Majlis passes amendment allowing president to reappoint auditor general

Parliament today approved an amendment proposed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Thoriq to the Audit Act enabling the president to reappoint the auditor general – four years before the end of the incument Niyaz Ibrahim’s seven year term.

Following the presentation of a report (Dhivehi) by the economic affairs committee to the People’s Majlis floor after reviewing amendments submitted by the government to the Audit Act, Thoriq proposed adding a clause stating that the president shall nominate for parliamentary approval an individual or individuals to the post of auditor general within 30 days of ratifying the amendments.

Thoriq’s amendment – seconded by PPM MP Ibrahim Didi – passed with 36 votes in favour and 22 against while opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs protested vociferously, contending that the amendment was unconstitutional.

The amendments should not have been put to a vote as it allows the dismissal of an incumbent auditor general without following the constitutional process for impeachment, opposition MPs argued.

Article 218 of the Constitution states that the auditor general could be removed from office “(a) on the ground of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence; and (b) a finding to that effect by a committee of the People’s Majlis, pursuant to article (a) and upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting, calling for the Auditor General’s removal from office”.

Thoriq’s amendment was added to revisions to the Audit Act submitted on behalf of the government by PPM MP Ibrahim Waheed to bring the 2007 law in line with the Constitution adopted in August 2008.

The legislation was part of a raft of bills submitted by the government to abolish provisions in conflict with the new constitution.

Waheed’s amendments did not include revisions to sections dealing with the appointment and dismissal of the auditor general.

During the final debate on the government-sponsored amendments at today’s sitting, Thoriq said he proposed the amendment with reference to Article 211(b) of the Constitution, which states, “A statute shall specify the responsibilities, powers, mandate, qualifications, and ethical standards of the Auditor General.”

Thoriq noted that the Audit Act was passed in 2007 before the ratification of the constitution the following year and did not specify the responsibilities, mandate, qualification and ethical standards of the auditor general.

However, he added, the amendments submitted by the government do specify the criteria.

“The current auditor general is competent. I wish and believe as well that when this amendment is passed and ratified his name will be sent for our approval,” he said.

However, MDP MPs insisted that the purpose of Thoriq’s amendment was replacing the current auditor general.

The amendment bill – with Thoriq’s amendment – was passed with 40 votes in favour and 25 against.

Appointment and dismissal

The 17th People’s Majlis unanimously approved former President Mohamed Nasheed’s nomination of Niyaz Ibrahim to the post of auditor general in May 2011.

During a meeting of the public accounts committee last week with Niyaz and Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad concerning the audit office’s budget for 2015, Thoriq alleged that 60 percent of audit office staff were unhappy with Niyaz’s leadership.

Thoriq also accused the auditor general of releasing a damning audit report of the finance ministry ahead of the parliamentary polls in March and withholding reports exposing corruption in the MDP government.

In response, Niyaz said he was not surprised that employees of the audit office met politicians to complain about the auditor general, contending that some staff members were unhappy with stricter workplace regulations.

A timetable or schedule for publishing audit reports has been shared with the public accounts committee, he noted.

Moreover, the majority of audit reports released during his tenure were of government ministries and state institutions under the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, Niyaz observed, adding that it was used as “campaign material” against the MDP presidential candidate during last year’s presidential election.

Niyaz was appointed to the post following parliament’s dismissal of former Auditor Ibrahim Naeem in March 2010 in a no-confidence motion.

Naeem was accused of corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of using state funds to buy a tie and visit Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll.

Naeem had claimed the charges were an attempt to discredit his office and prevent him from reclaiming the government’s money stored in overseas bank accounts.

“A lot of the government’s money was taken through corrupt [means] and saved in the banks of England, Switzerland, Singapore and Malaysia,” Naeem told the press ahead of the no-confidence vote.