Building trust – Transparency Maldives calls for enhanced asset disclosure

Transparency Maldives’ 2013 Global Corruption Barometer Survey found 97 percent of respondents believed corruption was a problem in the public sector, while the 2013 Maldives Democracy Survey revealed an alarming lack of confidence in democratic institutions.

“Most striking of all, however, are the remarkably high levels of cynicism of the public. Maldivians are far more cynical than publics in other comparable countries,” concluded the ‘Democracy at the Crossroads’ report.

A position paper released by the anti-corruption NGO last week, however, suggests a way to repair the country’s threadbare trust in its public figures through an enhanced asset disclosure regime.

“Asset declaration generally requires a certain category of public officials—also identified as ‘politically exposed persons’ to describe individuals entrusted with prominent public functions—to disclose their financial and business interests,” explains TM’s paper.

TM note that an effective asset disclosure system can detect corruption, demonstrate the government’s commitment to fight corruption, help make officials accountable, and – crucially – increase public trust.

The paper was produced after consultations with the Anti-Corruption Commission, the secretary general of the Majlis, and with then-Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim.

Niyaz was replaced in October after amendments to the Audit Act were rushed through the Majlis just days after a report from his office implicated tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb in a US$6 million corruption scandal.

The same report also noted that Adeeb had failed to disclose his assets – as required under Article 138 of the Constitution – since his appointment to the post in 2012.

Hobbled system

Although Adeeb has denied the allegations and since pledged to release his financial statement to the media, TM Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed feels the incident provides a perfect example of why asset disclosure is essential.

“I believe that it is a right for the public to know the truth regarding the allegations of corruption against Minister for Tourism Adeeb. Asset disclosure is a mechanism to put to rest baseless allegations and to hold to account perpetrators of corruption.”

Rasheed noted that, under the current asset disclosure system, it is impossible to either prove or disprove whether such charges are politically motivated attempts at defamation – as Adeeb has claimed.

“In addition to the already hobbled asset declaration system, the absence of a verification mechanism means allegations of corruption—in particular, those concerning misappropriation of funds and illicit enrichment—are not investigated,” read the position paper.

TM argue that various systemic deficits are hindering the effectiveness of the current constitutional provisions.

Members of the Majlis – perceived as the most corrupt institution in the 2013 corruption barometer – have previously told Minivan News of their support for asset disclosure, with some reservations.

While all MPs asked about the practice in a series of interviews prior to this year’s Majlis elections backed the system, some suggested the disclosure of family members’ assets and of individuals’ net wealth to be too invasive.

Former MP Abdulla Mausoom – who did not stand for re-election – also suggested that full public disclosure may reduce the quality of MPs, suggesting that voters may be reluctant to select less wealthy individuals.

A number of MPs suggested an alternative system whereby additional income gained after entering the Majlis be used to gauge any potentially illegal enrichment.

Recommendations

While the Constitution requires the president and cabinet, MPs, and judges to submit annual declarations to the auditor general, the Majlis, and the Judicial Services Commission, respectively, the subsequent information is not available to the public.

The former auditor general told TM that a lack of punitive measures for those failing to submit information rendered the system ineffective.

TM noted that the current system does not require the submission of assets for spouses and children of public officials “which makes cases of illicit enrichment and conflicts of interest invisible and harder to detect.”

“Moreover, the disclosure of business and activities outside the jurisdiction of Maldives, and details of substantial gifts or benefits are also not a requirement in the current system,” stated the paper.

Furthermore, a number of high level officials are overlooked altogether by the current system, including the vice president, members of independent institutions, officials of state-owned companies and even the auditor general himself.

The position paper concluded with a number of recommendations including greater uniformity in current regulations as well as support for their implementation.

TM called for full public disclosure of assets, noting the positive impact on public perceptions of corruption in countries where the public could access such records.

It was also noted that an independent verification mechanism would identify conflicts of interest as well as reducing undue influence.

“Perceived corruption is lower in countries that verify officials’ statement than in countries that do not verify declaration content,” said the NGO – citing the 2006 Global Corruption Report of its sister organisation Transparency International.

