Parliament approves state budget for 2015 with 60 votes in favour

The People’s Majlis today approved the record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget for 2015 submitted by the government without significant changes to either spending plans or revenue forecasts.

None of the 19 amendments submitted by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs and Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs to revise the budget passed as pro-government MPs voted against all the proposals.

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) along with coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) controls a combined 48 seats in the 85-member house.

The budget passed with 60 votes in favour and 19 against.

The MDP parliamentary group had issued a three-line whip for its MPs to vote against the budget if none of the proposed revisions are passed. All JP MPs, however, voted to approve the budget.

While the budget review committee completed its review process without significant revisions, pro-government MPs recommended several constitutional amendments to reduce recurrent expenditure.

During the budget debate last month, opposition MPs criticised higher taxes, deficit spending and alleged discrimination in the allocation of funds, whilst pro-government MPs praised planned capital investments and contended that the budget was balanced.

In his budget speech, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad noted that recurrent expenditure in 2015 is expected to be MVR15.8 billion (US$1 billion) or 65 percent of the budget while the forecast for government income or revenue is MVR21.5 billion (US$1.3 billion).

Capital expenditure meanwhile accounts for 30 percent of the budget, Jihad said, which includes MVR6.3 billion (US$408 million) for the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP).

Jihad noted that MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) was anticipated from new revenue raising measures, which includes revisions of import duty rates from July onward, the introduction of a ‘green tax’, acquisition fees from investments to special economic zones, income from the home ownership programme, and leasing 10 islands for resort development.

The government has since decided to reduce the green tax from the initially proposed US$10 per day to US$6 per day and exempt guest houses from the tax.

Additionally, the cabinet’s economic council yesterday decided not to impose a planned 10 percent import duty on staple foodstuff.

However, in its professional opinion on the budget, the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) advised against making ad hoc changes to policies that could affect projected revenue and expenditure.

“If policies are changed the budget deficit would increase and become difficult to finance,” the central bank cautioned.

The MMA also advised against launching infrastructure projects without securing financing.

Following its annual Article IV consultation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) advised that “large capital investments should only be embarked upon when full financing is secured at affordable costs and the growth benefits clearly outweigh the costs.”

The IMF also recommended addressing the fiscal deficit by reducing public expenditure and reigning in public debt.

During the final debate at today’s sitting of parliament on the report compiled by the budget committee following its review, MPs suggested allocating funds in the 2015 state budget to ensure a permanent solution to the ongoing water crisis in the capital.

While opposition MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih recommended returning the budget to the committee for revisions, several MPs stressed the importance of establishing a backup mechanism to supply water.

MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi contended that the crisis could have been averted if the fire and rescue service of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) properly carried out its responsibilities.

The MNDF could have conducted a ‘fire audit’ of the Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) at least once a month in the interest of national security, the retired brigadier general said.

Related to this story

Finance minister presents record MVR24.3 billion state budget to parliament

MDP, JP MPs propose 19 amendments to 2015 budget

MDP parliamentary group issues three-line whip against proposed 2015 budget


Civil society groups condemn proposed restrictions to constitutional rights

Civil society groups have condemned proposed amendments to the law prohibiting possession of dangerous weapons, which would restrict the rights to remain silent and to retain legal counsel

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) have urged parliament to withhold from passing the amendments.

A joint press statement by the two organisations stated their belief that the amendments to the 2010 law “absolutely violates rather than limits fundamental rights of the people” and that, if passed, “will seriously hinder the democratic system Maldives has transited to”.

The statement also expressed concerns that the amendments’ use of the phrase ‘..although the Constitution states such..’ appears to bring in laws above the Constitution, opening space for similar amendments to be made which also violate the Constitution.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil revealed the government’s intention to narrow constitutional rights at a press conference in October after a spate of violent assaults in the capital – which police said were a series of gang reprisals – saw three young men stabbed to death.

While presenting the amendments to the Peoples Majlis earlier this month, the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ibrahim Didi said special measures were needed to curb increasing violent assaults, to ease the public’s fears and anxiety, and to establish public order and safety.

The amendments bill states that suspects arrested for assault with sharp objects or dangerous weapons will not be able to exercise the right to remain silent “to any extent”.

Police could also question the suspect if he or she is either unable to have an attorney present within six hours, or waives the right to retain legal counsel.

Moreover, the suspect could only consult a lawyer in the presence of a police officer for the first 96 hours after the arrest.

MDN and CHRI argued that such amendments would eventually result in the “subversion of the Constitution”. Opposition MPs have also described the changes as unconstitutional, suggesting that the government was blaming a lack of legislation for its own failure to curb violent crime.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy has said that the actual obstacle to securing convictions for violent crimes was “incompetency and corruption within the criminal justice system”.

