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One hundred days of 'Jazeera Raajje' - Part 1

Mariyam Malsa
01 May 2019, MVT 10:33
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED/ MIHAARU
Mariyam Malsa
01 May 2019, MVT 10:33

The hundred days immediately following a presidential inauguration are decisive in crafting the reputation and governing style of any democratic administration.

Without exception, the inauguration of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on November 17, 2018, marked the start of a crucial period that would set standards for the upcoming five years of his term.

On the very same day, President Solih launched an extensive 100-day agenda spanning every sector and industry, all of which contributes to the socio-economic performance of Maldives.

The detailed developmental agenda consists of 161 pledges within 23 sectors, touching upon virtually every aspect of the ordinary citizen's life.

Winning wide public acclaim, the pledges are built from demands passionately voiced over the past five years and feature deadlines spread across 30-, 60- and 90-day periods.

By April 12, which marks the new administration’s 100th day in office, several campaigns had been launched, public statements issued and bills submitted, passed and ratified. Progress reports are fastidiously reported on several ministry websites.

Hence, as of now, the burning question is whether or not the government has covered satisfactory ground in attaining the goals set out and how far the state has kept promises made to its people.

Isles of Corruption

Bringing a decisive end to corruption is perhaps the heaviest responsibility laid by the populace on the state’s shoulders. As such, the initiation of anti-corruption measures was immediate.

The Presidential Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery was established on the very first day of President Solih’s term. Tasked with investigating misuse of government funds between January 1, 2012, and November 17, 2018, the commission is currently inquiring into the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) corruption scandal. Experienced foreign lawyers are also set to aid the commission’s efforts.

January saw President Solih, Vice President Faisal Naseem, the cabinet of ministers and several other executives at the President's Office, publicising their financial statements, as part of a policy set to be implemented annually.

However, it is important to note that the thoroughness of the reports has been questioned by Transparency Maldives, and that the wording of the pledge promises that assets of those employed in state companies and independent commissions would also be revealed - a matter yet to be addressed.

As pledged, two respective bills, criminalising illicit enrichment and providing legal protection to whistleblowers, were submitted to the parliament. According to the former, if an individual’s living standards do not correlate to the income received while active as a state employee, said individual may be investigated and if found guilty, prosecuted.

In a bid to eliminate undue influence within independent organizations, the Attorney General’s Office has proposed a total of five amendments to the Human Rights Commission Act, Audit Act, Elections Commission Act and the Maldivian Civil Service Act.

President Solih fulfilled two additional pledges in February by launching a zero-tolerance for corruption campaign, unveiling an online portal platform intended to facilitate anonymous submission of complaints regarding acts of corruption. Developed by world-renowned whistleblowing software, GlobaLeaks, the platform has already received 330 issues.

In order to stomp out corruption within the expat system, several immigration-related matters including setting quotas and accepting or refunding visa depository fees were transferred to the Ministry of Economic Development. Regulations on permits for migrant workers and work visas were also reviewed to identify issues that need to be rectified.

Mid-February, the President's Office conducted an Anti-Corruption and Good Governance Programme for 120 elected and appointed state officials, fulfilling yet another pledge. A separate programme was held for cabinet ministers.

Moreover, the AG Office announced it had submitted an amendment to the Anti-Corruption Act, equalizing the culpability of individuals accepting bribes with those offering it.

Overall, the government reported a perfect score by seemingly successfully completing all ten pledges set under the drive to eliminate corruption.

Even so, considerable limitations exist to the realization of the corruption-free Maldives envisioned by the new administration. President Solih himself stated that the progress achieved by the Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery was among the aspects he was the least satisfied with.

The commission itself faces considerable obstacles including the sheer scale of the MMPRC embezzlement case and legal factors such as the stalling of the bill empowering it with investigative rights.

Courting the Courts

High on the government’s priority list, judicial reform was allotted a total of 13 pledges which were to be spearheaded mainly by the AG Office.

A committee was established at the AG Office in order to reform the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and courts. The body is tasked with reviewing legislation governing JSC, Courts, and Judges as well as recommendations presented by international partners. Afterwards, it is to revise necessary legislation to ensure that it complies with best practices and international treaties that the Maldives has committed to.

While it is known that DJA recently conducted an internal audit and forwarded two cases which surfaced to ACC, the overall audit of the judiciary remains incomplete, although there are plans to conduct such under the guidance of an internationally recognized expert.

President Solih had also pledged to free all political prisoners and review cases of such detainees and those arrested under political motivation or personal gain. Thus, a four-member committee was formed to facilitate the release of those who have been criminally charged, out of political motives.

