Acting Director General of the Indian Council of World Affairs, Shri Sarvajeet Chakravaty.
Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here with you all today. India has always been, and always will remain the Maldives’ closest international friend. Our partnership remains rock solid.
The first of November this year will mark the 47th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. During these years, our friendship has blossomed and gone from strength to strength. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Male, the Faculty of Engineering Technology and the soon-to-be-added Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies, stand as powerful visible symbols of that friendship.
People-to-people contacts have also been strengthened, as have our economic and commercial ties. Regionally, we are close partners in SAARC and internationally, India and the Maldives work closely together, and share similar viewpoints on a range of issues. We work in many forums to tackle challenges of our time, such as climate change and poverty eradication. We have a shared commitment to addressing challenges such as ensuring better human rights and social justice for our people. We also remain committed to addressing gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Not only does the Maldives look to India for support and advice; we also look to you, the world's biggest and most vibrant democracy, for inspiration in strengthening the foundations of our young democracy. We know that whilst the road might be long and challenging, we should not despair. Your example gives us hope.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Maldives has a proud history of governance that is based on the doctrine of rule of law. The Maldives adopted a written constitution as early as 1932. Since then we have never stopped the endeavour to achieve perfection to the system of governance in the country. Our first President, Mohamed Amin Didi, attempted to modernise the system and introduced political parties. He and his experiment were short lived, however. The second President, Ibrahim Nasir also introduced several new ideas to reform the system of governance, and succeeded on many accounts. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who succeeded Ibrahim Nasir as President in 1978, introduced several initiatives to further strengthen and consolidate democracy in the Maldives. The democratic reform package that the Government announced in 2004 was the most ambitious set of policies aimed at placing the system of governance firmly on the doctrine of rule of law. These measures culminated in the adoption of a new constitution, full separation of powers, multiparty regular elections, and a free press.
Within a short space of time, with the concerted effort of all, we moved towards consolidating and building on these steps. President Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected to office in 2008, shouldered the hopes of thousands of Maldivians, to cultivate the values of liberal democracy and rule of law in the country. And the failure to nurture these values led to the events that culminated in the resignation of President Nasheed on 7 February 2012.
Those events offer a clear illustration of the perils facing new and fragile democracies. Democracy needs to be nurtured and strengthened. It does not happen overnight. The arrest of Judge Abdulla by the army, the widespread demonstrations which followed, the resignation of President Nasheed and the difficulties faced since then, have been widely covered by the Indian press and I am sure are well-known to you.
However, while these events have by-and-large been understood and described by the media and indeed by governments as overtly political in nature, I would like to argue today that they in fact stem from the lack of respect by the executive to the rule of law. My Government is firmly committed to instill respect for rule of law in the country.
It is respect for rule of law, in my view, which separates established democracies like India from young democracies like the Maldives. This is not of course to say that powerful individuals in more matured democracies always play-by-the-rules and always abide by the law. However, they do understand the primary necessity to act within the confines of the law and are aware of the consequences should they stray from it. This is very different to cases like the Maldives where there is often a sense, on the part of some politicians and others, that the law does not actually apply to them and can in fact be circumvented where necessary.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am not here today to dwell on the past, to pinpoint what went wrong, nor to apportion blame. We need to look ahead and move forward.
My Government and I wish to learn from past mistakes and to rebuild the strength and resilience of Maldives and of our new democracy through an uncompromising commitment to the rule of law.
By the end of my term in the second half of next year, it is my hope that I will have achieved two inter-related and mutually-dependent objectives.
One: To make it clear to everyone in the country without exception, that the constitution of the country is supreme and cannot be side-lined for any reason and under any circumstances, and that the laws of the land apply to all people equally and without discrimination and must be therefore respected by all.
and Two: To rebuild popular confidence in the country's democratic and legal institutions, and to demonstrate to the people that the events of February 7th do not mean that our democracy is flawed, that the design is wrong, but rather that we as politicians and people have failed to live up to the principles and ideals upon which it is based.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Since taking the oath of office of the President, as per the Constitution, I have consistently worked towards an inclusive Government and to ensure that the country remains calm, the Constitution and rule of law is upheld and that human rights are protected at all times.
