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Wednesday roundup: Chief justice challenges watchdog inquiry

A roundup of the day’s top stories.



Chief justice refuses to cooperate with watchdog inquiry

The Judicial Service Commission lacks the constitutional mandate to investigate Supreme Court justices over the top court’s decisions, Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi insisted on Wednesday, three days after the watchdog served notice of its decision to launch a probe.

The JSC could only investigate complaints of ethical misconduct, Didi contended in a press statement.

The  10-member oversight body for the judiciary launched its inquiry 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 all the cases involved judgments by the Supreme Court and the constitution does not allow a “non-judicial procedure” to review or consider the legitimacy, legality or constitutionality of such decisions, the chief justice argued. Building an ethical case based on the merits of a judicial decision was also contrary to international best practices for holding judges accountable, he added.

The chief justice accused the JSC of trying to “render the free and independent judiciary powerless, rob the judiciary of its independence, bring Maldivian courts under the power and influence of certain people, intimidate judges and bring judges under the control of certain people.” He end with an appeal to the president and relevant state bodies to stop the JSC’s “unconstitutional and unlawful actions” in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

Mocking Islam and sowing discord will not be tolerated, says president

The government will not allow insulting Islam or the use of religion to create strife and discord, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih declared on Wednesday during a visit to Hulhudheli island in Dhaalu atoll.

“In my view, the government’s highest duty is establishing peace and order. The freedom provided in the constitution will remain in the Maldives. We have not obstructed that. However, we will stop calls for unrest in the Maldives. That is not something we will allow,” he said.

“The Maldives will have Islam. Challenging and demeaning Islam, ridiculing the prophet, these aren’t things we will allow. Along with that, we will not give space to do anything to create strife and discord in the name of Islam.”

The aim of recent changes made to the anti-terror law was made to tackle the problem of Maldivians leaving to fight with militant groups in Syria, Solih continued, vowing to take action against those who recruit and encourage jihadi fighters.

“I don’t believe that any Maldivian citizen needs to go fight in Syria. That’s not something that Maldivians need to do. The wars in Syria and Afghanistan are terrorist wars,” he said.

The remarks came after religious scholars on Monday reiterated calls 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 earlier this month, prompting a criminal investigation and suspension of the rights group over “content slandering Islam and the Prophet Mohamed.”

President Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party declared on Saturday that it will not support shutting down NGOs, calling for action against both hate speech and the misuse of freedom of expression to disparage Islam.

On Tuesday, the Maldives National University reportedly urged its lecturers to stop speaking publicly about the MDN report, citing concerns shared by the government and members of the public that such talk on social media creates divisions and incites hatred. The government has instructed the university to take measures, MNU Chancellor Dr Hassan Hameed wrote in a circular sent to faculty members.

The group of scholars leading the campaign to ban MDN includes Dr Mohamed Iyaz Abdul Latheef, an assistant professor, and Sheikh Ali Zaid, a lecturer at the faculty of law and Islamic studies. Both have expressed defiance on Twitter and accused the university of threatening job security.

Prosecutor General faces impeachment

Parliament’s judiciary committee decided on Wednesday to begin impeachment proceedings to remove Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham from office.

The committee approved a proposal by MP Moosa Siraj from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party to begin the process. According to parliamentary rules, the speaker must announce the committee decision at the floor and formally task the committee with conducting an inquiry. An impeachment vote would take place after a committee report is sent to the floor for debate.

Appearing at the oversight committee in July, Bisham denied facing political influence despite the widely condemned jailing of former president Abdulla Yameen’s opponents. She denied raising charges on Yameen’s orders and defended the reversal of the prosecution’s stand in several cases after last year’s presidential election.

In the wake of Yameen’s defeat, lawmakers accused the chief prosecutor of failing to perform her duties but a no-confidence motion was later withdrawn. Despite winning a nearly three-quarters majority in April’s parliamentary elections, the MDP did not move to remove Bisham.

