Quarter of all parliament sittings disrupted, report finds

A quarter of all parliamentary sittings last year were terminated due to disruption, a report into the legislature’s performance last year by Transparency Maldives (TM) has found.

The Parliament Watch report, produced with UNDP support, draws on attendance and voting data obtained from the parliament secretariat.

Attendance data shows that shows that 22 MPs were absent for 35 sittings of parliament – more than a third of the total number held.

In addition to the four months of recess, 13 MPs took casual leave for 58 days – almost two months – while 20 MPs took 38 days leave. Only seven of the 77 MPs attended all sittings of parliament.

Notable absentees included Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Mohamed, who was absent for 52 consectutive votes, and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Nazim Rashaad, who missed blocks of 34 and 19 consecutive votes with only several days in between.

Independent MP Ahmed Shiyam Mohamed was among those who attended the least number of votes, and was absent for 84.

The report’s “highlights” of the first session of parliament included the dismissal of the Auditor General (and failure to approve a replacement for over a year), and the provision of Rf 2 million in media subsidies to the two wealthiest opposition-supporting private broadcasters, one of which is owned by a sitting MP.

Performance evaluation

The report also interviewed 15 MPs from a spread of parties and seven professionals from the media, civil society and legal sectors in an attempt to evaluate parliament’s performance.

It found that the strongest perceived aspect of parliament was the relative freedom MPs had “to express their opinions freely, without executive and legal interference,” although interviewees noted significant under-representation of women.

Parliament’s oversight of the executive was also highlighted for its autonomy over the government and scrutiny of appointments to executive posts, although the effectiveness of committees scored poorly.

The weakest area of parliament, TM found, was accountability, particularly the public acceptability of the procedure whereby members determined their salaries.

This was highlighted in one of parliament’s first votes of the June session, in which MPs voted against a motion to cut a controversial Rf20,000 in committee allowances – an effective 33 percent salary increase that sees Maldivian MPs earning on par with those in Sweden. A quarter of the chamber was absent during the vote.

The report highlighted oversight of party and candidate funding, procedures for preventing financial conflicts of interest, and reporting back to constituents as particular areas of weakness.

Based on its findings and interviews conducted, the report makes a number of recommendations. These include:

  • Fulfilling parliament’s constitutional obligation to publicise financial and other interests of MPs submitted to parliament. The report noted that the disclosure of such interests “should extend to the MP’s immediate children, spouse and parents”;
  • Prioritising bills of national interest, as bills vital to the state and preservation of justice, such as the evidence bill, right to information bill, political parties bill, penal code bill and drugs bill “remain stagnated at committee stage”;
  • Incentivising MPs to consult their constituencies, as despite allowances paid for such, “few MPs – if any – operate offices”;
  • Assessing the financial and governance impact of bills before they were passed, as bills such as the Public Finance Act and Decentralisation Act contained conflicting clauses;
  • Increasing the participation of women in parliament so as to ensure a balanced gender perspective;
  • Developing the infrastructure and human resource capacity of the secretariat, both of which were insufficient, as were the quality of documentation produced and its accessibility.~

Read the full Parliament Watch report