Criminal Court suspends staff refusing unpaid overtime

The Criminal Court has suspended a number of staff members after they allegedly refused to work overtime, reports local media.

According to local media reports, last Monday (10 February) staff at the Criminal Court refused to work overtime and left for home after the court informed them they would not be paid for overtime.

Local newspaper Haveeru quoted an employee, saying that they had been told of the suspension today. Media reports have quoted figures of around a dozen staff being involved.

According to the staff, they had previously petitioned the judges at the court over the issue prior to the strike.

The staff member who spoke to Haveeru has said that the decision to suspend the staff was made by the judges, suggesting that this was not an authority the judges had.

He also said that there were judges in the court that do not work overtime, but that no action had been taken against them thus making their own suspension unfair.

Furthermore, the employee revealed that before the allowances for judges working at night was introduced, there were four days on which all the judges of the court other that the chief judge had refused to work at night.

He also noted one instance when the chief judge had handed responsibility for extension of detention hearings to a junior colleague, before going fishing, with the result that there was no one at the court to proceed with these hearings.

Recently, the Criminal Court decided to close down after official work hours due to budget restrictions.

The court at the time told the press that it had no funds to pay overtime allowances for employees, and that the Ministry of Finance had not responded regarding the matter. The Civil Court has taken the same measures owing to lack of funds.

Spokesperson of Judicial Administrations Latheefa Gasim referred Minivan News to the Director of Department of Judicial Administration Ahmed Majidh, who in turn referred Minivan News to a Criminal Court media official.

Criminal Court media official Ahmed Mohamed Manik subsequently said he would not like to comment on the matter.

Producing an extensive report on the state of the Maldivian judiciary last year, UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul raised serious concerns about an impending budget catastrophe facing the judicial system.

“The immediate implications of the budget cuts on the judiciary are appalling. For instance, the Department of Judicial Administration only has funds to pay staff salaries until November 2013 and it had to cancel training this year,” Knaul noted in May 2013.

“The Civil Court reported that it would not have sufficient funds to pay its staff salaries after October 2013; furthermore, existing budgetary resources would not be sufficient to pay for utilities and facilities after June 2013,” read Knaul’s report.


PPM MPs support abolishing tourism bed tax

Deputy leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ (PPM) parliamentary group Moosa Zameer has supported abolishing tourism bed tax if the Tourism Goods and Service Tax (T-GST) is raised from 8 to 12 percent.

Reintroducing the US$8 tourism bed tax, which was discontinued on December 31, 2013, is among the raft of revenue raising measures proposed by President Abdulla Yameen.

However, speaking at an eleven member sub committee set up to review the government’s revenue raising measures, Zameer said that government aligned MPs now believed bed tax should be abolished if T-GST were to be increased.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has denied any change in the government’s stance.

“It has not changed. And if the government does not go on with the bed-tax, the numbers will not match in the budget,” Jihad told Minivan News.

According to the Madives Tourism Act, bed tax must be abolished within three years of the introduction of T-GST. The Finance Ministry has said discontinuation of bed tax will cost the state MVR100 million (US$ 6.4 million) every month.

The government expects MVR3.4 billion (US$ 224 million) from revenue raising measures. These also include revision of import duties, raising airport departure charge for foreign passengers from US$ 18 to US$ 25, leasing an additional 12 islands for resort development, introducing GST for telecommunication services, and collecting resort lease extension in advance.

Government aligned MPs requested the People’s Majlis hold an extraordinary session during the ongoing recess, contending that failure to pass the revenue raising measures will hamper the implementation of the 2014 budget.

Meanwhile, the Maldives Association for Tourism Industries (MATI) has questioned the practicality of collecting resort lease extensions in a lump sum.

Speaking at the sub committee yesterday, Secretary General of MATI Ahmed Nazeer said only 17 out of more than one hundred resorts had paid resort lease extension fees upfront during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.

Nazeer pointed out that the Civil Court had said the government could not ask for resort lease extensions upfront during Nasheed’s tenure.

Further, resort owners had amended their agreements to pay lease extension in installments during President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administration, and as such it would be difficult to amend legislation, Nazeer said.

Then Governor of Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Fazeel Najeeb at the time opposed many of those measures, arguing that asking resort owners to pay lease extension fees upfront was robbing the state of future revenue for a “temporary benefit.”

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs said changing agreements could reduce investor agreement in the country.

MDP has described the government’s revenue raising measures as excessive.


Parliament sitting scheduled for January 26

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid has decided to hold sittings of the People’s Majlis from January 26 onward to debate revenue raising bills submitted by the government.

