is the message if we reject it, but if we accept the bill and approve it, along with the assistance and cooperation of the government and then submit it, then the process is starting to move.”
Shahid claimed he had already seen more engagement between the executive and parliament and was confident the bills would be passed.
Not all of the proposals put before parliament, have been welcomed by the public though. This has been seen, perhaps most noticeably, in the Privileges Bill that led to protests outside the Majlis at the end of last year to try and highlight public dissatisfaction with proposed pay rises and other benefits for MPs.
Although the speaker said that he believed there were “issues” with the Privileges Bill, he claimed these did not detract from its importance for both MPs and judges.
“The members of parliament have certain functions entrusted by the people who elected them. For example the privileges bill in many countries would give the right for the MP to have the right access to parliament. So he cannot be arrested on his way to the parliament for certain offences,” he said. “If there is an important vote in the parliament and the MP is on his way, say there is a narrow margin and the guy gets stopped for traffic offences. The constitution allows him to be held in custody for 24 hours and the vote is then done. I’m not saying that the current government would act like this, but what if we have a government that would?”
The Speaker took the example of the drafting of the new constitution and electing a Speaker for the constitutional assembly back in 2004 as an indication of what could happen.
“One just needs to find out how many members were included when they elected a Speaker. So thinking that the current government would [not act this way] just because of journalists is not right. We have to have the rights of MPs to defend the constitution described in the bill,” he said. “I do not agree with the tax free cars for the members for parliament and I do not agree with many other things, but the international standards have to be respected.”
The bill has recently been returned by the president to be redrafted, with Shahid claiming that he has recommended that they be sent to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in order to be adapted in line with international standards.
When dealing with public perceptions of parliamentarians, particularly with how they are dealt within the media, the parliamentary speaker said that he believed in light of recent, yet rare controversies surrounding journalists being summoned before the Majlis, politicians needed to adapt their attitudes rather than restricting media coverage.
Local media bodies like the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) hit out at the Majlis earlier this month after parliament cut a live feed to private radio station DhiFM and ordered two of its reporters before a committee over allegations it was in contempt.
No clarification has been given over the exact offense caused during an edition of the broadcaster’s “Breakfast Club” show, though Shahid said he agreed that occasional suggestions of media censorship in the Majlis should be opposed to prevent creating a fear of using free speech.
“I think because we are at the infant stage of democracy, we need the public and especially politicians to develop a thick skin. Because we are public figures, of course we will be attacked and scrutinised – that is the beauty of democracy,” he said. “If you do something right or do something wrong they will talk about you. That is what has happened.”
In addressing media conduct, the speaker said that after years of being restricted or “guided”, journalists had now been “let loose”, yet there was no indication of how many trained reporters were currently operating in the country.
“What I know is that the institutions that are supposed to be regulating or promoting independent media have still not started functioning,” he said.
Shahid claimed that any restrictions emplaced on the media would be a step in the wrong direction for democracy and ensuring people had the right to express thoughts and discuss them – even when this may difficult for the population at large.
The speaker claimed that if a culture developed where MPs resorted en masse to take up litigation against journalists and commentators, then freedoms that had been won in the Maldives would in essence, be retracted.
“My vision is that five years, 10 years, 15 years from now, we will be developed. Our minds, the minds of our children, will be more developed and more tolerant. I have experienced this when we began parliament,” he claimed. “In 2009, when the 17th parliament was formed, the first day the amount of abuse I got as a Speaker on the floor itself was tremendous. A lot of people asked why I took it. But I firmly believed we had a young and new group of people becoming parliamentarians and they hadn’t had experience.”
However, the Speaker said he believed that a lot of members had now grown and learnt to be more responsible parliamentarians, even despite occasions where tempers flared.
Shahid said that the scale of changes within society, as well as the nation’s parliamentary system should not be underestimated though; claiming that the two years that have passed since the current constitution has come into place was still too short a period of time to expect a total democratic transition.
“Things have changed, on paper, overnight. But up here, mentally, are we prepared? Are we able to cope with the change?” he asked. “I firmly believe that if we are able to sustain and consolidate the situation, ultimately, the desired democratic system will be in place. But we have to be very careful not to let the public trust deteriorate to a level whereby the entire system fails and we again slide back into dictatorship.”
The greatest threat to democracy in the Maldives is the “growing extremism among Maldivians”, according to Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faizal.
Speaking to the House of Parliament during a meeting on November 2, Dr Faizal cited objections within the country to the appointment of women to senior posts in the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM). She also highlighted the practice of preaching against the vaccination of children.
