Gayoom loses defamation case over NYT “looters” article

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has lost a long-running defamation case against the editor of Miadhu newspaper Abdul ‘Gabey’ Latheef.

Gayoom sued Latheef over an article published on June 13, 2010 which referenced allegations of corruption against the former President made in a New York Times (NYT) report.

That story was based on an audit report of former Presidential palace Theemuge, published by Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, a damning indictment of the former government’s spending habits.

These, according to the NYT article, included an estimated “US$9.5 million spent buying and delivering a luxury yacht from Germany for the president, US$17 million on renovations of the presidential palace and family houses, a saltwater swimming pool, badminton court, gymnasium, 11 speed boats and 55 cars, including the country’s only Mercedes-Benz.”

“And the list goes on, from Loro Piana suits and trousers to watches and hefty bills for medical services in Singapore for ‘important people and their families. There was a US$70,000 trip to Dubai by the first lady in 2007, a US$20,000 bill for a member of the family of the former president to stay a week at the Grand Hyatt in Singapore. On one occasion, diapers were sent to the islands by airfreight from Britain for Mr Gayoom’s grandson.”

Onus of proof

The Civil Court ruled today that as both articles were based on a state audit report, the information made public by the country’s first independent auditor general should be considered valid unless proven otherwise.

The court judgment added that there was no legal basis for individuals or media outlets to be held responsible for proving the truth or falsehood of an official audit report.

Delivering the judgment, Judge Mariyam Nihayath said that while the court believed the articles in question could be damaging to Gayoom’s reputation, information publicised in an audit report must be considered factual unless proven otherwise.

“Regardless of how damaging statements made or information provided is to the plaintiff’s honour or dignity, if the statement or information is true, [defamation law] states that it cannot be considered defamatory,” she said.

Latheef told Minivan News today that the court case was the first case Gayoom had lost in 32 years, and was a landmark case for freedom of the media.

“The media must be able to report on independent authorities such as the Auditor General’s Office or the Anti-Corruption Commission,” he said. “His lawyers said in court four or five times that they wanted to stop the media writing about these things.”

The court’s ruling meant that Gayoom was obliged to sue the source of the allegations, the Auditor General’s office, rather than the media that reported on it, Latheef said.

“[Gayoom] has been saying for three years he would take the Auditor General to court, but he hasn’t because he knows he will lose. But he thinks that, because I’m just an ordinary man, he can sue me,” he said.

Latheef said that one of Gayoom’s lawyers had approached him to settle out of court, but said he had refused as that would not have resolved the issue of media freedom at stake.

“They also approached me indirectly through some of my close friends to say why didn’t I settle and say sorry in court, and then they could support me. I said it was not compensation I needed.”

Latheef said Gayoom’s lawyers had told him after the verdict that they intended to appeal in the High Court.

“I am ready to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Latheef.

Gayoom’s spokesperson Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.

Head of the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, said he agreed with the ruling and felt that it was a good precedent for the country’s journalists.

“The NYT reported on the audit report and Mr Latheef reported on the NYT story. I agree with the court’s judgement,” Hiriga said, concurring that the media was not under obligation to prove the veracity of official government reports.

“The authenticity of the audit report is a different question, and the accusation is that the Auditor General was biased and that the report was politically motivated. That was the basis of the argument by Gayoom’s lawyer,” Hiriga said.

“Politically motivated”

The opposition have steadfastly maintained that the report was a politically-motivated attempt to sully the then-president’s reputation prior to the election. Naeem was however appointed by Gayoom.

“It is common knowledge that Naeem’s audit reports were both politically-motivated and riddled with inaccuracies. References from such documents are unbecoming of professional journalists, albeit the MDP government utilises them as handbooks to achieve their political objectives,” said the DRP in a statement following publication of the article.

“The MDP government, in an year and a half of searching through its ‘presidential commission’, has failed to find anything that they can pin against President Gayoom to defame his character. The MDP government will continue to fail in their sinister plots,” the DRP statement read.

“The DRP will take all necessary action to alert the international community to the government’s sinister motives behind the allegations against the former president. We condemn the government for its continued attempts to shroud its incompetence in running the country behind cheap propaganda gimmicks.”

