Monday roundup: minister accused of interfering in corruption probe
A roundup of the day’s top stories.
President’s office minister accused of interfering in corruption probe
Anti-Corruption Commission president Mariyam Shiuna on Monday accused president’s office minister Ahmed Sameer of attempting to intimidate her concerning a case under investigation by the watchdog.
Appearing at parliament’s independent institutions oversight committee, the new ACC chief told lawmakers that Sameer had called her and expressed displeasure over the commission’s plans to question an state minister following a corruption complaint.
As the case was unrelated to Sameer, Shiuna said she interpreted the call as an attempt to exert undue influence. Sameer warned her that she would be summoned to the parliament oversight committee once he informed Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla, Shiuna said, suggesting that it was tantamount to threatening and intimidation.
“He shouldn’t be able to say that to me and I won’t allow it,” she told lawmakers. The unnamed state minister was summoned and questioned despite Sameer’s calls shortly before he was due to appear, ACC member Ibrahim Shakeel noted.
MP Rozaina Adam, the oversight committee’s chair, assured ACC members that parliament will look into the allegations and take action. It was “unacceptable” for the watchdog to be targeted so soon after new members were appointed, she said.
Denying the allegations of undue influence, Sameer, a former lawmaker and senior member of the Jumhooree Party, told media outlets that he did call the ACC chief as the state minister was due to be summoned to answer in his personal capacity over the discharge of official duties. The state minister expressed concern to Sameer because he was told to appear via a phone call from the commission, he said.
Sameer said he called Shiuna to confirm whether the phone call was an official ACC summons. Shiuna said she was unaware of the incident, he said. “If I did try to exert such influence over the ACC I urge that they investigate and take action. I hope the ACC won’t work to politically defame people’s reputation,” Sameer tweeted.
Hussain Fiyaz Moosa approved as information commissioner
Parliament on Monday approved former Raajje TV CEO Hussain Fiyaz Moosa as the new information commissioner.
The veteran journalist was confirmed with 72 votes in favour. The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, which controls nearly a three-quarters majority of the 87-member house, issued a three-line whip on Sunday night to vote for Fiyaz.
Former information commissioner Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur’s five-year term ended on June 22. Fiyaz’s confirmation comes after the two-month period mandated by the 2014 right to information law to appoint a new commissioner expired in August.
Fiyaz was chosen from among nine individuals nominated by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in order of preference from applicants to the vacant post. Following a vetting process, parliament’s independent institutions committee recommended Fiyaz as well as former Elections Commission vice president Ahmed Fayaz Hassan and NGO Transparency Maldives senior project coordinator Ahid Rasheed.
The committee interviewed four nominees but decided not to recommend Fathmath Sausan.
In its report, the committee expressed concern with live broadcasting of interviews with the nominees as required by the new parliamentary rules. The fairness of the process could be compromised as questions would be known in advance after the first interview, the report noted. The committee is also unable to recommend one individual as more capable or competent when nominees are forwarded to the floor for the confirmation vote, it added.
The confirmation process was overhauled when parliament’s standing orders were revised. The former practice of assigning marks based on experience, qualifications and integrity was scrapped and a panel comprised of parliament’s staff now determines whether nominees meet eligibility criteria. The committee only interviews approved candidates and a two-thirds majority is required to approve and recommend nominees to the floor.
Nasheed calls for legal action against death threats
Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed on Sunday night called for legal action against death threats and incitement to violence, warning against creating unrest and sowing discord “in the name of Islam.”
The former president echoed concern and outrage prompted by a widely shared video of protesters calling for the burning of secularists and the murder of NGO Maldivian Democracy Network executive director Shahindha Ismail. Protest marches took place on several islands over the weekend as part of a campaign launched by clerics over the alleged slander of Islam in a report on radicalisation released by the rights group in 2016.
According to media reports, Nasheed also criticised Home Minister Sheikh Imran Abdulla in the WhatsApp group of the Maldivian Democratic Party’s parliamentary group over the failure to take action against alleged efforts to destabilise the country. Nasheed reportedly declared that he has lost confidence in Sheikh Imran, leader of the MDP’s coalition partner Adhaalath Party.
In a statement on Sunday night, police said some people were trying to take advantage of inflamed public sentiment to sow discord and create divisions, which could lead to unrest, and expressed concern with public calls to violence and social media posts that encourage violence.
The ‘Preliminary Assessment of Radicalisation in the Maldives’ insulted Islam and Prophet Mohamed and included content that was contrary to Islamic tenets and could create religious disputes among the public, police said, assuring that legal action would be taken against those responsible.
Three religious scholars are assisting police in conducting an “academic study” of the report for the purposes of the criminal investigation, police said. The Islamic ministry will also share findings of its separate research into the report, it added. Once the reports are compiled, the relevant authorities will be asked to take “immediate administrative action” against the NGO, police assured.
