Campaign against committee allowance violates privileges, say MPs

Parliament today debated a motion proposed by Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed claiming that a civic action campaign against controversial Rf20,000-a-month committee allowances approved last year violated MPs’ special privileges.

Presenting the motion without notice, Riyaz Rasheed, the sole Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) representative in parliament, contended that the campaign by the group of concerned citizens was intended to bring MPs into disrepute and undermine MPs’ honour and dignity.

Riyaz said he proposed the motion in protest of the activities against the committee allowance because “no one has said anything while they’re putting up pictures of MPs all over Male’.”

A loose association of concerned citizens and members of local NGOs launched a campaign in late August after parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) decided to issue a lump sum of Rf140,000 (US$9,000) as committee allowance back pay for January through July this year.

“The chapter on rights and freedoms in the constitution guarantees right to [respect for] private and family life [article 24],” Riyaz continued. “Therefore no one could try to defame us. We have not betrayed the public. We have done things for the benefit of the people.”

Riyaz proposed that parliament should officially ask police to investigate the activists after the Privileges Committee reviews his motion.

After the motion was presented, MPs voted 16-3 with nine abstentions to open the floor for a debate.

Honour and dignity

Most MPs from both the ruling and opposition parties supported Riyaz’s motion, criticising the methods employed by the social activists, which they argued incited contempt towards MPs.

Several MPs claimed that they had not received any complaints or angry phone calls from constituents demanding that they refuse the allowance.

MPs also alleged that unsuccessful candidates for parliament were behind the campaign, which was motivated by “personal grudges” and a desire to diminish the standing of sitting MPs in a bid to defeat them in 2014.

Moreover, several MPs argued that unlike government ministers and judges, MPs did not have office space, staff or state vehicles.

While MP Ali Waheed characterised the campaign as “a military attack,” MP Ilham Ahmed criticised the activists for misleading the public into thinking that the “unborn allowance” had already been given.

Ilham alleged that activists in the campaign were “three or four kids that Ibra [President’s Advisor Ibrahim Ismail] sends out,” adding that “making my wife’s ID card number public” went beyond the right to free expression and protest.

Other opposition MPs criticised the NGOs for not launching similar campaigns or protests against the government’s contentious decisions, such as refusing to reimburse civil servants, floating the exchange rate or not handing over the state broadcaster to the parliament approved Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).

“The main intention of the people who are protesting is to bring Majlis into disrepute among the public and violate privileges,” claimed Independent MP Ahmed Amir, backing Riyaz Rasheed’s proposal to investigate the campaign and take legal action.

MP Ahmed Rasheed of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile revealed that the activists met him to discuss the allowance and he had declined to refuse it.

“I am saying very clearly, these people who have come out in the name of civil society organisations are working with the hope of contesting and winning a seat in the 2014 parliamentary election,” he claimed.

MP Ibrahim Muttalib, who recently signed for the Adhaalath Party, meanwhile said he had pledged to decline the allowance if the activists would agree to join him in protesting “on issues of national importance.”

Muttalib repeated claims by other MPs that former MP Ibrahim Ismail was orchestrating the campaign.

“I don’t believe that the constitution of this country was sent down in a revelation to the chairman of the drafting committee [Special Majlis MP Ibrahim Ismail] by the Vatican city,” said MDP MP Mohamed Musthafa, adding that he would decline the allowance only if President Mohamed Nasheed asked it of him, but the President had not done so to date.

MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, who recently signed for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party, implied that Ibra lost the use of his legs as “a punishment from God.”

“He [Ibra] says I’m the one who drafted the constitution, tomorrow he might say I’m the one who drafted the holy Quran,” said Saleem.

MP Ahmed Mahlouf, who submitted a resolution to scrap the allowance in June, criticised the social activists for not defending or backing him at the time when he was accused of self-aggrandizement.

Freedom of expression

Only a few MPs, including MDP MPs Mariya Ahmed Didi, Imthiyaz Fahmy, Ilyas Labeeb, Eva Abdulla and Hamid Abdul Gafoor, spoke against the motion and disputed the notion that the civic action campaign violated MPs privileges.

Hamid proposed a comprehensive review by parliament of salaries and allowances for state employees, which was seconded by MP Mahlouf.

Mariya, former chairwoman of the MDP, said it was “regrettable” that criticism of MPs had prompted a motion claiming violation of parliament’s privilege.

Prior to the parliamentary election, said Mariya, her constituents had complained that the Rf62,500 monthly salary for MPs was too high.

“So I definitely accept that the people will criticise us taking an additional Rf20,000,” she said. “So when the people talk about it on the media, and even if they draw our cartoons, we have to accept it since we come here to advocate on their behalf and we live in the public eye.”