MP proposes amending constitution to limit parliament to 77 MPs

MP Ahmed Amir has proposed an amendment to the Maldives Constitution that would prevent any further increase in the number of the country’s MPs, as authorities prepare to create additional constituencies to be contested during 2014’s parliamentary elections.

Haveeru has reported that the proposal was submitted by MP Amir, a senior figure within the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), after the EC announced in June that eight additional MPs would be elected next year on top of the existing 77 members.

This increase, mandated by the constitution based on population statistics received by the EC, would take the total number of lawmakers to 85 once polling scheduled for next year is compete.

Based on the basic salary and allowances MVR62,500 (US$4000) paid to the country’s MPs, local media predicted that eight additional parliamentary representatives would cost the Maldives MVR500,000 (US32,400) per month.

Representatives for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) today dismissed MP Amir’s proposals as being of limited concern to politicians and the wider public with a presidential election just under a month away.

Meanwhile, Dr Ahmed Didi, Deputy Leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP) said he personally believed the increase in MPs next year should go ahead as mandated within the country’s constitution.

However, he said that no formal decision had been taken by the JP on the issue, with the party’s council eventual deciding whether to support a proposed increase in MP numbers.

Government Aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahloof and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Parliamentary Group Leader Dr Abdulla Mausoom were not responding to calls at time of press.

“Public disillusionment”

The decision create eight additional salaried parliamentarians was taken as civil society and senior political figures have raised concerns over the last year about accountability within parliament and a sense of “public disillusionment” with the country’s democratic system.

Findings compiled by NGO Transparency Maldives published shortly before last year’s controversial transfer of power found that a vast majority of a survey group of 1001 believed parliament to be the country’s “most corrupt” institution.

MDP spokesperson and MP Hamid Adbul Ghafoor told Minivan News today that proposal to limit the number of Maldivian MPs to 77 was not seen as a pressing concern for the party at present, with the general view taken that the party should try to make the constitution adopted in 2008 “work”.

“I would say this [issue] hasn’t sparked interest at a party level. As far as we are concerned the constitution says that boundaries should be withdrawn,” he said. “With the election coming we are not interested at the moment.”

When questioned over how a public reportedly disillusioned with parliament’s conduct might view an increase in the number of salaried MPs, Ghafoor dismissed suggestions there were any widespread concerns about the work of parliamentarians.

He expressed belief that parliament was “very popular” among the public compared to how the Maldives’ legislature had been viewed before the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008, where it operated as a body to rubber stamp the edicts of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Ghafoor was also critical of Transparency Maldives, accusing them of failing to hold parliament to account and showing transparency themselves.

“Transparency Maldives is a big joke.  You may quote me on that,” he said, accusing the NGO, which oversees projects such as Majlis (Parliament) Watch, of failing to engage with the country’s parliamentarians.

Transparency Maldives Project Director Aiman Rasheed was not responding to calls at time of press.

Ghafoor claimed that the MDP represented a ‘new order’ for democratic politics, alleging all other parties in the country that came to power in February’s controversial transfer of power representing an ‘old order’ favouring autocratic rule.

“The old order doesn’t like that it lost control [of parliament]. The only way it can gain control now is through a popular vote,” he said.

Ghafoor claimed additionally that the MDP had itself in the past tried to resist efforts by the People’s Majlis to approve increased salaries and bonuses for MPs, arguing the party had “never initiated” increasing such incentives for elected officials in the Maldives.

He added that certain MPs including himself had rejected receiving a MVR 20,000 (US$1,298) per month allowance to cover a parliamentarians phone, travel, and living expenses.


Climate institutions in “flux”, consolidation needed for Maldives Green Fund success: leaked Transparency report

The Environment Ministry claims climate mitigation and adaptation projects have not been affected by government instability, however leaked draft Transparency Maldives reports indicate that climate governance institutions are in a state of “flux” and suffer from a lack of accountability, including the proposed Maldives Green Fund.

Currently, the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE) is implementing MVR 3.1 billion (US$201,298,810) worth of climate projects, which does not include donor funded programs implemented by “other sectoral agencies” and NGOs, MEE Environment Analyst, and contributor to the MGF’s establishment, Aishath Aileen Niyaz told Minivan News.