The same report was also mentioned to suggest that sanctions for non-compliance would also enhance the public’s trust in their democratic institutions.

“Implementing an strong asset disclosure regime would show the state’s commitment to fight corruption and would give a strong message to public servants, a message of zero tolerance to corruption,” said Rasheed.

“We must do away with the culture of secrecy to prevent illicit enrichment, fraud, etc, and to do that, asset disclosure is key.”



Related to this story

Transparency Maldives reveals growing perception of corruption

Democracy survey reveals crisis of confidence in democratic institutions

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Democracy survey reveals crisis of confidence in democratic institutions

The Maldives’ first survey on public attitudes towards democracy reveals a deep crisis of public confidence in key democratic institutions, local advocacy group Transparency Maldives has said.

Of a 1000 randomly selected individuals, 62 percent said they have no confidence in parliament, while 58 percent said they have no confidence in political parties. Respondents who reported no confidence in the local government and courts stand at 50 percent and 46 percent respectively

The ‘Democracy at Crossroads’ survey also revealed extraordinarily high levels of cynicism, with 92 percent stating they believe politicians lie to get elected and 86 percent saying the government does not care about ordinary people.

Cynicism has “corrosive effects on democratic life,” the report said, claiming it drives citizens away from active participation in the public sphere which in turn increases impunity and corruption.

Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed called on the state to take “extraordinary measures” to regain the trust of the public. Citizens too must step up efforts to hold public officials accountable, he said.

Despite bleak findings, the survey shows citizens are interested in politics and are relatively knowledgeable about politics and active in the life of their communities.

Crisis of confidence

Maldivians gave political leaders a low score with none rating better than average. Former President Mohamed Nasheed received the highest rating at 48 percent while incumbent President Abdulla Yameen received the worst at 26 percent.

Maldives’ 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom received an average rating of 42 percent while Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim received a rating of 41 percent.

The survey also found Maldivians had more confidence in the state’s authoritative institutions than its representative institutions.

Respondents were significantly more likely to report they had more confidence in the army (34 percent) and the police (32 percent) than in political parties (8 percent) or parliament (11 percent).

The report, however, noted “striking” divisions on opinions regarding the security forces.

Although one third of respondents said they have “a great deal of confidence” in the army and police, the same proportions report they have “no confidence at all” in the army (29%) and the police (32%).

Maldivians are troubled by the status quo, the survey found, with 50 percent saying they are dissatisfied with the way democracy works. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 said they were “not at all satisfied” with democracy in the country.

Further, a staggering 84 percent said power is concentrated in the hands of too few people.

The Maldivian public is more likely to have negative associations with the idea of democracy than in other transitional democracies. A majority of respondents linked democracy with instability, poor economy and lack of order.

Meanwhile, 77 percent identified politic issues – which includes conflict, corruption, and the party system – to be the most important problem facing the country. In contrast, only 10 percent said crime was the biggest problem and 8 percent rated the economy and unemployment as the biggest challenge.

However, 90 percent believed dialogue is the way to solve the country’s problems. But 1 in 3 people did believe that violence is sometimes a necessary response to social injustice.

The survey also found that Maldivians scored significantly higher than other populations in their support for the value of individual responsibility at 73 percent. Support for gender equality was much lower at 38 percent, with women more likely to reject gender equality.

Generational differences

The survey results indicated a significant generational gap in attitudes towards democracy, with younger people systematically less likely to be satisfied with democracy than older people. 55 percent of those in the 18-25 age group said they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

Moreover, a majority of those less than 35 years of age said they have no confidence in representative institutions. Those over 46 years of age are twice as likely as their younger counterparts to say they have high levels of confidence in these institutions.

The young are markedly more cynical, but are more democratic in their outlook. They are more likely to disagree with idea that economies work poorly, less likely to think democracies are unstable and that “there is too much argument” in democracies.

Support for gender equality is significantly higher among the young.

Read the full report here.

