Several pieces of legislation have been submitted to parliament to revise child protection laws, safeguard independent institutions from corruption and abolish draconian laws enacted during the previous administration, the president’s office announced on Sunday.
The government proposed making it mandatory for the Prosecutor General and Auditor General as well as members of the Civil Service Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission, Elections Commission and the Human Rights Commission to disclose their assets along with the personal finances of family members.
Officials would also be barred from owning a business or participating in any enterprise with a potential conflict of interest.
Amendments submitted to laws concerning the independent posts and commissions “will ensure that such individuals cannot unduly benefit from their position or abuse their influence at another’s expense,” the president’s office said.
New provisions would also be added to set ethical standards for employees with specified measures for violations. Officials would be required to “proactively engage with the parliament to provide progress reports” and attend oversight committees.
The legislation comes amid growing calls for the removal of officials accused of failing to fulfil their constitutional responsibilities due to undue influence when the previous administration cracked down on dissent, jailed political opponents and restricted fundamental rights. Despite winning a supermajority in parliament, the ruling party has yet to impeach any member of an independent commission.
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Three amendment bills were also submitted “in the spirit of fulfilling this administration’s pledge to review all legislation to remove any provisions which were crafted to either unduly advantage or punish a particular person.”
These include a provision added to the Presidential Elections Act in July last year that barred Maldivians who have sought asylum overseas or relinquished dual citizenship from running for president for 10 years. The restriction targeted former president Mohamed Nasheed and Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim after the exiled pair secured asylum in the UK and Germany.
An amendment to the law on privileges and protection for former presidents proposed revising a provision that stripped Nasheed of state benefits and security. The provision states that benefits will be revoked for an ex-president who is convicted and sentenced to jail for a criminal offence committed during his presidency.
“Henceforth this provision cannot be applied retroactively and applies to presidents who are convicted of a criminal offence only after this legislation was enacted,” the president’s office explained.
The 2013 Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act would be amended to remove a provision that restricted protests and gatherings in the capital to areas designated by the home ministry, which later picked the carnival area in Malé’s eastern waterfront. The law presently requires written permission from the police to gather in other areas.
“These restrictions had previously given the government inordinate discretion in limiting public spaces for any political gathering, rally or march through a cumbersome process involving seeking permissions from the Police and Home Ministry, and was a power often abused to limit any activity by the then opposition,” the president’s office said.
– Child rights –
A juvenile justice bill proposed increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 15 years. Under existing laws, children older than 10 years of age can be liable for crimes with punishments prescribed in the Quran as well as murder and drug-related offences.
Once the bill is passed into law, children under 15 years of age cannot be prosecuted for criminal offences.
The new law would also “establish the juvenile justice system separate from the criminal justice system, with a set of officials specialised in the juvenile justice system, encompassing a Juvenile Court established at Malé City and corresponding regional divisions.” It would also require the formation of a new department of juvenile justice and detention centres within 18 months of ratification.
The government also proposed an overhaul of the 1991 child protection law. Significant changes include raising the legal age of consent for marriage to 18 years.
In accordance with Islamic sharia, the Maldives’ family law allows children under the age of 18 who have reached puberty to get married with a special permission from the family court. In 2016, the Supreme Court amended judicial rules to require the lower court to seek its approval in writing before registering marriages involving minors.
Other amendments proposed to the child protection law calls for the creation of an advisory council called Child and Family Protection Services as well as “residential facilities providing alternate care to all children in need, to be instigated in different areas of the Maldives with a list of dedicated staff.” A Children’s Ombudsman would be elected to the Human Rights Commission to monitor application of laws concerning minors.
The updated law would also prohibit passing the death penalty against a child below 15 years of age.
Lastly, the government proposed a Pesticide Act to set standards for “the import, use, production, export and proper disposal of pesticides.” The proposed law includes fines ranging between MVR5,000 and MVR100,000 (US$6,485) for non-compliance.