In an effort to merge all the currently established trust funds in accordance with the government’s Biosphere Reserve sustainable development policy, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s cabinet recently proposed the establishment of a Maldives Green Fund (MGF).

“The Maldives Green Fund is designed to work as a national entity that would comply with international fiduciary standards for enabling, appraising and financing projects,” explained Niyaz.

“The MGF will act as both a funder and guarantor of projects in the areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency, biodiversity conservation, water management, waste management and capacity building and research in these areas,” she continued.

The current US$9.5 million Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) and US$138 million the Sustainable Renewable Energy Project (SREP) have been designed to complement the MGF, with both projects allocating resources for MGF capacity building, according to Niyaz.

“It is envisaged that by the time these projects are concluded, the MGF will be in a strong enough position to take manage such funds and take on the lead responsibility for such projects and in the Maldives,” said Niyaz.

She further explained that to protect climate funds from fraudulent practices “checks and balances” are in place, such as government anti-corruption procedures derived from financial laws and regulations, as well as rules of the implementing international organisation.

Niyaz also claims that government instability has not affected climate finance in the Maldives.

“Since most of the [climate change related] projects were ongoing at the time of [the 2012 government] transition, there was no real impact on their implementation. Furthermore, the negotiations for pipeline projects continued on pace,” she stated.

Meanwhile, “It is a general concern from Transparency Maldives’ studies that institutions in the Maldives, including climate institutions, are in a state of flux and not consolidated. New ones are being created and existing ones inactive or ineffective. This results in confusion, waste, delays, and duplications,” states a Transparency Maldives (TM) MGF Policy Brief dated December 17, 2012.

TM estimates that approximately US$160.5 million is being spent on various climate adaptation and mitigation projects through externally funded grants and loans, while an additional US$ 279,480,275 is required for short-medium term (10 years) adaptation and a further US$ 161,500,000 will be needed for long-term (40 years) adaption, states a Transparency Maldives Climate Governance Integrity Mapping of Climate Finance draft report.

“The fact that the state is a transitional democracy, with only emergent institutions of horizontal and vertical accountability, has posed significant challenges to climate change governance. The lack of a legislative framework for the sector also exacerbates the situation,” said the report.

“Moreover, the country is grappling with corruption and lacks effective governance mechanisms to address the issue. In 2010, Maldives was placed at 143rd on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, with an average score of 2.3, indicating that perceived levels of corruption in the country are very high,” it continued.

The Maldives lacks a comprehensible overall institutional framework and comprehensive policy for addressing climate change, which adds to the confusion of the existing climate change mandates, TM identified. Additionally, no comprehensive database of climate projects currently exists.

This has resulted in ad hoc monitoring and evaluation of climate projects and institutional rivalry between ministries, according to TM.

“Another major challenge in climate change governance is the lack of experts in this area. The key climate experts of the country have multiple responsibilities and a very demanding schedule to fulfill their obligations. They are on multiple governing bodies…,” noted the report.

TM also highlighted the challenges that exist for ordinary citizens to gain access to information, including climate change related projects, despite the existence of a regulation on the right to information.

“Given that most official institutions are based in the capital island of Male’, accessing these information is especially challenging for the majority of the population who reside in other islands,” the report stated.

“In principle establishing a ‘green fund’ to consolidate climate change mitigation and adaptation money is ‘ok’ as long as it adheres to international best practices and good governance standards,” Transparency Maldives Climate Governance Senior Project Manager Azim Zahir recently told Minivan News.

Transparency Maldives had not responded to enquiries at time of press.

MGF plan

“One of the aims of the Maldives Green Fund is to roll out the Baa Atoll Conservation Fund – the funding arm supporting the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve – model to the entire country,” said Niyaz.

“The MGF will provide access to funds in simpler procedures for the private sector,” she added.

Essentially the MGF will function “largely as a co-financier of projects, and will work diligently to engage the financial support of other sources”, states a December 2012 draft 2 of the MGF triennial spending strategy 2013-2015.