The MDP has condemned the growing insecurity within the country after the current government’s failure to adequately address public fears following a rise in violent crimes.

However, President Abdulla Yameen said that his administration has achieved “peace and order in Malé and all regions of Maldives” while acknowledging that “isolated and significant” dangerous crimes do occur.

Speaking at a PPM rally this month, President Yameen reiterated the government’s resolve to implement the death penalty for the sake of human rights and dignity.

“I want to say tonight as well in your presence, this government will have no mercy at all for those who slaughter Maldivian citizens with no mercy,” said Yameen at the ‘Successful 365 Days’ event held in Malé on November 21.

While speaking at a seminar on strengthening the criminal justice system yesterday (November 30), Vice President Mohamed Jameel – formerly justice minister under the presidency of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – said that the hands of investigating officers were tied by the Constitution.

“The changes we brought to our legal system are very good. They are very complete. However, they have not been implemented in a very good manner,” Sun Online reported Jameel as saying.

“In completing the desired results of those changes, many have been negligent, and the society is becoming frustrated as a result. The people have begun questioning about the reliability of laws and the protection that should be guaranteed by a judicial system.”

Related to this story

AG seeks to strengthen prohibitions on carrying of sharp weapons

MPs debate restricting constitutional rights after arrest

Yameen pledges to end violent crime at ‘Successful 365 Days’ rally


MDP submits over 300 amendments to SEZ bill

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has submitted more than 300 amendments to the government’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) legislation, currently in the final stage of the legislative process.

Briefing the press on the proposed revisions (Dhivehi) yesterday, MDP MP Rozaina Adam appealed for the public and local councils to urge pro-government MPs to vote for the amendments.

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) have 48 seats in the 85-member People’s Majlis.

The MDP contends that an SEZ law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, undermine the decentralisation system, and authorise a board formed by the president to “openly sell off the country” without parliamentary oversight.

The party also objects to exempting investors from paying import duties or taxes for 10 years as well as allowing companies with foreign shareholders to purchase land without paying sales tax.

The government, however, maintains that SEZs with relaxed regulations and tax incentives were necessary both for foreign investors to choose the Maldives over other developing nations and to launch ‘mega projects,’ which President Abdulla Yameen has said would “transform” the economy through diversification and mitigate the reliance on the tourism industry.

Following the submission of a report (Dhivehi) by the economic affairs committee after reviewing the legislation, the third and final reading of the bill began at today’s sitting of parliament.

MDP MPs proceeded to propose and second the amendments, which would be put to a vote individually ahead of a final vote on passing the bill.


MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef explained yesterday that the main changes proposed to the bill include removing a provision to allow companies with a 49 percent stake held by foreign shareholders to purchase land.

The article would be changed to allow such companies to lease the land in lieu of ownership, he noted.

Moreover, a provision allowing leasing of land to foreign companies for 99 years would be revised to reduce the lease period.

The party further proposed adding a provision to require 75 percent of jobs in the SEZs to be reserved for Maldivians.

In line with Article 41 of the Constitution, Shareef said an amendment was proposed to require “fair and adequate compensation” to be paid for private property acquired by the state.

The MDP also proposed scrapping Article 74 of the draft legislation, which allows up to 40 percent of any zone to be tourist-related development with tax and duty exemptions.

Moreover, Shareef said an amendment was proposed to prevent resorts under development from being declared an SEZ.

Amendments were also forwarded for mandatory consultation with local councils ahead of declaring any region under council jurisdiction an SEZ.

On provisions for offshore banking, Shareef noted that an amendment was proposed for the Maldives Monetary Authority or central bank to exercise oversight over the financial services.

MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi – a retired brigadier general – meanwhile proposed an amendment banning any form of gambling or casinos in the SEZs.

He also proposed outlawing the construction of churches or temples for the worship of other religions as well as any such congregation in the SEZs.

Shareef contended that the party’s amendments would not obstruct the operation of the zones “fairly and without corruption in a way that would benefit the country”.

MP Rozaina explained that the other amendments were intended to hold the government accountable through parliamentary oversight.

An amendment was proposed requiring parliamentary approval for the president’s appointees to the investment board.

Moreover, amendments were proposed to include either an opposition MP or one member from each political party represented in parliament on the investment board.

Responding to opposition criticism of the SEZ bill last week upon returning from a visit to China, President Yameen noted that the constitution allows for “freeholds” and leasing of land for 99 years.

Article 251(b) of the Constitution states, “A foreign party shall not receive a lease of, or be given in any other way, any part of the territory of the Maldives for a period exceeding 99 years.”

