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Weekend roundup: tension escalates between watchdog and Supreme Court

A roundup of the top stories over the weekend.



The judicial watchdog has warned the Supreme Court against any move to undermine or refuse to comply with recent changes made to the Judicial Service Commission Act, which brought back the Department of Judicial Administration under the  oversight body.

The DJA, which is tasked with management of the courts, was brought under the direct control of the Supreme Court in May 2014. The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party-dominated parliament amended the JSC law in late August for the department to function under the watchdog. The amendments also state that courts cannot review any disciplinary action taken against a judge by the watchdog.

The 10-member commission called an emergency meeting on Friday night upon learning that the Judicial Council formed by the Supreme Court was planning to decide either not to comply with the legal changes, refuse to accept it or undermine the revised law.

If such a decision was made, the JSC decided to launch disciplinary proceedings against judges who participated in the Judicial Council’s meeting. The Supreme Court’s secretary-general Dr Hussain Faiz told newspaper Mihaaru on Saturday that he was not informed of the meeting and was unaware of any decisions made.

Parliament’s judiciary committee also held an emergency meeting on Friday night and decided to seek information from the JSC and DJA about complaint’s concerning the Supreme Court’s alleged obstruction. Raising strong objections, opposition MP Ahmed Shiyam reportedly alleged the oversight committee was acting in violation of parliamentary rules by calling meetings based on rumours. The JSC was functioning as “a branch of the MDP,” he declared, accusing the ruling party of influencing the judiciary and seeking to intimidate judges with a verdict due next week in former president Abdulla Yameen’s money laundering trial.

The formerly inactive watchdog – which was accused of acting as a lobby group in defence of the judiciary – started probing complaints against top judges after its majority tilted in the wake of the parliamentary elections when Speaker Mohamed Nasheed and MDP MP Hisaan Hussain became members.

With its landslide victory in April’s parliamentary elections, the MDP secured well above the two-thirds majority needed to remove judges from the bench. After sacking former justice Abdulla Didi, the watchdog is now 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.

Photo from PSM of a JSC investigation committee hearing on Thursday.

MDN mocked Islam, police concludes

NGO Maldivian Democracy Network mocked Islam and Prophet Mohamed in a 2016 report on radicalisation, police concluded after an “academic research” conducted with the help of three religious scholars.

The initial findings of the research have been shared with the ministry of community empowerment, which regulates non-governmental associations. The study concluded that MDN criticised the state religion “with the intention of causing disregard for Islam,” a class one misdemeanour in the penal code that carries a maximum prison sentence of one year.

Shahindha Ismail, MDN’s executive director, contested the police conclusion. “Did you also inform the Ministry that your investigators and scholars used telepathy to determine the intention of the authors? I am particularly fascinated by it,” she tweeted.

The Maldives constitution limits free speech to expression that are “not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

Clerics have been leading a campaign to ban MDN with 140 out of 200 local councils backing the calls and protest marches on several islands for the past four weekends. In mid-October, the government suspended the NGO after the Islamic ministry asked police to investigate but the campaign continued unabated and opposition parties have seized upon the cause with protests of their own.

After Friday prayers at the Islamic centre in Malé, opposition supporters gathered outside and prayed against alleged efforts to secularise the country. The prayer was led by former state minister for home affairs Abdulla Mohamed, emulating a practice started by opposition supporters during the previous administration with weekly prayers for the release of jailed politicians.

Protest marches took place on Ihavandhoo and Kudahuvadhoo islands on Friday afternoon.

In a sermon delivered in the capital’s carnival grounds on Friday night, Sheikh Ilyas Hussain – a leader of the ruling coalition’s Adhaalath Party – expressed confidence in President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in heeding calls by religious scholars to ban MDN.

Turkey blacklisted 134 Maldivians

Turkey blacklisted 134 Maldivians and deported 25 people who were suspected of planning to join terrorist organisations in Syria, Turkish government officials told Al Jazeera.

