Parliament has deadlocked as the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) grapple for control of parliament’s most powerful and influential committees.
Parliamentary regulation dictates that composition of committees such as the 241 ‘National Security’ and Finance Committees is determined based on party representation, which has shifted following the recent defection of three opposition MPs to the ruling party.
One of these former opposition MPs, Ali Waheed, chairs the National Security Committee.
In a bid to head off MDP control of the committees, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Party Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali was meeting with Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim to discuss a potential coalition agreement, DRP MP Ahmed Nihan confirmed.
Of parliament’s 12 committees the MDP control five seats, the DRP 4, while the rest were chaired by Independents, Nihan said.
While agreeing that greater representation entitled the MDP to greater committee presence, “there are certain circumstances it which committees concerned with public accountability, finance and national security should [be held] by the opposition,” he said.
The cancellation of sessions this week due to the deadlock not only delaying the passing of many important bills, he said, but “also compromising the work of my own committee on social services. We are working on a Right to Information Bill with stakeholders and experts from all over the world.”
DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef said the MDP’s bid for control of the committees was “a real matter of concern”, and also claimed that oversight committees in many other countries, such as the UK and India, were headed by opposition figures.
He acknowledged that the DRP was in discussions with other opposition-aligned parties regarding the forming of a coalition. The party is already formally allied with the People’s Alliance (PA) and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), but not yet Gasim’s Jumhoree Party.
“We are in discussion,” he said. The party was, he said, “open to everything”, and acknowledged that a formal coalition agreement with the Jumhoree Party would strengthen the party regardless of the factional battle current waging between Thasmeen and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s ‘Z-DRP’.
“There are many positions on which we agree. Gasim was once deputy leader of the DRP and his political and ideology remain similar,” Shareef said.
The MDP’s play for the committees comes as the party is seeking to pass a number of bills it regards as critical for the country’s future prosperity, notably a package of economic and taxation reforms it has pledged to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). If debate over the bills erupt, their fate is likely to be decided by the Finance Committee, which in 2009 increased state budget expenditure by 20 percent.
“We do not oppose modernising and reforming the tax system, but it is a concern when government expenditure is 55 percent of GDP and the government is not doing enough to bring that down,” Shareef said.
The government’s proposed income tax only targets people earning more than Rf 30,000 a month – “taxing the rich is not a problem,” Shareef said – but many such earners include landlords, he noted.
“Rents will just go up, and this will have an adverse effect on people who can least afford it,” he said. “Taxation would be a huge drain, particularly for people already paying high rents in Male’.”
MDP Parliamentary Group Leader and MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, MP Eva Abdulla, MP Ahmed Hamza and MDP Spokesperson Ahmed Haleem were not responding at time of press.