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Tuesday roundup: transitional justice and new commercial port

A roundup of the day’s top stories.



Legislation drafted for transitional justice

The Attorney General’s office on Tuesday shared draft legislation on transitional justice with the president’s office for submission to parliament.

As pledged during President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s campaign last year, the purpose of the proposed law is to investigate “organised and systematic” violations of human rights and basic freedoms by state institutions or senior officials between January 1, 2012 and November 17, 2019 and to establish a legal framework to provide justice and redress for victims, the AG office explained.

The law would establish a transitional justice ombudsman office to investigate systematic human rights abuses committed by state officials, hold them accountable and identify the reasons, nature and scope of such actions. Based on the findings of its probes, the ombudsman office can seek criminal charges or civil litigation respectively through the Prosecutor General’s office and AG office.

Minister threatens to sue prosecutor for defamation

Science, Technology and Communications Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has threatened to sue Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham for defamation.

Citing information from a journalist about a closed-door meeting of parliament’s public accounts committee with Bisham on Monday, Maleeh said the chief prosecutor named him among the beneficiaries of the country’s biggest corruption scandal, an embezzlement scheme that saw more than US$90 million looted from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation during the previous administration.

“Could [Bisham] be naming people who haven’t even been suspected so far for misdirection? The PG shouldn’t be a spinning top,” the minister tweeted on Tuesday afternoon.

Fisheries Minister Zaha Waheed was also reportedly named by Bisham along with Youth Minister Ahmed Mahloof, who had been suspended in February over a 2014 transaction with SOF Pvt Ltd, a company that was used to siphon off the bulk of funds stolen from the MMPRC. Both ministers have denied any involvement. Mahloof’s suspension was lifted in April after the police and anti-corruption watchdog cleared the minister of involvement.

At Monday’s meeting, Bisham refused to share information with lawmakers about MMPRC-related cases, alleging that members of the oversight committee were also among the beneficiaries. She reportedly refused to provide any information until the accused lawmakers left the committee as the ongoing investigation could be compromised.

According to media reports, four lawmakers on the committee – Ibrahim Shareef from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, Ahmed Amir from the Maldives Development Alliance, Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem from the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives and Hussain Mohamed Latheef,  a former PPM MP who won re-election as an independent – are suspected of having received stolen cash.

Sitting judges and ministers were also among the beneficiaries, Bisham told the committee. It emerged on Tuesday that senior police officers suspected of involvement were placed under investigation by the professional standards command last week.

Meanwhile, at a press conference on Monday night, opposition lawmakers alleged that the government was keeping Bisham in place for politically motivated prosecutions, referring to the ruling party-dominated judiciary committee’s U-turn last week after launching an impeachment process.

US$53 million project awarded for new commercial port

A US$53 million contract was signed with Boskalis Westminster Contracting Ltd last Thursday to reclaim land in the Gulhifalhu lagoon near the capital.

Under the first phase of a project to develop a new commercial port, Boskalis was tasked with reclaiming six million cubic meters and setting up a four kilometre seawall within 180 days, the national planning and infrastructure ministry revealed on Tuesday. The Dutch dredging company reclaimed 198 hectares of land on 10 islands between 2007 and 2015, the ministry noted. It was the first company to use a trailing suction hopper for reclamation in the Maldives.

The current administration plans to relocate the commercial harbour from Malé to the reclaimed Gulhifalhu island by 2022. The strategic action plan envisions “a modern export and/or import port and logistics hub in Gulhifalhu with state-of-the-art infrastructure and superior services” as well as a light manufacturing zone.

A joint venture between Denmark’s Niras and Holland’s Maritime Transport Business Solutions was hired for US$1 million as consultants for the port development project. Work began last week. In September, Singapore’s HQ company was enlisted for US$650,000 to draw up a masterplan to redevelop Malé’s northern harbour and market area.

MP taken to hospital after incident with JP leader

Kelaa MP Ibrahim Shareef was taken to hospital on Tuesday afternoon after an incident with Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim.

Speaking at the floor, Majority Leader Ali Azim alleged that the Maldivian Democratic Party lawmaker felt faint after Gasim “attacked” him, prompting the speaker to instruct the sergeant-at-arms to attend to the matter. Shareef was taken to the nearby ADK hospital on an ambulance. 

Gasim said he accidentally hit Shareef “very softly” on the head while joking around. Shareef could have felt faint due to blood pressure or other health problems as he was not hit hard enough, the JP leader suggested.

Council president defends calls for violence

The Angolhitheemu island council president defended calls for violence during a protest march last Friday against the  alleged slander of Islam in a 2016 report by NGO Maldivian Democracy Network.

video of protesters calling for the burning of secularists and the killing of MDN executive director Shahindha Ismail was widely circulated on social media.

Council president Gasim Hussain told Sun Online on Monday that the two lead organisers of the protest insisted that their intention was not to call for anyone’s murder. “The two of them said it wasn’t something they did with that kind of thinking, that it was something they said to show displeasure, and that it caught on when a boy said it,” he was quoted as saying.

Individuals suspected of inciting violence have been summoned for questioning, police have since confirmed to the media.

At Tuesday’s sitting of parliament, Speaker Mohamed Nasheed reiterated criticism over the failure to arrest “people who authorise bloodshed, make death threats, send people to war, and organise and run branches in the Maldives of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups,” referring to revelations by a presidential inquiry commission last month that a local extremist group linked to al-Qaeda were behind the murders of a moderate scholar, a liberal blogger and abducted journalist, all three of whom were accused of apostasy and blasphemy.

The former president alleged that individuals named in the MDN report as suspected jihadi recruiters were behind the campaign to ban MDN, which he accused of sowing discord and creating unrest. The MDN report has been taken as a “weapon to attack the government,” he added.

The MDN report was universally condemned for demeaning Prophet Mohamed and action must be taken against those responsible, Nasheed said.

Ex-Islamic minister plans return to politics

Former Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed plans to return to politics after his term as advisor to the secretary-general of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation ends in December.

Dr Shaheem’s announcement in a Facebook post on Monday came after parliament launched an inquiry to determine whether he was criticising the Maldives government as instructed by the OIC. In a tweet after the speaker’s announcement, Shaheem condemned the parliament inquiry as an act of intimidation and vowed to continue speaking out against NGO Maldivian Democracy Network’s controversial report on radicalisation.

Shaheem, former president Abdulla Yameen’s running mate in last year’s elections, said he intends to work with the opposition leader and his Progressive Party of Maldives. The religious scholar denied meddling in Maldivian domestic affairs while working for the OIC. The advisor’s post does not prohibit expressing professional or academic opinions, said Shaheem, who also served as chancellor of the Islamic University of Maldives.