Q&A: MP Ahmed Abdulla – Ihavandhoo constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be sitting down with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

As part of the series, Minivan News talked to MP Ahmed Abdulla.

MP Ahmed Abdulla represents the Ihavandhoo constituency in Haa Alif atoll, and is a member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Ahmed Naish: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Ahmed Abdulla: I entered the political arena at a time when citizens began efforts to make changes to the government after a long autocratic rule. I actually started working in the political arena before political parties were introduced in the country. But back then, we had to work individually or alone and very much in hiding. I got into politics before political parties were formed and started functioning. I was in government but left because of dissatisfaction with how things were back then and started working in politics.

AN: Based on your attendance and work in the last term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

AA: I believe I have quite adequately fulfilled the responsibility entrusted to me by the people. I have attended Majlis sittings without fail. I took leave for very few sittings. In terms of attendance, I am among the MPs with the best attendance records. If we consider the Majlis’ performance, on every bill or every issue I raised my voice and said what I had to on that issue in the national and public interest. Especially on matters related to my constituency, I worked that way. So I am satisfied with my performance. The public also accepts my performance.  

AN: What are the main committees you were acting on? What particular bills did you focus on?

AA: My work is done mainly on the rules committee. As you know, the rules committee reviews regulations concerning the work of all government institutions and ministries and decides on changes. I have done a lot of hard work especially on regulations about tobacco, children, housing and a number of other regulations. I have chaired the rules committee as well during a lot of meetings. Majlis records will show how our work proceeded in those meetings that I chaired.

The second committee is our independent institutions committee. In that committee as well, I have worked to ensure independence for institutions, facilitate their functioning independent of government influence, and encourage them not to bow to pressure or restrictions from the government. We saw the results of that work. For example, we especially saw with the Elections Commission, as a result of our encouragement to work independently without bowing to the government, that they worked very independently in the last presidential election. That was the work of our committee and I performed my role well.

My biggest concern when I came into the People’s Majlis was the state of the Maldives’ property laws and the mortgage bill as well as various other laws dealing with child sexual abuse and gang crimes. I was the one who submitted the political parties bill. When political parties formed and became active, I believed they did not have the space legally to function optimally. I submitted the political parties bill to the Majlis, in accordance with the views of our party. I also submitted the mortgage bill. The political parties bill has now become law. The mortgage bill is in the process of becoming law. Efforts are also underway to amend the property laws to make citizens landowners, allow them to register their property and get rid of obstacles or difficulties in registering land. That bill has been drafted and, God willing, it will be submitted during the next session.

AN: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

AA: I believe I did a lot of work on the gang crimes and weapons bill as well as on the research part for the child sexual abuse bill, especially regarding punishments for child sex offenders in light of the expert technical assistance we got for the bill. I worked hard to ensure that the punishments would be harsh and could not be reduced. God willing those efforts were successful. As a result, we made significant advances in ensuring legal protection for children. Likewise on the political parties bill, my thinking was to ensure that a party is empowered and able to be active in the political sphere. For that there has to be a sufficient number of people as members of a party. It was my initiative, my proposal, to require a certain number of party members and determine factors to be considered by the state before providing funding. I took the lead with these efforts and communicated with different parties. As a result, I believe the efforts were successful and the bill was passed the way we wanted and in line with our proposals.

AN: What would you say is the biggest mistake or worst step you have taken in your career? Why?

AA: I do not believe I have made a mistake in my work in the Majlis. As I am someone who is always mindful of present circumstances and prioritises progress for citizens, I do not believe I have made a mistake. Neither my constituents nor any others have brought something specific to my attention as a mistake I have made. So I believed I have worked adequately and well enough.

AN: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR 20,000? Why or why not?