The decision to resume sittings during the ongoing recess was made following a written request by 27 government-aligned MPs, contending that implementation of the budget was being hampered due to the Majlis’ failure to pass the revenue bills.

The three bills submitted by the government include an amendment to the Goods and Services Tax Act to raise T-GST from eight to 12 percent as well as two amendments to the Tourism Act intended to reintroduce the discontinued flat US$8 bed tax and require resort lease extensions to be paid as a lump sum.

Following the Majlis’s failure to extend the tourism bed tax before the end of last year, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told local media that the resulting losses to state revenue would be MVR100 million a month.

Among other revenue raising measures proposed by the government include revising import duties, raising airport departure charge for foreign passengers from US$18 to US$25, leasing 12 islands for resort development, and introducing GST for telecommunication services.


Majlis passes record MVR 17.95 billion budget

The People’s Majlis has passed a record MVR 17.95 billion (US$ 1.16 billion) budget today.

Out of the 72 MPs present, 55 voted for the budget, two voted against and 11 abstained.

The budget deficit now stands at MVR1.3 billion (US$84.3 million). Recurrent expenditure accounts for over 70 percent of the budget.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had initially proposed a MVR 17.5 billion (US$ 1.1 billion), but the People’s Majlis Budget Committee brought a number of amendments, first increasing the budget to MVR 18.3 billion (US$ 1.19 billion) and later reducing it to MVR 17.8 billion.

However, during Wednesday’s budget debate, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs complained about lack of development funds for their constituencies. The committee met that night and increased the Public Sector Investment Program’s budget to MVR 260.5 million (US$ 16.9 million).

The Budget Committee had also added MVR 171.1 million (US$ 11 million) to the budget of the state’s independent institutions.

At today’s sitting, 27 budget recommendations were passed. These include a proposal by Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim to reallocate MVR 122.5 million (US$ 7.9 million) from the Finance Ministry’s contingency budget to the independent state institutions.

MDP MP Ahmed Sameer’s proposal to reallocate MVR 7.1 million (US$ 460,440) from the Finance Ministry’s contingency budget to the health sector also passed.

According to the budget report, 44 percent is allocated for social development, 21 percent for public services, 15 percent for loan repayments and 9 percent for economic development.

The central bank Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) and opposition MPs have expressed concern over tenuous revenue raising measures in the budget.

These include hiking Tourism GST from 8 percent to 12 percent, revising import duties, continuing tourism bed tax for one more year, raising airport departure charge for foreign passengers from US$ 18 to US$25, leasing 12 islands for resort development, introducing GST for telecommunication services and obtaining resort lease payments as a lump sum.

Several of these proposals require revising existing legislation.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has warned the Maldives’ economy is at risk due to excessive state expenditure and methods used to finance the deficit.


JP and PPM dismiss claim of rifts in coalition

The deputy leaders of ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP) have dismissed claims of rifts in the governing coalition.

JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim had previously expressed dissatisfaction by the PPM’s failure to consult coalition partners in compiling the budget. Gasim’s backing was crucial in securing the presidency for President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Speaking on Sunday’s parliament sitting, the PPM’s Deputy Leader Abdul Raheem Abdulla stated that there are no disagreements within the coalition, claiming that the two parties worked “unitedly and amicably”.

“The fact that we won this year’s presidential election through this coalition is proof of the fact that people will not believe rumours you spread. It is useless efforts on the part of MDP to try to break up this coalition. God willing, we will reach the end of our five year term having fulfilled the pledges we made to Maldivian citizens,” he said, accusing the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of attempting to create discord within the coalition.

JP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed echoed party leader Gasim’s claims that PPM had failed to hold any discussions with the party regarding the state budget. However, he, too, confirmed no major disagreements existed between the two parties in the ruling coalition.

“We will do what is required of us to protect the current government. There are no issues between Jumhoori Party and PPM,” Ilham said, adding that the two parties will be working together in the upcoming local council and parliamentary elections.

Verbal attacks

Meanwhile, President Abdulla Yameen has previously expressed disapproval with coalition partner JP for submitting amendments to the budget proposed by the government, saying that coalition partners must let the main party in the alliance decide on the allocation of funds for various projects.

He said then that coalition members must not view the alliance as an opportunity to guarantee themselves what they want from within the government, nor should it be seen as a chance to bring out whatever number of candidates they wish to compete in an election.

