As the supreme legislative authority of Maldives, the parliament is a vital core component of our democracy. Shaping the day to day lives of ordinary citizens are the important lawmaking decisions made by elected members within the Parliament’s singular legislative chamber.
The Parliament of Maldives is referred to locally as the ‘People’s Majlis’ and as such, expectations are placed on parliamentarians to embody the ideals, ethics, and values of citizens, not only from their constituency but of the entire nation that they represent in lawmaking.
Maldives' intended course towards the democratic realisation of a future that is in line with the wants and needs of its citizens mandates civic participation. Only through active engagement can citizens elect accurate representatives to voice their concerns within the parliament, keep them accountable, and recall them if necessary.
In consideration of the upcoming parliamentary elections for the Majlis’ 19th term, scheduled to be held on April 6, the time is imminent, if not crucial, to bring to mind the performance of lawmakers in previous times.
While parliamentarians are mandated during their 5-year tenure to reflect the best of ethics, several unsavoury incidents have sparked controversy and, in some cases, doused certain lawmakers in an unmistakable stench of infamy.
Within this context, this writer will examine six parliamentarians that have added further blemishes to the already stained canvas of Maldives’ political history.
Hoarafushi constituency parliamentary member Mohamed Ismail was investigated by Maldives Police Service in April 2017 for his admission of bribery.
In 2016, during a heated exchange in the parliament, MP Ismail seemingly confessed about “carrying sacks of money” to then-opposition MPs.
“I carried and distributed the money, and they all took it”, said MP Ismail. His comments in the debate referred to the embezzlement of nearly MVR 1.3 billion in state funds from Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).
The parliamentarian confessed to not only disseminating money siphoned out of MMPRC by the then Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor but also to personally delivering the bags of money to individual lawmakers.
The MP has since claimed that he was an unaware accessory to the act, claiming, “All I know is that Adeeb handed over the money [to me]. I took the money to them [opposition MPs]. I didn’t know at all that it was state funds or anything else".
The case was handed over to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) which investigated the allegations and questioned MP Ismail. However, during the investigation, MP Ismail claimed that he was not involved and only said so in the ‘spur of the moment’.
After drawing the parliamentarian’s bank details, the commission concluded that there was insufficient evidence to link him to the embezzlement.
Former lawmaker for Huvadhoo Atoll constituency Abdulla Jabir was arrested and taken into the custody of Maldives Police Service following a drug raid that took place at Hondaidhoo, Haa Dhaalu Atoll, an uninhabited private picnic island, on November 16, 2012.
According to the police, the sting concluded with the arrest of ten people including ex-MP Jabir and former MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor. They were arrested allegedly with possession of copious amounts of alcohol and narcotic ‘Hash Oil’.
A video was released by police depicting the operation and the resultant detention of all ten suspects who were restrained in handcuffs and made to lie face down on the beach. Once the suspects were detained, police captured in their video the alcohol found on site, and began interrogation of the detainees.
Notably, a sand-faced Jabir stated his identity but refused to divulge further information by exercising his right to silence.
The Prosecutor General’s Office pressed charges against Jabir on counts of alcohol possession and for refusal to provide a urine sample to test for the presence of illegal substances.
The incident resulted in the Criminal Court sentencing Jabir to 12 months imprisonment for the charges in February 2014.
He was, however, pardoned and released from prison on July 16, 2014, just five months into his sentence, by former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom under the Clemency Act.
A photo was released depicting current Minister of Defence and at the time North Machangolhi constituency MP Mariya Ahmed Didi stepping on the most important legal contract in Maldives; the Constitution.
The incident occurred during a particularly heated parliament session on March 27, 2017, prior to a no-confidence vote that was held against then-Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Maseeh.
Minister Mariya was amongst the gaggle of opposition MPs who were attempting to obstruct the parliament sitting as it was understood that voting would be a losing battle due to being vastly outnumbered by lawmakers from the ruling party.
At the time, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had 48 MPs and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance had six MPs, in contrast with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s 21 MPs, Jumhooree Party's seven lawmakers and Adhaalath Party’s singular MP.
Although it remains a point of contention whether Minister Mariya committed the act deliberately, the incident ignited outrage as parliamentarians are expected to uphold the Constitution.
Despite heavy criticism and backlash, no actions were taken against the former parliamentarian.
She currently serves as the Minister of Defence, having championed several noteworthy causes in her time at parliament and rising through several ranks.
