Q&A: MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom – Kelaa constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be speaking with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

Dr. Abdulla Mausoom – who represents the Kelaa Constituency – is a member of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

Besides being a parliamentarian, Dr Mausoom is also currently working as the General Manager of Sun Island Resort.

Mariyath Mohamed: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Abdulla Mausoom: Because I wanted to participate and compete in the democratic transition.

Initially, I thought of forming a new party. But then, when two parties were established, I decided to join one of them instead of creating a new party. I later decided that if the need arises in the changing political arena, I would then form a separate party.

MM: You have previously worked in government positions, notably in the tourism sector. How many years of experience do you have of working with the government?

AM: Many years, between going abroad for studies and working in the government. I spent most of the time in the civil service sector, about nine years. Then, in the executive branch of the government, as a political appointee, I spent about a year.

MM: Based on your attendance and work in this ending term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

AM: I am very pleased with my performance. When it comes to attendance, I believe I will rank as number one through out the 17th parliament.

I also participated in debates in a productive manner. I made research based contributions both to the debate on the parliament floor, as well as the committees.

Generally, I am happy with my personal performance, however the parliament is a collective institution. So it is with the collective input of all members that the parliament can reap results.

MM: What are the main committees you were acting on?

AM: I mostly worked on the public accounts committee and the economic committee. I also worked on the tax related committees, except for the one that was recently compiled.

I also worked on all the budget committees – compiled with a combination of those in the public accounts committee and the economic committee.

I also worked on the government oversight committee, as well as the social affairs committee.

MM: What particular bills did you focus on? Which of these would you describe as having worked most passionately on?

AM: It is not passionately that we view bills – I would not call it passion. However, it is with interest that I work on every bill. Every bill that comes to the committees are bills I work on with utmost interest.

I have higher interest in bills that have to do with the general public or common people.

More than what I would call limiting bills, I support bills that expand people’s rights.

MM: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

AM: What people of my constituency want most is to be able to reach their MP. I am the member who is most easily reachable. It cannot be true if anyone – be it a member of my constituency or any other citizen – claims to be unable to reach me via phone. They can call me. I have been able to give access to myself for all citizens and constituents, and that is something I am pleased about.

When debating on matters that have to do with the common people, I deliberated with local councils, and their input is included in my debates. On other such bills – like the Thalassemia Act – I discussed it with stakeholders from my constituency before speaking on the parliament floor.

The thing with gathering the public’s view is that you get opposing views from different people. So from within that mix, some people may not be happy with the stances I take during debates. Often in debates, I tend to take one side of the argument instead of taking a neutral stance. And so, this might result in being in a way that some constituents may not agree with. But as an MP, the constituents have given me the mandate to do so. However, if it is a very sensitive matter, I try to solicit views of as many people as possible.

The other achievement is that I have been able to fulfill all the pledges I made in my campaign. One of which is the establishment of a Constituency Clubhouse in Malé, where they are able to do the administrative work needed for the area.

The other thing is social help, which albeit not being part of a parliamentarian’s mandate, is something which society expects of a parliament member. So I did provide such help as best as I was capable of. While there might be instances where I was not able to help, I have done so on many occasions.

I am confident that people of my constituency are aware that if Mausoom has something, the people will be able to get it from me.

Another thing I have done is building a community space – a small house – near the beach in Kelaa under my own personal spending. I have prohibited the space from being painted in any party colours as I want it to remain a space where all persons can gather to relax regardless of their political affiliation.

I also want to note some things I have done for the constituency through the parliament. There are certain necessary development projects, basic infrastructure needed for islands in my constituency.

After having included it in the budget every time, finally work has been commenced on building a jetty and seawall in the island of Vashafaru. Establishment of a sewerage system in Kelaa has also been contracted out now. Additionally, the building of a jetty and a sewerage system in Filladhoo have also been included in the budget.

I believe that inclusion of these projects in the budget is an achievement as an MP. It is then the executive branch of the state which must deliver these.

Furthermore, I have incorporated into the budget requests that come from schools in my constituency.

MM: What would you say is the biggest blunder or worst decision you have made in your political career? Why?

AM: I do not see any political blunders of my own. However, I am concerned with how the public perception of the parliament has changed.

While the parliament is an institution that must have the respect of the people, we were not able to completely obtain that respect. Like I said before, the parliament is a collective institution.

As a whole, the 17th parliament has achieved a lot. It has held more meetings than ever before in history, or than in any other country of the world. It has passed a record number of bills, and accomplished a lot of work.

And yet, citizens do not consider parliamentarians as noble persons. That is a concern I have.

MM: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR20,000? Why or why not?

AM: Yes. Even when the committee allowance first came into public scrutiny, I have maintained that the committee allowance is something I spend on my constituency. It is something I give to the people of my constituency, under plans I have made with a group of youth from each island in the area on how to disperse this money. Nevertheless, I spend even more than what I get as committee allowance in this manner. Even the Clubhouse in Malé needs about MVR25,000 to be spent on it as cost every month.

No one in my constituency harbours any displeasure about my taking the committee allowance. They are aware that Mausoom spends on clubs and organisations more money than he earns as committee allowance. Others understand that I have the capability to earn more money if I were to take up another alternative profession, and therefore that I am not in the parliament for the purpose of making money.

I think what citizens want is to have a connection with the MP. Therefore, I have never received any complaints from the Kelaa constituency about my salary or allowances.

