Joint Parties Express Concern over the Subversion of Parliamentary Process in Passing the Free Trade Agreement with China; Calls on President Yameen to Suspend Implementation

The Joint Opposition expresses deep concern over the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the People’s Republic of China and the Government of Maldives, recently ratified by the People’s Majlis. The FTA was hastily and illegally rushed through the People’s Majlis, in a highly irregular manner and in clear violation of parliamentary procedures.

On 29 November, the Speaker of Parliament called for an emergency sitting, on which the only item on the Agenda was the FTA. However, three minutes after the FTA was submitted to the floor, and without any debate amongst MPs, the FTA was sent to the National Security Committee. Some MPs were not even notified of the emergency sitting, while 12 Opposition MPs were sent summons to the Criminal Court coinciding with the emergency sitting. The National Security Committee took less than 10 minutes to pass it through the Committee stage. The Committee was conducted against Parliamentary procedures and norms, with the Committee closed off to the public and media. The FTA was then taken to the floor again and approved in late- evening emergency sitting, the same day.

The Government of Maldives allowed less than one hour for the entire Parliamentary process to approve the 1000+ page document. Parliamentarians, despite requesting to view the FTA document, were denied access to it before the vote. Lawmakers were unable to fulfill our mandate of proper oversight and due diligence.

The FTA contains a number of technical details that should have been thoroughly reviewed, and required consultation with the business community.

Article 87b of the Maldives Constitution obliges the presence of majority (43 members) of the full house (85 members) for this agreement to be passed. However, the vote was conducted with only 31 members present, with 30 voting in favour, obtaining less than 35% of parliamentary support.

Moreover, since the President lost his majority in Parliament, he has resorted to increasingly unconstitutional means to ram legislation through, including stripping 12 dissenting MPs of their seats, following an egregiously flawed process. Article 78 of the Constitution states vacant seats must be filled within 60 days of them becoming vacant. But no by- elections have been held after the 60 day period has passed. Any sitting of the Parliament while seats remain vacant must therefore be considered void and unconstitutional. The composition of the Parliament for the sittings of 29 November, when the FTA was passed, was therefore unconstitutional. As such the FTA is both illegal and unconstitutional.

In the submission to Parliament, the Attorney General advised corresponding legislation for the FTA to be legally binding. The FTA therefore cannot be implemented until this legislation is passed. The legislation will also require the presence of a majority of the full house to be passed legally. Numerous votes this year have shown that President Yameen does not enjoy a majority in the People’s Majlis.

President Yameen has been embroiled in numerous, well documented corruption and money laundering scandals. Given this, the Government of Maldives’ behavior in rushing the FTA, shrouded in such secrecy, adds to public disquiet.

The Joint Opposition, including the Parliamentary majority of the 44 opposition MPs we represent, calls on the Government of Maldives to suspend the implementation of the FTA until a proper, independent feasibility study is conducted.

Given the clear subversion of the Parliamentary process in rushing the FTA through Parliament, the Joint Opposition calls on the Government of Maldives and urges China to suspend the FTA, until the public, the business community and the Parliament has received sufficient opportunity to ensure the FTA is in the best interest of the Maldivian people. This would ensure that the FTA would be duly passed and protected under the Maldivian Constitution and Laws.