President rejects controversial parliamentary privileges bill

President Mohamed Nasheed has declined to ratify the controversial MP Privileges Bill, and has returned it to parliament for amendment.

The President made the decision following legal council from the Attorney General Ahmed Ali Sawad, and consultation with the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM).

The bill, which was submitted by Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed, was passed with 44 to 21 in favour, and 10 abstentions, and would have seen MPs earning thousands of dollars more in salary and allowances than MPs in countries such as France, India and Italy.

The matter has triggered lively demonstrations outside parliament, while a group of “concerned citizens” yesterday petitioned the President claiming that not only was the salary increase excessive, but that elements within it gave MPs extrajudicial and unconstitutional privileges. The Bill was about less about state-building and more about status, they claimed.

“It’s tough for the MPs to justify getting tax-free cars, in the middle of an economic crisis, for an island only two square kilometres in size. It’s not like they have to drive to their constituency offices,” observed a senior source in the President’s Office.

President Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the bill was returned to parliament because the President believed that elements in it conflicted with the constitution.

“For example,” he said, “in contains clauses conflicting with the right to freedom of expression – the bill does not clarify what is meant by the phrase ‘derogatory language’.”

Details such as the maligned tax-free status on MPs’ purchases of motor vehicles “I believe come under the broader heading of items against the spirit of the constitution.”

Furthermore, Zuhair said, the decision by the MPs to raise their own salaries at a time when the rest of the country was in financial crisis was inappropriate, “especially when this was passed before the Business Profit Tax – they neglected to pass laws allowing for state income before raising their own.”

MP salaries, he suggested, “should be in line with a broader pay scale and hierarchy. They should not be paying themselves more than ministers.”

The 12 cabinet ministers earn a base salary of Rf 42,500 (US$3300) and an additional Rf 15,000 (US$1170) ‘living allowance’. The 77 MPs earn a base salary of Rf 42,500 (US$3300) and a living allowance of Rf 20,000 (US$1550). The Privileges Bill includes additional financial benefits including health insurance for life, pensions after a single term of five years’ service, and concessions such as freedom from paying duty on imported cars.

The bill does not include benefits derived from the new pay structure formulated by parliament under Article 102, under which MPs would be entitled to up to an additional Rf 20,000 (US$1550) in ‘committee allowances’. This does not require the President to ratify it.

MPs have defended the salary increases as needed given that their incomes serve as a ‘welfare fund’ for their constituents.

Zuhair stated that the government “does not believe that MPs should spend their salary on welfare for their constituents – they are paid principally so they have a dependable source of income and are therefore less susceptible to corruption – but many instances of assistance being provided in this manner are in fact acts of corruption. Some MPs have not grasped that – they are not supposed to be giving charity.”

Despite the President’s concern over elements of the bill, Zuhair said that Nasheed still believed that serving and former MPs “should be entitled to certain privileges and protections, especially as in the 77 year history of the Majlis many MPs have faced incidences of torture and bankruptcy.”

President Nasheed also declined to ratify a bill to control thalassemia and a bill “giving high priority” to the Dhivehi language.


11 thoughts on “President rejects controversial parliamentary privileges bill”

  1. Surveillance cameras have just reported this shocking reaction to said rejection of the parliament bill that demanded illegal protection of the MPs.

  2. Bravo Mr. President! You have again proved us you are a people's president... The next step forward is to find any way to dissolve this vicious parliament.

  3. Let us protest in front of the Majlis until their salaries and benefits are reduced by half. They don't deserve anything more to buy votes.

  4. We should postpone the priviges to the MPs until we can get a decent bunch of people elected to parliament. A group of people who are simply bad people who paid their way into parliament should not be honoured in this way. These people will abuse and corrupt for as long as they live if they are given lifelong privileges of this sort and therefore is extremely damaging to the future of the country. I have a glimmer of hope that good people will step in to lift the country out of drugs and corruption. But these bills are killing those hopes seeing a decent Maldives in my lifetime.

  5. Instead of a welfare fund, let the Majlis come up with a constituency development fund (CDF). Such a fund would be managed by a national constituency fund board made up of non-MPs (professionals) but working closely with a national constituency fund committee comprising sitting MPs.

    Each constituency would be allocated, say USD 2 million every financial year as devolved funds for equitable development and poverty reduction at the community level. At each constituency, there would be a constituency fund committee comprising people elected at island level, ensuring equal representation of men, women, youth and people with special needs. The constituency committees would then vet projects proposed for each island and ensure allocation of funds and follow up on implementation.

    At the end of each financial year, an audit would be carried out on each constituency to ensure that misappropriation and misuse do not go unpunished. CDF funds could be used for a wide range of projects ranging from paying school fees for underprivileged students (through a constituency bursary scheme), to building youth centres, undertaking road repairs or equipping health centres.

    The patron of CDF would the sitting MP. If used properly, such a fund would augment development programmes of the central government and show which MPs are actually performing well and have the interest of their constituents at heart. It would serve both the MPs and constituents; MPs who use the funds well will be hard to dethrone, as their constituents will see them as performers. They (MPs) would not need to use their salaries and allowances for such, so they would not need crazy increases. On the part of constituents, they would need not to approach their MPS for handouts, and therefore feel obliged to return favours later, but would benefit from devolved funds. The constituents would have a voice on how the monies are used as they would be allowed to inspect books of accounts for transparency purposes.

    The concept has worked pretty well in some countries in Africa, such as Kenya, where underprivileged children now have their school fees paid, development projects are being undertaken at the grassroots by communities themselves, and jobs have been created for youth. Besides the quality of debates in Majlis and how vocal an MP is, their survival in subsequent elections would then depend on how well they manage and use CDF funds to the benefit of their constituents. Their leadership qualities would be visible and it would be easy to separate the grain from the chaff.

  6. In India, each MP is allocated a Local Area Development fund that they're expected to utilize for projects in their constituency.

    The argument that they need to 'pay' constituents out of their pockets amounts to bribery, not solving problems.

    MPs are meant to legislate, not pay citizens.

    If this is going to be their rationale, please do away with the Majlis completely and use that building for a public benefits collections center.

  7. India has a parliamentary system. Not a presidential system.

    And India's Parliament has the most corrupt people in the whole country.

    I do not support a Local Area Development fund for our MPs to develop their constituency.

    The MPs role is to formulate legislation.

    Leave the development and welfare funding to the administration.


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