Dr Faizal also stated that she believed that although both the government and the current leadership of the opposition were committed to democracy, the greatest threat to democracy “lies in growing religious extremism.”
The meeting, organised by the All Party Group on third world democracy in collaboration with the UK parliament’s All Party Maldives group and assisted by the Maldives High Commission, was chaired by David Anderson MP. Speakers included Dr Faizal, Chair of the UK-Maldives All Party Parliamentary Group MP David Amess, Chair of the Commonwealth Journalists Association Rita Payne, journalist Mark Seddon, Chair of Third World Solidarity Mushtaq Lasharie, and Yameen Shahid, a member of the Maldivian student community and son of the Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid.
Others present were Sir Ivan Lawrence, MP Gary Streeter, members of the Maldives High Commission, Friends of Maldives founder David Hardingham, Paul Moorcraft, Karen Lumley from the Conservative Party, BBC journalist Adam Mynott and Islamic scholar Idris Tawfiq.
Representing young people in the Maldives, Yameen highlighted the need for education on democracy and called for Maldivian politicians to work together and serve the best interests of the people.
Yameen also accused the police of using excessive force towards drug users in the Maldives, claiming that the future of Maldives was bright as young people took the initiative to solve the drug issues facing the country.
MP David Amess and Mark Seddon called for more support for the young democracy in the Maldives, calling it a “fragile flower” that needs support, “especially from the EU.”
Amess went further, calling for more support from the British Government given the long association between the UK and the Maldives.
Idris Tawfeeq the Islamic Scholar maintained that it was important to support the Maldives without interfering in the internal affairs of the country. He also stressed the importance of young people being involved more in political life.
The international community has urged the Maldives executive to respect the rule of law in negotiating a solution to its current political deadlock with the Majlis (parliament), and in handling its accusations of corruption and treason against several prominent MPs and high-profile businessmen.
In a democracy the judiciary is the crucial arbitrator of any such disputes between the other two arms of government. But Aishath Velezinee, the President’s Member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the independent institution tasked with reforming the judiciary and ensuring both its independence and accountability to the public, believes the current state of the judiciary renders it unfit to do so.
Article 285 of the Constitution outlines an interim period for the reappointment of the judiciary by the JSC, according to minimum standards, with a deadline of August 7, 2010. After this, a judge may only be removed for gross incompetency or misconduct in a resolution passed by a two-thirds majority in parliament – the same number required for impeaching the President or Vice President.
Last week the JSC reappointed 160 of the judges appointed by the former government, despite a quarter of the bench possessing criminal records and many others with only primary school level education. The Supreme Court meanwhile sent the President a letter claiming it had ruled itself tenure for life.
Velezinee blows the whistle, speaking to Minivan News about the JSC’s failure to ensure the accountability of the judiciary, the compromise of its own independence at the hands of the Majlis – and the ramifications for the country in the lead up to the August deadline.
JJ Robinson: What is the function of the Judicial Services Commission?
Aishath Velezinee: The main function of the JSC – as I see it – is to maintain judicial integrity, and to build public confidence in the judiciary and individual judges.
The way we would do it under a democratic governance structure would be to hear the complaints of the people, and to look into these matters objectively and independently, and take action if necessary, to assure the public there is no hanky-panky [going on].
But instead of that, we are putting out press releases saying things like: “You can’t criticise judges”, “You can’t criticise the judiciary”, and ‘‘the president is exercising influence over judges”.
JJ: So the JSC is working as shield organisation for judges rather than as a watchdog?
AV: Very much. It is a shield for judges, and the evidence for that is very obvious. We have all this evidence in the media now from what is happening in the criminal court – a fact is a fact.
Why did [Criminal Court] Judge Abdulla Mohamed open the Criminal Court at midnight when two high-profile [opposition MPs Abdulla Yameen and Gasim Ibrahim] were arrested?
From August 2008 to today there have been many instances when the public might have wanted the court to open outside hours. But no – before that day, they have never opened the court out of hours for anybody else.
This was the first time they have done it – and then put out press releases saying it happened at 9pm? This is not the truth. We have evidence it is wrong.
But the Commission takes for granted that whatever the judge says is right. We can’t protect judges and oversee them.
JJ: This was the case taken to the Criminal Court by Yameen’s defence lawyer [former attorney general Azima Shukoor]?
AV: That’s not standard procedure. According to regulations the Criminal Court can only accept submissions from the State.
