Trading in Influence: Now an Offence

It is widely believed that the Maldives is for all practical purposes, a network society. In this country, one’s network matters. His connections matter. 

Being part of a network is not bad in itself. However, using that network to obtain favors through government agencies or companies may now be considered as “peddling in influence” or “trading in influence”. 

It is said that influence peddling thrives and prospers in a cultural mindset that largely believes in the power of a network society. Actually on good reason, it is a widely believed that nothing can get done in the Maldives unless you have a contact in a government agency. It is equally well believed that it would be easier to get things done if there is a friend in that agency. If there is no friend, the next step would naturally be to find a friend of a friend. That is a key characteristic of a network society. It sits so well within the corporate psyche in the Maldives. 

It is not totally wrong to say that over the years, this has metastasized in to a full-fledged industry – an informal and an unorganized industry – but still, a formidable industry of connections, networks and influence. 

Ladies and gentleman. You may now want to exercise caution in view of recent changes in Maldives law. 

Trading in influence is now a criminal offence in the Maldives. The offence has been introduced into the Maldives Penal Code on 6 May 2021. This is the first time the offence is recognized in its own right in Maldives law. The offence was created when Law Number 4/2021 was signed into law.

In the simplest of terms, here we unpack the elements of the offence.

If person X gives, offers or promises a benefit to a public official Y (or any other person – perhaps a middleman) – whether directly or indirectly; and

If public official Y (ab)uses their position of power or influence within government to facilitate an undue advantage for person X (or another person);

and the undue advantage is connected to that benefit; 

the act becomes criminal and an offence is committed. 

The offence (contained in article 518 of the Maldives Penal Code) is graded as a class 3 felony. That means the offence may in aggravating circumstances attract imprisonment between 3-8 years. Conversely, if there are mitigating factors, the penalty may even be reduced to some 9 months in jail. 

A public official is defined to include anyone elected or appointed (on a permanent, temporary or contractual position from any of the three branches of government – independent institutions or positions – regulatory bodies or statutory bodies – state owned enterprises) who is remunerated through state funds. 

Trading in influence is not only an offence under the Penal Code. But by reason of another amendment to the Anti-Corruption Act, the same offence has now been incorporated into the list of corruption offences under that Act as well. This is found in section 23 of the Anti-Corruption Act (as amended by the Second Amendment to the Anti-Corruption Act). 

This offence is largely borrowed from and is consistent with article 18 of the UN Convention Against Corruption. 

By MN 

Photo: Courtesy Mihaaru