MDP says poorly prioritised 2015 education budget will lead to corruption

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said that the poorly prioritised education sector of the 2015 state budget is structured in a way which will eventually lead to corruption.

While speaking at a press conference, MDP education and training committee chair and former education minister Dr Musthafa Luthfee criticised the allocation of a large budget to the education ministry without proper planning.

“A lot of money from the budget has been allotted to the education ministry,” claimed Dr Luthfee. “This includes the salaries of eight new political figures to be hired to the ministry bringing the total of political figures to 20.”

MDP’s budget review committee earlier this week previously accused the 2015 state budget of being ‘aimless’ and criticised it heavily for not being goal-oriented.

The record MVR 24.3 billion (US$ 1.58 billion) proposed budget for 2015 is currently at the committee stage in the Majlis, where today’s session was held behind closed doors for the first time in the legislature’s history.

Dr Luthfee today claimed that the education budget of MVR2.45 billion (US$ 160 million) had no connection whatsoever to the government’s manifesto which had promised to bring ‘innovative’ changes to the sector in the upcoming year.

Education minister Dr Aishath Shiham last week said “significant changes” had been brought to the education sector during the first year of the current administration, including introduction of Quran as a subject for grades one to seven, Arabic language in 20 schools, and vocational training.

A volunteerism programme and a new “vocational education stream” would also form a major part of next year’s plans for the sector, she added.

Malé City Council Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed – herself a former minister of education – alleged that the government had not budgeted the required MVR532 million (US$34.5 million) needed to raise the salaries of teachers despite promises made by both President Abdulla Yameen and Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) has threatened to stop work numerous times this year, demanding the government to reform the education system and to settle the pay discrepancies.

After a full strike appeared inevitable in September, discussions with the government appeared to have gained results, with TAM expressing confidence that the president was attending to the issue.

The MDP education committee also expressed concern over the MVR481 million (US$31.25 million) increase in the recurrent expenditure of the ministry while questioning the need for 2,159 new staff to be hired under the ministry.

“Current teacher to student ratio stands at 1 to 9. We don’t understand the need to increase the number of teachers while the current teachers are not getting proper pay and the schools are in need of new facilities,” said Shifa.

The government currently employs just under 25,000 civil servants, representing over seven percent of the population. Finance minister Abdulla Jihad told the public accounts committee last month that government would freeze recruitment for 2015 in a bid to control spending.

Shifa today commented on the lack of allocated funds for the government’s promises to provide Arabic language as an additional subject in all schools and to ensure that Quran education is included in all stages of education.

The education committee’s vice-chair, Shaifa Zuabir expressed the committee’s concern over promises to make the Maldives Polytechnic a central hub in training the 95,000 individuals who are to be provided with employment during President Yameen’s government.

“95,000 individuals are to be trained from Maldives Polytechnic,” said Shaifa. “Yet we see the Government has only assigned a mere MVR 13.4 million (US$ 870,000) to Maldives Polytechnic.”

MDP Vice-Chair Ahmed Ali Niyaz claimed the 2015 budget is not different from those during former president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom while stating the budget ‘serves for administrative purposes alone