Majlis approves reintroducing car allowance for ministers

The People’s Majlis approved a revision to the state’s wage structure recommended by the public accounts committee (PAC) to reintroduce a discontinued car allowance for cabinet ministers.

The PAC report (Dhivehi) was passed with 58 votes in favour and 20 against.

On July 14, the PAC approved a request by President Abdulla Yameen to reintroduce the MVR6,500 (US$422) monthly salary for drivers of ministers’ cars as well as a MVR1,000 (US$65) allowance for petrol cost.

Parliament also granted an extension to an MVR50 million (US$3.2 million) overdraft facility provided to the State Electricity Company (STELCO) by the Bank of Maldives.

A recommendation by the PAC (Dhivehi) to extend the duration of the overdraft facility until March 2015 was passed unanimously with 80 votes in favour.

Parliamentary approval for the extension was required under the Public Finance Act.


Public accounts committee approves reintroducing car allowance for ministers

The People’s Majlis’ public accounts committee (PAC) yesterday approved a request by President Abdulla Yameen to reintroduce a discontinued car allowance for cabinet ministers.

A motion by Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) MP Ahmed Amir to grant the request was approved with seven votes in favour and six against after Chair MP Ahmed Nihan – parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – cast the tie-breaking vote.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs and Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs voted against the motion. The PAC is comprised of six PPM MPs along with one MP from coalition partner MDA as well as four MDP MPs and two JP MPs.

The committee’s decision will be put to a vote on the Majlis floor.

Under the previous parliament in December 2012, the PAC had decided to discontinue an MVR6,500 (US$422) monthly salary for drivers of ministers’ cars as well as an MVR1,000 (US$65) allowance for petrol cost. Ministers were instructed to settle the expenses out of their salaries from April 2013 onward.

The PAC decision was later voted through on the Majlis floor on December 31 as part of a revised pay scheme for senior officials in the executive, judiciary, and independent institutions.

The elimination of both the salary for drivers and the fuel allowance was estimated to save 89 percent from the budget item. Cabinet ministers presently earn a monthly salary of MVR57,500 (US$3,729).

The task of determining salaries and allowances is entrusted to the PAC – also referred to as the finance committee – under section 100(a) of the parliamentary rules of procedures.

Article 102 of the constitution states, “The president, vice president, members of the cabinet, members of the People’s Majlis, including the speaker and deputy speaker, members of the judiciary, and members of the independent commissions and independent offices shall be paid such salary and allowances as determined by the People’s Majlis.”

In its meeting yesterday, the PAC also commenced a review of the state’s salary structure or pay scheme.

Executive expenses

During the debate on reintroducing the car allowance yesterday, MDP MPs suggested studying the government’s request further after summoning the finance minister.

MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih – parliamentary group leader of the MDP – argued that it would be “irresponsible” to approve additional expenditures without scrutiny.

The proposal was however rejected by pro-government MPs after the chair said the issue had been thoroughly considered by the PAC in the previous parliament.

MDP MPs also objected to increasing expenditure on ministers while doctors and teachers were unhappy with their renumeration.

Meanwhile, a paper prepared by the parliament secretariat on expenses by the executive in 2013 was deliberated by the committee.

The paper – subsequently shared with local media – reportedly revealed that MVR913,277 (US$59,227) was spent out of the budget last year to provide the allowance to ministers under former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration between April and November 2013.

The allowance was provided to the health minister, economic development minister, tourism minister, fisheries minister, defence minister, Islamic affairs minister, housing minister, youth minister, education minister, transport minister, finance minister and the attorney general.

While MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef contended that the allowance was provided in violation of public finance laws and should be investigated by parliament, MP Nihan insisted that there was no proof of wrongdoing in the document.


Six ministers appointed to cabinet

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom appointed six new cabinet ministers today including Umar Naseer as Home Minister, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed as Islamic Minister, Dr Mohamed Muiz as Housing and Infrastructure Minister, Dr Mohamed Shainy as Fisheries and Agriculture Minister, Mohamed Saeed as Economic Development Minister and Thoriq Ibrahim as Environment and Energy Minister.