MGF financial support – in the form of direct grants, interest rate subsidies and soft loans – will be available to “public institutions (including schools, hospitals, etc), small and medium sized enterprises, NGOs, government institutions at all levels, and natural persons,” notes the document. However, it “should be additional to other available sources of finance and not a replacement for them”.

The Maldives government is to provide the initial capital for the MGF, totalling MVR 3 million (US$194,805).

“The Fund’s limited resources will not be used to finance projects or activities that should normally be undertaken by government institutions and financed by government budgets, e.g. compensation and salaries of government authorities, trips of governmental officials to conferences, development of laws and policies, etc.,” both the December draft spending strategy and October 2012 draft 1 operational manual specify.

Despite these proposed regulations for project funding, the December 2012 MGF draft 5 legislation, provides MGF board of directors members remuneration in the form of a “fee for their work” and “reimbursement of expenses” to attend board meetings.

“The level of fees for participation in the work of the Board of Directors shall be defined by the Board of Directors itself, taking into account compensation fees for Board of Directors members of similar government companies established in the Republic of Maldives and complying with the provisions of the President’s Decree as regards maximum permissible levels of administrative costs,” as stated in Fund Governence, section 2 article 12 of the MGF draft legislation.

Compensation for board of directors members is also included under administrative costs in the fund spending policy section four, article 12.

The MGF board of directors will be comprised of a chairperson from the MEE and representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Finance and Treasury, Local Government Authority, Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries, as well as Maldives Association of Tourism Industry and a non-governmental environmental organisation.

The 2013 budget will allocate US$166,320 for personnel compensation and US$7,000 for administrative expenditures.

However, the MGF education and research priority area will receive US$66,690.

As a supervisory mechanism, the MGF will establish an independent integrity unit and redress mechanism that will report to the board of directors, as specified in the draft legislation section 5 article 16.

“In line with the provisions of the President’s Decree, the Ministry of Environment and Energy [providing a chairperson for the MGF board] shall receive full and unrestricted cooperation from the Fund in order to exercise adequate administrative control and supervision of the Fund’s operations,” reads draft legislation section 2 article 43.

The draft legislation, operations manual, and triennial spending strategy documents were prepared by Æquilibrium Consulting for the MEE.

MGF recommendations

MGF documents, including the Operations Manual and Legislation were not provided to stakeholders like Transparency Maldives prior to the stakeholder conference on 11 December finalising MGF documents, TM claimed in their Maldives Green Fund Policy Brief.

Despite being given “insufficient time (a week)… to comment more specifically and comprehensively on documents of such a technical nature,” TM highlighted a number of MGF issues.

They recommend that the MGF be established through People’s Majlis (Parliament) legislation, notPresidential Decree, given that the “MGF is created to handle large sums of public money and projects and programme implemented for the public”, said the policy brief.

TM also identified the potential for MGF board members to have conflicts of interest which would “compromise independence of the directors” and recommended the government reconsider appointing an independent board.

They also “encourage that declarations of financial interests and disclosure of conflicts of interest be made public,” noted the policy brief.

Given that “minimal reference” is made to or incorporated from the Code of Corporate Governance, TM also recommended a code of conduct be established for all MGF employees which elaborates mechanisms, responsibilities, operations, and practices.

“Bringing forward” educational awareness and research activities is also emphasised, to ensure these activities “have the necessary impact during project cycles”.


Police Commissioner challenges Parliament Committee to Supreme Court battle

Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz has declared that police officers will appear before parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee (EOC) only if the Supreme Court orders police to do so.

Riyaz made the remarks in an interview given to local newspaper Haveeru.

On Tuesday, ]Riyaz sent a letter to parliament stating that he will not appear before the EOC – which has an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) majority – claiming that he had received advice from Attorney General Azima Shukoor not to do so.

In the letter, the commissioner contended that it was not in the mandate of the committee to hold police accountable. Instead, this was the responsibility of parliament’s National Security Committee – known as the 241 Committee – established under article 241 of the constitution.

Riyaz repeated his claim that the parliamentary committee was attempting to discredit the police. He alleged that the committee members were employing ‘bully-boy’ tactics rather than holding the institution accountable.