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Military labels global corruption survey a “baseless” attack on its reputation

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has labelled the results of Transparency Maldives’ recently released Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) survey “baseless”.

Criticising local media outlet CNM’s coverage of the report, the MNDF called it “highly irresponsible journalism to publish such news without verifying the facts of it. We also call on media to refrain from publishing such news in the future.”

The survey – reported widely across local media – revealed the results of a random sample of 1,002 people interviewed via telephone on their perceptions of corruption and bribery in the country.

Whilst not perceived by respondents to have been the most corrupt organisation in the country, the military appeared fifth on the list, with 34percent of those interviewed viewing the MNDF as ‘extremely corrupt’.

“While the Maldivian Army has a respectful, pride-filled history, and while every soldier in this force is one who prioritises the nation above self and works with heart and soul to serve this nation, we condemn acts of this manner which aims to hurt the institution’s reputation, create mistrust in the institution, and to incite hatred and discord in citizens’ hearts towards this institution,” responded the MNDF today (dhivehi).

The Majlis topped the GCB’s list with 60 percent feeling it to be ‘extremely corrupt’, followed by political parties (57 percent), the judiciary (55 percent) and the police (also 34 percent). The leading statistic featured in the report was that 83 percent of respondents felt that corruption had not improved – or had worsened – in the past two years.

Recently appointed Home Minister Umar Naseer last week sanctioned the removal of any material inciting hatred towards the police, who have made no comment on the GCB today.

Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed told Minivan News today that the survey was based on a globally accepted methodology.

“The GCB is reviewed by a panel of experts at Transparency International Secretariat, including independent experts. The methodology is sound.”

Rasheed noted that 79% of the people said that the MNDF was corrupt, up from 54% in the GCB published in Jan 2012.

“As to the reasons why, the perception of corruption is tied to the events and happenings in the country. The events in 2012 and 2013 may not have helped build confidence.”

“The important take away is that the perception of corruption in an institution is a measure of trust and confidence in the institution of MNDF,” added Rasheed.

The MNDF’s outburst marks the second time this month that the media has been attacked for reporting on the military. Last week, the Defence Ministry ministry threatened to take action against any media outlets attempting to criticise the military’s disciplinary policies.

A series of dismissals from within the military have followed the inauguration of President Abdulla Yameen, the election of whom came at the end of a protracted election process which, including one annulled vote and the extension of predecessor President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s term beyond the constitutionally mandated deadline.

During the electoral crisis, a letter signed by 17 high-ranking officers – which expressed concern over possible repercussions in the absence of a president-elect by the end of the presidential term on November 11 – was leaked on social media.

Mainstream media reporting of this letter prompted Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim – since re-appointed – to accuse those outlets concerned of illegally “sowing discord and disorder in the military”.

Several officers were suspended, demoted and transferred following the letter and the MNDF amended its regulations to punish any soldier who “incited upheaval and chaos.”

The following month, 73 mid ranking officers circulated an appeal calling on fellow soldiers not to obey any “unlawful” orders issued by President Waheed or his political appointees.

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Maldives absent from Corruption Perceptions Index for second consecutive year

The Maldives has again failed to appear on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) after the anti-corruption organisation was unable to secure the minimum required information necessary.

“We didn’t make the index as the required minimum of three sources of information was not received by TI,” explained Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed.

The CPI scores are base on a minimum of three expert sources – usually from international organisations with expertise in governance of business climate analysis. Examples include the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Global Insight, or the Asian Development Bank.

Transparency International was only able to obtain information from two sources for this year’s list.

Asked if he thought the absence of the Maldives from the CPI for a second year would have a negative impact on perceptions of the country, Rasheed was dubious.

“My honest opinion is that it can hardly get any worse, we’re already in the bottom of the pile. The developments in 2012 and 2013 do not appear to have improved the public sector in terms of reducing corruption and empowering those who fight corruption,” he said.

He did admit, however, that the Maldives failing to appear on the index for two straight years would raise questions, though he stressed that multiple organisations involved in the collection and analysis of the required data made the assignation of blame to individual bodies unhelpful.