The oath of office for the ministers was administered by Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Areef.

While two of the five ministers appointed on Sunday night were members of the President’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the new ministers appointed today were nominated by coalition partners Jumhooree Party (JP), Adhaalath Party (AP) and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA). The PPM-led coalition also includes a number of smaller parties.

JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim and MDA Leader Ahmed Shiyam Mohamed attended the swearing-in ceremony at the President’s Office this afternoon.

Adhaalath Party members Shaheem and Muiz had served in the same posts in the cabinet of former President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

In addition to the ministerial appointments, former Youth Minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef  ‘Mundhu’ was appointed minister of the President’s Office – a post abolished in 2008 – and former Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed was appointed Commissioner General of Customs.

All cabinet ministers would require parliamentary approval for confirmation of their posts.

In his remarks after presenting letters of appointment, President Yameen congratulated the new ministers and noted that the government was formed out of a coalition.

The aim of the government should therefore be implementing the main components of the manifestos of the PPM-led coalition, he said.

This would bring contentment and prosperity to the people, protect Islam, maintain peace and stability, and overcome divisions, Yameen said.

The coalition government would be “a compassionate government” that “respects the individual rights of all citizens,” he added.

President Yameen said he wished to “speed up our efforts” to deliver on the campaign promises and asked the new ministers to “work tirelessly” and “make sacrifices if necessary” to serve the public and defend Islam.

“So I ask all of you to provide cooperation to me and my government to ensure the development the Maldivian people want,” he said.

The next five years would bring “unprecedented joy and peace” if the coalition government’s vision for the country was realised, Yameen said.

President Yameen said he hoped to present a timeline or roadmap for the first 100 days at the first cabinet meeting.

Home Minister Umar Naseer

Umar Naseer was dismissed from the PPM in April after refusing to apologise for allegations of vote rigging in the wake of his primary defeat to President Yameen.

Naseer had claimed that  Yameen “rigged” the primary by ballot stuffing, falsifying the count and “pouring black money” to buy votes.

He further alleged that criminal gangs, convicts and drug smuggling “networks” were part of Yameen’s campaign team.

“Less than 24 hours after my brother Abdulla Yameen won the primary, the foremost person in the Maldives’ corruption network, Deputy Speaker of the People’s Majlis Ahmed Nazim joined the PPM,” Naseer had said.

After joining the campaign of JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim, Umar had said that Yameen was “the root of all the problems faced by our country today.”

“The 40,000 illegal immigrants who have entered the country are people brought in under his nose. People say that there is a connection between Yameen and the illicit drugs that are sold on the streets of Maldives,” Naseer alleged.

Following Gasim’s third-placed finish in the first round of the presidential election on November 9, Naseer declared that he would back the PPM candidate against former President Mohamed Nasheed.


President Waheed commutes sentences of 35 convicts, approves lump sum payment for ministers

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has commuted the sentences of 35 convicts under authority granted by the Clemency Act of 2009 and approved a lump sum payment of three months’ wages for cabinet ministers.

President Waheed exercised the executive power on the last official working day of his administration before the end of the current presidential term on Monday, November 11.

The President’s Office revealed in a statement that Waheed had commuted the sentences of persons banished, serving jail sentences or under house arrest “with conditions.”

Details of the convicts, the conditions and the reduced sentences were not disclosed.

President Waheed considered “age, illness, nature of medical treatment, time and circumstance, behaviour and conduct, or a compassionate view,” the President’s Office stated.

Persons convicted of murder, a crime with a punishment (hadd) prescribed in Islamic Shariah, terrorism, child sexual abuse, sexual assault or rape, and homosexuality were not included among the 35 convicts, the President’s Office claimed.

Under the law passed in 2009, prisoners who have completed one-third of their sentences and exhausted all avenues of appeal are eligible to apply for clemency.

Local media meanwhile reported that President Waheed has also decided to provide a lump sum payment of three months’ salaries and allowances for cabinet ministers.