He also expressed disappointment over the committee’s decision to summon the police officer who struck a fleeing suspect on a motorbike, that led to the death of bystander Abdulla Gasim, 43.

A leaked CCTV footage showed a police officer stepping in front of the speeding motorcycle and appearing to hit the rider on the head with a baton.

The driver loses control and collides with Gasim sitting on his motorcycle just in front of the Justice Building entry, causing both to fly off their vehicles. The police officer retrieves an object from the ground and wanders away, as other police and a military officer rush to the scene. Gasim died of his injuries.

The initial police statement made no mention of police involvement in the crash.

Speaking to Haveeru, Riyaz questioned as to why the negligent officer should be summoned when Riyaz had appeared before the committee on his behalf.

“I have already appeared before the committee and had answered all the questions on behalf of the police, and even the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has released its report on the incident. What is the purpose of summoning the officer who used the baton?” he questioned. “The purpose is very clear. The purpose, I believe, is to discredit the police institution. They can’t do that under my watch. I am sorry,”

Riyaz claimed that the decision not to cooperate with the parliamentary select committee was made after he observed members of the committee using “foul language” towards police, calling them “unpleasant names” and asking them “unnecessary questions”.

He added that  advice from the attorney general was sought after the committee had turned itself into “a platform to harass the police”.

“After we got the advise from the attorney general, myself and other police officers have now decided not to appear before this committee. If [the committee members] want to change that, they would have to go to the Supreme Court,” he claimed.

Riyaz stated that if the Supreme Court ordered police to appear before the committee, they would adhere to the order.

“My responsibility is to assure the safety and protection to the people. That responsibility falls onto the shoulders of the police. I will not give the opportunity to anyone to harass and intimidate police officers of different ranks. That is why we sought a legal mandate to not appear before the committee,” he explained.

Meanwhile, chair of the EOC Ali Waheed said that even if the commissioner had decided to boycott the committee using the attorney general’s advice as an excuse, the committee did not feel obligated to seek counter-advice.

The Thoddoo MP noted that the Supreme Court had previously ruled that  parliament committees can summon anyone and that until now, Riyaz and other government officials had accepted this fact and attended parliament committees as requested.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled both the Police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) should be answerable to parliament and its National Security Committee whenever requested.

The Supreme Court in the ruling stated that, according to article 99 (a) and (b) of the constitution, it was clear that parliament was obliged to supervise every action of the security services and ensure their actions are within the constitution and law.

Article 99(a) of the constitution states – “[The People’s Majlis or any of its committees has the power to] summon any person to appear before it to give evidence under oath, or to produce documents. Any person who is questioned by the People’s Majlis as provided for in this Article shall answer to the best of his knowledge and ability”.

Article 99(b) states – “[The People’s Majlis or any of its committees has the power to] require any person or institution to report to it”.

However, the police commissioner contended that the Supreme Court’s ruling stated that the police should only appear before a “relevant committee” and he did not believe that police could be summoned by “just any committee”.

Speaking to Minivan News, EOC member MP Ahmed Easa dismissed Riyaz’s claims, stating that police had already lost the public’s respect and the confidence once held in the institution, and that there was “no point Riyaz talking about it now.”

“The police lost credibility among the public the day they came out on the streets, toppled an elected democratic government and brutalised the people they were supposed to defend and uphold,” he said at the time.

He also contended that the EOC had the mandate to summon any individual from the executive branch for questioning, and that this was very clearly mentioned in the parliament’s regulations and the constitution.

“If he does not believe what has been clearly set out in the laws of this country, that means he is no longer fit to be commissioner of police,” Easa said.

Abdulla Riyaz’s number was temporarily disconnected when Minivan News called for comment.


Accountability of political accounts not so clear: Transparency

Transparent political financing in the Maldives is moderately but unspecifically supported by legislation, however in practice political parties and candidates can easily manipulate funding with little consequence and leaving no clear trail of public accountability.

“In the Maldives political financing is mainly viewed as a book keeping and procedural issue rather than as an issue of accountability to one’s constituency that directly affects the level of democracy within the system”, reads the report.