Soon after becoming President, I published a document entitled: the 'Roadmap - a Possible Way Forward'. The Roadmap aims to bring together in one place, the various steps to be taken by my Government to calm the current situation, and to secure truth, accountability, and justice for recent events. It is also a framework for strengthening democracy and human rights protection in the country to ensure that such traumatic experiences are not repeated.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Building on the promises set out in the Roadmap, my Government will, over the next year, take four key steps to strengthen the rule of law in the country so that we do not repeat past mistakes but learn from them in our journey ahead.
First, as Head of State, I have personally pledged that I will maintain an unswerving commitment to the Constitution. Never again will the Constitution be treated like an à la carte menu, with some provisions preferred and others neglected. The importance of unbridled respect for the Constitution cannot be overstated. Politicians will come and go, decisions will be made, some good, some perhaps not so good, but the Constitution must and will remain supreme, setting down the unquestionable framework within which all our actions must reside.
Second, to ensure respect for rule of law in the future, we must, as a country deal effectively and transparently with the past. This means understanding exactly what happened in January and February this year, and establishing if laws were broken and by whom. At one level this involves understanding the precise facts surrounding the transfer of presidential power. But more broadly it also means holding individuals accountable for any primary or secondary laws which may have been broken in order to show that politicians, jurists, activists and party members cannot act with impunity. Rule of law is paramount in a liberal democracy.
It is with this in mind that my Government has established an independent National Commission of Inquiry to ascertain the facts behind the events leading up to and following February 7th. The Commission is mandated to get to the bottom of exactly what happened. Once they have done so, and where the Commission finds wrongdoings, the Prosecutor-General is mandated to follow-up to hold implicated individuals accountable. We are dedicated to a fair and just process of inquiry in the national interest.
I am aware of course that some international bodies have cast doubt on the make-up of the Commission of Inquiry. On this point, I would note that in setting up the NCI we took great care to ensure its full independence and impartiality in the knowledge that its findings must be accepted by all parts of society if we are to heal wounds, promote reconciliation and secure justice. Maldives values its international partners and looks forward to engaging with all continuing our role as a strong advocate of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Third, strengthening respect for rule of law does not of course only mean people abiding by the law - it also means people having confidence in and thus respecting the law and its administration. There is a need to strengthen public confidence in the law and law enforcement process and the Government is committed to facilitate and support this process. At the same time we fully respect the independence of the courts and the judiciary. The courts can be and must be the main universally respected and trusted institution to secure and maintain trust in our democracy and in our constitution.
In order to further help the judiciary as well as the police and other law enforcement agencies, in their crucial task of enforcing and ensuring respect for the law, the Government has also - in our roadmap - made clear that we will prioritize the adoption of crucial legislative Bills such as the new Penal Code, Sentencing Guidelines and Evidence Bill. These Bills will bring greater transparency, legal clarity and consistency - allowing the law to be applied in a more uniform and predictable manner.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The final key area where my Government is determined to make progress is in tackling the scourge of corruption. The Maldives' failure to tackle this problem has been one of our greatest failures. The country has, over recent years, slid down the International Corruption Index.
A climate of impunity continues to reign in which people use money to secure political influence, and then use those positions to secure further financial reward.
During the last three years, bidding and tendering processes have been side-tracked using legal loop holes, paving the way for preferential bidding. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Auditor General’s recommendations on bidding and procurement practices were rejected or were not acted upon.
This situation is crippling our democracy, meaning that political decisions and party affiliations are determined not by principle, policy or the common good, but often by personal financial considerations.
In order to deal with this problem and thus engender respect for rule of law, the Government is prioritizing a range of actions to tackle corruption.
It has established a High-Level Task Force to ensure compliance with the views and recommendations of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Auditor-General, ladies and gentlemen, and is also seeking international expert support.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, I would like to assure our many friends in India and elsewhere in the world that the Maldives is now, like you, a democracy - and it will remain a democracy. Our people and the political parties are committed to this.
Our path is clear and our determination is absolute. There can be no going back.
However, along that path it is clear that we will sometimes hit obstacles. However, it is my hope that by focusing on rule of law, by making it clear to everyone in the country that democratic rules are there to be respected, not to be bent, that we in the Maldives will overcome the many challenges that lie ahead. As John Locke argued over three hundred year ago, ‘the end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom.”