Parliament passes MVR 15.3 billion budget for 2013

Parliament today passed a MVR 15.3 billion (US$992 million) state budget for 2013, reduced by more than MVR 1 billion (US$64.8 million) from the MVR 16.9 billion (US$1 billion) proposal submitted by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad last month.

The budget was passed with 41 votes in favour, 28 against and no abstentions. MPs of the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) voted against the budget.

In addition to changes imposed by the Budget Review Committee, the estimated budget was passed with eight amendments approved at today’s sitting.

Among the amendments voted through included the scrapping of plans to revise import duties on oil, fuel, diesel and staple foodstuffs, as well as any item with import duty presently at zero percent.

An amendment instructing the government to conduct performance audits of the Human Rights Commission and Police Integrity Commission and submit the findings to parliament was passed with 53 votes in favour, ten against and four abstentions.

Amendments proposed by MDP MP Ali Waheed to shift MVR 100 million (US$6.5 million) to be issued as fuel subsidies for fishermen and MVR 50 million (US$3.2 million) as agriculture subsidies from the Finance Ministry’s contingency budget was passed with 68 votes in favour.

A proposal by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Maussom to add MVR 10 million (US$648,508) to the budget to be provided as financial assistance to civil society organisations was passed with 57 votes in favour and three against.

Budget review

Presenting the budget report (Dhivehi) at Tuesday’s sitting, Budget Review Committee Chair MP Gasim Ibrahim said the committee held 31 meetings, spent 45 hours studying the proposed budget and met senior officials from 27 ministries and state institutions.

The omissions approved by the committee to reduce the budget from MVR 16.9 billion to MVR 15.3 billion were largely made from recurrent expenditure, the Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader said.

While Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad had agreed to MVR 1 billion in cuts, the committee decided to trim the budget “by a little bit more than that,” according to Gasim.

The committee approved cuts amounting to a total of MVR 1.6 billion (US$103.7 million).

However, he added, the committee added MVR 389 million (US$25.2 million) for infrastructure projects such as harbours, sewerage and water for islands.

The budget items that the committee made cuts to included overtime pay (50 percent), travel expenses (50 percent), purchases for office use (30 percent), office expenditure (35 percent), purchases for service provision (30 percent), training costs (30 percent), construction, maintenance and repair work (50 percent) and purchase of assets (35 percent).

The committee estimated that the cuts to recurrent expenditure would amount to MVR 1 billion (US$64.8 million) in savings.

The committee also instructed the Finance Ministry to reduce an additional MVR 605.7 million (US$39.2 million) from office budgets.

On the measures proposed by the Finance Committee to raise revenue, the committee approved revising import duties, raising the Tourism Goods and Service Tax (T-GST) from eight percent to 12 percent in July 2013, increasing airport service charge from US$18 to US$25, leasing 14 islands for resort development and imposing GST on telecom services.

The Finance Ministry had however proposed hiking T-GST from 8 to 15 percent in July 2013 and raising airport service charge or departure tax from US$18 to US$30.

The committee also decided to limit loans obtained in 2013 to finance the budget to MVR 2 billion (US$129.7 million) and prohibit the government from taking loans for development projects with an interest rate higher than seven percent.

The government has meanwhile been asked to provide details of the loans and guarantees planned for 2013 for parliamentary approval as required by amendments brought to the Public Finance Act in 2010.

Professional opinion from MMA and Auditor General’s Office

According to the Budget Review Committee report, the Maldives Authority Authority (MMA) advised the committee to reduce total expenditure to MVR 15 billion and attempt to reduce public debt.

The central bank warned that the projected deficit in the 2013 budget was likely to adversely affect the foreign exchange market and foreign currency reserves.

The MMA also advised the committee to pass a budget that would “facilitate” the Maldives joining the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) “Staff Monitoring Programme.”

The programme would provide access to loans from the international debt capital market, the MMA said.

Speaking to press at the conclusion of a visit by an IMF mission last month, head of the delegation Koshy Mathai explained that the requested “Staff Monitoring Programme” would not involve disbursement of funds from the IMF.

“We would basically see how the government is doing against its own targets – it would set targets for itself for performance of these different economic areas – and then if the track record is built up and things are going well, then maybe later we could discuss having a programme where money is disbursed,” Mathai said.

Meanwhile, in its professional opinion on the budget, the Auditor General’s Office expressed concern with the public sector investment programme (PSIP) being formulated without either a national development plan or population consolidation policy.