Parliament reverses ‘asylum ban’

Parliament on Wednesday scrapped 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.

An amendment bill was passed unanimously with 63 votes in favour.

The restriction targeted former president Mohamed Nasheed and Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim after the exiled pair secured asylum in the UK and Germany.

Along with a raft of legislation to repeal draconian laws enacted during the previous administration, the bill to abolish the asylum ban was submitted last August “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,” the president’s office said at the time.

Maldives Gas boss suspended

Shazail Shiyam, managing director of the state-owned Maldives Gas company, has been suspended over corruption allegations.

Shazail was told to stay home on Tuesday after several complaints were lodged to the whistleblower portal, president’s office spokesman Ibrahim Hood confirmed to the media, citing the president’s ‘Zero Tolerance to Corruption’ policy. There were credible accusations concerning abuse of authority, he added.

Shazail will remain suspended pending the outcome of a probe. A parliamentary oversight committee is also looking into allegations of Maldives Gas overpaying a supplier.

In a Facebook post, Shazail said he respects the government’s decision and categorically denied committing any act of corruption.

A relative of MP Saud Hussain, Shazail served as deputy minister of fisheries and agriculture as well as deputy minister of tourism during the previous administration. He was sacked in April 2017 after joining a breakaway faction of the ruling party led by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

JP leader Gasim warns against introducing minimum wage

A minimum wage of MVR8,000 (US$500) or MVR10,000 a month could destroy the economy, MP Gasim Ibrahim warned at a ceremony held on Tuesday night to welcome new members to his Jumhooree Party.

Gasim, owner of the Villa business empire and one of the richest men in the country, said a minimum wage could become “a poison” if it was not done “professionally.” Citing rumours about the government planning to set an MVR8,000 minimum wage, the MP for Maamigili contended that the amount was too high.

“If we decide to take a burden we cannot borne we will be destroyed,” he said. A minimum wage should also be uniform across all sectors, he added.

As pledged by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the government plans to introduce a minimum wage and personal income tax in 2020. Gasim also criticised the government’s proposal to exempt income below an MVR40,000 a month threshold, saying that all citizens should contribute to national development.

Crime scene fingerprint matches Yameen Rasheed murder suspect

A finger print lifted from a security camera in the stairwell of slain blogger Yameen Rasheed’s apartment building matched the defendant Ismail Haisham Rasheed, a police forensic officer testified at the criminal court on Tuesday.

Haisham and co-defendant Ahmed Zihan Ismail are accused of stabbing Yameen to death in the early hours of April 23, 2017. Their alleged co-conspirators are Ismail Rasheed, Mohamed Dhifran, Hassan Shifaz and Hussain Ziyad. The group of radicalised young men believed Yameen was guilty of insulting Islam, police said.

According to media reports of Tuesday’s hearing, Haisham’s lawyer contended that the death of his client’s brother last week could not be a coincidence. Haisham’s brother was found dead in his home but police ruled out murder as there were no injuries on the body.

Singaporean company acquires lagoon for resort development

Singapore-based Chip Eng Seng has entered into a joint venture to develop a five-star resort in a reclaimed lagoon near the capital Malé.

“The company has been keen on extending its footprint in the hospitality sector in the Maldives and has been on the lookout for a viable opportunity to own and develop its second resort. The company is of the view that the lagoon, which has a tenure of 50 years commencing from Aug 9, 2016, presents such opportunity,” Chip Eng Seng said in a filing on Monday.

Chip Eng Seng’s partner Tropical Developments is affiliated with both the current lessee of the lagoon and Maldivian company Amin Construction, which was the contractor for Chip Eng Seng’s first resort in the Maldives.

“As the company has maintained a good working relationship with Amin Construction, the company is of the view that a joint venture with Amin Construction (through TDPL) would be a complementary one,” the regulatory filing read.

The joint venture’s initial capital will fund the acquisition of leasehold rights, transfer fees and rent to the government.