“If at the initial stages, coalition partners themselves are to stand up and criticize every issue that arises about our proposal, I really do not see how I will be able to fulfill the people’s needs,” he said, adding that the government will not bear responsibility for unfulfilled pledges if any changes are brought to the budget.

In response, Gasim said: “I am both a coalition member and the Chair of the parliamentary committee tasked with budget review. And yet, we have had no suggestions or discussion from the government.”


Rifts in government coalition over proposed budget

Ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP) have exchanged harsh criticisms following disagreements over the proposed budget for 2014.

President Abdulla Yameen has said coalition partners must let the PPM decide on the allocation of funds for the state budget.

In response, Jumhooree Party leader (JP) – and third placed candidate in this year’s presidential elections – Gasim Ibrahim has criticized the PPM for its alleged failure to consult the JP in compiling the proposed budget. Gasim’s backing was crucial in Yameen’s presidential win.

He is also the chair of the parliament’s Budget Review committee.

Speaking to the press on Wednesday, Yameen called on coalition partners to approve the proposed budget, saying “It will be impossible for the government to work for a common goal if coalition partners are to decide upon what amount of funding needs to be included in the budget for separate projects.”

Only the government will know how to draft a budget in the “best interests of the people,” he said, adding that a coalition can only work if there is cooperation within it.

The PPM had promised the JP over 30 percent of cabinet positions, parliamentary seats, and local government seats in exchange for the party’s support in the second round of presidential polls.

Yameen said that coalition members must not view the alliance as an opportunity to guarantee themselves what they want from within the government, nor should it be seen as a chance to bring out whatever number of candidates they wish to compete in an election.

Instead, forming a coalition is in itself an agreement to abide by the decisions of the main party in the said alliance, he said.

It is unnecessary for citizens to know details about a coalition or the agreements about what is promised to each coalition partner, he added.

“To view it with a united mindset and approve the budget we have proposed is the first step that our coalition partners can take to serve the people. There must be unity, or at least sincerity, in our coalition partners. For MDP, or another opposing party, to have opposing views is perfectly acceptable. But if there are to be major differences in the viewpoints of our coalition members, that is not what we made a coalition for,” Yameen said, criticizing members of his coalition.

“If at the initial stages, coalition partners themselves are to stand up and criticize every issue that arises about our proposal, I really do not see how I will be able to fulfill the people’s needs,” Yameen said.

“When figures for expenses are simply written and the budget is passed as such, while knowing it is not possible to get the said funds, and then the government fails to raise the funds written in the budget for specific projects, it is the government who will be held to account by disgruntled citizens. It is not the parliament, nor our coalition members, who will then have to be answerable, but us,” he continued.

The president stated that he or his government would only bear responsibility for unfulfilled pledges and policies if the budget is approved by parliament as it is.

“If the budget is not passed as it is, and multiple changes are brought to it, then I will not take responsibility for not being able to deliver as planned,” he said.

Parliament has scheduled voting on the budget for tomorrow.

Government held no discussion with coalition about budget: Gasim

Budget Review Committee Chair Gasim Ibrahim – who himself proposed 14 amendments to the budget – responded to Yameen’s comments stating that the government has failed to hold any discussions about the budget with coalition partners.

“Despite being a part of the coalition, the government held no discussion whatsoever with us regarding this budget. Proof enough of this fact is the number of amendments I have submitted to the budget. Had they held initial discussions with us prior to submitting the budget, I would not have had to do this today,” he said, submitting his amendments to parliament on Thursday.

“I am both a coalition member and the Chair of the parliamentary committee tasked with budget review. And yet, we have had no suggestions or discussions from the government,” he continued.

Among the 14 amendments proposed by Gasim, he has included a suggestion to add MVR 6 million to the budget of the Local Government Authority, MVR10 million to the budget of the Maldives National University and MVR5 million to the budget of Prosecutor General’s Office, all in a way that does not increase the total amount of the annual state budget.

Earlier in November, Gasim spoke in a party rally about the government’s failure to provide the promised state positions to Jumhooree Party, while adding that it may be due to PPM being “hectically engaged in other government matters” and expressing confidence that Yameen and party leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom will not “deprive [his party] from benefits”.


“Right now decentralisation in this country is just for show”: Addu City mayor

Mayor of Addu City Abdulla Sodig has suggested the financial difficulties facing his council are a result of the failure to implement the decentralisation act properly.

“Right now decentralisation in this country is just for show,” Sodig told Minivan News.

“The government and Majlis need to resolve these issues if the citizens are to benefit from decentralisation in a meaningful way.”