A Presidential Action Committee was created to commence efforts to revert employment status for those unjustly sacked or transferred. So far the PAC determined that 104 out of 826 complaints it received necessitate reinstatement. An additional 169 cases are under further review.

The government also pledged to establish a system to provide housing to people who were deprived of flats as a result of corruption, as well as hold those responsible accountable for their actions. A presidential committee was established to investigate unjust and corrupt awarding practices and is currently reviewing 3,353 complaints.

A special committee at the AG Office reviewed 11 Acts passed with the sole purpose of either providing benefits or causing harm to a specific person or group. Under the directive, four Acts were revised and sent to relevant authorities for approval.

In order to restore justice to all victims of murders, abductions, incarceration, forced exile or property infringement, the Commission on Investigation of Murders and Enforced Disappearances was established. The commission recently announced that several cases had been solved. However, due to the fact that the bill which grants powers to the presidential committees has stalled in the parliament, the body’s investigative activities have too been hampered.

The two presidential commissions are leading the charge to investigate abuse of state positions to commit illegal acts, and neglect in the provision of protection and security to the people.

No public announcements have been made regarding the audit of all independent institutions. However, in a move to heighten efficiency, the AG Office has submitted bills that if passed, will grant freedoms to independent commissions allowing better pursuit of duties and eliminate opportunities for bias. Additionally, the Juvenile Justice Act was submitted to the parliament and is currently on the list of unresolved bills.

The government pledged to revise and research amendments to state expenditure through the pay commission, after which government salary structures were reviewed and proposed changes are being made with assistance from field experts.

Further, the latest update on the four cases being reviewed by the UN Working Group on Arbitration Detention, was received on December 13. The AG Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will provide updates on any further developments. The government promised to expedite the cases currently lodged at the UN Working Group on Enforced Involuntary Disappearances and the UN Human Rights Council.

The President’s Office declared that the success rate achieved during the first 100 days with regard to the judiciary was 85 percent. Considering the scale of certain pledges such as a judiciary-wide audit, the figure is perhaps understandable.

19 ways to decentralisation

Reforming the mode of governance to a more decentralised system, wherein island and city councils possess greater autonomy, is one of the government’s most anticipated promises.

Chief among the state's efforts in this regard was perhaps the restoration and extension of city council powers curtailed during the previous administration.

The renewed powers authorize councils to lease out, invest in, or own land, lagoons and reefs for economic and social purposes.

The city councils’ mandate was also extended to include leasing of land plots, registration of plots and buildings, managing mosques, road development, and maintaining records of land lease agreements, births and deaths, in addition to overseeing statistics and the registration of citizens and expatriates in the city.

Aside from naming and renaming roads, parks, registering vehicles and vessels, and any administration under their directive, the newly acquired powers also enabled city councils the authority to temporarily or permanently close down roads, parks and public squares.

Further efforts to amend the Decentralisation Act are being driven by the AG Office, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the President’s Office, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Local Government Authority.

To collect information about adequate amendments, the AG Office officially invited the public to present their opinions and hold discussions amongst representatives of government ministries, independent firms, councils and civic associations.

The launching of 'islands.mv' marked the deliverance of the pledge to place island councils in charge of managing local tourism and marketing their respective island. The portal acts as a ‘digital front office’, providing comprehensive information such as attractions and tourist facilities for interested visitors.

Against a backdrop of public criticism on deteriorating conditions, President Solih pledged to audit the prisons in Male’, Maafushi and Himmafushi. To this end, an eight-member committee was formed on December 18, 2018. The jail audit report is now successfully completed with input from relevant stakeholders and research reports previously compiled by independent institutions or UN bodies.

A notable initiative to promote representative governance was the pledge to create an independent youth council to advise and monitor youth policies. While the 15-member body is yet to be created, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment has commenced work.

Also on the list of pledges is an audit of government offices and state-run companies to increase their efficiency and fix loopholes for corruption within the system. While the audit has been completed, identification of efficiency gaps and deliberations of practical measures to overcome such issues are currently underway.

The creation of a think tank to study medicine, social issues, economy, environment and technology to boost productivity is another pledge in the area of governance reform which has yet to come to fruition.

This concludes the overview of pledges made regarding anti-corruption, judicial reforms, decentralisation and governance.

Editor's Note: To read the next portion of the ‘100 days pledges’ feature, which will expand on pledges specific to Maldivian society and various communities, and provide an overall analytical summation, please visit our website on 2nd May 2018, Thursday.

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