The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has hit out at proposed amendments to the privileges afforded to MPs, the judiciary and independent organisations, calling them irresponsible at a time of supposed national cost cutting, as well as potentially setting back social security development in the country.
In a joint statement issued with the Democracy House group, the MDN said that parliament, under Article 102 of the Constitution, needed to act responsibly in setting out state salary structures and its own allowances; a requirment the NGO claimed had not been the case in passing certain amendments in the 2011 annual budget.
“We note that the bill on parliamentary privileges has been passed in a manner that will further increase state expenses,” stated the MDN. “The bill also grants members of the People’s Majlis certain privileges in criminal matters. We note that these privileges are of a nature that are not granted to parliamentarians in other open democratic societies, and are not even granted to the President under the Maldivian legal system.”
The NGO also dismissed claims that individual MPs required additional benefits and financial remuneration to provide “welfare services” to constituents, claiming such patronage compromises democratic principles.
Speaking to Minivan News last week, both acting Finance Minister Mahmood Razee and parliamentary Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim said that the proposed hikes in parliamentary wages were still required to obtain approval from parliamentary committees and the president before being passed.
Nazim claimed that although MPs “have not taken pay increases”, parliament had considered amendments to the wage structure as part of attempts to test methods for improved “productivity” among the Majlis.
However, in figures compiled from sources including the Asian Development Bank, the CIA Fact File, the Economist magazine and official government statistics, the Maldives was found to offer a significantly higher salary for its MPs than some of its South Asian neighbours such as India and Sri Lanka combined, at least on 2009 levels of income.
Combining both base earnings and allotted allowances, the monthly salary of a Maldivian MP was said to be equivalent to US$ 7,083; well above Sri Lanka and Indian levels, which during 2009 were found to be around US$877 and US$5,966 respectively. Based on 2009 levels, both Sri Lanka and India had much higher national rates of goods and services produced – recorded as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$96.47 billion and US$3.6 trillion respectively. By comparison, the GDP of the Maldives over the same period was US$1.683bn.
In terms of MPs monthly salaries, the Maldives remained behind nations such as Singapore (US9,264), the UK (US$8,552) and Australia (US$9,687), however, the GDP of each of these nations was found to be significantly higher.
While the MDN said that it accepted some difference in the salaries and benefits afforded to state officials, was “necessary and inevitable”, the NGO claimed that economic burdens needed to be shared equally.
“It is unacceptable that this gap be widened by increasing the salaries and benefits given to high ranking state officials at a time when the average citizen faces financial difficulties,” the MDN stated.
The NGO also expressed concerns regarding the administration of social security within the country, which it said needed to be provided through fair, equitable and ultimately transparent systems rather than the private incomes of individual MPs.
Speaking to Minivan News, MDN Executive Director Ahmed Irfan claimed there was strong concern that members of the Majlis were undermining democratic principles by creating dependency among constituents for financial assistance from local MPs.
“Unfortunately, it does seem that the practice of MPs providing financial and other such support to constituents is a common and accepted practice in the Maldives,” said Irfan. “Rectifying this will require both a more robust welfare system and a change in culture and attitudes among all stakeholders.”
While praising the work of the Majlis in passing a number of “important bills” during recent sessions, Irfan said the MDN did not support proposals to extend benefits and privileges for state employees within the 2011 annual budget.
“The MDN hopes that the increase in expenditure on senior state officials will not be implemented,” he said.