Addu City will be hit hard by the government’s proposed budget cuts, said Sodig, expressing concerns that the proposed budget for the city is insufficient to adequately provide essential services.

From the MVR421.4million budget requested by the council for 2014, only MVR45.6million was allocated in the budget proposed by Ministry of Finance to the People’s Majlis.

According to the mayor, the initial amount proposed in July 2013 was MVR54.8 million, in response to which the council informed the ministry that MVR123.1 million would be required for recurrent and capital expenditure – excluding Public Sector Investment Programmes (PSIPs).

When the council again requested a minimum of MVR85 million, the ministry proposed a reduced amount of MVR45.6 million. Of this amount, MVR35.2 million was allocated for salaries, MVR5.7 million for pre-schools, and MVR3.7 million for council office administrative costs.

Sodig says this amount would not cover the expenses of repairing mosques and roads.

“Addu City roads are badly in need of repair, whenever it rains most roads are flooded” he said. No funds were allocated for road reconstruction and repair in 2012 or 2013, he added.

Funds for some services in the council’s mandate, such as maintenance of roads and mosques, are included in the budgets of the relevant state departments, Sodig noted.

“It is very difficult, time consuming and costly to carry out our obligations like this.”

The MVR45.6 million budget currently proposed by the ministry does not include any additional projects, for which the council had requested MVR291.9 million.

“The amount we requested includes money needed for land reclamation projects in Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Maradhoo-Feydhoo and Feydhoo. It was initially included in the budget, but has been removed now” Sodig explained.

In 2013 MVR6 million was proposed for PSIP projects, but the council received no money when the budget was finalised. The land reclamation projects were first proposed in 2008 but have been repeatedly delayed.

The actual budget allocation for the council in 2013 was MVR33.7 million, though it reached MVR55 million by the end of the year. The council still has pending electricity bills and up to MVR3 million and MVR186,000 in phone bills.

“At the budget committee we requested at least MVR25 million to pay our pending bills and for other existing contracts such as security and legal services, and they said anything that is absolutely essential will be included” Sodig said.

In 2014 the Council will earn an estimated MVR12.9 million in land lease payments and other fees collected for services provided by the council. A number of issues with financial independence of local councils, however, makes it difficult for the money to be properly utilised.

In 2012, the Finance Ministry requested all local councils to deposit all their revenues with Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) – a decision which Sodiq believes has discouraged local councils from investing in income generating programmes. Fees collected for public services provided with the council’s own resources are also collected by the central ministries.

Sodig blamed laws contravening the ‘Decentralisation Act’ as a primary cause for these issues.

Article 81 of the act requires national authorities to allocate an amount (decided by Ministry of Finance) from state facilities in which the council does not have any participation but are within it’s administrative area.

The mayor noted that no such payments have been made so far, and that some of the natural resources currently utilised by the state were sources of income for locals through traditional economic activity prior to their development for other purposes.


Week in review: December 8 – 14

This week saw the repeatedly delayed budget introduced to the People’s Majlis. Coming in at MVR17.5billion rufiya, the budget – purportedly revised to incorporate President Yameen’s austerity measures – eclipses all previous spending programmes.

A report from the World Bank made clear the tough task the new government faces in nursing the economy towards good health. The report stated that the Maldives continues to spend “beyond its means”.

Noted areas of excess include a high civil service wage bill, with the World Bank suggesting that the government’s short term financing measures risked further damaging the economy.

The exploitation of the country’s persistent shortage of dollars by criminal elements was exposed this week as police reported the activity of thieves masquerading as legitimate exchangers of currency.

When accused of illegally obtaining a budget support loan, recently reappointed Finance Minister pleaded desperation. Abdulla Jihad argued that he had sidestepped the onerous approval procedure to avoid a financial catastrophe in May 2012.

Yameen took fitful steps towards fulfilling his campaign’s austerity pledges this week, ordering the reduction of salary for two grades of state minister – though the cut was only around 12.5 percent instead of the 30-50 mooted before the election.

Similarly, the new government appeared to have reneged on its pledge to provide cash-handouts to old-age pensioners – opting for an insurance scheme instead.

Government performance

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, however, appeared pleased with his half-brother’s performance thus far, praising his handling of Indo-Maldivian relations while the Defence Minister discussed enhanced military cooperation with Indian counterparts.

The indistinct ‘National Movement’ this week suggested ulterior motives in the bureaucratic thwarting of its plan to celebrate the eviction of Indian infrastructure giant GMR, whose deal to develop the international airport was prematurely terminated twelve months ago.