Summons have also been issued to the report’s authors to appear for questioning, police said, noting that all of them were out of the Maldives. On Sunday night, police retracted a public announcement made to summon Dr Azra Naseem after succeeding in contacting her. Dr Naseem worked as a research fellow at Dublin City University in Ireland.
On Monday, religious conservative NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf made an announcement seeking a researcher to conduct a detail study into “the extent of the danger of secularism in the Maldives, how it is spreading, who its roots in the Maldives are, and about their aims.”
Islamic Ministry accused MDN of blasphemy and requested police to investigate. Police investigates case and gets Islamic Min to review content for blasphemy.
Very professional police! 👏🏽 How far back do you plan to jump? Mag times? Ask him for some guidance too won’t you? https://t.co/C2h3KPbH1n
— Shahindha Ismail 🎈 (@HindhaIsmail) October 21, 2019
Beneficiaries of MMPRC corruption on parliament committee
Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham on Monday refused to share information with a parliamentary committee about the country’s biggest corruption scandal, alleging that some lawmakers on the oversight committee were among the beneficiaries of the embezzlement scheme that saw more than US$90 million looted from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
Bisham appeared before the public accounts committee to provide an update on the prosecution of cases related to the MMPRC scandal. But the chief prosecutor refused to provide any information until lawmakers accused of involvement left the committee as the ongoing investigation could be compromised.
MPs voted to continue the meeting behind closed doors to allow Bisham to name the accused lawmakers. Individuals implicated in the MMPRC scandal include sitting judges, lawmaker and ministers, she told the committee.
The committee members are Mohamed Nahiz, Abdul Ghafoor Moosa, Yasir Abdul Latheef, Hussain Waheed, Hassan Afeef, Yaugoob Abdulla, Ilyas Labeeb, Ibrahim Shareef and Mohamed Aslam from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, Abdulla Riyaz from the Jumhooree Party, Ahmed Amir from the Maldives Development Alliance, Ahmed Saleem from the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives, Fazul Rasheed from the opposition People’s National Congress, and Independent MP Hussain Mohamed Latheef, a former PPM lawmaker.
President meets Japanese prime minister
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih held talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Monday during his official visit to attend the enthronement ceremony of the new emperor of Japan.
The two leaders discussed developing bilateral relations “by building on the fruitful history of constructive engagement between the two countries,” the president’s office said, noting Japan’s role as the “single largest aid donor” in helping the Maldives become a middle-income country.
President Solih sought Japanese technical assistance in governance, infrastructural development, and fiscal policy and invited Prime Minister Abe to visit the Maldives. The pair also discussed “increasing the number of Japanese tourists to the Maldives, facilitating better air travel between the two countries and enhancing cooperation in the multilateral fora,” according to the president’s office.
More than 42,000 Japanese tourists visited the Maldives last year.
Over the past decades, Japan funded the construction of primary schools and the social centre in Malé. Other projects that benefited from Japanese aid included the first mechanisation of fishing vessels between 1973-76, the development of Malé’s seawall between 1987-2003, and the extension of loans amounting to US$34 million for post-tsunami reconstruction.
More recently, Japan donated medical equipment worth US$2.8 million and gifted 24 fire lorries and 21 paramedic ambulances.
The Maldives and Japan celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations in 2017. Ties were established on November 14, 1967 when Ambassador Seizo Hinata presented his letter of credence to Sultan Mohamed Fareed Didi.
A new chancellory of the Japan embassy was opened in Malé in January 2016.
Accompanying the president on the official visit, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid called on his counterpart Motegi Toshimitsu on Monday. Shahid also signed Exchange of Notes with Japanese Ambassador Yanai Keiko for a ¥500 million grant to be “utilised towards countering terrorism.”
Later on Monday, President Solih visited Odawara City and met with Mayor Kenichi Kato and “discussed ways to learn from each other in various areas.”
Had a very productive meeting with H.E. @moteging, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan, in Tokyo. Maldives-Japan relations is strong and vibrant. Looking forward to welcoming Minister Motegi in Maldives in the near future.@MofaJapan_en pic.twitter.com/s9QQaZvbBp
— Abdulla Shahid 🎈 (@abdulla_shahid) October 21, 2019
Today’s summit meeting between President @ibusolih and Prime Minister @AbeShinzo has turned a new page in the history of Maldives-Japan relations. pic.twitter.com/JIEImWNKR1
— Abdulla Shahid 🎈 (@abdulla_shahid) October 21, 2019
First lady observes traditional Japanese flower arrangement or 'ikebana' at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo pic.twitter.com/4NHK0qvMVm
— The President's Office (@presidencymv) October 21, 2019
A key highlight of President @ibusolih’s visit to Japan was meeting members of the Maldivian community residing in Japan. The function was also attended by Japanese nationals who had, in the past, provided valuable support to our community, in various fields, as JOCV volunteers. pic.twitter.com/r3FVy1UlTg
— Ibrahim Hood (@MvSpokesperson) October 21, 2019