“The problem is that Maldives is a small country and the interactions of international institutions – from which the data is derived – may be limited, as well as the required information may not have been obtained in time, or the data that eventually do come through may not be utilized due to data quality,” continued Rasheed.

After moving up to 134th (of 182 listed states) in the 2011 index, the Maldives did not appear on the 2012 list.

Following the Maldives 2011 appearance in the list, Rasheed described the corruption in the Maldives as “grand corruption” when compared to smaller lever problems elsewhere in the region.

“In the Maldives there is corruption across the judiciary, parliament and members of the executive, all of it interlinked, and a systemic failure of the systems in place to address this. That why we score so low.”

The interference of the judiciary in this year’s presidential elections was roundly criticised internationally after the initial poll was annulled following a questionable Supreme Court ruling regarding fraudulent votes.

This year’s lists consists of just 175 states, with Denmark , Finland and New Zealand taking the top spots for the third year running.

The two positions at the bottom of the table were again occupied by North Korea and Somalia, again for the third consecutive year.

The CPI measures perceived levels of public sector corruption across the globe and is the most widely used indicator of corruption used worldwide.

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Polls “well-administered despite challenges”: Transparency Maldives

The first round of the rescheduled presidential election yesterday (November 9) was peaceful, credible and “well-administered despite challenges,” NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) concluded following its observation of the polls.

“If you look at the statistics, the polling stations generally opened on time, closed on time, and the assisted voter turnout decreased from last time. So in general we found that this election has been very well-administered despite challenges,” TM’s Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed said at a press conference last night.

TM’s key findings showed that 96 percent of polling stations closed by 4:30pm, assisted voters accounted for 1.4 percent of the total turnout, and voting was temporarily halted in 3.2 percent of polling stations, of which 85 percent of the cases were interventions at the direction of the presiding officer.

“There were reports that people were not able to vote because their names were not on the voter registry, but this affected very few cases (less than 0.35% of all voters). Out of those affected 23.1% complained at the polling stations that they were unable to vote at their designated polling location,” TM noted in a press statement.

In the annulled election on September 7, TM had found that people unable to vote because their names were not on the register accounted for 0.2 percent of all voters.

Elections Commission (EC) member Ali Mohamed Manik had said at a press conference yesterday that the most common complaint during voting was from people who were unable to vote due to “minor differences” or mismatches between the information on their identity cards and the voter registry.

As most cases involved minor spelling differences in addresses, Manik said the EC issued a circular in the afternoon to allow voting in such instances.

Discrepancies in the addresses and names of 3,782 voters were cited by the Supreme Court as irregularities in its judgment annulling the September 7 election.

Peaceful

Although isolated cases of violence were reported at 1.8 percent of polling stations in yesterday’s election, “we are happy to report that this election has been peaceful,” TM stated.

“Where there were incidents of violence, they were reported to the relevant authorities, and we will be closely monitoring any further developments.”

While police had entered 14.5 percent of polling stations, in 84.4 percent of such cases, “interventions occurred at the invitation of the Presiding Officer as the rules allow.”

According to police media updates throughout the day, an individual who showed his ballot paper and another who photographed his were arrested in Male’, voting was temporarily halted for a ballot box in Majeedhiyya School after a person voted on behalf of an assisted voter, and people remaining at a polling station in the school after voting were removed upon request by EC officials.

Police were also informed of incidents where ballot papers were displayed or photographed in Haa Alif Baarah and Alif Alif Ukulhas.

In the final reported case, an individual was arrested near Thajudheen School in Male’ following a disturbance outside the polling stations in the school.

Credible

The TM statement meanwhile noted that “candidates were well-represented during the counting, making the process transparent and adding to its credibility.”

“Gasim Ibrahim was represented at 83.7% of polling stations during the vote count. Abdulla Yameen was represented at 85.1% of polling stations during the vote count. Mohamed Nasheed was represented at 91% of polling stations during the vote count,” the statement noted.