Naeem’s tenure following publication of over 30 audit reports, alleging rampant corruption and “organised crime” by the Gayoom administration, was short-lived.

On March 24 last year, Naeem sent a list of current and former government ministers to the Prosecutor General, requesting they be prosecuted for failure to declare their assets.  Naeem cited Article 138 of the Constitution that requires every member of the Cabinet to “annually submit to the Auditor General a statement of all property and monies owned by him, business interests and all assets and liabilities.”

He then held a press conference: “A lot of the government’s money was taken through corrupt [means] and saved in the banks of England, Switzerland, Singapore and Malaysia,” Naeem said, during his first press appearance in eight months.

Five days later he was dismissed by the opposition-majority parliament on allegations of corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), for purportedly using the government’s money to buy a tie and visit Thulhaidhu in Baa Atoll.

The motion to dismiss Naeem was put forward by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by Deputy Speaker and member of opposition-allied People’s Alliance (PA), Ahmed Nazim, who the previous week had pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the former Ministry of Atolls Development while he was Managing Director of Namira Engineering and Trading Pvt Ltd.

Nazim was today dismissing claims from opposition MPs that he has dodged Criminal Court summons regarding the matter eight times to date.

The parliament has meanwhile yet to approve a replacement auditor general, with the finance committee refusing to endorse any of the candidates put forward so far by President Mohamed Nasheed.


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.


Public Accounts Committee summon decision makers over dollar rate revamp

The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has today summoned members of government and the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) to present the research behind a recent decision to amend the set US dollar exchange rate of Rf12.85 to within 20 percent of the figure.

Ahmed Nazim, MP for the People’s Alliance (PA) party and a member of the Majlis’ Public Finance Committee, has said it is scheduled to meet with members of the government and the MMA at 4.15pm this afternoon in order to get an insight into the research and statistical information that led to them taking the decision.

Nazim claimed that under its mandate, the Public Finance Committee was not in a position to call for any amendments to the president’s decision to amend the exchange rates, which have reportedly led to banks charging Rf15.42 a dollar to customers – a rate thought to have exceeded prices offered on the formerly institutionalised blackmarket.

The new exchange rates bought into effect as last week were claimed by President Mohamed Nasheed to ensure “longer term prosperity” in the Maldives.  The decision was praised from the International Money Fund (IMF) as being a “bold step” towards providing more sustainable finances.

Such praise came as the country’s Economic Development Minister, Mahmoud Razee, argued that the artificially fixed Rf12.85 exchange rate on the dollar has meant there was little certainty of the exact value of the Maldivian currency in the present market.

However, this so-called dollar float has also led to derision and protests from different factions representing the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) as well as criticisms from some private sector economists that the measures still fail to address the high levels of state expenditure that threaten to shatter any attempts to balance national finances.

Despite the committee itself not being able to propose any amendments to the national interest rate, Nazim said the meeting was needed to ensure the reasons for taking the decision to amend interest rates were just.

“We have been following this [exchange rate] decision and we knew what the situation was.  The committee just want to make sure the correct legal steps were followed,” he said.  “We just have to make sure that they have done good analysis and are aware of the fiscal impact of their decisions in the long term.”

Nazim added that relevant authorities had already responded to the committee ahead of a deadline set for midday yesterday (April 17) to supply data related to the exchange rate decision.

In an article for Minivan News last week, Director of Structured Finance at the Royal Bank of Scotland, Ali Imraan, observed that ‘growth’ in the domestic economy had been driven by the public sector  and “paid for by printing Maldivian rufiya and clever manoeuvres with T-Bills, which the government has used since 2009 to be able conveniently sidestep the charge of printing money. In simple terms: successive governments printed/created money to drive domestic economic growth.”

Imraan pressed for the Maldives to invest in private sector revenue growth “rather than building airports on every island”, and implement a progressive taxation system targeting high earners in the interest of income equality. He also urged the Majlis to uphold the constitutional stipulation whereby MPs – such as those with business interest in the tourism sector – removed themselves from voting on issue in which they had a vested interest, and further suggested that the government resolve the matter of stalled tourism developments “awarded to parties with no money or track record.”

