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Thursday roundup: U-turn on impeachment of chief prosecutor

A roundup of the day’s top stories.



Committee reverses decision to impeach chief prosecutor

Parliament’s judiciary committee on Thursday voted to revoke its decision from the previous day to begin impeachment proceedings for dismissing Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham.

According to media reports, MP Jeehan Mahmood proposed annulling the decision on the grounds that it was pushed through in violation of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s rules, which requires its parliamentary group to vote on such decisions.

MDP MP Moosa Siraj, whose proposal to launch an impeachment inquiry was passed on Wednesday, was reportedly absent from Thursday’s meeting.

The ruling party controls nearly a three-quarters majority of the 87-member house.

Trees removed en masse for unauthorised project

The Environment Protection Agency is investigating the mass removal of trees from Baarah island in the northernmost Haa Alif atoll.

The EPA previously said the trees were uprooted with permission after an environment impact assessment was conducted for water and sewerage projects. But the infrastructure ministry has since informed the agency that it has not authorised the Baarah island council to carry out the projects, EPA Director General Dr Ibrahim Mohamed told newspaper Mihaaru on Thursday. The council has been asked to provide an explanation, he added.

But council president Asif Abdulla insisted that the projects had been authorised. The contractor carrying out the projects was hired by the government, he said. The trees were removed in line with the environment impact assessment report, he added, which estimated that more than 700 trees would need to be removed.

Hundreds of trees have reportedly been transported out of Baarah recently for the landscaping of new resorts, an increasing common practice that environmental activists have dubbed #MvTreeGrab. Environmentalists have expressed concern over the removal of trees from Baarah island’s beach, which serves as natural coastal defence system.

Former justice on trial for phone credit transfer

Former Supreme Court justice Ali Hameed appeared at the criminal court on Thursday on charges raised over the transfer of MVR2,223 (US$144) from an office phone to family members in 2010.

Hameed told the court that he had mistakenly transferred credit to his children while the Supreme Court phone’s SIM card was inside his personal phone, according to media reports about Thursday’s hearing. Hameed also said he reimbursed the court upon learning of the mistake.

Hameed – who was arrested during a state of emergency in February 2018 after the Supreme Court ordered the release of jailed politicians and convicted of influencing official conduct – completed serving his prison term in mid-September. Along with former chief justice Abdulla Saeed and other high-profile prisoners, Hameed was transferred to house arrest to serve the sentence shortly after President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih assumed office last November.

Chief justice under investigation for defying watchdog

The Judicial Service Commission has placed Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi under investigation for refusing to cooperate with an ethics probe launched by the watchdog.

Didi refused to appear for questioning and released a statement contending that the oversight body lacks the jurisdiction to investigate cases related to Supreme Court decisions. In a press brief about its meeting on Wednesday, the JSC said it considered Didi “making public false claims about a case under investigation by this commission as an act to obstruct the commission’s constitutional duties and exert influence over the case under investigation.”

Didi also refused to accept a censure letter sent by the JSC after completing a separate ethics probe, it added.

The JSC launched a new probe last week in light of a report compiled in August that flagged 17 instances where the Supreme Court violated the constitution or usurped the powers of the executive, parliament and independent state institutions. But the constitution does not allow a “non-judicial procedure” to review or consider the legitimacy of court judgments, the chief justice argued.

In late August, parliament sacked a Supreme Court justice for the first time as recommended by the JSC after a probe into ethical misconduct.

Government taking over judiciary, alleges opposition

The opposition coalition accused the government of politicising the judiciary and exerting undue influence over judges.

At a press conference on Wednesday night, MP Mohamed Saeed said the Judicial Service Commission’s ethics probes was part of the Maldivian Democratic Party’s plans to remove judges with Islamic sharia backgrounds and replace them with new judges who would do the ruling party’s bidding.

“The PPM Progressive Coalition will not stand by when the country falls into this state,” the former economic development minister declared. The opposition will hold the government accountable despite its small minority in parliament, he added.

Mohamed Hussain Shareef, deputy leader of the People’s National Congress, backed the chief justice’s stance that the judicial watchdog could not probe cases related to Supreme Court decisions. The government’s was plotting to erase Islamic sharia and introduce “Western principles” in the guise of judicial reform, he alleged.

President pledges to develop Kudahuvadhoo as urban centre

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Wednesday night pledged to develop Kudahuvadhoo as an urban centre as part of the government’s plans to develop five regional hubs.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the Dhaalu atoll hospital on the island, the president said plans for the island include upgrading the hospital and school, building roads and housing units as well as developing a ferry terminal and fish market. Funds will be allocated in next year’s budget for most of the projects, he added.

Solih acknowledged the lack of resources at atoll hospitals and pledged to provide facilities, hire more doctors and nurses, and resolve difficulties faced in transferring patients to the capital Malé.

Non-communicable diseases are now the most common cause of death for Maldivians, he observed, calling for a collective effort to reduce the rates of cancer and stroke as well as heart, lung and kidney diseases. “Smoking is a huge challenge in improving public health. It is a huge risk. We need to stand up against that risk. I believe that hospitals such as these can play a pivotal role in that,” he sad.

Ahead of his return to Malé on Thursday morning, President Solih inaugurated dental services at the Dhaalu atoll hospital. ” With the inauguration of dental services, the hospital now offers general medicine and various specialised services including gynaecology, paediatrics, anesthesiology and surgery,” the president’s office said.

Anti-corruption NGO calls for accountability over compensation payouts

A table widely shared on social media.

The local chapter of Transparency International has called for accountability and justice after the state paid out more than MVR1 billion (US$65 million) as compensation for the cancellation of contracts under the previous administration.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, the NGO called on the government to “increase transparency of the Alternate Dispute Resolution Committee, increase accountability of the Alternate Dispute Resolution process, proactively disclose the measures that will be enacted to ensure that public funds are never wasted again, and bring those who’s actions resulted in the wastage of millions to justice.”

The opposition has called the payouts embezzlement from public coffers, alleging the beneficiaries were linked to the ruling party.