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Maldives ruling party denies secretively seeking to decriminalise bribery

Government-sponsored amendments to the penal code removed bribery as a prosecutable offence.



The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives has denied seeking underhandedly to decriminalise bribery through amendments to the penal code.

There was an uproar when the media discovered that a bill submitted by PPM MP Ibrahim Didi would remove bribery from the penal code as a prosecutable offence.

Section 510, the provision that includes bribery among offences against the functioning of the state, was revised to detail contempt of court offences instead, according to a report by the parliamentary committee that approved the bill on July 23.

The legislation was submitted on behalf of the government in early July, perfunctorily debated and sent to the national security committee for review.

The committee report was tabled in the agenda of last Wednesday’s sitting for a final debate, the last stage of the legislative process before a bill is put to a vote. But the speaker did not call a vote, lacking the constitutional quorum with opposition lawmakers continuing a year-long boycott.

On Monday, media reports of the apparent move to decriminalise bribery sparked an outcry.

In the wake of a barrage of criticism and public outrage, the PPM called a press conference Tuesday evening, where parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan condemned the opposition’s allegations and flatly denied seeking to abolish the bribery provision.

He announced that the ruling party has submitted new amendments to the penal code.

“This additional amendment is a more complete version than the existing law against corruption,” he said, referring to the 2000 anti-corruption law that separately criminalises bribery. 

Submitted on behalf of the government by PPM MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla, the bill will be introduced at a parliament sitting on Wednesday, he added.

Sittings normally take place on Monday and Tuesday but none were scheduled this week. The agenda for Wednesday’s sitting was uploaded to the Majlis site after the PPM press conference began.

Nihan said the new amendments would add “a massive chapter” on corruption to the penal code.

Didi and Abdul Raheem’s amendments would be passed together, he assured.

Nihan denied that the latter was proposed hastily. It was submitted last week but was discussed along with the previous amendments in the ruling coalition’s parliamentary group, he claimed.

But PPM MPs have told VFP and Raajje TV that Abdul Raheem’s bill was submitted on Tuesday. The lawmakers revealed on the condition of anonymity that a meeting was held between PPM MPs and Attorney General Mohamed Anil at 2 pm.

Despite Nihan’s claim, the bill was not introduced during any of the three sittings held last week.

Photo circulating on social media of the meeting with the AG.

– “Legalising corruption” –

The PPM’s press conference came shortly after the local chapter of Transparency International called for the withdrawal of the amendments. The anti-corruption NGO warned that “decriminalising bribery of public officials facilitates corruption and allows for the impunity of corrupt public officials”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Hussain Shameem, a former deputy prosecutor general who trained police and court officers on the historic 2015 penal codetold the Maldives Independent that “the government was very obviously trying to decriminalise corruption”.

“I am sure such a huge amendment to a major bill will reach a Majlis committee only after it has been properly reviewed by legal experts. So in my opinion, this is not a mistake,” he said.

“If this is approved, charges can no longer be pressed for bribery and charges that were pressed earlier will also become invalid…For the first time in Maldives history, a government is trying to decriminalise a serious crime.”

It would also have wider ramifications because it reorders the penal code, which was “much bigger than decriminalising bribery”.

President Abdulla Yameen’s exiled former deputy Dr Mohamed Jameel called the move unconstitutional.

“Bribery is a big sin. We should not try to permit an act that is forbidden in Islam. The constitution does not allow us to make laws that contravene Islamic principles. Even if abolished [clause 510], criminals cannot escape!”

MP Ali Hussain of the Jumhooree Party said: “Yameen is mocking Islam by decriminalising bribery while corruption and bribery have become common practice within the government and state.”

MP Faisal Naseem, the joint opposition’s vice presidential candidate, called it unacceptable. The public needs to “find out what happened to the millions of dollars stolen from the state,” he said, referring to the largest corruption scandal in Maldives history when US$80 million was embezzled under Yameen’s watch.

Sheikh Ilyas Hussain, a prominent cleric of the opposition Adhaalath Party, called on religious scholars not to remain silent in the face of “such a huge atrocity.”

Top photo from PSM