While the proposal was made at the last cabinet meeting, a decision was not finalised last week.

As ministers earn MVR57,500 (US$3,729) a month, the lump sum payments would amount to MVR2 million (US$129,702) for the 12 ministers presently in the cabinet.

Local media has also reported that the government signed an agreement on Wednesday (November 6) to hand over the Kaadehdhoo airport in Gaaf Dhaal atoll to Villa Air, owned by business tycoon and Jumhooree Party (JP) presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim, for a 50-year period.

Transport Minister Ibrahim Ameen, who signed on behalf of the government, is a senior member of the JP representing the party in the coalition government.

Former Transport Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed – filling a JP slot in cabinet at the time – was sacked in November 2012 after extending the lease of the privately-owned airport in Maamigili for 99 years. Despite the dismissal, the decision was not reversed and Shamheed was replaced by Ameen.

In February this year, the Anti-Corruption Commission began investigating the lease extension of the airport operated by Gasim’s Villa Shipping and Trading.

In March, Dr Shamheed told Minivan News that President Waheed wanted “credit” for extending the Maamigili airport lease.

The media reports today also revealed that an agreement was signed with Island Aviation to hand over the Ka’dhoo airport in Laamu atoll, while agreements were signed with Reol Investment and Millenium Capital Management to build and operate airports in Dhaal Kudahuvadhoo and Noonu Maafaru, respectively.

The companies were given uninhabited islands as an airport subsidy – Noonu Kummala and Raa Ufulandhoo to Millenium and Dhaal Hiriyafushi and Kadimma to Reol – to be developed as resorts.


Half of cabinet to be provided with MNDF bodyguards

Seven of the government’s 14 cabinet ministers have been assigned Special Protection Group (SPG) bodyguards from the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Colonel Abul Raheem of the MNDF said that the bodyguards had been designated upon the ministers’ request.

SPG bodyguards are of the same type provided to the President, Vice President and the Speaker of the House.

When asked if this was in response to any specific threats, Raheem was keen to point out that the move had not come as a specific response to recent events.

“This is not because of what happened recently – security guards have been requested previously,” said Raheem.

The security of government officials has become a prominent issue in the country following the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali last week.

Following the murder, parliament’s ’241′ Security Committee summoned Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz to discuss issues including the MP’s murder and politicians’ safety.

After failing to resolve the case, the police revealed earlier this week that they will seek foreign assistance in its investigations.

Earlier this week former Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy called for a review of security arrangements afforded to Maldivian politicians over fears of an increase in “orchestrated” political attacks in the country.

The comments were made after Luthfy had been struck in the face on October 6 by an unidentified assailant on the island of Kanduhulhudhoo, Gaafu Alif Atoll.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed last week requested, in writing, that his Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) security detail – provided under the Former President’s Act – not accompany him on a campaign tour.

The MNDF later released a statement saying that it could not take any responsibility for harm that might befall the former president whilst not under its protection.

A spate of high profile murders and an increase in assaults in the Maldives has led to criticism of the Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, with some going as far as to table a no-confidence vote in the People’s Majlis.

This week the cabinet has urged the President to take immediate measures to ensure safety and security in the country.

Local media reported that the cabinet’s security committee had decided to review businesses offering 24 hour services, and that police will conduct increases vehicle checks in an effort to maintain peace on the streets.

The government also announced its decision yesterday to submit a bill which will govern the implementation of the death penalty.

Despite being on the statute books, the Clemency Act and a lack of facilitating legislation has resulted on a de facto moratorium on capital punishment since 1953.


“Senior activists and coup leaders” among President’s 18 new deputy ministers: MDP

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan  appointed 18 new deputy ministers to 11 ministries on Tuesday.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) criticised the appointments as rewards for participation in the alleged coup d’état of February 7, that saw Mohamed Nasheed resign “under duress”.

“All of these people were senior activists in leading the coup d’état. Many of them were present at the Republican Square on February 7. They are unqualified and inexperienced,” MDP spokesperson and Maafannu Uthuru MP Imthiyaz Fahmy contended.