The figures were revealed in a documentary aired by the Qatari network last week about young Maldivians who left to fight with militant groups in the war-torn Middle Eastern country. The previous administration downplayed the issue and gave lower numbers but about 200 to 250 Maldivians are estimated to have joined militant groups in Syria and Iraq. Many fighters died in battle and widowed women are seeking to return to the Maldives.

Travelling overseas to fight in a foreign war was criminalised in the 2015 anti-terrorism law but none of the suspected jihadis extradited by Turkey were convicted. On Thursday, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih declared Syria a war zone after the anti-terror law was revised in September to prohibit unsanctioned presence in a war zone. The offence carries a jail sentence of up to seven years.

National airline seeks to allay fears after Q2 losses

The state-owned Island Aviation Services is on course for a profitable year despite a net loss of MVR10 million (US$648,500) in the second quarter, manager director Mohamed Rizvi told the press on Thursday, after the poor performance was revealed in a quarterly report by the privatisation and corporatisation board.

Factors that contributed to the losses include reducing ticket prices as pledged by the president and a decline in the number of Chinese tourists, Rizvi said. The national carrier Maldivian airline also faced competition after the new Manta Air launched domestic operations in late February.

Rizvi also contested the MVR68 million 2018 Q2 profit stated in the privatisation board’s report. The figure was inaccurate as IAS also made losses during last year’s second quarter, he said, adding that reconciled figures have been shared with the finance ministry.

This year’s Q2 loss was not due to “mismanagement” as suggested in the report, he insisted. Expenses have been made to improve services and revenue will pick up during the upcoming peak season for tourism, Rizvi said.

The company’s long-term loans amounted to MVR442 million at the end of Q2, according to the report, which recommended reducing dependency on bank overdraft facilities, collecting overdue receivables, and curbing rising staff costs.

Several state-owned enterprises achieved a positive net profit growth compared to the same quarter last year. The Maldives Airports Company Ltd earned the highest net profit with MVR346 million. The government continued to finance the operations of loss-making companies such as the Public Service Media corporation and Kahdhoo Airports Company Ltd.

401 motorcycles stolen in first half of 2019

Some 401 motorcycles were reported stolen in Malé during the first six months of the year, of which 264 were recovered, police said on Thursday, warning of an alarming rise in vehicle theft.

The combined value of the stolen motorbikes was MVR21.7 million (US$1.4 million). A survey conducted by the police crime prevention and public affairs department found that 38 percent of owners bought their vehicles on instalment plans and 90 percent have not installed alarm systems.

Owners were advised to park near security cameras and to use shutter locks.

There is one motorcycle for every two residents of the capital, police officials told a parliamentary committee last month, advising that a long-term solution to traffic congestion and lack of parking spaces would need to be found before introducing public transport.

Spy camera found in Met office changing room

A spy camera was found in the changing room of the Maldives Meteorological Service’s office at the Hanimaadhoo airport in late September, police confirmed to the media on Friday.

The case is under investigation, police said. It is unclear if any suspects have been arrested so far.

Maldives to sign advertising deal with Celta Vigo

Tourism Minister in Vigo. Photo by PSM.

The tourism ministry is due to sign a three-year deal worth US$996,000 annually with Celta de Vigo to use the ‘Visit Maldives’ logo on the Spanish football club’s jersey.

The Maldives will become the official sponsor of Celta Vigo and the agreement will be signed during an international press conference on Monday, Tourism Minister Ali Waheed told the press prior to departing for Spain on Thursday night.

The Celta Vigo jersey with the Maldives logo will be unveiled at a match against Barcelona at the Nou Camp next weekend, he said, adding that the branding will also be featured in the club’s merchandise, practice kit, team bus and stadium boards.

Audit flags irregularities in loan scheme

The previous administration issued MVR35 million (US$2.2 million) in excess of the MVR50 million approved for its ‘Get Set’ youth entrepreneurship loan scheme, a 2016 audit of the economic development ministry has found.

The audit also flagged the disbursement of MVR3 million as second tranches in violation of rules that required the submission of expense records and status reports from monitors.

On Twitter over the weekend