Transparency Maldives call for criminalisation of Illicit enrichment

A local anti-corruption NGO has called for the criminalisation of illicit enrichment to effectively address the problem of high-level corruption in the Maldives.

Speaking at a press conference today, Transparency Maldives’ (TM) project coordinator Fazla Abdul Samad said that a comprehensive asset declaration system should also be put in place in order to identify and prosecute cases of illicit enrichment.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) – which the Maldives acceded to in 2007 – defines illicit enrichment as a “significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or lawful income.”

“As a signatory state to the UNCAC, the Maldives is recommended to criminalise illicit enrichment as an anti-corruption measure,” said TM.

According to a corruption barometer survey conducted by TM in 2013, 83 percent of respondents believe that corruption is a problem at the public sector.

The parliament was perceived as the most corrupt institution in the country, followed by political parties and the judiciary.

“However, despite the public perception and widespread media coverage of high profile public officials with allegations of illicit enrichment, it is not reflected in the number of investigation, prosecutions and convictions carried out by the relevant state bodies,” the NGO said.

According to information obtained by TM from the prosecutor general’s office, only three cases of bribery have been prosecuted between 2010 and 2014, of which one case ended in a conviction.

During the same period, 37 cases of undue advantage by government employees were prosecuted but only one case had been proved in the courts.

“Successful convictions are low and have not been forthcoming largely because ill-gotten wealth through bribery and other corrupt means is currently difficult in the Maldives as there is not legal provision criminalising illicit enrichment,” said TM.

A 2012 World Bank study showed that a number of countries with illicit enrichment legislation has been successful in recovering ill-gotten wealth.

TM has also started an online petition calling on high level state officials to declare their assets to the public.

In March this year, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) submitted 13 amendments to attorney general’s office for inclusion in the new penal code, including the criminalisation of illicit enrichment.

While the amendment was not submitted to the parliament, TM said discussions are underway between ACC and the attorney general’s office regarding the criminalisation of illicit enrichment.

The new penal code was due to come into effect in April, but the pro-government majority in parliament postponed its enactment to July 16, 2015.


Transparency Maldives urges state officials not to accept ‘arbitrary gratuities’

Transparency Maldives (TM) has urged the heads of independent institutions to refrain from accepting “arbitrary gratuities” from the government.

The government awarded luxury flats at discounted prices last month to Supreme Court justices and four heads of independent bodies, including the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), in what it called an attempt to “ensure their integrity.”

The anti-corruption NGO won the inaugural ‘National Integrity Award’ introduced by the ACC and handed out at a ceremony held last night to mark the first national anti-corruption day. The auditor general’s office was the other recipient of the award.

“While Transparency Maldives appreciates the efforts to acknowledge our core values and community services, we reiterate that upholding the integrity of independent institutions is an integral mandate of high ranking public posts in these independent institutions,” the NGO said in a statement today.

“As such, we call upon the heads of independent institutions to refrain from accepting arbitrary gratuities from the government.”

TM also urged independent bodies to “safeguard from undue influence and allegations of bribery and corruption in order to uphold the value of integrity and increase public confidence in independent institutions.”

TM said the organisation is “honoured” to have the received the award and “appreciates the acknowledgement of integrity as a fundamental premise to a healthy society”.

Speaking at last night’s ceremony held on the island of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal atoll, ACC president Hassan Luthfy reportedly said that loopholes in the law posed difficulties in investigating corruption allegations and securing convictions.

He called on MPs to pass a criminal procedures code and an evidence law and include ‘illicit enrichment’ as an offence in the new penal code.

In 2014, the commission concluded 783 investigations and forwarded 35 cases for prosecution, seeking to recover MVR1.4 million (US$90,791) owed to the state.


Luthfy confirmed to Minivan News last month that he had signed a contract to buy one of the apartments at the discounted price.

Flats were also awarded to all five Supreme Court justices, the prosecutor general, the commissioner general of customs, and the information commissioner.

While the state can provide privileges to state officials “based on need and limited to the duration of employment of individuals”, TM noted at the time that the flats are “permanently contracted by the executive to public officials holding time-bound positions of the state”.

