Finance Minister Ali Hashim failed to appear before parliament’s internal affairs committee today, after he was called to clarify the manner in which independent institutions in the Maldives are funded.
Hashim was asked to appear after institutions including the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Election Commission (EC) and the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) complained to parliament that they lacked financial independence and must “beg” for funds from the Finance Ministry.
“He left the country,” said independent MP Mohamed Nasheed, the committee’s chair. “He said he was preoccupied during the first time we set, so we sent him a formal letter rescheduling the meeting for this morning at 11:15am. He didn’t respond and we learned he had left the country.”
Nasheed said the committee had instead asked the State Finance Minister Ahmed Assad to appear, “but he said he was in another meeting. I said he should give this one priority, so he sent two junior officers.”
Nasheed said the committee had decided to invoke article 99 of the constitution and force Hashim to attend the next committee meeting after 9 January. That article allows: “the People’s Majlis or any of its committees the power to summon any person to appear before it to give evidence under oath, or produce documents.”
“If he doesn’t appear, we’ll make a report to parliament questioning his confidence,” Nasheed warned. “He’s being irresponsible and it’s so unnecessary and uncalled for.”
Hashim was unavailable when Minivan News attempted to contact him.
A question of independence
Independent institutions are currently required to seek approval from the Finance Ministry for all funding, a situation they argue undermines their ability to function independently of the executive.
“It is actually a problem,” explained Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem. “We haven’t had financial independence and we have to seek approval from the finance ministry to run programs. The money has already been budgeted and there is no need for us to be overseen by the finance ministry.”
During a meeting between the parliamentary committee and the heads of independent institutions, HRCM President Ahmed Saleem complained that the process undermined the commission’s integrity by leaving it unable to pay bills on time.
“We just got the money yesterday to pay for an invoice received two to three months ago,” he said. “This undermines our credibility.”
Saleem noted that while the PGO had yet to have a request for its money denied, the EC had not been so lucky.
“97 per cent of the finances we had allocated for training this year are still untouched and it is already December,” complained Mohamed Farooq from the EC.
“We don’t get any finance for our programs unless the Finance Ministry approves it. They are the ones who decide if we should conduct training programs.”
The prosecutor general, HRCM, EC and ACC “are all reading from the same script on this issue,” Nasheed said.
“Even when their budgets have been approved they still have to ask for permission, because the money is not physically transferred to a separate account.”
Furthermore, he said, the ministry’s decision to reduce the salaries of staff in independent institutions by 15 to 20 per cent “was made in violation of the laws used to create those institutions.”
The finance minister had previously suggested a percentage of the institution’s budgets might be made available, “but that still doesn’t solve the issue,” Nasheed argued.
“They see this as encroaching on their independence. If there is less money available then the budgets of these institutions should be subject to quarterly review and adjusted by parliament.”