MP allowance debacle “not a mix-up”: State Finance Minister

The Finance Ministry today rejected implications that yesterday’s release and recall of the controversial Rf20,000-a-month committee allowances against a court injunction was a mistake which had caused confusion in the government.

“I don’t think it’s a mix-up,” said State Minister of Finance Ahmed Assad today. Assad was unclear about the court injunction.

“Releasing that sort of money is not a big procedure, I think this is just people trying to follow the general rules and experiencing an administrative error,” he said.

Assad didn’t believe anyone deserved blame, and said that “if anything, it is the ministry at large that was at fault.”

Local daily Haveeru yesterday reported that the allowances had been issued “by mistake.”

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz had not responded to Minivan inquiries at time of press.

The court injunction, which was issued on September 26, ordered the Finance Ministry not to release funds for the committee allowance until the court rules on a case filed on behalf of a civil servant, contending that the allowance could not be given before deducted amounts from civil servants salaries were paid back.

The injunction has since been appealed by the Attorney General’s Office at the High Court, which is due to hold a first hearing on Sunday.

Parliamentary privileges

Meanwhile parliament yesterday debated a motion without notice proposed by Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed claiming that a civic action campaign launched by concerned citizens in late August violated MPs’ special privileges.

MDP MP Ahmed Easa told Minivan News yesterday that colleagues had said the allowance was being released to the parliament secretariat, but he was told that it had been held back by the Minister of Finance.

“I don’t think there was any wording, anything in what the court said indicating that they couldn’t release the money,” said Easa. “But no money has been going in to my account today, I can tell you that.”

Easa elaborated on the allowance, saying that the amount of staffing support and allowances other government branches received justified MPs accepting the proposed allowance.

“The MP point of view is that some of the independent wages and allowances are greater than MPs. The MPs are expected to do research and other duties, but we don’t have an office, a supporting staff, a phone allowance, a travel stipend to visit constituents or other things to support our work. Seven percent of our salary is taken out for a pension fund, and Male’ is an expensive place to live,” said Easa.

Easa said he will accept the allowance, but pointed out that he had always objected to it in parliament on the grounds that all payrolls should be streamlined.

“But if these other government groups are taking an allowance, why not the MPs? This is a democracy, so I always respect the majority decision.”

Lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh, one of two lawyers involved in the civil case, argued that the number of people benefiting from the allowance does not justify the sum released, which amounts to Rf18 million (US$1.1 million).

“It’s greed. Just greed,” Shafaz said. “MPs and higher-ups in the government are probably more aware of their own power than they should be. The thinking behind this goes against everything we know.”

Shafaz suggested the government consider other options, such as releasing the allowance in installments to lighten the burden on the state budget and other subsidiaries.

“But I’m not sure how much political will there is to do this. Everyone says the allowance is a good idea.”

Civil society

Although members of the civil sector earlier issued a statement objecting to the allowance, which they called “a gross injustice to the Maldivian people,” they have not articulated an official position on the issue of late.

Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) Director Fathimath Ibrahim Didi said that individuals in the organization were involved at the beginning, but that they did not represent MDN.

“Now, I think there may be a group working against the allowance, but it is loosely formed involving people from NGOs, lawyers and individuals,” she said.

Transparency Director Ilham Mohamed told Minivan News that a volunteer team was addressing the matter, but that large protests had not been organized among local non-government organizations (NGOs).

“I believe there may be sporadic gatherings in different places,” said Mohamed. “I do know that the NGOs that were involved in the original statement opposing the MP allowance are unified on this issue.”

“Symbolic”

The decision to approve the Rf20,000 (US$1200) monthly allowances in December 2010 was met with  protests and widespread public indignation. However in June this year, parliament rejected a resolution proposed by opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf to scrap the allowance.

Meanwhile the current civic action campaign was prompted by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) deciding in late August to to issue a lump sum of Rf140,000 (US$9,000) as committee allowance back pay for January through July this year.

Article 102 of the constitution states that parliament shall determine the salaries and allowances of the President, Vice President, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, members of the Judiciary, and members of the independent institutions.

The Rf20,000 allowance was initially approved on December 28, 2010 as part of a revised pay scheme recommended by the PAC.

During yesterday’s debate on a privileges motion regarding the anti-committee allowance campaign, MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed, a member of the PAC, explained that the committee felt that MPs should earn a higher salary than High Court judges.

“But even then the honourable members of the Public Accounts Committee believed that MPs were receiving a sufficiently large salary in relation to the country’s economic situation,” he said, adding that a decision was made to institute a “symbolic” committee allowance.