Imraan pressed for the Maldives to invest in private sector revenue growth “rather than building airports on every island”, and implement a progressive taxation system targeting high earners in the interest of income equality. He also urged the Majlis to uphold the constitutional stipulation whereby MPs – such as those with business interest in the tourism sector – removed themselves from voting on issue in which they had a vested interest, and further suggested that the government resolve the matter of stalled tourism developments “awarded to parties with no money or track record.”

“Moratoriums on lease payments or debt repayments may look innocuous enough, but they rob the country of vital growth opportunities and hence ultimately rob the people. We should not stand for it,” he said.

Imraan’s latter suggestion proved somewhat prescient when the Tourism Ministry renewed the lease for Hudhufushi in Lhaviyani Atoll, despite the resort island’s owner owing more than US$85 million in unpaid rent – most of it fines for non-payment.

The government’s decision to implement a managed float of the currency came as a least one local sales agent for international airlines operating in and out of the Maldives closed its doors to customers, blaming an inability to pay the airlines because of a lack of US dollars circulating within the economy.

A local financial expert working in the private sector, Ahmed Adheeb, had also warned that a shortage of foreign currency would reduce the prospect of foreign investment, because of the difficulty of repatriating profits to other countries.

“Dhiraagu, for instance, is probably having a lot of difficulties repatriating dividends to Cable&Wireless,” Adeeb said. “This can lead to a fall in investor confidence. When that happens, foreign investors will either try to exit or stay away. We will only see foreign investment that earns dollars, such as resorts.”

The problem would soon lead to inflation and difficulties importing essentials such as fuel and medicines, he suggested, and could potentially have a major impact if the State Trading Organisation (the country’s primary importer) found itself unable to acquire foreign currency.


Pension body CEO claims optional payment proposals endanger “social protection”

The CEO of the Pension Administration Office has attacked a proposed amendment to the 2009 Pension Act that would allow for optional payments into the scheme, claiming such a move would set back social protection in the country.

Haveeru today cited CEO Mohamed Hussein Manik as claiming  that although amendments may be needed to pension payments in the country, proposals forwarded by MPs to remove a mandatory seven percent wage payment from all state employees aged between 16 and 65 years would effectively undermine the scheme completely.

The claims were made following a week that has already seen changes made to the Pension Act; an amendment passed on Monday (April 11) served to delay inclusion to the pension scheme for expatriate workers employed within the Maldives by at least three years.

The sitting also saw an additional amendment proposed by minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) MP Ahmed Nazim to exempt MPs from the pension scheme, however this did not pass after 41 MPs voted against it, while 29 voted in favour and five members abstained.

In considering amendments to allow certain individuals to opt out of the pensions scheme, Manik stressed reservations about optional payments

The pension body CEO also told journalists that he believed considerations to allow the removal of  funds from a pension scheme before an employee’s retirement would endanger the long-term stability of the national payment plan.

According to Haveeru’s report, every state employee is required under the Pension Act to be registered into the payment scheme, with an estimated 37,708 public workers currently contributing.  Some 2,500 private employers have also registered to pay into the pension programme ahead of a deadline scheduled for May 1 this year.


MP Nazim highlights decentralisation as budgetary concern on back of IMF findings

As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this week released its latest update on the Maldives’ finances, prominent opposition MPs have criticised the government’s budget strategy in areas such as decentralisation, despite conceding the need for greater political cooperation from rival parties.

Ahmed Nazim, MP for the People’s Alliance (PA) party and a member of the Majlis’ Public Finance Committee, told Minivan News that he believed current government policy was ultimately stifling economic development, claiming administrative costs within the civil service remained a notable problem.

“We have small percentage [of funds] to invest in the economy.  We cannot move finances to a higher level though as the government doesn’t have the right policies to do this,” he claimed.  “For instance, we need to reduce the number of [inhabited] islands by linking them and cutting the overall number of cost centres required for decentralisation.”

The comments were made as the IMF claimed that the Maldives economy was currently “unsustainable” even after cuts made to the annual 2011 budget, as it concluded its Article IV consultation.

The IMF’s Mission Chief to the Maldives, Rodrigo Cubero, told Minivan News at the time, that while the government had introduced the core components of a modern tax regime that would begin generating revenue from this year, these achievements were offset by new spending on legislative reforms such as the decentralisation act.