“Only 0.15% of ballot papers were disputed by the candidate/party observers during the counting process.”

The TM statement also expressed appreciation and gratitude to “the 400+ observers and volunteers in our observer network, based in 20 atolls and a number of foreign countries.”

Asked about the annulment of the September 7 polls – the results of which largely mirrored yesterdays – despite positive assessments by domestic and international observers, Aiman Rasheed said that TM was “very confident in our methodology, we are very confident in the results of our observation.”

“We are confident in the results that we shared with the international community, with the media, and our findings indicate that there was no systematic fraud on election day on September 7,” he said.

Following allegations of vote rigging in the wake of the annulled polls, TM issued a statement urging “all actors and institutions to refrain from undermining the integrity of and confidence in the election day processes without credible evidence of fraud.”

Illegal campaigning

The EC meanwhile noted at its press conference yesterday that complaints were submitted regarding campaigning after the 6:00pm cut-off point on Friday (November 8).

Mass text messages in the names of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed, were reported in the morning on voting day.

The text messages originated from a number in India.

“To PPM’s [Progressive Party of Maldives] beloved members. Only Gasim [Ibrahim] can stop Islam being destroyed through Nasheed and the selling off of Maldivians’ freedom,” read a text message in the name of the PPM figurehead.

“I have not been able to do anything well apart from protesting on the street. Am I fit to be the ruler of the nation?” asked a text message in the name of the MDP candidate.

EC member Manik noted that complaints regarding the text messages as well as other campaign activities during voting were received by complaints bureaus, adding that the commission was unable to do much apart from requesting the communications authority to block the numbers.

PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen said at a press conference last night that he believed the fake messages in the name of Gayoom would have adversely affected the outcome.

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Transparency Maldives reveals election day plans

Transparency Maldives has revealed details of its election observation plans, involving over 400 volunteers working throughout the country on polling day.

At a press conference this morning, the anti-corruption NGO revealed the extent of its operation – the only “non-partisan and independent observation” program being conducted by a domestic organisation on September 7.

“Transparency Maldives will be covering the election more extensively than anyone else,” said Transparency Maldives’ Program Manager Thoriq Hamed.

He explained that after conducting observations in three national polls since Transparency Maldives’ founding in 2007, this year’s operation was the most comprehensive.

Over 400 volunteers and trained observers will spread across 20 atolls this Saturday, placed randomly on islands in a method used in many other countries.

All volunteers have signed an ‘integrity pledge’ which amalgamates domestic and international election observation standards.

Transparency’s plans have been devised with the assistance of Dr Neil Nevitte, Professor of Political Science  at the University of Toronto and Senior Election Advisor at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

When asked about the case recently filed against the Elections Commission (EC) in the Supreme Court, Thoriq stated that he did not regard the issue as a “major concern”.

“We saw similar issues in 2008… parties should raise any concerns that they have,” he said.

A member of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – a leading contender in Saturday’s vote – filed the case last week, urging the court to investigate the Election Commission’s (EC) re-registration process, to assure an enhanced role for the military on polling day, and to order an independent audit into the EC’s IT software.

The Commonwealth, the European Union, and India are all sending their own teams of observers to ensure the country’s second multi-party presidential election pass smoothly.

Thoriq explained that Transparency would attempt to give as much help to international observers as it was able to on the day, particularly in terms of logistical information and translation.

However, Elections Program Coordinator Azim Zahir was keen to point out that despite the experience of the international observers, it was Transparency who would have the most valuable data on election day.

Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed will be stationed in EC headquarters throughout the day, and Transparency will hold two election day press conferences.

The first is to be held early in the afternoon, discussing the opening of polls, and the second will take place later in the evening, covering the day’s proceedings and the count itself.

Earlier this month, both the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) announced their own plans to station election observers in specific areas of the country.

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Electronic voting depends on public awareness in Maldives

The Maldives has expressed support for electronic voting systems in India and Pakistan, and is taking steps to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to its own electoral process.

