Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid has told local media that he is seeking legal advice after Acting Finance Minister Mahmoud Razee presented the 2011 State Budget to parliament.
Finance Minister Ali Hashim resigned on Friday following the Supreme Court’s ruling that ministers rejected by parliament could no longer hold their positions. President Mohamed Nasheed appointed Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee as acting minister in Hashim’s stead.
Haveeru reported Shahid as saying the budget would not be debated on Monday as he was seeking legal advice on the matter. Shahid was not responding to calls at time of press.
“We need to find ways to carry out this task without disrupting the state,” Haveeru reported Shahid as saying, despite observing that Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim had told the paper that Razee would be able to present the budget as he had been endorsed by parliament.
Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed told Minivan News that he believed there had been a move towards tabling the budget during tomorrow’s session of parliament.
The text of the Constitution requires the “Minister of Finance” to submit the budget for approval “prior to the commencement of each financial year” – in the Maldives, the calendar year.
Nasheed said that this was a specific responsibility of the Finance Minister, and that the Constitution did not appear to allow for an acting or state minister to present the budget, however he noted that “there is cross-party support to get the budget moving. It is likely they would approve whomever the President nominates as Finance Minister.”
The Speaker had consulted him on the issue, Nasheed said, adding that he had suggested that irrespective of whether there was a finance minister, the budget had already been released into the public domain and there was nothing preventing parliament from starting an informal deliberation.
It was, he said, entirely normal for committee hearings to conduct informal discussions prior to obtaining quorum, such as when a member was late or absent, and then conduct the formal debate and speech once quorum was achieved.
“In view of the Supreme Court’s decision [on Thursday], an appointed minister is a de facto employee until approval by parliament, whereupon he ripens into a fully-fledged cabinet minister. The easiest way may be for the President to just appoint a Finance Minister.”
Nasheed added that he did not think the issue was critical, as if the budget was delayed parliament had the potential to pass an emergency budget to ensure the functioning of basic services in the interim, as it did when the new government took office.
Theoretically, Nasheed noted, there was nothing preventing the President from simply reappointing dismissed ministers in perpetuity, although he suggested that this would be “unproductive” and run against the “spirit of the constitution”.
The President today reappointed Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad as Attorney General (AG), following Sawad’s resignation on Friday.
The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that cabinet members rejected by parliament could not remain in their posts. Sawad was among the members of cabinet not endorsed by the opposition majority parliament.
“There’s nothing in the rules, but this has to come to an end some time,” MP Nasheed said. “If disaappoved again, the Attorney General could be appointed a third time – the Constitution doesn’t go into such detail.”
Similarly, Nasheed added, the potential for repeated rejection of appointed ministers by a vindictive opposition “goes with the Presidential system of government that we have. It’s unlikely that a president [in the Maldives] will command a majority, and it’s the same situation faced by US President Barack Obama [with a Democrat executive and Republican Congress].”
During the original appointment of ministers, “the President did it very beautifully,” MP Nasheed said. “He proposed the names and sent them to parliament, and then they were appointed, which was the responsible way to proceed.”
The loss of seven ministers, Nasheed suggested, was an “extreme situation” and unlikely to reoccur.
“The results might have differed if the MDP had taken part in the vote,” Nasheed said. “They may have been able to salvage more [without the boycott]. To let go of seven cabinet ministers must have been a huge decision.”
Meanwhile, President Nasheed has ratified the First Amendment Bill to the Public Finance Act, following a ruling from the Supreme Court for early ratification of the bill.
In a statement on the President’s Office website, the President said the bill was ratified in compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling “despite legal issues [that] would negatively affect government’s social protection system.”
The newly reappointed Attorney General has filed a case in the Supreme Court seeking a ruling of of several articles in the Act as contradicting the Constitution.