The Government has read with surprise the recent Press Statement issued by the European Commission (EC) Delegation Office in Colombo regarding alleged â€śdelaysâ€ť with the ratification of the Maldivesâ€™ new Constitution.
The European Union has been a long-standing and trusted partner throughout the evolution of the Governmentâ€™s Democratic and Human Rights Reform Agenda. The relationship between the Maldives Government and the EU has been based upon dialogue and cooperation; and there is no doubt that this cooperation has made a key contribution to the major democratic strides made by the country over the past four years. With this in mind, the Government is disappointed that the EC Delegation in Colombo has decided to make an ill-informed and ill-judged public intervention at such a crucial and sensitive juncture in the Reform Agenda.
The Government fully understands the urgent need to ratify the new Constitution in order to pave the way for the countryâ€™s first multiparty presidential elections later this year. Under the current Constitution, the President has 90 days to ratify a new text. Notwithstanding, H.E. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has consistently made clear that, due to the urgency of the longer-than-expected drafting and adoption process, he will move to ratify much faster than allowed-for under the existing Constitution.
However, the President has also made clear that this urgency must be balanced against the need for legal exactitude and the protection of the public interest. The new Constitution introduces massive changes to the governance and legal infrastructure of the Maldives, and many of the laws and regulations created under the old Constitution will become obsolete upon ratification. It is imperative that this does not lead to a legal or institutional vacuum which could seriously compromise the proper functioning of the State. The decision to ratify must therefore be based on careful analysis and legal certainty. This explanation lies behind the Presidentâ€™s assertion that ratification is not a procession but a major national responsibility.
Following such an analysis, by both the Attorney-General and the Cabinet, a small number of vital preliminary steps were identified that must be undertaken before ratification in order to avoid legal and institutional uncertainty. These steps include the adoption of the Police Act by the Peopleâ€™s Majlis and the adoption of a â€ścatch-all regulationâ€ť covering all those laws and provisions â€śorphanedâ€ť by the redundancy of the old Constitution. Once these few - yet vital - steps have been taken (the Police Act was already adopted last week, while the â€ścatch-allâ€ť regulation has been drafted and is currently being scrutinised by the Peopleâ€™s Majlis), the President would be ready to ratify with the minimum of delay.
In addition, the Government would also like to bring to attention the work it has been doing to ensure that the forthcoming elections conform to international standards of freeness and fairness. The state broadcasters, Television Maldives and Voice of Maldives have, in this regard, come to agreement with all registered political parties on how airtime should be divided for purposes of political campaigning. The Ministry of Legal Reform, Information and Arts have been conducting campaigns on voter education, while a number of Non Governmental Organizations have been running their own campaigns on educating the voters on the requisites for free and fair elections.
On 24th July 2008, the Government provided detailed information on the above-mentioned arrangements and preparations for ratification, to the European Commission at its headquarters in Brussels. On that day, H.E. Dr. Mohamed Asim, the Maldives Ambassador to the EU, met with key officials responsible for the Maldives and the wider South Asian region. The Government of the Maldives finds it surprising that none of the concerns raised in the EC Delegation in Colomboâ€™s Press Statement were mentioned during the Brussels meeting.
Throughout the conception and implementation of the Reform Agenda, the Maldives Government has made every effort to keep the EU institutions fully abreast of developments, and has also sought, wherever possible, to involve the EU in the process of change. The Government therefore regrets the decision of the EC Delegation in Colombo to issue the above-mentioned Press Statement, but reaffirms our commitment to furthering our common relationship premised on open-dialogue, shared understanding, and mutual respect.