“The offering of arbitrary privileges to public officials holding high-ranking positions and the acceptance of such privileges will undermine public trust in these institutions,” the NGO warned.

“TM also notes that upholding integrity in the performance of high-ranking public posts is an integral and core mandate of such positions, and should not be incentivised through handouts of property or other forms of personal enrichment.”

However, the government has defended its decision to offer discounts on the flats.

Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb told the press that the apartments were awarded to “ensure the integrity of independent institutions”.

“The flats were not handed out. The recipients have to pay for them. This will result in ensured integrity of independent institutions and, moreover, it will strengthen the state,” he said.


Democracy Network alerts Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges on Nasheed’s sham trial

Human Rights group Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has urged the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to investigate the jailing of former President Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges.

The “independence of the judiciary has been lost,” MDN said in a letter to Gabriela Knaul, stating President Abdulla Yameen was using the judiciary as a tool to “oppress the opposition.”

“We fear that without timely intervention, the country will complete its slide back to autocracy. We strongly urge you to investigate the matter further and issue a public statement denouncing this flagrant abuse of rights being perpetuated through the Maldives’ judiciary,” the letter read.

MDN called upon the international community to take serious measures to prevent further human rights violations at the “helm of a corrupt judiciary.”

The former president was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 13 years in prison last night (March 13) over the January 2012 military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Nasheed’s administration detained Judge Abdulla after deeming him a national security threat. Then- Home Minister Hassan Afeef accused the judge of political bias, obstructing police, stalling cases, links with organised crime and “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist” to protect key figures of the former dictatorship from human rights and corruption cases.

Delivering the guilty verdict last night, Judge Abdulla Didi said the prosecution’s evidence proved beyond reasonable doubt that Nasheed ordered the chief judge’s arrest or “forceful abduction.”

The NGO described the trial as a “political tool designed to disqualify him from contesting future elections and silence his voice of political opposition,” noting that the trial took place at an “uncharacteristically extreme speed.”

“The systematic procedural irregularities in the current proceedings demonstrate that the current charges against Nasheed are a continuation of the same campaign to disqualify him from political office and effectively silence his political dissent in the Maldives, using a corrupt and biased judicial system to realise this goal,” said MDN.

All four of Nasheed’s lawyers quit on March 9 in protest of the Criminal Court’s refusal to grant sufficient time to examine the prosecution’s evidence and mount a defence.

The presiding judges had denied the lawyers’ request for adequate time, stating the legal team has had the case documents for three years.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) said today Nasheed “was denied fundamental rights which guarantee a fair trial by the constitution, and some rights granted by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

HRCM noted that the Criminal Court denied requests made by the commission to observe trials.

Advocacy group Transparency Maldives (TM) also expressed “grave concern” on the guilty verdict, stressing Nasheed was denied legal representation, right to appeal and adequate time to build a defence against new terror charges.

TM also noted that the “serious issues of conflict of interest were prevalent in the case” with two of the three judges presiding over the case having provided statements during the investigation.

“These procedural irregularities raise serious questions about the fairness, transparency and independence of the judicial process followed and the provision of the accused’s inalienable right to a fair trial,” read a TM statement today.

TM called upon state actors to “uphold democratic principles and international conventions”, while urging the public and law enforcement agencies to “exercise restraint and calm in order to mitigate further deterioration of the security situation in the Maldives.”

Knaul had previously expressed concern over lack of due process in a 2012 trial in which Nasheed had been charged with “arbitrarily detaining” Judge Abdulla at the Hulhumalé Magistrate Court.

Knaul questioned the constitutionality of the magistrate court and the appointment of the three-judge panel, “which seems to have been set up in arbitrary manner, without following procedures set by law.”

“It is indeed difficult to understand why one former President is being tired for an act he took outside his prerogative, while another has not had to answer for any of the alleged human rights violations documented over the years,” wrote Knaul, in her report to the UN Human Rights council following her mission in Maldives in February 2013.

Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin in February withdrew the lesser charges and re-prosecuted Nasheed on harsher terror charges.

The United States, United Kingdom and the European Union have expressed concern with the lack of due process, while Amnesty International said Nasheed’s sentencing “after a deeply flawed and politically motivated trial is a travesty of justice.”

