MPs “have not taken pay increases”, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim has said, despite the Rf20,000 wage hikes for MPs included in the 2011 state budget approved yesterday.
Deputy Speaker Nazim said the proposed wage hikes must receive additional approval by the Majlis before they can take effect.
Despite “cross party support” for budgetary amendments allowing additional MP privileges like salary increases, he said, no wage hikes have actually been approved. Nazim anticipates that the proposals, considered a possible means of improving parliament’s “productivity”, would come under review in March after the recess.
The claims were made at the first session of the Mjalis since it passed the 2011 state budget. It opened to chants of “We need cash” from protesters gathered near the parliament building, angry over the salary amendments passed as part of a budget said to be aimed at cost-cutting.
However, acting Finance Minister Mahmood Razee said he believed the budget had been passed relatively well. He added that any amendments such as those suggested for MPs’ salaries – passed yesterday by a majority of members – would still ultimately require presidential approval.
In addition, the acting Finance Minister said, all amendments would ideally fulfil the commitment to keep the budget at about Rf12.37bn for the year ahead.
These commitments are also focused on trying to ensure a budget deficit of around 16 per cent, which has been sought in an attempt to appease institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which suspended finance to the country earlier this year over concerns about it living beyond its means.
However, Nazim, who also serves as Deputy Leader of the opposition People’s Alliance (PA) party, rebuked the optimism shown by the acting finance Minister. He added that concerns remained among some “opposition and independent MPs” over a lack of detail in the budget, such as in the funding of enterprises like the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC).
Addressing the topic of MPs salaries outlined under amendments to parliamentary privileges, Nazim claimed the salaries were not solely a “money issue”, but were also part of an attempt to test methods for improved “productivity” among the Majlis.
“The amendments were not to do with spending cuts, the salary structures have been amended as part of measures to increase productivity among members, which will be reviewed by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee,” he said. “The figure of Rf20,000 is an upper ceiling level that parliament will look to see whether it can be increased, it doesn’t mean anything has been passed.”
“We are not taking a pay rise,” Nazim added.
In looking at the wider budget, Nazim stressed that there remained concerns among some MPs over a number of proposed amendments to the budget, such as those concerning MNBC, that had been dismissed by Parliamentary speaker Abdullah Shahid as “not in the budget”.
Citing the 2010 budget that he claimed had not outlined funding for the MNBC, Nazim said the government still provided a total of Rf54m for monthly salaries to the broadcaster, which had not been accounted for once again in the latest state finances.
The Deputy Speaker also noted that the state-owned Maldives National Shipping Limited, which had required Rf84 million from the government’s contingency budget in 2009 had also required another Rf48 million so far this year.
In light of the recent privatisation agreement with Indian infrastructure group GMR to manage Male’ International Airport, Nazim asked why the government had “not sold off” the shipping enterprise to aid finances.
“The government refused to give this contingency budget out before it was brought to the Majlis,” he said. “They have not cooperated with parliament. Though there have been improvements since the acting [Finance] Minister came in, we still believe there has been systematic abuse of the system.”
From a government perspective, Acting Finance Minister Razee claimed that he believed budget discussions had “actually gone quite well”.
He said the approved budget was within the Rf12.37bn first projected earlier this month, but amendments would require it to “take some funds from existing programmes” so they could be invested elsewhere.
Razee said he remained hopeful that the funding would not significantly impact the proposed target for an annual budget deficit of 16 per cent.
However, he conceded that possible amendments to programmes within the budget could yet “be more significant” in terms of their financial impact than anticipated.
When asked if passing proposed amendments to parliamentary privileges such as increased wages for MPs was a failure for a budget aimed at cost reduction, Razee said that the proposals were not part of the government’s original plan.
“These [privileges] were amendments to existing bills,” he said. “Obviously, these amendments that have been provided would have to be approved by the president, who would decide if there was enough revenue to support such an increase.”
Razee added that he did not have the figures on the exact numbers of MPs and party members who had voted to approve the amendments that included the privileges, though he confirmed they “had been passed by the majority”.
“I can’t say why people voted for it, the amendments had included allowances to independent institutions so perhaps they were confused,” he claimed.