“The thinking at the time was to give it to MPs who attend committee meetings as a very symbolic thing, for example one laari or 15 laari. But to ensure that take-home pay for MPs would be Rf82,500,” he said.

However, he continued, this “noble effort” became politicised and the subject of “an anti-campaign programme.”

Colonel called for legal action against the activists “when they go beyond the boundaries of free expression” and the right to protest, claiming that MPs’ families and children had been targeted.

Echoing a claim made by a number of MPs yesterday, Colonel said none of his constituents had asked him to decline the allowance.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

7 thoughts on “MP allowance debacle “not a mix-up”: State Finance Minister”

  1. Committee allowance and honorable in the same article?

    Dear all throughout the year people have been discussing the mentioned allowance, the MP´s think they deserve it and the people don’t!

    1 – It has multiple times been conveyed that we are now almost on level with the Swedish MP´s and correct we are, the only difference is that Swedish MP´s pay 50 % income tax, hence the Maldivian MP´s are getting fare more end of the day as they don’t pay tax!

    2 – With the newly implemented GST, T-GST and the float of the MRF towards the USD the government is almost there, achieving the goals set up by IMF, however locking governmental expenditure was also one of these, hence paying out the allowance will ensure that the IMF can say no to assisting our small country in its financial difficulties, leading us right back to the start.

    3 – The difference is that the common Maldivian has now lost approximately 25 % of his or her salary value, as commodity prices are set in accordance with the USD rate, and we are paying GST! Did the government FORGOT to implement a minimum wage, as promised?

    Conclusion…

    So much for change, we all got tricked again, new colors same agenda!

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  2. Barovo!!! Don't dance to the wims of few greedy Majlis members who are fools to distory the country's economy even though government is taking bold steps forward!! Finance Minister is very tactful and wise in his move.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  3. Ali Waheed and Kalhey and Alhan are the new leaders of MDP. Bravo to golhaas in disguise!

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  4. I am an activist campaigning against the Rf20,000 committee allowance of the MPs. Let me tell why we are against the allowance. We believe the MPs already receive a high salary of Rf62,500 per month. This is considerably high compared to the average Rf6,000 (or less) salary that civil servants and people in the private sector receives. Any person living in Male' can comfortably live with Rf62,500 per month while the civil servants struggle with their low salaries in the capital city where the rent is higher than London or New York. The work done in parliamentary committees is part of the MPs' job. It is ridiculous to pay an additional allowance for something you have to do as part of your job. There is no way MDP MP Ahmed Easa can justify this allowance by saying the expenditure of other government branches is high. If the cars and other privileges granted to the judges are unfair and a burden to the state budget then those privileges should be removed. If the phone allowances of cabinet ministers is unfair then those allowances should be removed. It is up to the MPs to do all that. They should not respond to increases in expenditure of other government branches by increasing their own allowances. Two wrongs does not make anything right. This campaign is conducted by concerned citizens. Some of us work in NGOs, some of us are lawyers, some of us are artists, some of us are writers, some of us are photographers. This is the biggest mobilization of civil society on a single cause witnessed in the Maldives in recent times. Civil society is not just NGOs, not just MDN or TM.

    If Minivan News wants any information about the campaign you can send a text message to our hotline 7413011 or send us an email at nompallowance at gmail dot com. We have a blog http://against20k.tumblr.com we have a facebook group http://facebook.com/groups/majliswatch we have a twitter account http://twitter.com/nompallowance we have a flickr photostream http://flickr.com/nompallowance we have a youtube channel too http://youtube.com/users/nompallowance

    We are not invisible.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  5. Tsk tsk....

    These political campaigns and their activists.

    Well I wish all the lawyers and "civic activists" good luck in 2014.

    Hope it was worth the effort.

    However if you people get elected be sure the losers will organize similar campaigns against you as well. Sigh...

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  6. What a shame that a motion without notice is acted upon in the Majlis because it involves paying them this very unpopular raise.

    When there are such pressing issues at stake here, our very financial survival as a state for one, what on earth are they thinking to wast e time and money like this?

    Then we have some playground behavior from one of them crying because those other naughty NGO children won't give him his ball back.

    Do you remember when the Majlis decided to have a football match some time back? The only professional football official playing was clearly seen fouling more people than anybody else. Seems we are seeing the same thing again. Now they are saying it's all unfair because NGO's are politicizing it. Is that right? A politician complaining about people being political???? honestly?

    Give him his ball back and tell him to play on his own for goodness sake.

    Oh and those silly privileges? Well we all know what to do with those.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Comments are closed.