“Transparency in Political Financing in Maldives” is part of the Crinis Project, a joint effort between Transparency International and the Carter Center that began in Latin America in 2006, and has since been executed in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Using surveys, interviews and analysis carried out between November 2010 and April 2011, the project measures 10 “dimensions of transparency” in the financial reporting practices of nine political parties, 15 MPs, eight presidential candidates from the 2008 elections, and various donors. Official legislation was jointly analysed.

Ratings for both ‘Law’ and ‘Practice’ were measured on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 indicates full compliance with standards of transparency and accountability and 0 indicates no compliance.

The project distinguishes between non-electoral funds, campaign funds, and funds received and managed by candidates independent of their parties.

The Maldives ranked 4.6 on the Crinis Index overall, qualifying as “average”. With ‘Law’ rated at 5.1 and ‘Practice’ rated at a lower 4.1, the report notes that “there is much room for improving both the legal framework on political financing and political financing practices in the country.”

Average aggregate scores in the categories State Oversight, Prevention (of manipulation), Disclosure (of information to the citizens), and Reliability, Depth and Scope of reporting leveled the total score at 4.6, the report states.

However, the majority of these categories barely reached above the ‘Insufficient’ rating, with Non-State Oversight and Sanctions, or penalties for non-compliance with the legal framework, received the lowest scores.

The only category to qualify as “good” (6.8-10) was Book Keeping, scraping in with the minimum score of 6.8.

In each category the Maldives’ legislation for political financing qualified as ‘average’ with a median score of 5.7. However the law was not rated for Reliability as it was a perception-based dimension, or for Non-State Oversight, as there is no mechanism stipulated in Maldivian law.

Practices in political financing were generally found to be‘insufficient’, notably in the categories of Reporting, Disclosure, and Prevention. Sanctions (1.0) and Non-State Oversight (1.2) scored the lowest.

Comparatively, Book Keeping and Scope (of reporting) scored positively with ratings of 7.5 and 8.4, respectively.

The report observes that the Maldives only introduced multi-party democracy in 2005 and did not have an independent elections commission (EC) until 2008.

Although reporting to the EC is mandated by law, the study finds that the legal framework enforcing this mandate ranks only at 4.5 on the Crinis scale. In practice, reporting received a score of 3.3 (insufficient), as “parties do not specify separate sources and amounts of funding” when they do report and “in most cases, the absence of the standardised reporting format also leads to inconsistencies on the information provided by parties.”

Moreover, information is poorly disclosed to the public. In the category of measures which prevent abuse of resources and conflicts of interest, the study ranked party behavior at 2.8  and practice at 3.2–both insufficient rankings. Meanwhile, the law scored an average ranking of 4.7.

“The Regulation on Political Parties does not require political parties to conduct their financial transactions through a bank account; nor is there a provision in the law prohibiting the acceptance of cash donations; nor is there an upper limit to cash donations which parties are allowed to accept,” the report states. “Since parties are not required to conduct all its transactions through a bank account, there is no way for Elections Commission to verify that parties have reported all of its income and expenditures, nor can the Elections Commission verify that parties have not accepted types of income which are prohibited by law.”

The report points out that the system of political financing is interdependent. “For example, the public’s access to financial reports depends on whether political actors submit reports to a state oversight agency. Such disclosure, in turn, is nearly impossible to obtain if parties lack an internal book-keeping system.

“As such, transparent political financing is not guaranteed even if the proper operation of one or two of these dimensions is confirmed in practice”, the report states.

The effort involved in assembling the report further highlights the system’s weaknesses.

“We had quite a bit of difficulty getting information from almost all sources,” said Project Coordinator Ma’rifa Hassan. “After a long time of asking and waiting for donors, political parties and politicians” to respond to inquiries, she said most information came from the EC “because they’re the only ones with the financial records”–in itself a surprise.

Of the fifteen candidates approached, Hassan said, only one provided a single set of records. “The rest just said ‘you can get it from the EC, we do not have it anymore.’ Our impression is that once the campaign is over and they’re elected, they don’t care about the financial aspects,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s quite absurd that a lot of political parties or campaign candidates claim they do not have those records.”

