Majlis Members affiliated to Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and People's Alliance (PA) on 22nd October filed a motion against Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, accusing him of political partiality in publishing the President's Office Audit Report. As of now it is unclear whether this motion is tantamount to formal impeachment proceedings. That the first ever independent Auditor General of Maldives should face impeachment (if it comes to that) barely 10 months into office, raises eyebrows for several reasons.
First, impeachment of Auditor Generals and their removal from office are rare occurrences in established democracies. The point here is Auditor General's are not replaced with each change of government or shift in Parliamentary balance. Dismissal of the Maldives Auditor General under the current circumstances could establish a precedent that could undermine the independence of not just the Auditor General, but all the 7 independent institutions included in the Constitution – institutions whose independence and impartiality are essential to maintain accountability and checks and balances.
Second, even in cases where Auditor General's have been impeached in the recent past, the proceedings were prompted by well documented misconduct or incompetence. For example, when in December 2007, Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly (SSLA) passed a vote of no confidence in Auditor General Barnaba Majok Barnabas, it was prompted by proof of massive embezzling of public funds and failure to deliver service in auditing government accounts.
The procedure laid down in the Constitution of Maldives appears to be in line with the two points described above. While Article 218 gives power to the Majlis to dismiss the Auditor General, it also limits the grounds on which Majlis can do so. The Article reads:
"The Auditor General shall be removed from office only for the reasons specified in article (a) and in the manner specified in article (b):
(a) On the ground of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence; and
(b) a finding to that effect by a committee of the People's Majlis, pursuant to article (a) and upon the approval of such finding by the People's Majlis by a majority of those present and voting, calling for the Auditor General's removal from office, the Auditor General shall be deemed removed from office."
Coming to the 3 reasons mentioned in (a), incapacity can certainly be ruled out because Naeem appears healthy and energetic. Incompetence can also be ruled out because of the following reasons:
Naeem has impressive academic qualifications and an impeccable international resume. In fact, when on 5 December 2007 the Majlis ratified his nomination, the decision was met with rare and near unanimous public acclaim. Soon after assuming office, Naeem managed to do the impossible by galvanizing a lackluster Audit Office into a vibrant professional team –a feat that raised Naeem's esteem in the public eye by a further few notches.
Thus, through elimination we can safely assume that the basis of the no-confidence motion is misconduct. The exact meaning of misconduct (which probably includes the concept of 'betrayal of public trust' or violation of the oath of office) is not defined in the constitution. The Drafting Committee of the Constitution put impeachment into the hands of the legislative branch and transformed it from a matter of legal definition to a matter of political judgment. Hence, the definition of 'impeachable misconduct' depends on what the majority of the Majlis considers it to be at a given moment in history. Let us then look at some of the issues now before the Majlis.
PA Majlis Member Ahmed Zubair and DRP Member Abdul Rasheed Nafiz have told the media some of the reasons for tabling the motion against Auditor General Naeem. They include:
- Publishing President's Office Audit Report without following the procedures that require audit reports to be submitted to the Financial Committee of the Majlis before publishing.
- The hurried timing of publishing of President's Office Audit Report within 36 hours of the October 8 Election, which raises questions on Naeem's professionalism.
- Unacceptability of some of the findings included in the report.
The Auditor General's report sheds light on loans disbursed by the President's Office, expenses of President's local and international travel, Hill and Norlton project, Project Druid, and promotions given to government officials. The report says there were a number of discrepancies in these expenditures.
The unfolding drama brings to mind a feeling of déjà vu going back to the days of the Motorboat Uprising, the forgettable day in November 1934 when the first Constitution of the Maldives was torn away by a Palace inspired mob. Clearly in 1934 the Palace and the mob were not ready for a constitution. In 2008 are we ready for independent institutions?