Government to reinstate discontinued service, merit allowances for security forces

The government has decided to reinstate a discontinued service and merit allowance for the Maldives Police Service and Maldives National Defense Force.

The allowances were discontinued in 2009 during former president Mohamed Nasheed’s administration, and are to be reinstated this month.

According to Haveeru, security personnel who have served between ten and 20 years are eligible for the service allowance, while policemen and army officers who have attained higher education will be eligible for a professional allowance.

A similar allowance is to be given to officials who have undergone training related to their fields.

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MP allowance debacle “not a mix-up”: State Finance Minister

The Finance Ministry today rejected implications that yesterday’s release and recall of the controversial Rf20,000-a-month committee allowances against a court injunction was a mistake which had caused confusion in the government.

“I don’t think it’s a mix-up,” said State Minister of Finance Ahmed Assad today. Assad was unclear about the court injunction.

“Releasing that sort of money is not a big procedure, I think this is just people trying to follow the general rules and experiencing an administrative error,” he said.

Assad didn’t believe anyone deserved blame, and said that “if anything, it is the ministry at large that was at fault.”

Local daily Haveeru yesterday reported that the allowances had been issued “by mistake.”

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz had not responded to Minivan inquiries at time of press.

The court injunction, which was issued on September 26, ordered the Finance Ministry not to release funds for the committee allowance until the court rules on a case filed on behalf of a civil servant, contending that the allowance could not be given before deducted amounts from civil servants salaries were paid back.

The injunction has since been appealed by the Attorney General’s Office at the High Court, which is due to hold a first hearing on Sunday.

Parliamentary privileges

Meanwhile parliament yesterday debated a motion without notice proposed by Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed claiming that a civic action campaign launched by concerned citizens in late August violated MPs’ special privileges.

MDP MP Ahmed Easa told Minivan News yesterday that colleagues had said the allowance was being released to the parliament secretariat, but he was told that it had been held back by the Minister of Finance.

“I don’t think there was any wording, anything in what the court said indicating that they couldn’t release the money,” said Easa. “But no money has been going in to my account today, I can tell you that.”

Easa elaborated on the allowance, saying that the amount of staffing support and allowances other government branches received justified MPs accepting the proposed allowance.

“The MP point of view is that some of the independent wages and allowances are greater than MPs. The MPs are expected to do research and other duties, but we don’t have an office, a supporting staff, a phone allowance, a travel stipend to visit constituents or other things to support our work. Seven percent of our salary is taken out for a pension fund, and Male’ is an expensive place to live,” said Easa.

Easa said he will accept the allowance, but pointed out that he had always objected to it in parliament on the grounds that all payrolls should be streamlined.

“But if these other government groups are taking an allowance, why not the MPs? This is a democracy, so I always respect the majority decision.”

Lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh, one of two lawyers involved in the civil case, argued that the number of people benefiting from the allowance does not justify the sum released, which amounts to Rf18 million (US$1.1 million).

“It’s greed. Just greed,” Shafaz said. “MPs and higher-ups in the government are probably more aware of their own power than they should be. The thinking behind this goes against everything we know.”

Shafaz suggested the government consider other options, such as releasing the allowance in installments to lighten the burden on the state budget and other subsidiaries.

“But I’m not sure how much political will there is to do this. Everyone says the allowance is a good idea.”

Civil society

Although members of the civil sector earlier issued a statement objecting to the allowance, which they called “a gross injustice to the Maldivian people,” they have not articulated an official position on the issue of late.

Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) Director Fathimath Ibrahim Didi said that individuals in the organization were involved at the beginning, but that they did not represent MDN.

“Now, I think there may be a group working against the allowance, but it is loosely formed involving people from NGOs, lawyers and individuals,” she said.

Transparency Director Ilham Mohamed told Minivan News that a volunteer team was addressing the matter, but that large protests had not been organized among local non-government organizations (NGOs).