Ultimately, the 2011 budget was passed on December 29, days ahead of a constitutionally-mandated New Year deadline, with 69 out of 77 MPs voting to pass the bill with five amendments.

Earlier during the same day, Mahmood Razee, acting Finance Minister of the time, said it would also be vital to try and ensure the predicted 2011 budget deficit remained at about 16 per cent, after coming under pressure institutions like the IMF to cut the 2010 figure of around 26.5 per cent.

While preliminary figures had pegged the 2010 fiscal deficit at 17.75 percent, “financing information points to a deficit of around 20-21 percent of GDP”, down from 29 percent in 2009, the IMF reported.

Ahmed Nazim, who was part of a multi-party evaluation of the draft 2011 State Budget before it was sent for Majlis approval, said that joint committee meetings to discuss the IMF’s findings were set for next week (9 March).

However, talking to Minivan News ahead of these consultations, the PA MP said that he believed one of the key concerns highlighted in the report was that of recurrent government expenditure.

According to Nazim, the costs, which he said resulted from use of electricity and other day-to-day needs, were accounting for about 17 percent of total government expenditure – charges, he claimed, that could have been cut further.

In line with these concerns, Nazim took the example of the number of decentralised administrative posts created through last month’s Local Council Elections as an example of unsustainable spending.

The PA MP claimed that present government policies based on building housing or harbours across a wide number of islands was creating further problems for future national cost cutting.  As a solution, Nazim, claimed that it would be important to consider depopulating and reducing the total number of inhabited islands by offering the population a choice of relocation possibilities.

“It [depopulation] is the only way to reduce the wage bill, otherwise every island will have to have services like health centres and councils,” he said.  “The only way to cut spending is to transfer small island populations to other habited islands of their choice.”

Nazim claimed that a government strategy of attempting to increase mobility of the population to find jobs and homes in other atolls and islands through an improved transport network had failed to achieve these goals so far.

However, the PA MP said that he believed some opposition groups such as the majority opposition the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) had been too “heavy handed” in their approach to working with government on decentralising the country.

“I was advocating that even now, we will work with the MDP to reduce the number of [island] councilors in small areas from five to three posts.  There is simply not enough work for all of them to do,” he said.  “Some opposition took a heavy handed approach meaning there was no need for compromise.  The DRP wanted it their way when it came to each of the wards.”

Nazim claimed that he still hoped to work with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on plans to reduce the number of posts on councils. He said this was particularly the case on smaller islands, boasting populations of less than 1000 people, which could be cut to just three council representatives instead of five.

State Minister for Finance Ahmed Assad said that he was ultimately encouraged by the role of parliament and political opposition in working to try and reduce the country’s budget deficit compared to last year.

“If we look back to the passing of the budget in 2010, this time parliament were much better [in evaluating the budget].  They just asked for some shuffling about of the figures,” he said.  “That tells us they tried to work within the framework and limits of the budget set by the treasury and finance ministry.”

However, in considering affordability of the overall budget and government financing in the year ahead, Assad claimed that he believed that cost cutting would have been easier with the support of legislative bodies and the judiciary.

As of January 1 2011, the government reinstated 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 claimed revenue expectations for the year would ensure the salaries were sustainable.

Addressing recent controversy, over issues such as a Privilege Bill for judges and parliamentary figures, Assad said that MPs and the judiciary also needed to bear the brunt of cost cutting.

“Civil servants understood the need for salary cuts, but at the same time why should only they have to face it.  It is a hardship everyone should share,” he added.  “It is a matter of sharing the responsibility.  The government was not followed by the judiciary on the issue of wages.”

While accepting that more cuts were needed to be made to the civil service in line with IMF expectations, Assad claimed that it was not possible to make redundancies in the civil service without creating additional jobs elsewhere.

“Obviously, we appreciate that we can’t just make lots of people unemployed from the civil service,” he said.  “But, we can’t go on like this.”


Opinion divided over budget evaluation deadline

Acting Finance Minister Mahmood Razee has said progress is being made within an ongoing multi-party evaluation of the 2011 State Budget, despite claims by Ahmed Nazim, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, that talks “have not gone well” due to a lack of details on planned state spending.

