Victims of corruption in the Maldives can now seek free legal assistance from experts at a new centre launched yesterday.
The “Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre” (ALAC) established by Transparency Maldives and funded by the government of Australia, will offer assistance and legal advice for both local and foreign victims of corruption in the Maldives.
Victims and witnesses of corruption can call the centre’s toll free number – (800) 300 3567 – and lodge their concerns and complaints anonymously.
The ALAC aims to provide legal assistance to victims and abolish corrupt practices in the nation through collaborations with relevant government and state institutions, private organisations and individuals and other stakeholders.
A Memorandum of Understanding has already being signed between the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the centre. Further negotiations are ongoing with 18 different organisations including the Elections Commission, Civil Court, Local Government Authority, Police Integrity Commission and Maldives Customs Service to discuss ways to collaborate in the centre.
Speaking at the ALAC launching ceremony, President of the ACC Hassan Luthfy welcomed the initiative to open the centre and called on stakeholders to lend their support to make the effort a success.
“The ACC stands to gain the most benefit from ALAC. The centre would make the commission’s work a lot more efficient,” Luthfy said.
Luthfy also expressed his satisfaction with the NGO in general adding that the ACC had received the most assistance from Transparency Maldives since the commission was formed.
Speaking at the ceremony, Executive Director of Transparency Maldives Ilham Mohamed highlighted the importance of assistance from relevant institutions in the advocacy projects currently undertaken by the NGO.
Transparency Maldives is currently in the process of formulating a new Anti-Corruption bill, Right to Information bill, Transparency in Political Party Financing bill and a bill on increasing transparency in the Decentralisation programme.
“While we are working on these bills it is very important for different people to offer their input into the process. We need more people to discuss their ideas with us, more debates on public forums or in the media. It would make the bills more complete,” said Ilham Mohamed.
The ALAC will also address issues related to labour authorities and human trafficking – one of Transparency Maldives’ “biggest concerns” at present.
Project Director of Transparency Maldives, Aiman Rasheed, said “the whole system [of expatriate labour] is just so corrupt. So we have an agreement to bring a member of staff from Transparency Bangladesh here over the next year to help us deal with complaints from Bangladeshi workers,” he said.
The Maldives rose slightly to rank 134 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2011, a mild improvement on 2010 when the Maldives was ranked 143th – below Zimbabwe.
Rasheed said at the time that the ranking could not be compared year-to-year, especially in the Maldives where there were only a three sources used to determine the index (India has six).
“Corruption in the Maldives is grand corruption, unlike neighbouring countries where much of it is petty corruption,” Rasheed said. “In the Maldives there is corruption across the judiciary, parliament and members of the executive, all of it interlinked, and a systemic failure of the systems in place to address this. That why we score so low.”
Maldivians voted in the country’s first democratic elections in 2008 bringing an end to the 30-year rule of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The first democratically elected President resigned in February following mutiny from security forces allegedly loyal to the former dictator.