However, President Waheed’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said the positions were awarded based on political party affiliation and qualifications, not based on “political activity or their presence at a certain place.”

He also said the appointments reflected President Waheed’s desire to “formulate a national unity government”.

“The law gives him the choice to choose his cabinet. He wanted his cabinet to represent all political parties, and he invited all parties to join the government. And these are the people who joined him,” Riza said.

According to Riza, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the Dhivei Qaumee Party (DQP), and the Jumhooree Party (JP) were given three deputy ministerial positions each, while the religious Adhaalath Party was given four seats. President Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihad (GI) received two seats, and the Maldives Reform Movement (MRM) received one seat. The MDP declined to participate.

Waheed also appointed his brother Ali Waheed Hassan Manik as the CEO of National Center for Arts. Managing Director Adam Shareef of the now defunct Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC)’s alleged Ali Waheed had led the take over of MNBC on behalf of Dr Waheed before Nasheed resigned.

Dr Waheed’s new appointments include former prominent opposition activists, DRP media coordinator Ali Solih, Abdulla Rifau and Naaif Shawkath who led a series of opposition-sponsored youth protests in May 2011, Gayoom’s former presidential appointee now DRP registrar Mohamed Saleem (Hoarafushi), Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa TV reporter Shiham Mohamed Waheed, and Adhaalath Party’s Asadhulla Shafee, who was seen in a leaked video clip at the police headquarters with opposition leaders before Nasheed announced his resignation.

MDP MP Fahmy said the public had voted for an MDP administration, but that Waheed’s appointments represented the interests of former president Gayoom – who had been voted out.

“Waheed has been forced to grant jobs to these activists. He is a mere puppet. He is controlled by Gayoom, his brother Yameen and the businessmen who led the coup,” he said. Fahmy said he believed Gayoom was backing  Waheed in a bid to avoid early elections, which the MDP is confident of winning.

In response, Riza said the 2008 vote had been for a coalition government that included the Jumhooree Party, Dhivehi Qaumee Party and Adhaalath Party. “Calling it an MDP administration simply has no political weight,” he said.

President Waheed appointed Ahmed Shafeeu as Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture on Monday, filling up the last post in his cabinet. He also appointed eight state ministers on Tuesday, among them retired Deputy Commissioner of Police Mohamed Fayaz (Home Affairs), and December 23 protest organiser and spokesperson Abdulla Mohamed (Home Affairs).

Waheed had also appointed Gayoom’s children, Dhunya Maumoon and Ghassan Maumoon to state minister for foreign affairs and state minister for human resources respectively.

Waheed now has 14 ministers, 16 state ministers and 18 deputy ministers. Riza subsequently told local media Haveeru that there would be no further ministerial appointments.

Download a ‘Who’s Who’ spreadsheet of the Dr Waheed’s ministerial appointees (English)


Deadlock deepens as Supreme Court grants government injunction over ministerial reappointments

Parliament has deadlocked after the Supreme Court granted the government a temporary injunction last night, blocking the endorsing of cabinet ministers until a ruling on the process can be issued.

The injunction derailed parliament on Tuesday morning, after opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MPs raised points of order claiming that the sittings could not continue until the cabinet appointments were resolved.

The sitting was called off this morning by Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

In June this year, the entire cabinet of the Maldives resigned in protest against “scorched earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament, leaving only President Mohamed Nasheed and Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan in charge of the country.

The cabinet ministers complained that parliament was blocking them from performing their constitutional duties, leading to protests and deadlock.

Nasheed reappointed the ministers several weeks later, however parliament has yet to formally endorse their appointments due to a disagreement between the government and the opposition and over whether ministers will be endorsed individually or collectively.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that endorsing ministers individually would amount to a series of no-confidence motions.

Last week there were unconfirmed reports that the DRP has a list of six members of the 14 member cabinet that it does not intend to approve.

“There is already a process in place for a no-confidence motion when a minister is deemed untrustworthy,” Zuhair said, arguing that individual appointments would bypass this procedure and allow the opposition to use its “brute-force parliamentary majority” to pick off ministers who had displeased it.