Elsewhere, the coalition member Adhaalath Party, quashed rumours that it had parted ways with Yameen’s government this week, despite previous reports that it intended to campaign independently in the upcoming local and parliamentary elections.

The ‘roadmaps’ for the first one hundred days of the government continued to be drawn this week, with comprehensive lists now produced in the areas of  transport, health, and immigration.

Whilst the Transport Ministry has promised finished plans for the redevelopment of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, the health minister talked of significant changes to the IGMH public hospital.

The police service also joined in the policy pledging, with its own promises to improve its service and to build public trust in the institution. The Police Integrity Commission this week suggested that the prosecutor general assist in this task by prosecuting two officers it had found to have been negligent during the arson attack which destroyed Raajje TV in October.

The vacancy at the head of the PG’s Office did not stop the filing of charges in the 8 year old ‘Namoona Dhoni’ case. Pro-democracy activists – prevented from reaching Malé for a national demonstration – now face fresh charges of disobeying lawful orders.

Trust between the Supreme Court and the judicial watchdog appeared scant this week as the Chief Justice baulked at the JSC’s re-shuffling of a number of senior judges. Members of the JSC were later reported to have rejected Chief Justice Faiz’s legal objections.

Corruption and human rights

Confidence in the transparency of the public in public institutions also appeared to be on the wane this week, as Transparency Maldives’ Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) survey revealed that 83 percent of its sample felt corruption to have increased or stayed the same over the past two years.

Despite only appearing mid-table in the list of organisations perceived as being corrupt, the MNDF reacted disproportionately to the local media’s reporting of the survey, labelling CNM’s article on the survey “highly irresponsible journalism”.

The Anti Corruption Commission announced the discovery of graft in the capital’s largest housing programme. The highest number of bribes reported in the GCB was in the area of land services.

International human rights day was observed by the government and civil society in the same week the president ratified the country’s first anti-human trafficking bill. Whilst welcoming the new law, both the Human Rights Commission and the immigration department suggested that institutional strengthening would need to accompany a successful anti-trafficking policy.

Finally, this week saw the release of a United Nations Population Fund report, calling on the state to review existing practices related to sexual behaviour within the judicial process, law enforcement, education and health sectors.

The report stated reproductive health services ought to be expanded to non-married couples as evidence makes clear that the assumption sex does not, or should not, occur outside of marriage is increasingly out of step with social realities.


Submission of revised budget delayed for fourth time

Amendments to the 2014 state budget could not be submitted as scheduled today, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has stated, delaying the submission process for the fourth time.

The budget – submitted by the outgoing administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed – has been undergoing amendments in accordance with the aims of the new government of President Abdulla Yameen.

Jihad – finance minister under both presidents – told local media today that although the final draft cannot be submitted to parliament today, the majority of the work had been completed.

He stated that the main reason for the delay was that the government had so far not provided enough details about some projects they wished to include in the budget.

Jihad asserted that a final draft of the budget with all the required amendments will be ready for submission by Sunday, December 8.

The Finance Ministry has stated that issues such as decreasing overtime allowances and non-profit allowances, and revising conditions for the provision of subsidies will be reviewed when submitting the newly amended budget.

President Yameen has expressed concern over the economic vulnerability of the Maldives and pledged to reduce state expenditure by MVR1 billion (US$64.9million).

“State debt is sky high. The state budget’s expenses are extremely high. Hence, we have to prioritise reducing state expenditure. I will start work very soon to reduce budget expenses,” Yameen said during his inauguration speech.

The Maldives Monetary Authorities’ (MMA) most recent quarterly review noted that Government finances had “further deteriorated in the first six months of 2013” due to a sizeable shortfall in expected revenue coupled with a marked increase in recurrent expenditure.

While the delay has brought the work of Parliament’s budget committee to a temporary halt, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid has instructed the committee to submit its final review report on the budget to the Parliament floor by December 15.

Elsewhere, the Public Accounts Committee has today passed a proposal for the government to obtain a US$29million loan from the Bank of Ceylon as annual budget support and submitted it to the parliament.

The loan request was submitted by the Waheed administration in September.

The Public Accounts Committee report outlines that the loan is to be paid back by the government in a period of six years. The loan has a grace period of one year, after which a monthly payment of US$490,000 has to be paid to the Bank of Ceylon.

The committee has passed the proposal for the loan despite it having an 8% interest rate – the parliament had previously decided that any loans taken by the government must have an interest rate of no higher than 7%.

Earlier this week Indian media reported that the country would soon be releasing a further installment of the US$100million standby credit facility.