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Absence of ruling coalition lawmakers under scrutiny

There was a lack of quorum to vote on a bill to legally empower presidential commissions.



The joint parliamentary group of the ruling coalition is looking into the absence of several lawmakers from Saturday’s sitting of parliament.

The People’s Majlis broke for a recess of a month and a half without voting on key pieces of legislation proposed by the new administration of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, including a bill on granting sweeping powers to presidential commissions formed to investigate unresolved murders and recover stolen assets.

With nine coalition lawmakers absent, there was a lack of quorum to put the bill to a vote.

“The Jumhooree Party will look in to why MPs belonging to the party were not present at the sitting. I believe it is the role of the other parties to decide whether or not they will look in to the absence of some MPs,” MP Abdulla Riyaz, the JP’s parliamentary group leader, told the Maldives Independent.

The former police chief did not believe that some lawmakers purposely stayed away because they were opposed to the presidential commissions bill.

“We are not acting like a rubber-stamp parliament anymore. For the bill, parliament had long debates on it and several members submitted amendments during the committee stage too. It was a purely democratic process. Members were also informed that December 15 will be the last day of the parliament,” he said.

Appearing on VTV Sunday night, Riyaz promised disciplinary action against the six absent JP MPs if their absence is found to have been deliberate.

“Talking about investigating corruption is not enough. It is unacceptable that MPs are abroad when a vote is asked for the investigation of corruption. Today’s vote did not take place because of the absence of MPs of the joint-parliamentary group too. This is unacceptable,” tweeted MP Rozaina Adam, deputy leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party’s parliamentary group.

Two MDP MPs and one affiliated with former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s faction of the former ruling party were also absent.

MDP MP Mohamed Abdul Kareem ‘Rukuma’ and JP MPs Mohamed Ameeth and Mohamed Saud were overseas on an official trip representing the Maldives at a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy explained he was out of the country to seek medical treatment. The Maafannu North MP said he would have cancelled doctor’s appointments and returned if he had been informed. JP MP Ali Hussain said he had decided to fly overseas on December 8 before the session was extended to December 15.

The third and final legislative session of the year was due to end at the November but was extended to pass a raft of bills submitted by the government to fulfil campaign pledges.

Saturday’s votes were cancelled because the 43-member quorum was not met. There were 39 ruling coalition lawmakers in attendance and opposition Progressive Party of Maldives boycotted the vote.

Opposition lawmakers continued to protest in the chamber against the “unconstitutional” powers proposed for the presidential commissions. Earlier this month, former president Abdulla Yameen threatened to challenge the constitutionality of key provisions at the Supreme Court if the bill was passed.

The legal powers proposed for the presidential commissions undermine the authority of existing law enforcement agencies, he contended.

The bill also divided opinion among the ruling coalition. After the parliament’s counsel-general raised concerns, the draft legislation was revised at the committee stage last week to remove provisions that authorise commissions to seek search warrants, freeze bank accounts and impose travel bans.

A section that proposed the formation of a special department under the assistant prosecutor general to expedite cases forwarded by the commissions was also scrapped along with time limits for pressing charges and concluding trials.