Our institutions are too far behind

While both sides of the political sphere celebrate the recent Supreme Court decision as a victory, the country should still be holding independent institutions to task.

Source: Ekaterina Bolovtsova - Pexels (website)

Source: Ekaterina Bolovtsova - Pexels (website)

The acquittal of former president Abdulla Yameen by the Supreme Court is being rightly celebrated as a win for the Maldives’ Judicial System. The Supreme Court, devoid of political influence and partisanship, chose not to uphold the conviction handed down by the lower courts based on procedural issues that, according to the apex court, fail to establish the former president’s guilt.

While the opposition celebrated this win, citing victory against a politically biased system heavy with government influence, sections of those in power with great opinion reinforcing prowess, validated the decision as emblematic of the recent independence of the courts due to their “reforms.” The only sense of loss was felt by the larger public, with those having minimal or no party alliances, feeling left out in the cold — the singular case that amounted to anything as regards to an attempt in delivering justice in the MMPRC case, in their opinion, had come to a grinding halt.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the justice system considering the case taken up against Yameen amounted to, a now seemingly botched attempt at recovering, a mere USD1 million out of a staggering USD78 million.

It would appear that the state has provided a measure of immunity to the perpetrators responsible for syphoning 100 percent of the monies out of MMPRC, and thus the state, in order to go after a mere fraction of the money banked by Yameen — which state authorities had not, according to the Supreme Court, tied back to the former president in a manner that was legally conclusive. The state relied on tainted testimony to make the case and had not done enough in terms of supplying the proper evidentiary links to make the case stick.

So while the larger, political, takeaway might be that “the system is working” and thus “there is nothing more to see here”, this turn of events speak to a larger failing within the court systems and other parallel, and ancillary, agencies. It would appear that building a proper case has gotten lost in the rush to build a case at a moment's notice — a rush brought on by political desire more than the need for justice and the recovery of millions upon millions of state funds. The investigating authorities clearly have not done their part, nor have the prosecuting agency theirs. It is clear now — unsurprising to many and emblematic of the Maldives still languishing, one and a half decades later, in the “fledging” democracy category — that “i”s were left un-dotted; and “t”s uncrossed. The much needed discipline and professionalism remains stifled, perhaps held hostage by political ambition somewhere since the late 2000s; the appearance of high-flying propriety taking precedence over conscientious effort and dedication devoid of political, and personal, bias.

For ages now, the investigative arms and the prosecuting arms seem locked in battle over not just mandates but who is to blame and who does what. Where when prosecutors have asked investigators for more robust work, the latter have publicly rebelled, on more than one occasion, citing their work as airtight. Where prosecutors have been happy with cases brought to them they have, again publicly, failed several times in their duties to diligently and professionally progress matters through the Maldives’ Judicial System.

Sadly this seems to be the case all around and not just limited to independent agencies within the justice sphere. Any and all independent agencies seem to operate with impunity as regards to their jurisdictions, routinely stepping outside their bounds to achieve objectives and at times even being celebrated for “going the extra mile” by politicians and the public alike. There seem to be no safeguards in place for when watchdogs and other agencies go off the rails. They cannot be brought in front of tribunals or the courts by the public as to do so would require either political will or deep pockets, none of which are at the disposal of the average citizen. This needs to end. Established mechanisms need to be strengthened, not by laying to waste the capital of political rivals but by strengthening professionalism and codes of conduct, and procedure.

As for the courts being celebrated, this too needs to be short-lived. While the Supreme Court decision may be without bias, one has to question why no lower court caught the lapses that the apex court brought into question — and why this remains to be the case in other convictions as well.

The state also needs to address more equitably why some “criminals” undergoing judicial proceedings are given more freedom than others — Yameen was in house arrest for the latter period of his trial while other respondents, and witnesses, with criminal cases pending have been under house arrest for longer. On the other hand the “average criminal” does not have the option of house arrest; certainly they do not have it proactively offered to them by the state.

Overall this victory for Yameen, and vindication of the Solih Administration, is properly neither. Significantly, more work is needed to reform and advance, not just our judicial institutions but, all agencies that guard our democracy.

Sadly our politics seems to have devolved into a virus that continues to infect our democratic foundations with a corrosive bias that years, even decades, of inoculation might not remedy.

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