Mahloof cautious, but happy, over civil service salary reinstatement

Newly reinstated civil service salary rates that revoke wage cuts introduced back in 2009 should be affordable under the latest state budget, even amidst pressure to reduce the nation’s spending, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahloof has claimed.

Mahloof, who has been outspoken over some of the amendments passed into the 2011 state budget, said that he was “very happy” that the government had moved to revoke a 15 per cent reduction in civil servant salaries that were approved as part of the final budget within parliament.

The MP said he believed that the additional levels of expenditure could be well managed within the budget, especially if the government cut down on the number of political appointees it employed.

“We have been managing these wage levels for a long time, I don’t see there should be any difficulty in maintaining them,” Mahloof said. “However, the government could cut the number of appointees to reduce the budget further.”

Following the decision to reinstate the wages of civil servants and political appointees to similar level before respective cuts of 15 per cent and 20 per cent were made back in 2009, the government estimates that expected revenue for the year will ensure the salaries are sustainable.

The government has come under considerable pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce the country’s budgetary deficit, which it has aimed to cut to about 16 per cent in its finance plans for 2011 from a figure of 26.5 per cent announced by President Mohamed Nasheed in November.

However, Mahloof told Minivan News that he was “deeply concerned” about how long the government would consider retaining the wages for after upcoming council elections had been concluded in February.

“I am really happy about the salaries reinstatement, but I see this as a political stunt,” he said. “The president has increased the salaries of the civil service before; the last time ahead of parliamentary elections. We will have to see if they remain in place and for how long.”

The passing of the budget has not been without controversy over the last week, leading to protests involving NGOs, political activists and civil service workers on Male’s streets over proposed amendments to increase the wages and privileges afforded to MPs.

According to Mahloof, the civil servant wage rises had been the result of recommendations forwarded by opposition members.

The DRP MP claimed he would now be turning his attention to addressing concerns over the affordability of possible rises in the salary of his peers in the Majlis that have proved unpopular amongst demonstrators outside of parliament last week.

“Amendments have also be sent concerning the proposed Rf20,000 wage increases,” added Mahloof.

Despite Mahloof’s concerns over the length of government commitment to the salary levels, acting Finance Minister Mahmood Razee said the reinstatement of civil service wages had been an important commitment for government that had not previously been affordable.

“We have had to match our expenditure to revenue,” the acting Finance Minister said. “We are working with the civil service closely on our plans.”

However, in considering other budget recommendations passed by parliamentary majority, such as increasing the salaries and privileges afforded to MPs, Razee said that they would “certainly have to be reviewed” in terms of affordability within the current projected budget of about Rf12.6bn.

“I will be saying the same to the president,” he added.

Razee had previously said that presidential approval would still be required for any amendments to be passed relating to salaries within the Majlis.