Speaker Gasim Ibrahim on Wednesday refused to call a vote on a bill granting legal powers to presidential commissions formed to recover stolen assets and investigate unresolved murders.
At the end of Wednesday’s sitting, Gasim announced his decision to remove the bill from the agenda after it was tabled for the fourth time, citing allegations made by six members of the independent institutions oversight committee that reviewed the government-sponsored legislation in December.
The members informed him that the final draft in the committee’s report was not the revised version approved by the committee, Gasim said. The complaint needs to be investigated before the bill could be put to a vote, he added.
The announcement was met with protests from Maldivian Democratic Party MPs.
The decision by Gasim – leader of the Jumhooree Party, one of four partners in the MDP-led ruling coalition – was unprecedented and against the rules of procedure, MDP MP Rozaina Adam told the press.
Rozaina, who chaired the committee that reviewed the bill, questioned why the allegations were raised three months after the bill was sent to the floor. The amended version in the report was the one passed by the committee, she insisted.
The committee report was also shared with all lawmakers, who were allowed to flag issues or propose further amendments, she noted.
“This is a very bad precedent that the Majlis speaker has set today,” she said, calling the move “an atrocity.”
Previous attempts to put the bill to a vote were thwarted by a lack of quorum due to the absence of several ruling coalition lawmakers. The number of lawmakers present at voting time was short of the 43 MPs needed to pass laws.
On Monday, MDP MP Eva Abdulla called the absence of coalition lawmakers “an act of deliberate sabotage, by those with something to hide and a vested interest in covering up those past crimes.”
Jumhooree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz, leader of the joint parliamentary group, accused absent colleagues of refusing to come inside the chamber at voting time.
Some former ruling party lawmakers who joined the JP after September’s presidential election were opposed to empowering the presidential commissions, he said.
On Wednesday, JP MP Riyaz Rasheed concurred with opposition lawmakers that the bill was “unconstitutional.” The powers proposed for the commissions in the “witch-hunt” bill undermine the authority of existing law enforcement agencies, opposition lawmakers contend.
As pledged during his campaign, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih formed two inquiry commissions on his first day in office to recover stolen funds and find the truth behind high-profile murders and the abduction of a journalist.
Family members of slain blogger Yameen Rasheed and missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan were among protesters who gathered outside the People’s Majlis before voting time on Wednesday.
Speaking to Raajje TV, Fathimath Shehenaz, brother of the abducted journalist, accused Speaker Gasim of conspiring with the opposition to scuttle the commission’s inquiry.
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 on seeking search warrants, freezing bank accounts and imposing 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.