At an informal meeting of Electoral Commissioners from SAARC member countries in India, the Maldives joined Bhutan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka in praising India’s use of EVMs and indicated that “legal amendments would be thought of to see that EVMs were made popular to ensure free and fair polls in their countries,” Indian news outlet The Hindu reported yesterday.

Commissioners met to discuss Afghanistan’s voting procedures in light of waning financial and other aid from NATO allies.

Maldives Elections Commission President Fuad Thaufeeq said the commission, which is developing a proposal for Parliament regarding EVMs, has met with the Committee on Independent Commissions to discuss their implementation.

“So far, we have been getting information from many countries in Europe, South America and Asia which have used these. Regionally, India, Nepal, and Bhutan have used the machines and we are also getting advice from them. Hopefully the system will work, but some laws will have to be changed and the public must support the decision,” said Thaufeeq.

Prior to the 2008 Presidential election, India had offered to donate several hundred EVMs to the Maldives. “But it was the wrong time,” said Thaufeeq. “The machines India was using could not do print-outs. This year, they upgraded and added a verification process. I think it’s necessary for the Maldives to have a verification system,” he said.

Thaufeeq indicated that the commission may approach India’s High Commission to renew their offer of donations. Otherwise, he said machines will be chosen through a negotiation process with various companies, and bids may be solicited.

Electronic and internet voting systems have been used worldwide for decades, and have triggered much debate.

India first used electronic voting machines in 1982; in 2002, they became an election standard nation-wide. However, India’s 2009 elections were discredited when Omesh Saigal, an IIT alumnus and IAS officer publicly proved that the electronic voting system may have been rigged.

In 2006, the Netherlands’ General Intelligence and Security Service proved that electronic voting machines could be eavesdropped from up to 40 metres. EVMs were subsequently eliminated.

Since the 2000 presidential election, the United States has reported problems with electronic voting machines in a number of local and national elections. Mis-punched cards, security flaws, and touch screen malfunctions were some factors that have tipped votes over the past decade.

Internet voting was proposed for the Maldives’ Parliamentary elections as a means of cutting costs and confusion for Maldivians living abroad. Project Coordinator at NGO Transparency Maldives Aiman Rasheed said the motion was swiftly rejected by Parliament, and although Transparency has not been officially informed of the discussion, doubts that EVMs will be treated differently.

Observing that EVMs are acceptable under the right conditions, Rasheed explained that the advantages of using EVMs in the Maldives did not justify the disadvantages.

“In a large country with dense population centers, they can be useful,” he said. “But the Maldives is so small, and population areas are so widely spread out, with only 400 polling stations I don’t think that they would be a major improvement.”

Rasheed said the disadvantages of EVMs could have a significant political impact, and believed the public should be involved in the decision.

“I think Parliament and the Elections Commission should carefully consider the cost-benefit. Is the quick count worth the room that the new system with EVMs would leave for accusations of fraud or lack of transparency?” he said, noting that Maldivians tend to have a high “trust deficit”, and pointing out that Maldivian law does not allow for exit polls.

Building public trust is driving the dialogue over EVMs in the Maldives. Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef  agreed with Rasheed’s assessment.

“There is a lot of suspicion about new innovations that people are not familiar with. If done correctly, and people are informed, then EVMs shouldn’t be a problem for democracy in the Maldives,” he said.

However, Shareef observed that “any electronic machine with passwords can be corrupted,” adding that corruption is a higher risk for small communities. He recommended the Elections Commission “prove it cannot be manipulated” by issuing public education programs through the media.

“There is no public participation in the Election Commission’s discussion right now. Many islanders are unaware of how these things work. Without building trust, there will always be suspicion,” he said.

Rasheed explained that the “trust deficit” was a symptom of a young democracy.

“The Maldives’ biggest issue is that it has only had three free elections, and those were very recent. The latest Parliamentary and Presidential elections did very well under the circumstances, but the local elections have definitely declined in terms of transparency.”

Rasheed said that during these elections, political parties and NGOs sent volunteers to observe the electoral process, promoting transparency. Although new legal framework was implemented a mere one-and-a-half months prior to the Presidential election, and three months prior to the Parliamentary elections, “they did quite well,” said Rasheed.