Related to this story

Former President Nasheed found guilty of terrorism, sentenced to 13 years in prison

“This is not a court of law. This is injustice,” Nasheed tells the Criminal Court

US, EU, and UK concerned over lack of due process in Nasheed trial

Nasheed trial “not free or fair,” says Maldivian Democracy Network

Former President Nasheed appears in court with arm in makeshift sling


Immigration department suspends exit permit regulations indefinitely

The recently introduced exit permit scheme has been suspended indefinitely after complaints about the regulation, which requires foreign workers to obtain permission from their employers before leaving the country.

Immigration Information Officer Hassan Khaleel told Minivan News today that the regulation was suspended after several complaints from different organisations, including numerous airlines and NGOs.

“The exit permit issue has been suspended from today onwards. We will consider and address every single complaint received and look at the regulation from several perspectives before re-implementing,” he explained.

The regulation, which came to effect on October 19, required expatriate workers to present a form signed by their employer at airport immigration before leaving the country.

Speaking at the time, Khaleel explained that the introduction of the exit permit system came after requests from employers concerned at the number of expatriate workers leaving the country without their employer’s permission.

He added that the immigration department believed the new regulations might help lessen the illegal practice of withholding passports – which has been described as ‘rampant’ in the Maldives by the US State Department.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) expressed concern, however, that the exit permits would exacerbate the well-documented abuses within the immigration system.

Advocacy and communications manager at TM, Aiman Rasheed, said that the regulation might have the same effect of withholding the travel documents of the worker, leading to the “employer having control over the mobility of the worker”.

“While this is an infringement on the freedom of movement for workers, it also presents opportunities for perpetuation of bondage, trafficking, etc, by limiting movement of the worker,” said Aiman.

While exact figures are unavailable, the number of expatriate workers in the Maldives has been estimated to be as high as 200,000 – equivalent to two thirds of the local population.

Long viewed as a country with a poor record on combatting human trafficking, the Maldives was this year removed from the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) watchlist.

Exit permit systems are also operated in other nations with large numbers of expatriate workers – such as the UAE and Qatar, although Qatar announced earlier this year that it was to abolish the practice after pressure from human rights groups.


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.


Week in review: January 18 – 24

The biggest headline of the week was captured by Home Minister Umar Naseer after he ordered correctional authorities to make preparations for the implementation of the death penalty – currently under a sixty year moratorium.

Speaking with the media upon his return from Sri Lanka – President Abdulla Yameen said that the home minister’s decision had not been discussed with the cabinet.

During his state visit Yameen was reported to be considering access through Maldivian waters for passing Sri Lankan fishing vessels. He is also said to have revealed his decision to reject the proposed status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the United States.

Opinions on the president’s fisheries policy – as well as the policies of Malé city council – were expressed this week as Minivan News visited the capital’s famous fish market to talk about the state of the industry.

The government’s plans to expand the tourism industry were discussed this week as Minivan News interviewed cabinet minister Ahmed Adeeb, while the Home Ministry’s focus on the illegal drugs trade continued as police seized MVR300,000 worth of drugs – along with an endangered primate – from a house in Malé.

The president’s foreign policy also took shape – with a clear emphasis on economic self-sufficiency to facilitate independence and protect sovereignty.

Whilst bilateral ties between India and the Maldives were celebrated with the launch of the Dosti-Ekuverikan week, opposition spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Indian media that the country had “failed” Maldivian democracy during recent political turmoils.

Local elections

The week began with the local council elections, and finished with the final results of the 1,100 contests still not yet known. What was clear was that turnout was low on the day – a report from Transparency Maldives suggested the system was failing up to one third of voters who live and work away from their registered island of residence.

The Elections Commission (EC) introduced the public displaying of ID card photographs to help prevent voter fraud, though the decision quickly brought complaints from religious leaders regarding the exposure of women who have since started wearing the veil.

November’s second-placed presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed subsequently suggested that the clear existence of voters without photographs in the presidential poll registry indicated “serious fraud in the presidential election”.

The Maldivian Democratic Party figurehead went on to suggest that victory for his party in March’s parliamentary elections would see impeachment proceedings initiated against President Yameen.

