Lawmakers from the four-party ruling coalition have been accused of sabotaging a bill on granting sweeping powers to commissions formed by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to recover stolen assets and investigate unresolved murders.
Speaker Gasim Ibrahim ended Monday’s sitting of parliament without putting the bill to a vote as the number of lawmakers present was one short of the 43 MPs needed to pass laws.
“It is very clear this is an act of deliberate sabotage, by those with something to hide and a vested interest in covering up those past crimes,” tweeted MP Eva Abdulla from the Maldivian Democratic Party.
Jumhooree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz, leader of the joint parliamentary group, said lawmakers were informed that voting on the bill was in the agenda for Tuesday’s sitting, the first sitting scheduled since parliament returned from recess earlier this month.
But some former ruling party lawmakers who joined the JP after September’s presidential election refused to come inside the chamber at voting time, he told the media.
The JP will take action against the absent lawmakers, he warned, noting that objections about the bill were not raised at the joint parliamentary group meeting on Monday morning.
Some coalition lawmakers were opposed to empowering the inquiry commissions, he conceded, echoing Eva’s allegations of vested interest.
The constitution requires more than half the 85-member house to be present for voting on “any matter requiring compliance by citizens.” Despite the loss of six lawmakers in November – including the president, vice president and four ministers – MPs from the ruling coalition parties make up a simple majority.
Nine coalition lawmakers were also absent when the bill was up for a vote before parliament broke for recess in December.
Opposition lawmakers boycotted the last sitting in protest against “unconstitutional” provisions in the government-sponsored legislation.
The legal powers proposed for the commissions undermine the authority of existing law enforcement agencies, former president Abdulla Yameen contended at the time, declaring that he would challenge the constitutionality of key provisions at the Supreme Court if the bill was passed.
Speaking to the Maldives Independent after Monday’s sitting, Husnu Suood, chair of the commission on deaths and disappearances, defended the need for more authority and legal powers.
“[Failure to pass the law] will make our work difficult. Our experience over the past two months is that it has hampered our efforts and not allowed us to work effectively. We had been hoping for it [to pass]. It will delay our work. It is definitely a hindrance to ensuring justice for Maldivians.”
President Solih formed the two inquiry commissions on his first day in office to fulfil campaign pledges to recover missing funds and find the truth behind high-profile murders and the abduction of a journalist.
According to the proposed law, the commissions would become investigative agencies with powers to obtain search warrants, collect evidence, summon suspects, freeze bank accounts, and to seek assistance from police as well as foreign investigators.
In December, after the parliament’s counsel-general raised concerns, the draft legislation was revised at the committee stage 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.