Parliament’s endorsement of cabinet was intended “to be ceremonial”, he stated.

“There is precedent. When the laws were being enacted by the Special Majlis drafting the current constitution, if you look at the debate, [former] Attorney General Husnu Suood proposes two ways of approving ministers, both of which are defeated in favour of asking for approval collectively.”

Writing in his personal blog, Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed, former legal reform minister, characterised the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court as “very harsh” and “pointless”.

The Attorney General’s (AG’s) office has contested the constitutionality of article 171(i) of the parliamentary rules of procedure, which states that presidential nominees must be questioned by a parliamentary committee to determine qualification, educational background and competence.

However, as ministers refused to appear before committee and the issue has now been proposed to the parliament floor, MP Nasheed argues that the Supreme Court ruling would not have any bearing on the matter.

“At most, wouldn’t the Supreme Court rule that article 171(i) is null and void?” he writes. “The Supreme Court would not instruct Majlis how to proceed with the approval issue. Wouldn’t that be determined by the Majlis?”

Article 98(a) of the constitution requires cabinet ministers to attend proceedings of parliament when requested, answer any questions put to them by parliament, and produce relevant documentation.

However the government has been reluctant to allow ministers to attend committee meetings ever since the head of the national security committee, leader of DRP coalition partner the People’s Alliance MP Abdulla Yameen, was released from detention pending an investigation into charges of treason and bribery.

Upon release, the committee promptly summoned the Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh and Chief of Defence Force Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel for questioning in committee hearing, outraging many MDP MPs.

In August, the cabinet approved new regulations limiting ministers’ interactions with parliament to the chamber itself, and then only with 14 days prior notice.

DRP Deputy Leader and MP Ali Waheed claimed the approved procedures were “against the spirit of the constitution” and would be void.

‘’Actually, parliament has yet to approve a cabinet. When a cabinet is established we will summon them to committee meetings as well – ministers must appear before committees in the interest of the people – the constitution is very clear. Without doubt these new procedures are void – nobody can narrow the summoning of cabinet ministers to parliament.’’

Writing on his website, leader of the opposition DRP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali said that the failure of ministers to attend committee meetings meant that “parliament is unable to effectively provide the checks and balances necessary for the system to work democratically and ensure that the executive branch is accountable for the exercise of its powers.”

On many occasions, “repeated calls from the parliament to these officials have gone unanswered,” Thasmeen said.

“In a democracy, it is through effective oversight that the parliament can ensure a balance of power and assert its role as the defender of the people’s interests. The government’s action is disrupting the functioning of the parliament.”

Zuhair today claimed that the government’s interpretation of the law was that ministers could only be summoned and questioned on the floor of parliament “before all members.”

“Nowhere does it say ministers must attend committee meetings, unless the whole house is a committee,” Zuhair said. “[The opposition] points to another clause that requires any Maldivian citizen to attend summons to respond to questions in committee hearings, but cabinet ministers do not attend in their capacity as private individuals.”

Meanwhile at yesterday’s sitting, DRP MP Mohamed Mujthaz proposed a resolution to seek the Supreme Court’s legal counsel on the refusal of the Chief of Defence Forces and the Commissioner of Police to appear before the national security committee.

Mujthaz proposed the resolution during a debate on a report by the committee, which was presented to the Majlis floor by the committee chair, DRP Deputy Leader Ali Waheed.

The report states that the committee has been unable to conduct any inquiries due to the refusal of the security chiefs to appear before the committee.

Both officials have argued that the committee should summon either the Defence Minister or Home Minister, as the army and police answer to the cabinet.

Hulhu-Henveiru MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, MDP parliamentary group leader, accused opposition MPs of attempting to summon the police and army chiefs for politically-motivated reasons.

He added that the report did not specify which issue of national importance had been left unattended by the committee due to the refusal of the chiefs to appear.

Referring to the practice in the United States, Yameen said that senior pentagon officials were routinely summoned before senate committees.