Fisheries Ministry asks Majlis committee to determine if fuel subsidy is fundamental right

Parliament’s Finance Committee has decided to summon officials from the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture to a meeting on Wednesday over issuing MVR 100 million (US$6.4 million) allocated as fuel subsidies for fishermen in the 2012 budget, after the ministry asked the committee to determine if the subsidy could be considered a fundamental right.

The Finance Committee on October 17 approved guidelines for providing the fuel subsidy directly to boat owners and informed the Fisheries Ministry of the decision.

However, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim questioned the legality of issuing the subsidy, suggesting that it could be in violation of the Public Finance Act.

Under amendments brought to the Public Finance Act in 2010, “any relief, benefit or subsidy by the state” must be given in accordance with laws passed by the People’s Majlis.

The ruling coalition has sought to reverse the changes voted through while in opposition.

Fisheries Minister Ahmed Shafeeu told local media last week that the subsidies could not be released until the legal issue was resolved but expressed hope that it could be done before Thursday (November 15), leaving one and a half months for the ministry to release funds to 1,053 vessels registered for the subsidy.

Following legal advice from the Attorney General, the Fisheries Ministry asked the Finance Committee to determine if the fuel subsidy could be considered a fundamental or basic right.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor had advised the ministry that the subsidy could be issued without specific enabling legislation if the financial assistance to fishermen was considered a fundamental right.

Azima told newspaper Haveeru that in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling, the subsidy could be issued without a specific law if it is deemed a fundamental right.

At today’s meeting of the Finance Committee, Parliamentary Group Leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), MP Abdulla Yameen, reportedly insisted that a law would be needed to issue the subsidy.

Dhivehi Rayyithung Party (DRP) MP Visam Ali meanwhile suggested that the Fisheries Ministry should consult with the Attorney General’s Office to determine if the fuel subsidy was a fundamental right.