At today’s meeting of the oversight committee – held upon request by three opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs – EC President Fuwad Thowfeek explained that the commission had to make individual requests to the Finance Ministry to pay bills and settle other expenses incurred in preparations for the polls.
“We have to do this in a very unorganised, unsystematic way,” Thowfeek said, adding that in the past the commission could “limit and plan expenses” as it was working with the full budget.
An official from the Finance Ministry told Minivan News last week that there would not be any restrictions in releasing funds if the ministry was convinced the money was required for election preparations.
While Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad was currently out of the country, Acting Minister Mohamed Saeed informed the committee that he was unable to attend today’s meeting.
Committee Chairman MDP MP Ali Waheed read out a letter from the Finance Ministry assuring MPs that the necessary funds will be provided to the commission.
Additional funds required for the polls had not yet been released because the EC has not exhausted its budget for 2014, the letter signed by Permanent Secretary Ismail Ali Manik stated.
It added that the ministry would settle bills forwarded by the EC.
Thowfeek however informed MPs that in addition to funds earmarked for political parties and employees’ wages, the commission had MVR9 million (US$583,68) left in its 2014 budget.
The total amount owed for pending bills exceeded MVR9 million, EC member Ali Mohamed Manik noted, adding that the amount was insufficient for conducting an election.
Manik said the commission did not have the funds to hire 10 temporary staff to man its 1414 number, whilst it was also unable to hire speedboats from private businesses as they were no longer willing to raise the credit limit.
The EC found itself without enough petty cash to buy water on some days, Manik added.
Thowfeek meanwhile revealed that in January a Singaporean hotel sued the Maldives High Commission over unpaid bills.
The hotel bill for election officials sent to Singapore for last year’s presidential election was later settled by the Finance Ministry, he said.
Moreover, Island Aviation refused to transport election officials and ballot boxes for January’s local council elections due to outstanding payments, Thowfeek said.
“So we had to scramble and call the Finance Ministry,” he said, adding that EC staff found it “very difficult” to contact senior officials from the ministry.
The EC’s work was “stalled” in such cases, Thowfeek said: “For example, when we couldn’t send ballot boxes to islands, we had to tell finance [ministry] and they gave an instruction to Island Aviation to raise the credit limit,” he said.
Asked by MDP MP Visam Ali if there was any guarantee that the polls could take place on March 22, Thowfeek said the EC’s preparations were presently on schedule.
“However, the suspicion or fear is that while we are working without money at hand and in the hope that the funds will be provided, the certainty that we want for our institution is a bit low,” he said.
Thowfeek told Minivan News last week that the EC has so far been able to manage expenditures with cooperation from the ministry.
“Now we are using the office budget mostly. But the Finance Ministry is releasing funds as we spend,” he said.
EC Secretary General Asim Abdul Sattar meanwhile said today that the Finance Ministry had not replied to four letters from the commission concerning its expenses.
However, Finance Minister Jihad had given verbal assurances to commission members that funds will be made available, Asim said.