Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish.
Budget Review Committee Member and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed has revealed his party held “concerns” over the level of increased defence spending in the recently approved 2013 budget.
The 2013 state budget included a 14 percent increase to the 2012 defence budget that stood at MVR 797.9 million (US$51.7 million).
Amidst attempts to reduce the state’s budget deficit, MVR 130 million (US$8.6million) had been allocated to defence spending, bringing the total to MVR 930.9 million (US$60.3 million) for this year.
Authorities claim that the increased spending for the year is needed to cover additional duties such as the transfer of aviation security under the Ministry of Defence.
Through the budget review committee’s evaluation of the state budget, MP Nasheed claimed that he and other members of the MDP had raised questions regarding the increase in the defence budget.
“While we understand national security is paramount, we did find the 14 percent increase to the defence budget a bit fishy,” he claimed. “We [MDP budget review committee members] raised questions regarding our concern over the increase, but unfortunately we do not have the majority on the committee.”
In order to reduce the budget deficit, the budget review committee made cuts of MVR 1.6 billion (US$103.7 million) to the MVR 16.9 billion (US$1 billion) state budget proposed by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad. Parliament eventually passed an amended MVR 15.3 billion (US$992 million) state budget.
According to the Budget Review Committee report, the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) advised the committee to reduce total expenditure to MVR 15 billion and attempt to reduce public debt.
Despite the recommendations, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim this week defended the MVR 130 million increase, telling Minivan News that the money was needed to accommodate the newly established Aviation Security Command. The operations have been put under the Ministry of Defence and National Security.
President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik announced the establishment of the Aviation Security Command On Tuesday (January 1) in order to formulate aviation security policies and procedures.
Aside from undertaking new responsibilities under the Aviation Security Command, Defence Minister Nazim said additional improvements for Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) personnel welfare were also being sought.
“We are also looking to improve accommodation for MNDF personnel, and we will be looking to open an operating theatre and Intensive care unit in the military hospital,” said Nazim.
When asked as to why the military hospital needed to be expanded given the size of the MNDF, Nazim said that uniformed personnel waiting in line to receive treatment at the other two hospitals in Male’ wasted valuable service time.
“The hospital is not just utilised by the military, it is also used by the police force and immigration and customs officers,” he added.
When addressing the issue of increased defence spending within the budget, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP and budget review committee member Dr Abdulla Mausoom said that national security was an important consideration needing to be made.
“You are talking about national security, and now aviation security for a whole country. Yes the budget is more than reasonable. The DRP is under no influence from the government and this time we are not concerned over the increase in the defence budget,” Mausoom said.
New uniforms and new accommodation for MNDF
Speaking at a ceremony on Monday (December 31, 2012) to unveil new uniforms for naval officers, Defence Minister Nazim said that efforts were underway to arrange accommodation for more officers at MNDF centres.
“Equipment has been purchased to arrange accommodation for officers. After the repairs, more officers will get accommodation in the next three months,” Nazim was quoted as saying.
The new accommodation would be provided at the MNDF Bandaara Koshi and Kalhuthu’kala Koshi in Male’, Nazim said.
Nazim said that efforts were also being made to arrange for low cost medical treatment for MNDF officers and their families overseas.
Providing accommodation to MNDF officers was discontinued as part of cost-cutting measures implemented by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
During last month’s budget debate, parliament’s Majority Leader, MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, criticised the Finance Minister for failing to mention in his budget speech plans to hire 864 new police and army officers.
MP Solih, parliamentary group leader of the MDP (MDP), noted that the wage bill would shoot up 37 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year.
Echoing the concerns of the parliamentary group leader, MDP MP Eva Abdulla revealed that MVR 6 million (US$ 389105) was added to the budget of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) following the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7.
Former President Nasheed has alleged that he was forced to resign from office under “duress” in the wake of a police mutiny on February 7. Eva raised concerns that the police and army have hired 250 and 350 new staff respectively under the new government.
Consequently, both institutions found to have spent more than MVR 75 million (US$4.8 million) in addition to the approved budgets for 2012, she claimed.
Eva observed that the increase in the government’s wage bill of 37 percent was approximately MVR1.7 billion (US$110 million), which was also the amount allocated for harbour construction in the 2013 budget.
These funds should instead be spent for “harbours, education, sewerage and housing,” she argued.
Defence budget breakdown
Of the MVR930.9 million assigned for the military, MVR 805.4 million (US$52.2 million) is to be spent on military defence and MVR 125.5 million (US$8.1 million) on civil defence, according to the defence budget proposal last month.
Moreover, defence expenditure under the Public Sector Investment Projects (PSIP) include MVR 3.1 million (US$201,000) for the construction of a troops accommodation building in Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo and MVR 1.9 million (US$123,216) for a military barracks in Laamu Kadhdhoo.
Following the controversial transfer of presidential power in February, where sections of the police and military mutinied against the former government, an allowance of military personnel pending for more than two years was disbursed in a single payment by the Waheed administration.
Local media reported at the time that some officers had received over MVR6000 (US$390) in accrued allowances, although a total figure spent on the pay out, or how many officers received the allowances, was not stated.
MVR 1.1 billion has been budgeted to pay salaries and allowances for 7,108 personnel in the uniformed bodies.
The figure in the 2012 budget was MVR 999 million for 6,244 army and police officers.