Minivan News’ series of MP interviews continued this week, with Rozaina Adam, Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed, and Ahmed Abdulla all taking their turns.

Despite his Progressive Party of Maldives expressing confidence that they would win the majority of council seats, Yameen noted that party members standing as independent candidates had cost seats.

Supreme Court

Never far from the headlines, the Supreme Court’s role in the recent presidential elections continued to make news. The EC suggested that the Police Integrity Commission had shied away from examining key evidence used to annul the first round for fear of casting doubt on the court’s verdict.

Criticism of the verdict broadcast on Raajje TV resulted in this week’s decision by the broadcasting commission to order an apology from the station. Villa TV was similarly ordered to offer apologies for comments said to have defamed MDP candidate Nasheed.

Former Attorney General Husnu Suood was suspended from all courts pending the police’s investigation into his alleged contempt of court during the annulment trial. Suood suggested the decision may be linked to his role in the investigation of Justice Ali Hameed’s role in a sex tape scandal.

The Judicial Services Commission – charged with investigating the Hameed case – revealed its new regulations which will involve the periodic review of judge’s performance.

Meanwhile, the deputy prosecutor general appealed to the Supreme Court after the Criminal Court failed to resume normal activities – having previously halted proceeding pending the confirmation of a new PG.


Elsewhere in the Maldives this week, the auditor general revealed that the Defence Ministry had illegally purchased nearly MVR7 million of goods during 2011. This week also saw the first case of unfair dismissal filed in relation to the nine senior military officers removed amid internal murmurings during the controversial presidential race.

Finally, the Maldives was selected for a US$6million concessionary loan from Abu Dhabi for assistance with clean energy projects.


Accountability of political accounts not so clear: Transparency

Transparent political financing in the Maldives is moderately but unspecifically supported by legislation, however in practice political parties and candidates can easily manipulate funding with little consequence and leaving no clear trail of public accountability.

“In the Maldives political financing is mainly viewed as a book keeping and procedural issue rather than as an issue of accountability to one’s constituency that directly affects the level of democracy within the system”, reads the report.

“Transparency in Political Financing in Maldives” is part of the Crinis Project, a joint effort between Transparency International and the Carter Center that began in Latin America in 2006, and has since been executed in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Using surveys, interviews and analysis carried out between November 2010 and April 2011, the project measures 10 “dimensions of transparency” in the financial reporting practices of nine political parties, 15 MPs, eight presidential candidates from the 2008 elections, and various donors. Official legislation was jointly analysed.

Ratings for both ‘Law’ and ‘Practice’ were measured on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 indicates full compliance with standards of transparency and accountability and 0 indicates no compliance.

The project distinguishes between non-electoral funds, campaign funds, and funds received and managed by candidates independent of their parties.

The Maldives ranked 4.6 on the Crinis Index overall, qualifying as “average”. With ‘Law’ rated at 5.1 and ‘Practice’ rated at a lower 4.1, the report notes that “there is much room for improving both the legal framework on political financing and political financing practices in the country.”

Average aggregate scores in the categories State Oversight, Prevention (of manipulation), Disclosure (of information to the citizens), and Reliability, Depth and Scope of reporting leveled the total score at 4.6, the report states.

However, the majority of these categories barely reached above the ‘Insufficient’ rating, with Non-State Oversight and Sanctions, or penalties for non-compliance with the legal framework, received the lowest scores.

The only category to qualify as “good” (6.8-10) was Book Keeping, scraping in with the minimum score of 6.8.

In each category the Maldives’ legislation for political financing qualified as ‘average’ with a median score of 5.7. However the law was not rated for Reliability as it was a perception-based dimension, or for Non-State Oversight, as there is no mechanism stipulated in Maldivian law.

Practices in political financing were generally found to be‘insufficient’, notably in the categories of Reporting, Disclosure, and Prevention. Sanctions (1.0) and Non-State Oversight (1.2) scored the lowest.

Comparatively, Book Keeping and Scope (of reporting) scored positively with ratings of 7.5 and 8.4, respectively.

The report observes that the Maldives only introduced multi-party democracy in 2005 and did not have an independent elections commission (EC) until 2008.