Approaching the EC was a struggle as well.

“Just getting the first appointment to explain our project was very difficult,” said Executive Director Ilham Mohamed.

Once allowed to access the information, researchers found that they had to sit with an official to look over the records, and could only copy the information by hand. “The average citizen, public official or a journalist is not going to have the drive or the time to wait and wait for an appointment, and then have to copy everything by hand,” she observed. “These things should be available, and people shouldn’t have to justify why they want to see the records in the first place.”

The team conceded that the research collided with the primary elections, and that the EC was understandably busy at the time.

Aside from their own experience, the team took the pulse of the public’s interaction with the information.

Sending out 14 volunteers from the public with a list of information to obtain, the team examined the level of proactive disclosure among donors, politicians, political parties and the EC. According to the team, none of the volunteers were able to obtain any information.

The team affirmed that the lack of transparency and accountability in political financing supports the recent finding that 90 percent of Maldivians believe that “corruption has increased” or remained level in the last three years and perceive parliament as the “most corrupt” institution, as stated in Transparency’s recent report “Daily Lives and Corruption: Public Opinion in Maldives”.

“Asking about a party’s financial records and spending practices also labels you as suspicious,” Mohamed pointed out. “A majority of people we interviewed saw this as a privacy issue. But if you’re spending money or taking money from a budget to be elected to a public post, then it is a public matter. You’re privacy stops there.”

The team observed that although the country scored ‘average’ for its laws and clauses, “the objective of having those laws and clauses is not achieved. The EC is required by law to facilitate public access to records, but it doesn’t specify how.”

The Elections Commission received the brunt of the report’s constructive criticism, along with Parliament. The report charged the EC with streamlining and enforcing the reporting methods to be used by political parties and between parties, the EC and the public. Meanwhile Parliament was tasked with amending legislation to make financial transactions among political parties and electoral candidates more transparent, for example, by requiring that all transactions be done through a specific bank account.

Other recommendations included consistent and balanced media coverage and work by civil society organisations to inform the public of political financial operations. Political parties were tasked with reporting clearly to the public and the EC in a timely manner.

“Basically, we have a lot of work to do”, the Transparency team concluded.


Deputy speaker would “welcome” heightened transparency in the Majlis

Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ahmed Nazim has claimed that he would welcome moves to promote transparency in the People’s Majlis, such as revealing the financial assets of MPs to the public, but added similar commitments would also be needed from the country’s judiciary and executive.

Speaking to Minivan News earlier this week, Nazim, who is also a serving member of the People’s Alliance (PA) party and the Majlis’ Public Accounts Committee, said he would “fully support” any initiative to improve the image of parliament such as providing details of the property and assets of MPs. However, the deputy speaker said he believed that the appointment of an auditor general, a position that has been vacant since March 2010 when Ibrahim Naeem lost a parliamentary no-confidence motion by 43 votes to 28, was needed to oversee such a process.

The claims were made as debate over whether MPs should publicly declare details of their assets and income was found to have reached an impasse, with opinion divided in the Majlis over whether doing so was a constitutional necessity.

The issue had also been raised by the political NGO, Transparency Maldives, which claimed that it was having difficulties in getting details on the assets and financial status of MPs despite parliament showing a generally more open attitude to supplying information.

The NGO, which operates a project called Parliament Watch alongside the Maldivian Democracy Network, believes that the right of the public to know the financial details of their elected representatives in the Majlis was “in the spirit” of the constitution. Transparency Maldives added that it believed that transparency within the actions and decision making of parliament had nonetheless improved in recent years despite possible concerns about MP finances.

Although the decision for public declarations of MPs’ financial statements was rejected this week, parliament also failed to agree to two additional recommendations that financial statements should be released only under a court order or to the public upon investigations by state institutions.

On Tuesday (April 19), Nazim in his capacity as deputy speaker of the Majlis, said the matter had been declared “void” on the basis that neither proposal was accepted by MPs, but he added that parliament’s Secretary General had sought counsel on the matter and would go ahead according to the “rules of procedure”.