It would not have been an issue – the defence lawyer would have been given the opportunity to argue the case when the State went to the court. But Yameen’s lawyer initiated it – and got into the Criminal Court in the wee hours of the night – that is strange.
I’m not saying it is right or wrong – I don’t know. But what I do know is that this is out of the ordinary. The JSC has an obligation to the people to ensure the Criminal Court has done nothing wrong.
JJ: How did the JSC react?
AV: They did nothing. Article 22(b) of the Judicial Services Act gives us the power to look into matters arising in public on our own initiative. But what did the JSC do? They said nobody had complained: “We haven’t received an official complaint.” They were waiting for an individual to come and complain.
My experience, from being part of the complaints committee in the JSC, is that whenever a complaint is received, we have two judges on the complaints committee who will defend the [accused] judge, trashing the complainant, and talk about “taking action” against these people “who are picking on judges”.
Then they will put out a press release: “Nobody should interfere with work of judges.” Their interpretation is that “nobody should criticise us. We are above and beyond the law.”
Since January – when the JSC censored its own annual report, despite the law clearly saying what we should include – they decided to hide the names of all judges who had complaints made against them.
Instead, they released the details – including quite private information – about the complainants.
JJ: What is the current state of the judiciary?
AV: The current judiciary has 198 judges that were appointed prior to this Constitution being adopted. Those judges were appointed by the then-executive: the Ministry of Justice. The appointment procedure, the criteria – none of these were transparent.
They were only given ‘on-the-job’ training. This ‘Certificate in Justice Studies’ they say they have is on-the-job training given after the 1998 Constitution was adopted, to teach them how to run the country according to that Constitution.
How do we expect these people – without exposure to democratic principles and cultures, without exposure to the world, with only basic education, and with only tailor-made on-the-job training for a different Constitution – how do we expect them to respect and uphold this Constitution?
A majority have not even completed primary school. A quarter have criminal convictions: sexual misconduct, embezzlement, violence, disruption of public harmony, all sorts of things – convictions, not accusations.
We are not even looking at the 100 plus complaints we have in the JSC that are unattended to. They have not been tabled. Civil Court Judge Mohamed Naeem has a box-file of complaints against him. And Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed has way too many against him.
JJ: Given the condition of the judiciary, and if the government is in a state of political deadlock with parliament, how is the government able to legitimise accusations against the MPs it has accused of corruption and treason?
AV: That is where we have the problem. The international community seem to have forgotten that this is a new-found democracy. We have in all our institutions people who have been in the previous government. We haven’t changed everybody – and they are still following their own culture, not the law.
How can [the international community] ask for the rule of law to be followed when there are no courts of law? Where are the courts? Where are the judges? A majority never even finished primary school.
JJ: What possible reason was there for appointing judges with only primary grade education?
AV: It’s very obvious – just look at the records. As a member of the JSC I have been privy to records kept from before [the current government]. In their files, there are reprimands against judges for not sentencing as they were directed. That was a crime when the Minister of Justice ran the courts. The Ministry of Justice directed judges as to how sentences should be passed, and that was perfectly legitimate under that Constitution.
JJ: Has anything changed since 2008 and when the judges were appointed under the former government?
AV: Yes – what has changed is that [the judges] were freed from the executive. So they are very happy with the freedom they have received. But unfortunately they haven’t understood what that freedom and independence means.
They are looking for a father-figure, and they have found him in the current President of the JSC, Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy. He has taken on this role, and he is now the king and father of the judges.
So they are all looking up to him to protect their interests. If you look at all the press releases from the Judges’ Association – which is run from Mujthaz Fahmy’s home address – he makes arbitrary decisions in the JSC and then puts out press statements from this organisation run from his home, to defend his own position.
We are in a very big game. Mujthaz Fahmy has been under the thumb of the former executive for way too long – the man is going on 50, he has been on the bench for 25 years, he has never had anybody come and argue with him – he can’t stand anybody who challenges him. So he’s got a problem with me sitting on the Commission because I do not take his word as the law. The man thinks that anything that comes out of his mouth is the law, and the majority of the JSC members take it as a fact.
But if you look into the documentation, if you look into the recordings – nothing that comes out of that man’s mouth will hold. Those interviews he is giving, all he is using is this image he has built up of himself as ‘the esteemed justice’. That is what he is using to convince the public that he is right. And they are trashing me in public and in biased media, just so people do not listen to me.
I do not ask anybody to take my word. I am saying: hear the recordings in the commission. Listen to what they say.