Local elections, which had 18 months to prepare, performed well administratively “but they did not do so well in terms of transparency,” said Rasheed.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla also believes that free, transparent elections must be routinised before electronic modifications are made to the electoral process.

“I’m not sure if we are willing to move away from the physical voting system. It’s only been three years since we began trusting independent voting procedures,” she said.

Abdulla believes that Maldivians are quick to absorb new technology, but doubts that the advantages of EVMs are relevant to the Maldives.

Previously, island geography meant that counting and recording votes could take several days. “Now, officials count the ballots in front of the people on the same day, and we have our results immediately,” said Abdullah.

The Elections Commission has a different impression of the situation.

According to Thaufeeq, the average five to six hours that manual voting procedures involve is too long, and the costs of employing workers to manage the polls is too high. He said that while the transparency of open counting is important, there are significant advantages to electronic voting.

“Responses from MPs and the general public has indicated that people are more ready today than they were three years back. People are more familiar with technology right now, an EVM is similar to an ATM, which everyone can use,” said Thaufeeq. “But above all, we want the approval of Parliament and the public, to be sure that everyone is aware and comfortable with the system.”

Public examinability of voting procedures has been identified as an essential factor of free elections by government and independent groups worldwide.

In 2007, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen commission a statewide “Top to Bottom review” of electronic voting systems. According the report, every mechanism contained at least one security flaw that would allow a single non-expert to compromise an entire election.

In 2009, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany found that when using voting machines the “verification of the result must be possible by the citizen reliably and without any specialist knowledge of the subject.”

Although the Maldives’ plans for implementing EVMs are far from concrete, the sentiments behind the suggestion are strong.

“Historically, the Maldives has had close elections with little information, which has generated suspicion of fraud,” Rasheed said. “If people can’t see what is happening, it will feed the country’s rising trust deficit.”

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Concerned citizens protest 1800 percent increase in MP salaries since 2004

A group of concerned citizens, many of them also members of local non-government and civil society organisations, protested outside parliament today against the recently proposed increase in parliamentary committee members’ allowances, and lump sum back payments of Rf 140,000 (US$9100).

Leaflets scattered across parliament grounds highlighted that MPs were earning Rf 82,500 (US$5350) a month in 2011 compared to Rf 4500 (US$290) in 2004, an effective 18-fold increase.

“Parliament members already have a salary of Rf62,000, and to give them more money in this way is not necessary,” said NGO Transparency Maldives Project Coordinator, Aiman Rasheed. “We feel that giving this allowance for a whole year, and during months when Parliament isn’t even in session, is unacceptable.”

Police had blocked roads close to parliament this morning, and were waiting when protesters appeared at 1:15 pm. Approximately 25 citizens attended the protest, and were quickly penned into a side street away from the building.

Protesters waved poster boards and passed a megaphone for rally calls. However MPs avoided the protest by leaving the building through the back door.

Rasheed said Transparency had been told that if 39 of the 77 MPs refused  the allowance, the Public Accounts Committee, which proposed the raise, would submit a motion to reconsider the proposal.

“Most of the people we’ve spoken to have said they would not accept the motion,” said Rasheed.

Local NGOs and CSOs protested the raise near the tsunami memorial last Saturday, August 27. Assembling at 4:30 pm, representatives distributed fliers showing the steep rise in MP allowance rates.

“MPs do not need to be paid more money to do committee work!” read the flyer. “It is the duty of MPs. It is one of the most important responsibilities that has to be carried out by MPs.”

Saturday’s protest made use of Male’s nightly motorcycle circuit of the city to reach a large percentage of the population.

Today’s significantly smaller turnout may be a side effect of the end of Ramadan and the start of Eid, which begins tomorrow August 30. Reports say that many boats have already left Male for other islands.

The deadline for voting on the proposed allowance is 6 September. As of today, 17 MPs have said they would not accept it.