Opinion appears divided within the ongoing parliamentary joint committee evaluation, which is being overseen by members from both the country’s finance and economic committees, upon how near the budget is to being agreed upon by parliament before the deadline of the New Year.

Razee, who was allowed to present the budget this month despite ongoing battles in the Majlis over cabinet appointments, said he was confident the government could still meet its aims to cut the country’s budget deficit to about 16 per cent, despite allowing for concessions requested by opposition MPs.

The government is under considerable pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce the deficit, which President Mohamed Nasheed last month said was around 26.5 per cent.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Razee claimed that the parliamentary joint committee was generally “committed” to trying to find an agreement that would allow for reductions of the budget deficit. He therefore hoped to have the evaluation completed by Sunday, December 27.

“The basic principles [of the budget] remain the same, the budget deficit needs to be reduced and this is accepted by most parties,” said Razee. “We maybe will need to make some adjustments during the evaluation. A budget deficit of 16 per cent is what we are targeting given the current circumstances.”

Ahmed Nazim conceded that a need to meet a looming New Year deadline to approve the 2011 budget would require members within the parliamentary committee to put aside their political differences and “let bygones be bygones”.

However, the parliament Deputy Speaker claimed that the finance Ministry has “not been communicating” with the Majlis on the budget, a situation he said that was reflected within the evaluation process.

Nazim cadded that anticipated delays in providing information on the budget could make the discussions “go right to the wire” in terms of meeting an evaluation deadline of December 30.

“We are not looking for concessions, the government has a mandate to pursue its own economic policies,” he said. “But there are so many problems with the budget, which is lacking details regarding a number of projects and figures.”

As the evaluation process has continued, Nazim claimed that Information had been arriving “in bits and pieces” to help provide greater detail on budgetary spending, however he said expected that the evaluation process will ultimately take a “long time” to complete.

“We are looking for a reasonable budget,” said Nazim. “Reasonable, like for example, with housing funds, where the government is looking to sell land in Male’, but where is the land that can be sold? They have gone on to say it will actually be land in Huhlumale’ and other islands.”

Due to the levels of cost involved, the Deputy Speaker added that the evaluation committee has “asked for breakdowns” regarding individual expenditure – pointing to an apparent lack of funding in the budget for the Maldives National Broadcasting Corperation (MNBC), despite the government admitting it will be providing money.

“There is no budget [for MNBC], yet they have given Rf54 million [to the broadcaster],” claimed Nazim.

Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed, an independent MP who is not involved with the evaluation committee, said that despite holding some preliminary concerns over spending allocation, particularly in areas such as decentralisation, he believes the budget will be completed within its New Year deadline.

“I think it will be done, there is willingness,” he said.

However, Nasheed claimed that he had been concerned that the initial budget had failed to outline any finance plans for local councils once they are expected to be formed following February’s elections.

IMF concerns

Beyond trying to outline funding of the state for the year of the ahead, the passing of the annual budget within a constitutionally mandated deadline of the end of the calendar year is also being seen as vital to groups such as the IMF.

Back in November the IMF delayed its third disbursement to the country because of the government’s inaction on the matter of the budget deficit during 2010, pending the release of the 2011 budget.

While the IMF program itself is worth US$92.5 million, other foreign donors and investors consider the IMF’s opinion of a country’s fiscal policies when making decisions.


AG Suood ‘finds’ letter from speaker of parliament requesting former AG to dissolve a case of MP Nazim

Attorney General (AG) Husnu Suood has claimed to have discovered a letter signed by the Speaker of the Parliament and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Abdulla Shahid requesting a former attorney general dissolve a case against Deputy Speaker and Deputy Leader of the People’s Alliance (PA) MP Ahmed Nazim, who has recently been charged for corruption and bribery.

Suood revealed he had the letter at a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) event at Dharubaaruge last night.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair explained that Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid was the executive secretary for the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom when he sent the letter.

“The letter was sent to the former attorney general, and Suood managed to find it in his office,” said Zuhair. “It was a case related to 500 [electricity] house meters and one other case, both related to the State Electric Company (STELCO).”

Zuhair further said that People’s Alliance party (PA) leader and MP Abdulla Yamin was the Chairman of STELCO at the time.