They have this belief that whatever happens in the Commission must be kept a secret amongst ourselves. This was run like a secret society – we have a pact of secrecy amongst us. I broke it, because I do not believe in tyranny of the majority. What we are seeing here is a repeat of what happened in the High Court in January, what we are currently seeing happen in the Majlis, and the same things are now happening in the JSC.
JJ: What are the links between the Majlis and the judiciary?
AV: That is a very serious issue. I am currently sitting on this seat as the President’s appointed member of the JSC, but prior to this, I was was the member of the general public appointed by the Majlis. They have forgotten that part.
I have brought this to Majlis attention. When the Commission voted on what I call the minimum ‘sub-standards’ for the judiciary, I sent a complaint to the Majlis. The same letter I sent to the President and the President of the Law Society. I sent it to the Speaker of the Majlis, as well as the chair of the Independent Commissions Committee, Mohamed Mujthaz.
When the JSC finalised the ‘substandards’, the Majlis into recess. So I went to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), because it was the only constitutional structure where I could go to hold the JSC accountable. It is rather odd for one Commission member to go to another commission and ask them to investigate her own commission.
I met the ACC on May 12. The JSC say they adopted the substandards on May 11. Later I collected all the documentation, and wrote a report – because this is not going to be something easy to investigate. This is a whole conspiracy cooked up from the time the JSC was initially constituted. It has been planned, and it is very clear this is a plot.
When the Majlis reopened in June, I sent an official complaint to the Independent Commissions Committee which they accepted. On June 16, the Majlis wrote two letters to the JSC, one letter requesting all documentation and recordings relating to Article 285 – my complaint.
The JSC is not respecting Constitution and is doing as it pleases. Their disregard of Article 285, and their decision to adopt substandards for judges, comes from their belief in a promise made by the former government.
They do not refer to the Constitution in adopting the standards. They refer to conversations they had with the majority party at that time, a delegation led by our dear JSC President, Mujthaz Fahmy. He and a team of judges met with the politicians to negotiate a guarantee that no judge would be removed under the new Constitution.
Although we have Article 285 in the Constitution – to give the people a judiciary they can trust and respect – we have the President of the Commission responsible for the implementation of this article working on this political understanding with the former government.
This is very clear from the recordings.
All I’m asking is for third party to look into this – and that third party is the Majlis. After the Majlis took all the documentation and recordings, they had requested the JSC meet with the Majlis Independent Commissions Committee at 2:30pm on June 23.
If you go back to your news files, that was the day when the Majlis floor heated up. Since then the Speaker [DRP MP Abdulla Shahid] has suspended the Majlis.
The committee accepted the complaint – if they had not, they would not have asked us to come and discuss this with them.
I believe the speaker is taking undue advantage of this political crisis. The Speaker of the Majlis is now coming and sitting in the JSC [office] day and night, during Friday, holidays and Independence Day. The Speaker is sitting in the JSC trying to expedite this process of reappointing judges before the Majlis starts on August 1. What is going on here?
JJ: What is going on?
AV: I believe that when the Majlis was suspended, they should have directed the JSC to at least halt what was going on until they have looked into the matter. It is a very serious complaint I have made – it is a very serious allegation. And if that allegation and complaint is unfounded, I am willing to stand before the people, in Republic Square, and be shot.
I believe we have all the evidence we need to look into this matter – but under this Constitution, we have to go to the Majlis. But where is the Majlis? And what is the Speaker doing in the JSC?
What about all those other complaints? The Commission’s president is not letting us work on them. We have in our rules that any member can ask for a matter to be tabled. I asked him to look into the matter – and do you know what he did? He sent me a letter to my home address – as though I was not a member of the Commission – and asked me to write it in a proper form and bring it to the attention [of reception].
The JSC has decided Article 285 is symbolic, that article 22(b) does not exist, while the esteemed people of the law in the commission, include the Commission President, Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, explain to me that article 22(b) gives me the power to write a letter, fill in a form and submit a complaint. I asking – why did the drafters of this law put in a clause to give me a right I already have as any ordinary citizen?
Where we are right now – with the lack of confidence in the judiciary – it all lies with Mujthaz Fahmy.
JJ: What do you mean when you talk about “a plot”? How interconnected is this?
AV: They are trying to expedite the reappointment of judges without looking into my complaint. If you look into my complaint, you will find this has been done in an unconstitutional way.
What they are doing right now is going to kill the Constitution.