Although reporting to the EC is mandated by law, the study finds that the legal framework enforcing this mandate ranks only at 4.5 on the Crinis scale. In practice, reporting received a score of 3.3 (insufficient), as “parties do not specify separate sources and amounts of funding” when they do report and “in most cases, the absence of the standardised reporting format also leads to inconsistencies on the information provided by parties.”

Moreover, information is poorly disclosed to the public. In the category of measures which prevent abuse of resources and conflicts of interest, the study ranked party behavior at 2.8  and practice at 3.2–both insufficient rankings. Meanwhile, the law scored an average ranking of 4.7.

“The Regulation on Political Parties does not require political parties to conduct their financial transactions through a bank account; nor is there a provision in the law prohibiting the acceptance of cash donations; nor is there an upper limit to cash donations which parties are allowed to accept,” the report states. “Since parties are not required to conduct all its transactions through a bank account, there is no way for Elections Commission to verify that parties have reported all of its income and expenditures, nor can the Elections Commission verify that parties have not accepted types of income which are prohibited by law.”

The report points out that the system of political financing is interdependent. “For example, the public’s access to financial reports depends on whether political actors submit reports to a state oversight agency. Such disclosure, in turn, is nearly impossible to obtain if parties lack an internal book-keeping system.

“As such, transparent political financing is not guaranteed even if the proper operation of one or two of these dimensions is confirmed in practice”, the report states.

The effort involved in assembling the report further highlights the system’s weaknesses.

“We had quite a bit of difficulty getting information from almost all sources,” said Project Coordinator Ma’rifa Hassan. “After a long time of asking and waiting for donors, political parties and politicians” to respond to inquiries, she said most information came from the EC “because they’re the only ones with the financial records”–in itself a surprise.

Of the fifteen candidates approached, Hassan said, only one provided a single set of records. “The rest just said ‘you can get it from the EC, we do not have it anymore.’ Our impression is that once the campaign is over and they’re elected, they don’t care about the financial aspects,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s quite absurd that a lot of political parties or campaign candidates claim they do not have those records.”

Approaching the EC was a struggle as well.

“Just getting the first appointment to explain our project was very difficult,” said Executive Director Ilham Mohamed.

Once allowed to access the information, researchers found that they had to sit with an official to look over the records, and could only copy the information by hand. “The average citizen, public official or a journalist is not going to have the drive or the time to wait and wait for an appointment, and then have to copy everything by hand,” she observed. “These things should be available, and people shouldn’t have to justify why they want to see the records in the first place.”

The team conceded that the research collided with the primary elections, and that the EC was understandably busy at the time.

Aside from their own experience, the team took the pulse of the public’s interaction with the information.

Sending out 14 volunteers from the public with a list of information to obtain, the team examined the level of proactive disclosure among donors, politicians, political parties and the EC. According to the team, none of the volunteers were able to obtain any information.

The team affirmed that the lack of transparency and accountability in political financing supports the recent finding that 90 percent of Maldivians believe that “corruption has increased” or remained level in the last three years and perceive parliament as the “most corrupt” institution, as stated in Transparency’s recent report “Daily Lives and Corruption: Public Opinion in Maldives”.

“Asking about a party’s financial records and spending practices also labels you as suspicious,” Mohamed pointed out. “A majority of people we interviewed saw this as a privacy issue. But if you’re spending money or taking money from a budget to be elected to a public post, then it is a public matter. You’re privacy stops there.”

The team observed that although the country scored ‘average’ for its laws and clauses, “the objective of having those laws and clauses is not achieved. The EC is required by law to facilitate public access to records, but it doesn’t specify how.”

The Elections Commission received the brunt of the report’s constructive criticism, along with Parliament. The report charged the EC with streamlining and enforcing the reporting methods to be used by political parties and between parties, the EC and the public. Meanwhile Parliament was tasked with amending legislation to make financial transactions among political parties and electoral candidates more transparent, for example, by requiring that all transactions be done through a specific bank account.

Other recommendations included consistent and balanced media coverage and work by civil society organisations to inform the public of political financial operations. Political parties were tasked with reporting clearly to the public and the EC in a timely manner.

“Basically, we have a lot of work to do”, the Transparency team concluded.