MP Ali Arif on December 4, 2018, advocated within the parliament for immigrant workers to be mandated to wear trackers ‘like convicts’ for the duration of their stay within the country as proof of documentation.
The parliamentarian stated his belief that the trackers would be, in his assessment, ’an easy and good’ solution that would serve to counteract the large population of undocumented foreign workers residing in the country.
The lawmaker articulated that any expatriate without the tags could be identified as unlawfully living in Maldives. MP Arif further expressed that expatriates currently living in the country be brought in and made to wear trackers.
He had asserted his opinion on the matter in the midst of parliament deliberations on the topic where many lawmakers suggested to make the immigration process of expatriates more transparent.
Parliamentarian Riyaz Rasheed attained notoriety for the many liberties he takes with regards to freedom of speech, and for incidents exhibiting what is described by many as a temperamental extreme behaviour.
An online petition launched in May 2015, amassed popular demand that the MP apologise for his discriminatory and bigoted rhetoric on social media.
The petition was made in response to MP Riyaz’s call to bar what he deemed “raajje therey meehun” (islanders), a derogatory reference made to locals hailing from islands other than the capital city of Male', from participating in the protests underway in Male' at the time.
His comments sparked outcry with detractors rising to uphold their constitutional rights to protest and travel within Maldives.
Inflammatory videos also circulated showcasing a seemingly livid MP Riyaz’s belligerent behaviour at a meeting for the Committee on Independent Institutes.
The video captured the lawmaker damaging state property by sweeping conference system units, documents and water bottles off the table, before violently hurling a chair, prompting screaming matches on the floor. He was shown approaching cameramen in a hostile manner, attempting to stop the recording before others intervened.
However, no measures were taken against MP Riyaz for damaging the property.
Amongst MP Riyaz’s other digressions, during a DhiTV interview in 2012 along with then-MP and recently sworn in Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Ahmed Mahloof, MP Riyaz made xenophobic sentiments against the Commonwealth, Queen of England, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) in reference to international pressure to hold early elections in Maldives.
He iterated in the interview, “Just like how parliamentarians can be bribed, there are those in the Commonwealth that can be bribed as well. I’m saying that the Commonwealth is bought by MDP to interfere here”.
The statement did not age well as certain parliamentarians, including MP Riyaz Rasheed himself, were implicated in the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC)’s report on the graft scandal in which MVR 1.3 billion was embezzled from Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).
According to the investigative report, USD 424,255 was deposited into Riyaz’s account through the private company, SOF Pvt Ltd.
Nonetheless, MP Riyaz has maintained his denial of having received money from SOF Pvt Ltd.
MP Ahmed Nihan committed what widely is regarded as one of the most vulgar and deplorable acts in parliament history by spitting water at opposition MP Rozaina Adam on February 24, 2016.
The incident was triggered by allegations levelled against MP Nihan by then-MDP chairperson Ali Waheed suggesting the lawmaker had benefited from siphoned state funds. Nihan denounced the claims, after which MDP MPs began heckling him.
Then, a heated exchange erupted between MP Rozaina and MP Nihan, with the latter accusing Rozaina’s father of theft from the state during his tenure in the ‘70s, to which she responded that insulting her parents would not absolve Nihan of corruption.
Upon the parliamentary secretariat disabling MP Rozaina’s mic, the MDP lawmaker advanced to MP Nihan’s desk to continue the dispute. Nihan then spat a mouthful of water at her face, prompting her to retaliate by flinging water from a bottle towards him, before walking away.
The video of MP Nihan’s degrading act surfaced online and sparked widespread outrage, with members of the public, and across the political arena all condemning the deed.
The parliamentarian claimed that the spitting was an accident caused by choking that was induced by the allegations MP Rozaina had made.
However, a video of the aftermath aired online again, which depicted MP Nihan as saying he would commit the act again.
While Maldives’ current standing in the realm of democracy remains a subjective viewpoint, scandals like the aforementioned notorious incidents are tableaus that etch an unpleasant precedent into the minds of a growingly disillusioned populace.
When the elected officials who affect entire socio-political landscape with their votes to enact, amend, revise and abolish laws, are associated with such nefariousness, it is a tainted marker of a bleak future for the entirety of the nation.
It is then an onus on the citizens to recognise the upcoming April 6 elections as an invaluable opportunity to shape the 19th term of parliament with lawmakers who, above all, befit the advancement of our country.