Wednesday roundup: Mahaz confirmed as new Supreme Court justice
A roundup of the day’s top stories.
Parliament on Wednesday confirmed President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s nomination of Drug Court Judge Mahaz Ali Zahir to the Supreme Court.
Mahaz was approved unanimously with 55 votes in favour. Some opposition lawmakers in attendance did not participate in the vote. President Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party, which controls nearly a three-quarters majority of the 87-member house, issued a three-line whip to vote for Mahaz.
A vacancy opened on the bench after parliament dismissed former justice Abdulla Didi.
The president sought the Judicial Service Commission’s advice to nominate the drug court judge last month, after which the watchdog vetted Mahaz and six applicants including former attorney general Dhiyana Saeed. President Solih nominated Mahaz and Dhiyana for parliamentary approval on October 17 after the JSC “highly recommended” the pair.
Dhiyana’s name was not put to a vote after Mahaz was approved. Her husband MP Abdulla Jabir boycotted the vote after heavily criticising the MDP over alleged violations of parliamentary procedures. The judiciary committee – which only considered whether the JSC had followed due process in its vetting – should have evaluated the nominees based on their academic qualifications, the businessman contended, accusing the ruling party of trying to bring the judiciary under its control.
Congratulations to my honourable colleague, Uz. Mahaz. I called him up a few nights ago to make sure that we stand in mutual respect and good feelings.
I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my candidacy in big and small ways. I couldn’t have pushed it this far without you
— Dhiyana 🎈?🌹 (@dhiyanasaid) October 30, 2019
Mahaz, who holds a masters degree in comparative law from Malaysia’s Islamic University, was among the first judges to be appointed to the newly-formed drug court in February 2012. Born on the island of Madaveli in Gaafu Dhaalu atoll, he previously worked at the Attorney General’s office as an assistant state attorney and at the Prosecutor General’s office as an assistant public prosecutor.
Mahaz has also published books and written numerous articles for the Maldives Law Review. In October 2015, the judicial watchdog reprimanded him over a blogpost that was deemed to have been critical of a Supreme Court ruling. But the judge vowed to continue writing academic articles on contentious legal issues.
JSC rejects ex-VP Jameel as judge’s lawyer
An investigation committee of the Judicial Service Commission on Wednesday refused to accept former vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed as Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla’s defence lawyer.
The judicial watchdog is conducting an ethics probe against three justices in light of a report that flagged 17 instances where the Supreme Court violated the constitution or usurped powers of the executive, parliament and independent bodies.
The committee rejected the lawyer on the grounds that a case filed by Jameel challenging his impeachment in July 2015 was before a Supreme Court bench that includes his client. Justice Adam Mohamed shared a copy of a letter in which he had asked to be recused from Jameel’s case but the JSC noted that constitutional cases are heard by the full bench.
The committee rescheduled the hearing for 12:30pm on Thursday after granting time to appoint different counsel. The proceedings were broadcast live at the request of the defendant.
The committee also decided to seek a separate ethics probe against Justice Adam Mohamed for communicating with a petitioner to hire him as a lawyer on a personal matter and for “deliberately entering a situation where a judge’s official duty cannot be discharged, acting in a manner that creates conflict of interest and for recusing from the official duties of a judge”.
A complaint against Jameel will also be filed with the Bar Council, the JSC said.
Tourist arrivals increase nine percent in September
Tourist arrivals in September increased nine percent compared to the same period last year, according to monthly statistics released by the tourism ministry.
Arrivals reached 1.2 million by the end of September, a 15.8 percent increase from 2018.
China remained the top source country with an 18.4 percent market share. After steadily declining since 2015, the number of Chinese holidaymakers increased 3.7 percent between January and September, reaching 230,349 visitors.
India was the second top market after arrivals more than doubled compared to 2018. Some 115,507 Indian tourists visited by the end of September. Traditional European markets Italy, Germany, UK, Russia and France made up the rest of the top ten followed by USA, Japan and Australia.
The occupancy rate was 62 percent and the average duration of stay was 6.3 days. There were ten hotels, 151 resorts, 154 safaris and 581 guesthouses on local islands in operation with a combined bed capacity in excess of 50,900.
Malé mayor denies awarding project without bidding
Malé City Mayor Shifa Mohamed has denied corruption allegations levelled by a fellow councillor about an MVR1.9 million (US$123,216) project awarded without a competitive bidding process.
Two members of the city council, including the chair of its bid committee, told the press on Sunday that construction of public toilets in the capital’s eastern corner was found to have started when three bid quotations were sent to the committee. The work started before an agreement was signed, they said.
Councillor Mohamed Fazeen posted photos of workers from Amin Construction inside the old Adi park, which remain fenced off for redevelopment with an opening date of November 11. Other work on the park was also awarded without the council’s approval, he alleged.
But the mayor claimed she unaware either that the bid committee was tasked with the work or that the project was awarded. “Isn’t it the committee that would do the awarding?” Shifa tweeted in response to Fazeen alleging at a press conference on Tuesday night that documents have been tampered with to hide the corruption.
She accused three councillors of trying to obstruct and stall the council’s work since their election and condemned efforts to bring the council into disrepute at a time when she was out of the country. The mayor was in Vietnam to attend a forum on environmentally sustainable transport when the news broke.
Both the mayor and the councillors who alleged wrongdoing are members of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, which won a majority of seats in the 2017 election.
On Wednesday morning, a team of investigators from the Anti-Corruption Commission went to the city council office unannounced to collect documents for a probe.