Civil Court reinstates policeman dismissed on witness statement dispute

The Ciivl Court has ordered the reinstatement of a police officer who was dismissed for allegedly attempting to modify witness statements.

Police Constable Ahmed Haisham was dismissed from the police force in 2009 after he confessed to calling two Lance Corporals and asking them to change witness statements against a man suspected of stabbing another police officer.

However, the Civil Court said Haisham cannot be dismissed from his job unless he is found guilty by a court of law.

The ruling referred to the Supreme Court ruling 2012/SC-C/35 which reinstated the Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Fahmy Hassan who was dismissed by the parliament after he allegedly sexually harassed a female staff working at the commission.

The Supreme Court said Fahmy cannot be dismissed unless found guilty by a court of law, claiming that if Fahmy was dismissed from the position without being investigated and proven guilty, as per the criminal justice procedure, then his dismissal was to be considered as double jeopardy.

Referring to Fahmy’s case, the Civil Court said Haisham must be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Further, the ruling said the Employment Act does not apply to Haisham as he is a police officer.

The ruling noted that although the police had carried out investigations, a case had not been forwarded to the Prosecutor General (PG) for prosecution.

The Civil Court has ordered the police to compensate Haisham for lost wages since December 2009, clear his record and grant him promotions he may have received had he remained with the police force.

In October 2013, the Civil Court also ordered the reinstatement of a police offices and a soldier who were dismissed on criminal charges.

Civil Court Judge Maryam Nihayath said that the Supreme Court (ruling 2012/SC-C/35) had brought into existence important procedures to follow when dealing with such cases.

The court ordered former Intelligence Chief Mohamed ‘MC’ Hameed to be reinstated in 2013. He had been dismissed from the police after the controversial transfer of power on allegations that he had abused his authority as the chief of police intelligence for the benefit of a certain political party and that he had leaked secret information obtained by the police.

An MNDF officer Ahmed Althaf who was dismissed from the force on allegations that he lost a compressor valve and asked a lower rank officer to replace it with an older one was also ordered to be reinstated in October 2013.


Supreme Court backs down from issuing ruling on legality of selling pork and alcohol

The Supreme Court has rejected the government’s request for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives can import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution.

Pork and alcohol are prohibited items under Shariah law.

The judges unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.

The Court did note, however, that pork and alcohol have been imported under provisions of the Contraband Act and that there is a regulation in favor of the trade. As no law has declared the regulation unlawful, the import of pork and alcohol is indeed legal, the court claimed.

Meanwhile, Article 10 of the Constitution states that “No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

The Constitution also states that any law not struck down by the courts is valid.

The government last week requested a consultative opinion from the Supreme Court on the matter to level a heated debate over the compatibility of resort tourism and Maldives’ national religion Islam, prompted by protests on December 23, 2011 in defense of Islam.

Responding to demands made of the government by the protesting coalition of religious NGOs and opposition parties, the government issued a circular closing spas in all resorts and announced it was considering a ban on pork and alcohol, in a move to align government policies with Islamic standards.

While the trade of alcohol is not conducted by the government, the government receives a significant profit of the trade from the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

In particular, opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) Leader and MP ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim owns Villa Hotels resort chain and is allegedly one of the biggest beneficiaries of the alcohol trade.

A tolerant society with a dependent economy

Since resorts first opened in the Maldives in the 1970s, tourism has been the core of the island nation’s economy. To accommodate the industry as well as the national Islamic faith, in 1975 the Ministry of Economic Development regulated the sale of pork and alcohol to tourist establishments (Act 4/75).

While there is no regulation or set of guidelines specific to spa operations in resorts, Article 15(a2) of the Goods and Services Tax Act stipulates that spas are legally accepted in the Maldives as tourism goods, and therefore may be operated in compliance with tourism regulations.

After its formation in 2009 the Parliament had nine months to reject any legislation which did not conform with the Constitution.

Parliament did not reject the regulation on the sale of pork and alcohol in 2009, thus allowing it to stand by default.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, Attorney General (AG) Abdulla Muiz believed that although the regulations were clear, legal clarification would mitigate concerns. He suggested that the recent debate has had more to do with internal politics than the oft-cited public preference.

“We are quite a tolerant society, although there a few elements which walk a hard line,” he observed. “I don’t think there is a public concern over the sale of alcohol and pork in resorts.”