Large foreign investments of US$300 to US$400 million would not be made if the lease period was any lower, Yameen argued, adding that “freehold rights” were offered for 99 years in developed nations.

Referring to the ‘iHavan’ transhipment port project  in Ihavandhippolhu, Yameen noted that the creation of SEZs would involve significant land reclamation while other areas that would be designated as SEZs were presently not utilised.

“So if it is MDP or anyone else talking about it, we are going to go forward with this work. God willing, it will go forward. And God willing, the special economic zone bill will be passed,” he said.


MP Riyaz Rasheed withdraws amendments to law on privileges and protection for former presidents

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed has withdrawn amendments proposed to the Privileges and Protection for former President’s Act of 2009.

At today’s sitting of parliament, the PPM parliamentary group deputy leader said he decided to withdraw the bill as it required revision, adding that he would resubmit during the next session after the upcoming one-month recess.

The amendment proposed denying financial benefits and protection for former presidents if they are either convicted of a criminal offence or encourages an act that threatens Maldivian sovereignty and independence.

Similar amendments proposed by the Vilufushi MP twice before had been rejected by the previous parliament.

The 2009 law stipulates a monthly allowance of MVR50,000 (US$3,243) for a president who has served one term.

Before declaring his intention to withdraw the amendments, Riyaz suggested it could be beneficial to allow the bill to be debated on the People’s Majlis floor to “recall” the alleged misdeeds of former President Mohamed Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government.

He went on to allege that the party was behind all the murders that have occurred in the Maldives, prompting MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef to object with a point of order.

PPM MPs were using the Majlis floor as “a political podium,” Shareef said.

Following the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 2012, the government had questioned Nasheed’s eligibility for state benefits on the grounds that he had not completed a full five-year term in office.

In June 2012, MDP MP Ahmed Hamza revealed that the state had spent MVR1.3 million (US$84,300) on healthcare costs for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his wife from 2010 to April 2012.

In November 2012, Riyaz threatened to sue the finance minister and attorney general for providing state benefits to former President Nasheed.


Majlis members send six bills to committee

Six pieces of legislation submitted on behalf of the government by Progressive Party of Maldives MPs were sent to committee for further review at today’s sitting of parliament.

The bills include amendments to the Goods and Service Tax Act, amendments to the Immigration Act, a bill to repeal an outdated law on allowing detention for more than seven days, amendments to the Civil Service Act, amendments to the Human Rights Commission of Maldives Act, and amendments to a number of laws to remove inconsistencies with the Decentralisation Act.

While most of the bills were accepted and sent to committee with comfortable majorities of between 50 to 64 votes, the proposed amendment to the Immigration Act was accepted with 46 votes in favour and 19 against


Amendments to Audit Act sent to committee

Amendments submitted on behalf of the government by Progressive Party of Maldives MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim to the Audit Act of 2007 were sent to the economic affairs committee for further review today.

Following preliminary debate, the amendment bill (Dhivehi) was accepted with 55 votes in favour and two abstentions.

The legislation is part of a raft of bills submitted by the government to abolish provisions in conflict with the new constitution adopted in August 2008.

Preliminary debate meanwhile continued at today’s sitting on government-sponsored amendments to the Immigration Act with 34 MPs participating in the debate.


Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation arrive for urgent visit

A delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has arrived in the Maldives in order “to help find ways to improve trust and confidence between State institutions”.

“The frequent intimidation, harassment and attack of MPs as they go about their work have been deeply worrying,” read an IPU press release.

The organisation’s request for an urgent visit was prompted by the growing list of cases – 24 in total – involving Maldivian MPs currently filed with the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives has meanwhile called upon the Supreme Court to ensure that all MPs are treated impartially whilst calling upon members not to abuse parliamentary privileges for personal gain.

The IPU delegation, having arrived on Friday (November 1), will spend one week in the country during which time it will meet with government leaders, senior parliamentary authorities – including Speaker Abdulla Shahid, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and members of the Supreme Court.

The group will also meet with President Dr Mohamed Waheed – recently returned from a private trip to Singapore and Hong Kong.

“The mission not only aims to promote confidence and trust between State institutions ahead of the forthcoming election, but also to have a better understanding of recent allegations of human rights violations against members of parliament. These include arbitrary arrests, attacks and intimidation, including death threats,” says IPU head of human rights programmes and mission member, Rogier Huizenga.

The delegation’s arrival follows a fraught week in the People’s Majlis, during which two MPs were unseated by the Supreme Court – a decision subsequently rejected by the speaker.

