Privileged motion regarding AG Riffath throws parliament into chaos

Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath responds to the no-confidence motion against him at the parliament on June 5, 2023. (Photo/People's Majlis)

A privileged motion submitted to the Parliament accusing Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath of undermining the parliament’s powers through his written response to the no-confidence motion submitted against him prompted major disagreements among lawmakers at Tuesday’s parliamentary sitting.

The motion, submitted to the parliament by Faresmaathoda MP Hussain Mohamed Latheef, pointing out the provision in the constitution that states cabinet ministers and the president is answerable to the parliament, stressed that parliament should be able to question the attorney general on any responsibility undertaken in the capacity of a cabinet minister.

AG Riffath’s written response to the parliament underscored that a change was being brought to 12 nautical miles area off Maldives’ baseline. MP Latheef, in his motion, said Maritime Zones of Maldives Act, on the contrary, states any change to the Maldives’ maritime territory or Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) required the approval of the parliament.

“There no legal ground to attribute the state’s attorney general’s belief that the matter does not require the approval of the parliament to anything else aside from undermining the powers of the parliament,” he said. 

As per the parliamentary regulations, the motion can be separately submitted to the Privileges Committee while submitting to the floor for debate. MP Latheef said he was submitting the motion to the committee. However, Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, who was presiding over the sitting, underscored efforts to re-establish parliamentary committees remain incomplete at the moment as a result of which there is no Privileges Committee at the moment.

In the vote taken on whether to move forward with debating on the motion – the motion was rejected by the votes of 48 lawmakers. Only 20 members voted to accept the motion.

Following the vote, opposition lawmakers called to prioritize AG’s privileged motion in place of the no-confidence motion.

“The parliament’s regulations state that privileged motions must be prioritized. Therewith, as I believe, the no-confidence motion against the attorney general should not proceed in this honorable parliament before a decision is made on the privileged motion submitted to the committee,” Naifaru MP Ahmed Shiyam said.

Central Henveiru MP Ali Azim seconded MP Shiyam’s remarks. Speaker Nasheed, commenting on their sentiments, said democracy can be implemented through various stages. He added that they can only proceed with AG’s no-confidence motion after crossing the hurdles in the way.

“If you show me another route, I will walk that route. I am mandated to proceed with the no-confidence motion submitted by 13 lawmakers if they do not withdraw the motion,” he said.

Pro-government lawmakers expressed anger over the privileged motion, describing it as an attempt to stall AG’s no-confidence motion. Opposition lawmakers began shouting, when the parliament’s chair proceeded with the debate on AG’s no-confidence motion, in an attempt to disrupt the debate.

Hanimaadhoo MP Abdul Ghafoor, in response, targeted angered comments towards the speaker. He accused Nasheed of undermining the parliament’s powers. Speaker Nasheed then called for a recess.