“I believe there may be sporadic gatherings in different places,” said Mohamed. “I do know that the NGOs that were involved in the original statement opposing the MP allowance are unified on this issue.”

“Symbolic”

The decision to approve the Rf20,000 (US$1200) monthly allowances in December 2010 was met with  protests and widespread public indignation. However in June this year, parliament rejected a resolution proposed by opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf to scrap the allowance.

Meanwhile the current civic action campaign was prompted by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) deciding in late August to to issue a lump sum of Rf140,000 (US$9,000) as committee allowance back pay for January through July this year.

Article 102 of the constitution states that parliament shall determine the salaries and allowances of the President, Vice President, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, members of the Judiciary, and members of the independent institutions.

The Rf20,000 allowance was initially approved on December 28, 2010 as part of a revised pay scheme recommended by the PAC.

During yesterday’s debate on a privileges motion regarding the anti-committee allowance campaign, MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed, a member of the PAC, explained that the committee felt that MPs should earn a higher salary than High Court judges.

“But even then the honourable members of the Public Accounts Committee believed that MPs were receiving a sufficiently large salary in relation to the country’s economic situation,” he said, adding that a decision was made to institute a “symbolic” committee allowance.

“The thinking at the time was to give it to MPs who attend committee meetings as a very symbolic thing, for example one laari or 15 laari. But to ensure that take-home pay for MPs would be Rf82,500,” he said.

However, he continued, this “noble effort” became politicised and the subject of “an anti-campaign programme.”

Colonel called for legal action against the activists “when they go beyond the boundaries of free expression” and the right to protest, claiming that MPs’ families and children had been targeted.

Echoing a claim made by a number of MPs yesterday, Colonel said none of his constituents had asked him to decline the allowance.

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Comment: Parliament is laughing at you

What a laugh the Majlis is having at the people’s expense. If voting to give themselves the extra MRF20,000 (US$1300) was like spitting people in the face, having the pay cheque backdated is like rubbing the polity’s face in the MPs’ bejewelled excrement.

For what is this money being rewarded? For emotional distress caused by having to bend to the people’s will for eight arduous months? Has life really been that tough on MRF60,000 US$(3900) a month that MPs need financial redress for their suffering?

It really must have been difficult coming up to Ramadan, having to forgo one or many of all those pre-Ramadan MP necessities. No pre-fasting trips to Bangkok, no spiritual rejuvenation trips to Sri Lanka, no shopping trips to Malaysia, no tri-annual holiday abroad for the parliamentary off spring.

Having had to endure a month in which the prices from fish to furniture have gone beyond the common man’s reach, the collective empathy of the people are no doubt with the Majlis.

Kudos to the 17 who have said they do not want the allowance.  Most fascinating, though, are the 16 who abstained. Would the allowance have been possible without them?

How complex and nuanced a question is: do you think you deserve the MRF20,000 a month at a time of grave national debt? It requires a simple yes or no answer – you are either with the people or you are not. Sitting on the fence on this question is even more self-serving than those who voted to keep the allowance – at least they were honest.

And then there are the MPs who are speaking out against the proposed income tax. On the grounds that it applies only to a small percentage of the population! Taxing the small percentage of the mega rich who have this country in a stranglehold, and letting the poor escape the burden – that is the purpose of it, one would have thought. In some MPs’ books, taxes should be equal – this is some people’s understanding of democracy, alas.

The avarice in the parliament is widespread, and its connections to big money are many. On the day of the salary vote at the Public Accounts Committee, its Chairman Ahmed ‘Jangiya’ [Panties] Nazim was in court for allegedly embezzling money from the public coffers to the tune of US$400,000.

If MPs stuck the polity’s face in their excrement, the Criminal Court’s decision to ban the media from MP Nazim’s court hearings buried the public in shallow graves dug in the same matter.

The accused is the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, the man who chairs the meetings at which decisions are made on how public accounts are to be balanced. He stands charged with fraud. If this is not a matter of public interest, then what is?