Meanwhile, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor – who has sought refuge within parliamentary grounds – was handed a six month jail term by the Criminal Court.

Both the verdict for Hamid and for the MPs unseated by the Supreme Court were given in absentia, a tactic the MDP has described as reminiscent of “old autocratic practice”.

The party described the Hamid sentence as “the latest move by the Maldivian judiciary in a political witch-hunt to purge MDP MPs following the party’s newfound majority in parliament.”

Transparency Maldives

Whilst calling for neutrality in the courts, Transparency Maldives (TM) has also condemned what it characterised as “attempts to shape laws and rules for protecting personal interests of the Members of the Parliament and abuse of parliamentary privileges and the institution of the Parliament.”

In a statement last week, TM contended that such attempts “weaken the legal system and obstruct the rule of law. Similarly, such acts undermine the integrity of the Parliament, eroding public confidence in the institution.”

“Members of the Parliament must be provided with appropriate privileges and immunities in order to carry out their duties as lawmakers. However, Transparency Maldives reiterates its concern that the Parliamentary Privileges Act affords undue privileges and powers to the MPs,” the statement read.

The press release followed this week’s submission of amendments to the penal code, the Drugs Act and the parliamentary rules of procedure by the MDP.

The amendment to the penal code seeks to abolish article 81 regarding public servants exercising their authority to detain innocent persons. The MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed is being charged under the article for the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

The amendment to the Drug Act meanwhile proposes shortening the jail sentence for the offence of refusing a urine sample from one year to 15 days while the amendment to the parliament regulations would allow MPs convicted of a criminal offence to attend parliament and participate in votes.

In addition to his sentence for refusing to attend court hearings, MP Hamid stands charged of drug and alcohol offences, as well as allegedly refusing to provide police with a urine sample.


2012 budget passed with opposition MPs’ amendments

A state budget of Rf14.6 billion (US$946.8 million) for 2012 was passed by parliament today with Rf3.5 million (US$226,977) added through amendments proposed by opposition MPs.

The budget was approved with 70 votes in favour, two against and one abstention.

Among the amendments passed today included proposals by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) to shift Rf300 million (US$19 million) from other items to local councils, increase funds for political parties from Rf11 million (US$713,000) to Rf14.5 million (US$940,337) and raise state benefits to the elderly from Rf2,000 (US$130) to Rf2,300 (US$148) to adjust for inflation.

The additional spending on political parties was proposed by Kelaa MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom in reference to the regulation on political parties, which stipulates that 0.01 percent of the state budget must be allocated for party finance.

An amendment proposed by Fares-Maathoda MP Ibrahim Muttalib to prevent privatisation of the Maldives Post Limited (MPL), State Electricity Company (STELCO), Island Aviation and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) was passed after Speaker Abdulla Shahid cast the tie-breaking vote.

Of the five public companies proposed by the government, Muttalib’s amendment stated that the government could privatise only Maldives In-flight Catering (MIC).

A total of Rf750 million (US$49 million) was projected as revenue from privatising the state-owned enterprises.

Seven amendments proposed yesterday by Jumhooree Party Leader and Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim to scrap the privatisation plans on the grounds that it violated the Public Finance Act were not put for a vote after parliament’s newly-appointed Counselor-General Fathmath Filza advised that the government’s proposals were not unlawful.

Other amendments included proposals for the Ministry of Finance to provide detailed information of development programmes including selected islands, funding plans and schedules before next year’s budget debate commences.

Meanwhile over 50 new development projects were added by the budget committee, which also increased funding for independent institutions by Rf192 million (US$12.4 million) and included Rf100 million (US$6 million) as fisheries subsidies.


Majlis amendments against Constitution and convention: President Nasheed

Under the Constitution and conventions, the President has the power to seek nominations to the Civil Service Commission and submit nominations to the Majlis, said President Nasheed in his weekly radio address. Making nominations for the commission to the Majlis was not its legal role, said the President, and he was returning amendments to the Civil Service Act to the Majlis for reconsideration.

The power of the President to seek and receive nominations to the commission, and select applicants, is removed under an amendment to Article 13 of the Act passed by the Majlis on 22 June. This power would be taken by the Majlis, and the President would have to appoint whoever they selected. The President would not have power of approval, unlike the power of approval given to the Majlis under the original Act.

A secret ballot would be used by the Majlis to appoint the chairperson and deputy chairperson of the commission under an amendment to Article 17 of the Act.

The Majlis would have the power to dismiss members of the commission if their actions are “inappropriate”, or if they are unable or incapable of fulfilling their duties in the view of the Majlis, according to an amendment to Article 15 of the Civil Service Act.