The government is seeking to reverse restrictions concerning the sale and lease of state properties, that the ruling coalition parties themselves passed while in opposition.
Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad said the government requested parliament amend the Public Finance Act to remove the requirement for parliamentary approval for the sale or lease of any government property.
The controversial amendments to the Act, passed in June 2010 prior to the airport being award to Indian infrastructure giant GMR, sparked the resignation of then-President Mohamed Nasheed’s cabinet over the opposition-majority parliament’s “scorched earth politics”.
Jihad told local media that the request to amend the Act was made as government faced “difficulties” leasing and selling its property, including land, buildings, and infrastructure, as the law currently demanded that such transactions could only proceed after parliament approval.
Speaking to Minivan News, Jihad said he sent the request to parliament’s public finance committee, and that the government would propose the bill to the parliament floor as soon as parliament sessions reconvened.
“We will send the bill as a high priority bill to the parliament as soon as parliament reconvenes. This is a very important bill for the government,” he said.
He also added that it although the government did have an MP representing President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s party – to present legislation on behalf of the government – this was not required as the matter was “not a revenue bill”.
The amendment concerning the requirement for a prior parliamentary approval was brought to the act on June 2010, by then opposition-controlled parliament.
The amendments were brought to article seven of the Public Finance Act: “any relief, benefit or subsidy by the state” must be given in accordance with laws passed by the parliament.”
The amendment to article 10(a) reads that financial benefits provided by the government in order to pursue its policies must also be issued in line with laws passed by parliament.
However, article 10(c) of the amendment bill states that the government could grant “some financial assistance” from the emergency funds allocated in the state budget under certain circumstances, such as to provide relief after natural disasters.
Meanwhile, 10(d) states that assistance could still be given “if the government believes providing financial assistance to a businessman or a business facing financial difficulties was in the public interest” or if the financial difficulty is believed to impact “the lives of a sufficiently large number of people in society”.
Moreover, article 34(c) stipulates that the government must implement recommendations of the parliamentary committee that reviews the state budget.
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the ruling party at the time, blasted the opposition claiming that the bill was passed to “obstruct the public private partnership policy of the government.”
Several MDP MPs expressed concern over the move, alleging that the opposition wanted to hinder the running of the government.
Among the concerned parliamentarians, MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed at the time said he regretted the bill had been passed and that he was “very concerned” over its approval.
”All the services the MDP has planned to provide for the people will be disrupted according to this bill,” said Nasheed.
”Right now there is a hung parliament and it is very difficult to bring out sufficient results from it.”
Nasheed said that responsibility for the country’s financial condition was the duty of the President and the Finance Ministry, according to the constitution.
”The bill was not approved in the best interests of the country,” he added. ”I regret the approved amendments [governing privatisation].”
MDP Spokesperson at the time, Ahmed Haleem, also echoed similar concerns claiming the bill was approved “according to the self-interest of two or three businessmen in parliament.”
”This bill will obstruct the public and private partnership policy of the government,” said Haleem. “It was not passed for the benefit of the people of the country.”
However, then main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) dismissed the claims made by MDP.
DRP MP Abdulla Mausoom said at the time that the government was required to govern the country “according to the wishes of its people.”
”The parliament represents the people,” Mausoom said, “and according to the bill, the government will now need the approval of the parliament when leasing state assets or taking loans from other countries.”
Mausoom said the parliament “belongs to the people” and would only make decisions “for the benefit of the people.”
“I do not see any article in the bill that disrupts the government’s pledges,” he said. “Privatising Male’ International Airport was not a pledge of the government.”