“The government will investigate all cases of corruption and will send the matter to the Prosecutor General’s office and present those people before the judges,” he said. “If the lower courts find them innocent, we will take it to the higher courts, to the Supreme Court and if necessary, to the international courts.”

Shahid denied the claims and said he had never sent such a letter to a former attorney general.

“I was not even in a position to send a letter to the former attorney general requesting someone’s case be dissolved,” he said. “When people make allegations like this, they should define it so the accused knows how to respond.”

Nazim did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Police arrest deputy speaker after 12 hour siege

Police today arrested Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and People’s Alliance (PA) MP Ahmed Nazim, after laying sieging to his house for half a day.

According to the warrant issued by the court this afternoon, police are seeking to question Nazim on matters concerning bribery, attempting to influence and threaten independent commissions, and attempting to physically harm political figures.

Police waited outside Nazim’s house from 11:00pm last night in an attempt to take him into questioning, but he remained inside. After several attempts by police to obtain a warrant, the court this afternoon issued a warrant for police to enter Nazim’s house without his permission.

Newspaper Haveeru reported that Nazim was taken to Dhoonidhoo police custodial.

A police spokesman said that police have been trying to summon Nazim for days regarding the investigation of a case reported to police.

”We last night informed the Speaker of the Parliament (Abdulla Shahid) that police needed to summon Nazim and had tried to take him [in for questioning], but Nazim did not co-operate with the police,” he said. ”He is now under police observation.”

He said that Nazim was “not arrested but summoned”.

Police recently arrested People’s Alliance (PA) leader Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim ‘Buruma’ Ibrahim on charges of bribery and treason, after the case was reported to police by the President’s Office.

Days afterwards, several recordings believed to be of MPs discussing the sale of political influence and obstruction of bills were leaked to the media.

”The leaked audio clips were edited versions of the real clips,” claimed DRP MP Ahmed Nihan. ”They edited it in a way that they can achieve what they wanted.”

Local media have claimed that one of the voices in the leaked audio clips was Nazim’s.

DRP MP Ahmed Nihan however condemned the arrest of the PA MP.

”This is what the government does to threaten the opposition,” said Nihan. ”He threatens the opposition leaders and MPs physically and mentally.”

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf said he ”always knew that dictator’s Nasheed’s actions would be like this.”

”Right after the peace talks [mediated by US Ambassador Patricia Butenis and more recently, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa] concluded, police went to arrest Nazim,” said Mahlouf. ”President Nasheed tries to solve problems by creating them.”

Mahlouf said that arresting Nazim “was like arresting the Vice President.”

”President Nasheed is very dangerous. I would do not think he would be afraid to shoot people either,” Mahlouf added.

Nihan claimed the government was now expecting opposition parties to hold demonstrations that would deteriorate the situation of the country further, in order to charge more opposition leaders and MPs.

”President Nasheed will be behind everything,” Nihan said. ”MDP is a party that never respects their words and their pledges.”

He said that the ‘new’ cabinet reinstated yesterday was unlawful and that the parliament would not approve some of the ministers.

Yesterday the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair claimed the wording of the constitution was such that parliament was only required to assent to a cabinet as a whole, and was not required to endorse individual ministers.

In a joint press statement this morning, the Nasheed and Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa said the government and the opposition had agreed to constitute a six member Majlis committee “to carry forward a dialogue addressing such pressing issues as the appointment of the cabinet of ministers and the smooth functioning of the legislative process.”

Nazim chairs the parliamentary finance committee, which was at loggerheads with the Ministry of Finance over additions parliament made to the budget, such as the restoration of civil servant salaries.

Nazim also put forward a motion to dismiss former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, after he was accused of corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for using the government’s money to buy a tie and visit Thulhaidhu in Baa Atoll.

Naeem claimed the charges were an attempt to discredit his office and prevent him from reclaiming the government’s money stored in overseas bank accounts.

“A lot of the government’s money was taken through corrupt [means] and saved in the banks of England, Switzerland, Singapore and Malaysia,” Naeem had claimed two weeks prior, announcing a financial audit of all current and former ministers.

Nazim the previous week had pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the former ministry of atolls development while he was Managing Director of Namira Engineering and Trading Pvt Ltd.

Both Nazim and Speaker of the Parliament DRP MP Abdulla Shahid did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.