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Tuesday roundup: anti-corruption watchdog probes compensation payouts

A roundup of the day’s top stories.



ACC announces probe of payouts

The Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating large sums paid out by the state as compensation for the cancellation of contracts under the previous administration.

In the first press conference since new members were appointed to the commission last month, ACC president Mariyam Shiuna said the probes were initiated by members but several complaints have also been lodged by members of the public. The watchdog has yet to take any action in relation to the cases, she added.

Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer told parliament last week that the state has paid MVR1 billion as compensation since the current administration took office last November, including a US$18 million arbitration award to NexbisUS$30 million payout ordered by Supreme Court to WLT and MVR7 million awarded by Supreme Court as damages for medical negligence.

Other cases include US$22.5 million owed to Dheebaja for the cancellation of a ferry services contract, more than MVR26 million owed to subcontractors by the dissolved Maldives Road Development Corporation, an out-of-court settlement to compensate more than 200 buyers of Sealife apartments, US$1.4 million worth of import duties reimbursed to the country’s largest tobacco seller and a US$5 million payout from the state broadcaster to a marketing company.

The housing ministry revealed last week that US$55 million has been paid as compensation to Noomadi Resorts and Residences for the cancellation of two housing projects.

An out-of-court settlement was reached after Noomadi filed two cases at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague seeking US$155 million in damages and legal costs, the statement noted. The government decided to negotiate as recommended by a ‘settlement committee’ formed to advise the president on compensation claims, it added.

The opposition has called the payouts embezzlement from public coffers, alleging the beneficiaries were linked to the ruling party. But the president blamed the former government for illegally terminating agreements, which resulted in court judgments and arbitration rulings against the state.

On Monday, the Attorney General’s office announced that the government was seeking an independent audit firm to evaluate documents and advise the settlement committee.

At Tuesday’s press briefing, ACC chief Shiuna assured that the new members would work free of undue influence and try to restore public confidence in the independent body. The former executive director of NGO Transparency Maldives acknowledged challenges in tackling the “culture of corruption” entrenched in the Maldives.

The ACC’s priorities include reviewing the legal framework, producing results from anti-corruption probes, formatting a five-year strategic action plan, conducting a corruption risk assessment and carrying out awareness raising programmes.

A table widely shared on social media.

Nasheed seeks re-election as MDP president

Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed on Tuesday morning announced his intention to seek a second term as president of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.

The former president was elected to the MDP presidency uncontested in August 2014, winning 33,709 votes from a total of 57,203 registered members. The MDP’s membership stood at 53,590 by the end of last month. The internal elections are due to take on November 22. Former MP Mohamed Shifaz, minister at the president’s office, is also seeking re-election as MDP vice president.

Along with supporters and activists, most of Nasheed’s colleagues in the MDP’s 65-member parliamentary group have declared support on social media.

Religious scholars calls on government to ban NGO

Photo from Dr Iyaz

A group of religious scholars on Monday called on the government to ban NGO Maldivian Democracy Network for “insulting Islam” in a 2016 report on radicalisation.

Local clerics launched a campaign to ban MDN after screenshots of offensive sections were widely shared on social media, prompting a criminal investigation and suspension of the rights group over “content slandering Islam and the Prophet Mohamed.”

At a press conference on Monday, Sheikh Ali Zahir argued that the NGO and the report’s authors violated the constitution and committed crimes “beyond doubt” under the associations law and religious unity law. The constitution limits free speech to expression that are “not contrary to any tenet of Islam” and the 1994 religious unity law prohibits “attempting to disrupt the religious unity of Maldivians or talking in a manner that creates religious conflict among people.”

The 2015 penal code criminalises “criticism of Islam in a public medium with the intention of causing disregard for Islam,” which is categorised as a class one misdemeanour that carries a maximum prison sentence of one year.

Sheikh Abdulla Shaudan insisted that there was no political motive behind the campaign, which brought together scholars from various associations and political backgrounds. The scholars will not speak about politicians or a particular administration, he said. Sheikh Ilyas Hussain from the Adhaalath Party said mocking of Islam and Prophet Mohamed would make any Muslim’s “blood boil” but appealed against violence.

The group urged the authorities to take immediate action against anti-Islamic activities, cooperate with efforts to uphold Islamic principles and to ban MDN as an assurance of the government’s commitment to defend Islam.

According to the scholars, the MDN report disputed the prophet’s miracles, claimed the Holy Quran and the prophet’s teachings encourage extremism and domestic violence and characterised the injunction to love the prophet as tantamount to elevating him to “demigod” status.

One of the passages that was highlighted as the most offensive concerned the Prophet’s night journey or ascension to heaven, “which according to Islamic tradition is when Prophet Muhammad took the significant journey on a steed from Mecca to Jerusalem, ascending to heaven, speaking to Allah and returning to Earth, all in one nigh,” the report stated.

It added: “In an attempt to claim that this story is not merely a fable, the book claims that the tale would stand true ‘even if subject to a contemporary scientific analysis,’ which is a highly questionable statement and does not entail such proof.”