We are not going to consolidate democracy if they succeed in getting away with what they are doing right now. The Speaker has suspended the Majlis whilst a very serious complaint is with the Majlis committee, and now he is sitting in the JSC doing this.
If there is a matter pending in a court of law, usually they ask for a court order until the matter is settled. You don’t just carry on as if nothing is happening.
We have a petition signed by 1562 people – the JUST campaign – calling for an honest and impartial judiciary. This was not even put on the Commission’s agenda – it said it did not find it necessary to take it into account, and on that day I was not given opportunity to participate because on the agenda was the matter of approving judges under the substandards.
We are asked to put before any other matter the people, and the Constitution. Instead, the Commission is working in the interests of these individual few judges who have hijacked the judiciary. Mujthaz Fahmy must go.
JJ: So these Commission members met with politicians from the former government, to obtain a guarantee that sitting judges would remain on the bench, and not be subject to reappointment under Article 285? What do the politicians get back from the judges?
AV: We are talking about corruption. The change in government came in 2008 because people were fed up with a corrupt administration and autocratic governance.
But all those people who were in power entered parliament. The Speaker, who is right now sitting in the JSC working night and day expediting the reappointment of the judges, was also part of that administration. It is within their interest to keep this judiciary here, and not work in the interests of this Constitution, or the People.
Their personal interests take precedence over everything else. I’m afraid that is what we are seeing.
JJ: Do you feel the media has been taking this case seriously enough?
AV: I’ve been writing to all the concerned authorities since Januruary. I’ve been going on and on about the JSC and the dictatorship within it for a long, long time. I knew where we were heading, I have been warning the Majlis and talking to people from various parties. I have been talking about Article 285 for so long that I have become ‘the old article 285 madwoman.’
JJ: Do you think the current political crisis can be resolved without a functioning judiciary?
AV: Absolutely not. But then a functioning judiciary cannot be introduced without this crisis being resolved. How can the international community ask for the rule of law to be followed when there are no courts of law?
We need an impartial investigation of what is going on. And I believe the Maldives does not have anyone able to conduct an impartial investigation. We need assistance – the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) should be here. The UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of the Judiciary should be here, right now.
This is not the fault of the judiciary. We have a large bench, and most of the judges have absolutely no idea about what is going on. They have not even been given orientation on the new Constitution.
I had the opportunity to meet magistrates from four Atolls. They know the law. But what they need is a basic understanding of the principles of this Constitution, of the foundations of democracy. Because it is through those lenses that they should be interpreting the Constitution.
I am not in favour of the removal of all judges. But I demand that all judges with criminal records be removed – they should not be sitting there even now, and there’s 40-50 of them – a quarter of the bench.
Why is the JSC remaining silent? Why is the Speaker of the Majlis in the JSC [office]? By his silence, and through the act of suspending the Majlis, the Speaker has given the JSC the opportunity to complete this act of treason they are currently committing.
The deadline for the judicial reform period under the new constitution in August 7. The Speaker and the President of the JSC are working overtime to get all these judges reappointed before the Majlis restarts on August 1. That is treason.
JJ: What benefit would outside arbitration bring?
AV: It is difficult because all our documentation is in Dhivehi. But we need an independent and impartial body to look into this properly. Forget listening to me or Mujthaz. Forget listening to politicians, and investigate. We need an impartial mediator.
It is very easy for the international community to turn around and blame the executive for taking a dictatorial attitude. We are demanding the executive uphold the rule of law. But what about the Majlis? Where is the rule of law when the Speaker suspends the Majlis and hides in the JSC expediting the reappointment of judges? Where are the courts to go to?
We need the public to understand the Constitution, and we need all duty-bearers to uphold the Constitution. I’m afraid half the members of the JSC do not understand the principles of democracy or the role of the JSC, or the mandate we have. Then there are a few who understand it very well but remain silent while all this goes on
JJ: The President recently nominated Supreme Court Judge Uz Ahmed Faiz Hussain as the new Chief Justice, and is awaiting Majlis approval. How likely is this to resolve the current situation, given the Majlis is currently suspended?
AV: Uz Ahmed Faiz Hussain is a well-respected man amongst the judges. I have never heard anybody question his independence or impartiality. He is a learned man and amongst all the politicking and hanky-panky going on, he has maintained his integrity.
But the Majlis has to appoint him and the Majlis may not even get that far – the Supreme Court has already declared itself permanent.
I’m telling you: this is big. What we are seeing is all interconnected – it is one big plot to try – in any way possible – to return power to the corrupt.