The AG pointed out that the majority of the nation’s citizens are primarily interested in the quality of their daily life. He added that the population of 350,000 is annually trumped by the over 700,000 tourists would come to- and invest in – the Maldives.

“If there is a decision prohibiting the sale of alcohol in the tourism sector, it will have a great impact on the economy. The 2012 State Budget of Rf14 billion [US$946.8 million] is very much based on the estimated revenue from the tourism sector. And the government has obligations to investors–it has leased 100 resorts and awarded 5o to 60 islands for development. I hope the Supreme Court will take the economy into account,” he said prior to the Court’s decision.

Muiz said a court ruling would assure investors that the current system is valid.

A problematic profile

Two months ago, protestors demanded that UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay be “slain” for her comment against flogging as a punishment for extra-marital sex. One month ago, the coalition formed by religious groups and opposition parties for the “defend Islam” protest called for stricter regulations in keeping with Shariah law, notably stricter regulations on the sale of pork and alcohol and the closure of massage parlors “and such places where prostitution is practiced.”

International media subsequently reported the story with varying degrees of accuracy, presenting a Maldives starkly different from widely-marketed white sand and turquoise waters.

Noting that the tourism sector had suffered many cancellations in past weeks, MATI Secretary General Sim Ibrahim Mohamed previously pointed out that “people get jittery when you talk about fundamentalism, radicalism, extremism–since 9/11 these have been very sensitive words.”

Speaking to Minivan News last week, religious conservative Adhaalath Party chief spokesperson Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said, “Maldivians are very nice people, you don’t see any country like the Maldives in the Islamic world, so why would we want to damage these people? These are Muslim people and they like moderate views.”

Calling tourism “the backbone of our national economy”, Shaheem said he was “100 percent sure there is no prostitution in the tourism industry here. It is very professional, it is the most famous tourism industry in the world and is accepted by the international community. Why would we want to attack ourselves?”


Deadlock loosens, as landmark Supreme Court ruling establishes separation of powers

The landmark Supreme Court ruling last week over article 171(i) of parliament’s rules of procedure establishes clear legal precedent for the separation of powers, according to Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad.

Parliament was cancelled for the entirety of last week because MPs from both major parties kept clashing on points of order over parliament’s endorsement of cabinet ministers, who were reappointed by the President in July after resigning en masse in protest against the “scorched earth politics” of the opposition majority parliament.

Now, the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) argues that cabinet ministers should be endorsed individually, and is reported to have a list of six ministers it wishes to disapprove. The government meanwhile wants a wholesale endorsement of the cabinet, a function it argues is “ceremonial” arguing that a no-confidence procedure already exists.

At the height of the deadlock several weeks ago, which led to opposition protests, the government went to the Supreme Court in late August claiming that Article 171(i), which states that presidential nominees for the cabinet must be questioned by a parliamentary committee “to determine qualification, educational background and competence”, was outside the constitution.

The Supreme Court issued an injunction against parliament debating the endorsement, but consistent derailment of proceedings by DRP MPs led the Speaker to finally cancel all sessions last week.

The Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that while article 171(i) of the parliament’s rules of procedure does not contradict with constitution, it cannot be used in endorsing cabinet ministers.

Dr Sawad said the ruling “clearly establishes that even if the Majlis does something outside its stated precinct in the constitution, such an act will be ultra vires (beyond its powers)”.

“In terms of legal precedent it has established a Supreme Court endorsement of separation of powers theory in the constitution, and identifies the separate legal precincts of the executive, legislature and judiciary,” he added.

While the ruling installs boundaries for parliament, it is unlikely to resolve the deadlock by itself.

“In terms of the deadlock in the Majlis over cabinet confirmation, the ruling says the Majlis cannot put additional stipulations on endorsing ministers. The ruling still leaves it open to political parties to resolve the matter,” Dr Sawad said.

The DRP has been insistent that it will respect the Supreme Court’s ruling, and that its protests were directed not at the Court but at the government’s use of “delaying tactics” to avoid the controversial cabinet endorsement.

DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf told Minivan News that the party would still seek to have ministers endorsed individually.

Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed meanwhile wrote on his personal blog that although Article 6 of the new Judicature Act – which has been in force for over a week now – stipulates that each Justice must announce his verdict separately, both the ruling and the sole dissenting opinion was announced by the Chief Justice.

“I wouldn’t dare say they issued the ruling in violation of the law,” he wrote. “But I can say that the way they acted and how it is laid out in the law is not the same.”