Speaking before the vote, Nazim said that the issue had been sent to parliament by the Majlis’ secretary general over concerns about an isolated issue raised by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in requiring the financial statements of one unidentified MP.

Under present standing orders that outline parliament procedure, the deputy speaker claimed that sitting MPs were required to provide information to the Majlis by the end of October each year detailing their annual finances between the twelve months from May 29 to May 28.

Nazim said that amidst the ensuing debate over whether these statements should be made freely available to the public, the decision to do would definitely serve to “improve the image of parliament.”

While provisionally welcoming the initiative, Nazim claimed that he believed the Majlis would only public release details of their financial status alongside a similar commitment by judges and senior cabinet ministers.

“It would be for the auditor general to collect this [financial] information from cabinet ministers, judges and government members,” he said, accepting that the position had been vacant for more than 12 months.

“No [financial] information has been put into the public domain, once this happens the Majlis would consider following suit.”

Presidential Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News that ultimately, the decision on whether to make the financial statements of MPs available to the public was down to parliament itself and not related to the government.

“It all depends on how transparent they [parliament] wish to be,” he claimed. “There are opportunities to be accountable, yet holding back on these details might lead to allegations [of possible corruption].

When asked whether cabinet member were themselves considering or already required to reveal details of their earnings and assets, Zuhair added that the issue related to a very different kind of social contract that they were bound to.

“Government employees are banned from working in the public sector or within any positions that might create a conflict of interest,” he added.

Aiman Rasheed, Projects Coordinator for NGO Transparency Maldives, claimedthat MPs were generally operating in a much more transparent manner during the current parliament.  However, he added that while parliamentarians were not required to supply their financial statements to the public, choosing to do so would be more in the spirit of the constitution.

Through its work on the Parliament Watch project, Rasheed claimed that at present NGOs like Transparency Maldives were finding it very difficult to know which MPs submitted their financial statements to the Majlis by the required deadline of October, with requests for a detailed list of members still not being met.

“There is obviously a lot of discomfort about this in the Majlis,” he said. “But for the most part, documents [relating to MPs] are available. As far as we are concerned this parliament is really open.”

Despite welcoming possible improvements in the transparency of the Majlis, Rasheed said that the Parliament Watch project would be releasing a report in the next few months detailing its findings in trying to bring greater scrutiny to parliamentary records in relation to members’ attendances and work rates.

However, amidst the debates over public accountability in the Majlis, a number of MPs have raised criticisms of the role of media in shaping public perceptions of parliament and its work.

(Maldivian Democratic Party) MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik said this week that while he agreed with the constitutional principle of publicly declaring assets and wealth, it was not an advisable time to do so in “today’s political atmosphere.”

The MDP parliamentary group leader remains embroiled in an acrimonious feud with private broadcaster DhiTV, owned by business magnate “Champa” Mohamed Moosa.

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed concurred with Moosa, claiming that parliament should be concerned about concerted efforts by some media outlets to “disgrace and humiliate MPs.”

“This is not being done by DhiTV’s owner or its management, we know that now,” he said. “But previously we believed that it was planned and carried out by the management there. But that is not the case.”

Echoing a claim made by several MPs in past weeks, Riyaz alleged that unsuccessful candidates for parliament and their family members or associates were behind hostile media coverage of parliament.

“In truth, when the financial status of MPs is made known, some MPs will be worried and others will embarrassed,” said minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur.

“That is, those who have a lot of money might be very worried and those who do not will be embarrassed. Therefore, at a time when our status is being revealed in the media, I don’t accept at all that these facts should be available to just anyone.”

Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed meanwhile argued that MPs should not shirk from their constitutional responsibilities by blaming the media. “We will answer in the media to the things said in the media,” he said.

Along with debates over accountability, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom claimed yesterday that despite the cancellation of a scheduled meeting in the Majlis’ main chamber , work was still ongoing in the parliament, which he believed was playing its part in pushing legislation to allow law enforcement officials to deal with violent crimes, despite certain “public perceptions” to the contrary.

The opposition party MP claimed that parliament was stepping up its workload to ensure the government, as the country’s executive branch, had the right powers and capabilities to uphold the law.