They include: Mohamed Gasam, Ibrahim Rasheed, Hamid Abdul Gafoor, Mariya Ahmed Didi, Mohamed Nazim, Illyas Labeeb, Mohamed Aslam, Ahmed Sameer, ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, Hussein Waheed, Alhan Fahmy, ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed and Eva Abdulla of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) along with Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed.

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NGOs, concerned citizens launch protest against MPs’ committee allowance

A group of concerned citizens and members of civil society organisations launched a protest today in response to parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) decision last week to issue a lump sum of Rf140,000 (US$9,000) as committee allowance back pay for January through July this year.

If the PAC decision stands, in addition to a monthly salary of Rf62,500 (US$4,000), at the end of August each MP would receive a lump sum of Rf160,000 (US$10,386) as committee allowance.

At a time when the country faces a crippling budget deficit, the back payment of the allowance will cost the state up to Rf12.32 million (US$800,000), rising to Rf76.23 million (US$4.9 million) in wages for 77 MPs for the whole year.

Gathered near the tsunami memorial after 4:30pm today, the protesting citizens handed out flyers to passersby with a graph showing the steep rise of MPs’ remuneration from Rf4,500 (US$292) a month in 2004 to Rf82,500 (US$5,350) a month in 2011.

“MPs do not need to be paid more money to do committee work!” reads the flyer. “It is the duty of MPs. It is one of the most important responsibilities that has to be carried out by MPs.”

As this was “clearly stated in Majlis’ law,” drawing an additional Rf20,000 from public coffers “is a gross injustice to the Maldivian people.”

Aiman Rasheed from Transparency Maldives told Minivan News that the protestors believed the decision to institute a committee allowance was symptomatic of “inherent problems in the entire system.”

“With such a high budget deficit and high inflation, we do not accept that the hike [in remuneration] is at all responsible,” he explained.

Aiman dismissed the argument that a committee allowance would improve parliament productivity: “The rules of Majlis committees, how they function, the relationship of the parties and procedures on proposing bills should be changed. Basically, they should become better people.”

For productivity to increase, said Aiman, parliament as an institution should function better.

Carrying a placard calling on her MP to not accept the allowance, Salma Fikry, executive board member of NGO Democracy House, said that the “pretext [of improving productivity] the MPs are using is utterly ridiculous.”

“The civil servants are in more close proximity to the public, so what about the productivity of civil servants?” she asked.

Salma argued that as committee meetings were “part of MPs’ duties,” the decision to issue Rf20,000 as committee allowances “is an injustice done to the Maldivian people.”

Aiman meanwhile asserted that the decision to issue a lump sum for seven months cast doubts on MPs “sincerity” as each MP would receive the back pay regardless of attendance.

Moreover, Aiman pointed out that parliamentary committees did not function for two months of the current session over a partisan dispute regarding the revision of committee composition.

“These things need to be talked about,” he said. “What we are trying to do is bring this issue to the spotlight and help the public understand […] With a constitution based on parliamentary supremacy, nothing in the country can go right if the MPs aren’t responsible. We want to create grassroots demand about what is going in Majlis and for the public to be aware of it.”

Salma however said she doubted if MPs would be moved by the protests to scrap the controversial allowances.

“Because in January this year we launched quite a strong campaign against the Parliamentary Privileges Act and we also spoke about the committee allowance during that campaign,” she explained. “But what we see today is that civic action is not bearing what it should in this democracy of ours.”

This was the case because state institutions such as the People’s Majlis were “too strong” and “has a lot of vested interest and a lot corruption,” she said.

Aiman concurred that MPs “do not bow to civic pressure” but the NGOs and concerned citizens hoped to “equip the public with relevant knowledge” to hold parliament accountable and achieve a reduction in “the almost exponential [year-on-year] growth” of salaries in the state budget.

“Thirdly, [we want] the public to understand these issues and demand accountability,” he said. “Fourth, we want to broaden the engagement of citizens with the People’s Majlis. And to let the People’s Majlis know that the people are watching you and that the people do care.”

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