And what does the Criminal Court’s justification for the decision to ban the media even mean? Article 42 of the Constitution, to which the Court referred in its decision, says courts can only exercise their discretion to exclude the media if doing otherwise would disrupt public order, public morality or national security. None of these issues are at play here.

If the Criminal Court’s decision to gag the media refers to ‘other special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice’ as said in Article 42, what the Court is effectively saying is that it is open to suggestion by every lowly hack out there.

The ‘democratic norms’, only according to which the discretionary powers in Article 42 are to be exercised, has long established that dangers of prejudice by media criticism arises where a jury is involved – not in cases where judges are sitting alone.

Unlike a jury of 12 ordinary people, judges – assumed to have achieved higher levels of education and higher levels of ethics and morality than ordinary people – are seen as above outside influence, and able to make a ruling based solely on the evidence before him.

By saying the court cannot come to a fair and impartial ruling because of what is being said in the media, it is clearly admitting that the judge sitting alone is easily influenced and cannot be trusted.

Perhaps balancing the people’s right to freedom of expression with an accused person’s right to a fair trial was not a module covered in the Sentencing Certificate?

The media should be in an uproar over this gagging order. Apart from a statement from the Media Council, however, there has been nothing.

Where is the Maldives Journalists Association with their usual indignation? Where is the Maldives National Journalists Association? Where are the highly paid members of the Broadcasting Commission? Where is the burgeoning ‘free press’?

Will the real Fourth Estate please stand up?

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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Government extends registration period for disability scheme: report

Disabled people are being given an extended deadline of May 10 to sign up to a new government scheme to provide them with financial allowances.

Haveeru has reported today that the Finance Ministry has agreed to extend the deadline to which people with disabilities could apply for financial aid over concerns a number of members with sight problems were still yet to register.

The scheme forms part of wider legislation passed last month designed to try and protect the rights of disabled people. This includes changes to a previous allowance system that provided Rf2,000 for various individual disability groups, according to the report.

Under this new general disability scheme, a larger number of people are reported to have registered so far, leading to an extended deadline for applications of Tuesday, May 10.

According to Haveeru, about 5,000 applications had been received so far for the scheme, with 1,500 of these cleared and sent on to the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) at present.

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Anti-Majlis protests hit the capital’s streets

Hundreds of protesters have today gathered near parliament to call on the abolition of the Majlis, citing anger over the passing of a bill to extend MP privileges within the state budget.

Activists, which sources have claimed support a number of political parties, joined civil servants, NGOs and other workers near the parliament building to protest against the actions of the Majlis, leading police to restrict access to some streets around the area.

The outrage was said to have been sparked yesterday when parliament passed allowances for parliamentarians that the protesters believe is ‘’way too much’’.

According to the new bill, parliamentarians will receive an additional Rf20,000 to their salary for attending committees, while also being allowed to import vehicles without paying any duty on them. The parliament also approved measures to reinstate the salaries of independent commissions, while failing to address the reduced salaries of civil servants.

This decision has led protesters to claim that MPs were working for their self-interest in the name of working for the nation and citizens in their work.

By this afternoon, a group of protesters brought a box written “Majlis Fund” that was passed beyond the police barrier, before they joined others in heavily criticizing the country’s MPs.

As a result, local media reported that tempers also flared within parliament, as rival MPs clashed with each other forcing speaker Abdulla Shahid to cancel today’s sitting. Haveeru said that some MPs had argued to withdraw the bill for amendment, with Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Maloof one of the names said to support a repeal of the privileges bill on claims that it was against the “pulse of the people”.

Today’s street protests follow on from similar action undertaken last night by the ‘Tortured Victims Association’, which was disrupted after some people present clashed with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentarian group leader Moosa ‘Reeco’ Manik, verbally assaulting him over the issue of budget.

The protest, which involved around 20 to 30 people over practices of torture allegedly committed under the rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, ended up as a protest against all the parliamentarians. A few protesters then marched towards the house of Speaker of the Parliament Abdulla Shahid later in the evening.

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