The Maldives' proposed new Anti Corruption Commission couldn't have come at a better time. The Corruption Perceptions Index 2008 released by Transparency International (TI) has just placed Maldives at the 115th place among 180 countries, 31 places below its 84th position last year. Can the Anti Corruption Commission turn the tide around?
The TI report comes as no surprise to ordinary Maldivians for whom it is a fact of life to see multistory buildings burgeoning around them –buildings belonging to government officials in strategic positions and senior executives of state owned companies. Such ostentation of wealth beyond all legitimate sources of income is glaringly visible to everyone except those responsible to stop it. While company after company from FPID to MNSL, and Air Maldives to Stelco and STO has been embroiled in scandal after scandal, no senior official of any of these companies have ever been held accountable. On the contrary they have got promotion after promotion ending in ministerial or diplomatic posts.
The new Anti Corruption Commission will replace the existing Anti Corruption Board, a totally discredited body. It is better known for harassing island katheebs who do not toe the line rather than any meaningful effort to stop corruption in high places.
Perhaps the Anti Corruption Commission will fare a little better, being part of an unprecedented wave of democratic reforms. A new Constitution was ratified on 7 August paving the way for multi-party elections. A Supreme Court, an Election Commission, and a Judicial Service Commission have been established.
Last week, the People's Majlis had a stormy debate on the Anti Corruption Commission Bill proposed by the Government. Members criticized the worsening corruption situation in the public sector. They expressed dismay about the lack of political will and intention on the part of the government to fight corruption. They pointed out that the government has swept several large scale corruption cases under the carpet.
The Majlis stressed the need to make the new Anti Corruption Commission powerful and independent enough to deal with the deteriorating situation. The proposed law will also give power to the Commission to investigate complaints involving members of People's Majlis (MPs) and NGOs.
Although there was some satisfaction about the new law, some MPs and ordinary citizens are still skeptical about the independence and effectiveness of the new Anti Corruption Commission in a background of increasing incidents of corruption involving high officials and politicians. The same concern was voiced regarding the Election Commission, Judicial Service Commission, and Supreme Court which they suspect have been manipulated for the benefit of the government and other political parties.
There are cases of corruption worth hundreds of millions of dollars involving high government officials and powerful politicians, which have been dropped without any action. The question is will the next president have the courage and political will to give the Anti Corruption Commission a free hand to clean the Augean stables and improve the bad image of the country as one of the most corrupt countries? The next few months will tell us.