MM: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

AM: I personally have no issues with declaring my financial assets, and am doing so as per current regulations. I also have no reservations about showing it to any individual who requests it of me.

However, as an MP, I do not support making it mandatory to declare an MP’s financial assets. One reason for this is that there is a need to bring in rich ideas into the parliament; which means businessmen and intellectuals should be among parliamentarians.

My child said to me one day that people consider me to be a millionaire, but actually I’m broke. Now, if financial assets are publicised, people will know I am broke. The question is, will people vote for someone who is broke? So viewing it from a materialistic view, some people will view it as a disadvantage.

The other thing is, even someone who has a lot of money will be faced with social spending and such pressures.

I did some research on this matter, and most people are of the view that we shouldn’t place such restrictions if we want the parliament to have high calibre people in it. And to introduce other dimensions through which a member’s acts can be vetted for corruption.

For example, have them lodge any increments to wealth gained after they are elected to parliament. This is the kind of approach I support.

MM: Are you re-contesting in the next elections? Why or why not?

AM: It is very unlikely that I will re-contest.

I have told you the reason; that is, that being a parliamentarian is not savvy anymore. So there are other ways to get more decent jobs and serve the nation in other ways.

I am not moving away from politics. But, I don’t think I will contest this time unless there is a need from a particular political affiliation.

Personally I have no interest in re-contesting, but if there is a desire for me to contest from a particular political institution – even if it is some political party – then I may consider it. At the moment, I don’t fancy being a parliamentarian.

For the time being, I don’t think it is a very savvy job. It is, I think, people look upon an MP as someone who is not very clean. Maybe when times change and people begin to believe that being a parliamentarian is a respectable job, I think that will then be a good time to contest for a position there.

But I will remain in touch with the people, and people can be in touch with me in the meantime.

MM: You have recently revealed that you have taken on the job of General Manager at a resort. What made you make this decision?

AM: Yes, I am now the General Manager of Sun Island.

MM: As the resort is owned by leader of Jumhooree Party Gasim Ibrahim, your acceptance of the post of GM there has led to public speculation. Would you say it is a political decision on your part?

AM: Some people are asking me that, but I am not affiliated to Jumhooree Party. It is a professional decision.
The question was whether I should take up the job after the parliament term ends or before that. Then I thought, why not start even now? So I did. Because when I took up the post, very few meetings were scheduled and parliament was not being held properly.

Even after starting work as GM, I am the only MP who has attended all the meetings. January and February was supposed to be parliament recess, but now that we are having special meetings – I am attending them.

Next will be March, when the parliamentary elections will also be held. I don’t think there will be many meetings then.

April and May will be the two remaining months and I will do my parliamentarian job to its best until the term ends.

Many people expect me to run, and I get requests from various constituencies. All of them have seen my contributions to parliamentary debates. I am happy that they accept me as being among the few who make meaningful contributions. However, I will not run this time.

MM: What improvements do you feel the 18th Majlis will need to make to improve as an institution?

AM: I believe it is political parties who can do this, and not individual members. Because the parliament is multi-party and the government itself is not really in the party system. It is not really because of the party affiliation that we have the current president, the government is through a Jumhooree, PPM, Adhaalath, and other parties’ coalition.

In this system of government, when we have a party system parliament, the functioning of the institution is very much dependent on the psyche of the parties. So if the parties take away their personal agendas and focus on development ideas and democratic reforms, I think the next Majlis will be more productive.

The 18th Majlis will be less challenging. I say this because the 17th Majlis was given the huge task of forming institutions and law that were required due to the changes to the Constitution of the Maldives. That is almost done now, and only a few things remain for the 18th Majlis to do in this regard.

Nevertheless, I think the behaviour of the 18th Majlis members will depend on how people vote this time. If the behaviour of members of the 17th majlis was accepted and endorsed by public as good behaviour which merits re-election, then – I think, as per human nature – the same behaviour will be repeated in the 18th majlis. So I believe the electorate has a major responsible decision to make.

MM: What are your thoughts on party switching – do you think it undermines the party system?

AM: I think so, yes.

But then again, here it is not so. This is because parties are not identifiable by ideologies or what they stand for. If you listen to what they say, they are all singing the same song. There might be minor changes in tempo or beats, but it is the same song ultimately.

Therefore when people change to parties, it does not really change the direction the parliament is going to. But I think the electorate gets disappointed as they vote for the party.

When I say party, I don’t mean an ideology but the party – let’s even put it into inverted commas – or an individual that party represents. Right now when we say MDP, we mean Mohamed Nasheed, with PPM it is Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and with JP it is Gasim Ibrahim.

My party DRP, and Adhaalath Party, we don’t have any major individual figures, and so we are no longer key parties.

People elect you because you support a person they also support. And then when you change parties, you are going to someone who they don’t necessarily support, so the people may harbour negative hard feelings against you. But I don’t think it makes an impact on the nation as a whole, because political ideologies of the parties are not distinguishable.

MM: Any final thoughts you would like to add?

AM: I hope that the political dimension will bring in peaceful parameters, instead of moving into violent parameters.

We saw some violence in the 2008 and 2009 elections, but I am happy to see that the recent local council elections as well as the presidential elections went by peacefully without violence. And I hope the upcoming parliamentary elections proceed in the same manner.

Any attacks – against a politician or the general public – due to a political motive is unacceptable. My wish is that the political arena becomes a safe zone for everyone, along with freedom of expression and the freedom to engage in politics without any fear.