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Speaker Gasim admits holding up ‘unconstitutional’ bills

The legal profession bill and presidential commissions bill remain stalled.



Speaker of Parliament Gasim Ibrahim on Saturday night defended his refusal to put government-sponsored legislation on presidential commissions and the legal profession to a vote. 

Both bills contained provisions that contravene the constitution, the Jumhooree Party leader contended at a press briefing.

The speaker was asked about President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s criticism over the failure to pass the bills despite the four-party ruling coalition’s majority.

This is not what you voted for in the presidential election. You voted for us to work together to fulfil our pledges,” Solih said Saturday on the campaign trail with Maldivian Democratic Party candidates. 

But Gasim, one of the coalition leaders, objected to granting legal powers to inquiry commissions formed by the president to recover stolen funds and find the truth behind high-profile murders and the abduction of a journalist.

“The work of every agency is consolidated [in the commissions]. But the constitution granted these powers separately. Why wasn’t police given all the powers? Why didn’t the constitution give all the powers to the Anti-Corruption Commission?” Gasim asked.

“How can we consolidate powers that is separated in the constitution in a manner that will duplicate it? That is not the spirit of the constitution.”

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.

But last month, Gasim refused to call a vote on the bill after it was tabled in the agenda for the fourth time.

Three previous attempts to put the bill to a vote were thwarted by a lack of quorum due to the absence of several JP lawmakers. MDP MP Eva Abdulla called their absence “an act of deliberate sabotage, by those with something to hide and a vested interest in covering up those past crimes.”

Speaking to the Maldives Independent, former deputy prosecutor general Hussain Shameem questioned the purported concerns over the bill’s constitutionality.

“The president has constitutional authority to mandate special inquiries to presidential commissions. Giving investigative powers to these commissions cannot be considered a violation of the constitution,” he said.

“Besides this, we have a unique situation right now with loss of public trust in the Anti-Corruption Commission and this is one of the things that people voted for in the 2018 presidential election.”

 – Legal profession bill –

At the JP press conference, Gasim also dismissed allegations by former president Mohamed Nasheed about holding up the legal services bill to protect Judicial Service Commission member Latheefa Gasim (no relation to the speaker), who was elected to the 10-member oversight body as a representative of licensed lawyers.

The bill was removed from the agenda after Latheefa objected to a provision that would remove her from the judicial watchdog body before the end of her five-year term in November.

“Even if I had a personal reason [as alleged by Nasheed] I won’t do something against the constitution,” Gasim said, declaring he would not put the bill to a vote with the “unconstitutional” provision, which calls for the Bar Association to hold a poll among lawyers to elect their representative to the JSC.

“The constitution clearly says that the term of a JSC member is five years,” Gasim continued, defending his decision to return the bill to the independent institutions oversight committee for further review.

“When it is like that, how can we change a constitutional mandate without changing the constitution.”

But Shameem – who lost the lawyer’s election to Latheefa in 2014 after judges were controversially allowed to vote – called the reason cited by the speaker “questionable and unprecedented.”

“Gasim was a lawmaker when the parliament passed a law that axed the Police Integrity Commission and Customs Integrity Commission. The parliament-appointed members of those commissions were removed mid-term at the time with the formation of the National Integrity Commission,” he noted.

Echoing Shameem’s skepticism, Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath tweeted: “As a lawmaker, if one fails to realize that by protecting the interests of a single lawyer against that of the entire legal fraternity in order to protect one’s vested interests in the judiciary proves that one is wholly devoid of any principle.”

The bill proposes the creation of a Bar Association to license lawyers and regulate the legal profession.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, who submitted the bill on behalf of the government, told Raajje TV on Saturday night that the ruling coalition’s parliamentary group has decided to amend the provision that calls for a fresh election.

The amended bill would be sent back to the floor before March 15, he added.

“We are not going to make laws targeting a person like that,” he said.