AA: I did not support taking the committee allowance. I did not vote for it. However, as you know, the work of the People’s Majlis is concluded by the will of the majority and its decisions are approved by the majority. So when it was decided to provide a committee allowance, I don’t really want to not take it. I take the allowance. However, based on the income I receive from the People’s Majlis and given the way my work is organised, the true benefit [of the committee allowance] will be for the people.

AN: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

AA: I have no problem with [publicly declaring assets]. I have nothing to hide. It is not a problem at all for me for the public to know what I own or do not own.

I believe we are the representatives of the people. I believe the public should know of our affluence or our financial capability and our wealth when we came into Majlis and how much it changed after we [became MPs] – I believe the public has a right to know these things. I don’t believe our affairs should be hidden from the public.

AN: Are you re-contesting in the next elections? What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected for a new term?

AA: Yes, I am contesting for the same constituency. I have received cooperation and assistance from my constituents and I believe I have their support as well.

In truth, I want to see Maldivian citizens enjoy complete domestic or internal independence. I do not believe our citizens have proper domestic independence or freedom at present. We have to do a lot of work to that end. In addition to that, we have work to do to ensure financial independence for citizens. Our economic policy and business policies should be framed to ensure financial independence for citizens and the required legal framework should be completed. If we are unable to work to that end, I do not believe we can save our citizens from financial slavery. I believe as long as citizens are not free from financial or monetary slavery, they will not be able to vote freely the way they want. So I believe we have a lot of hard work to do to achieve this. We have to shape the economy and our policies to ensure positive changes to the standard of living for the people. This is necessary for a free and fair election and ensuring the right to vote freely. So I believe these things need to be done in the country despite the challenges.

AN: What improvements do you feel the 18th parliament will need to make to improve as an institution?

AA: To improve the Majlis as an institution, we need to learn to work professionally. The progress that our citizens want to see is unlikely to be achieved if we cannot learn to work professionally. Under some circumstances, there are certain challenges to working that way. That might be because our democracy is in its infancy or it could be a problem we face because we are not fully ready or mature for democracy. But I believe the 18th Majlis will be one where we work professionally, more actively and with a better discipline than at present.

AN: What are your thoughts on party switching – do you think it undermines the party system?

AA: I believe switching parties is a betrayal of the public. That betrayal is not something we can accept. I certainly do not believe that changing parties is something that could be done. There are lots of reasons. For example, a candidate contests on an MDP ticket for a Majlis seat. A lot of people does a lot of hard work with that person, including the hard work and money of a lot of people who are loyal to the party. We have to respect those people. They would not want to see the result of their hard work being the MP going to another party when he is elected. So I believe there should be legal obstacles to it as well and that discipline must be maintained to respect the public. I do not support changing parties at all. I do not think [MPs] should be able to do it either.

AN: What is your view about the current judiciary and what steps do you believe can be taken to improve it?

AA: The judiciary is an institution that needs to gain public confidence. The public perception of the judiciary today is poor, unfortunate and sad. The public senses that it is a place more likely to commit injustices than provide justice. If this is the case, it’s a loss to the nation in every sense. The lack of the means to establish justice impartially among the people is a serious misfortune. Likewise, if we consider investors, there are problems that arise due to the weakness of the judiciary.

People are reluctant to invest in the Maldives. So considering all this, we need to establish a sound judiciary in the country. To do that, we need to reshape the system to ensure justice. I do not believe there is room to work independently of political influence because of the way the judiciary is organised and because of the composition of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). Given the composition of the JSC, there are a number of members who could only remain in the commission with the approval of politicians. So I believe we need to change that situation. There must be a way to work in the JSC without being subject to the influence of politicians.

The parent institution for judges is the JSC. Judges exert strong influence on the JSC, too. If this is the case, they would face obstacles to working independently. We need big changes to the system to reform all this – changes to the rules governing hiring, the appointment and dismissal of judges. We need to make the JSC an institution that can work independently and free of external influences. There is a lot of work to be done to reform the judiciary. It will not be easy. But it is something that has to be done for the future of the country and the prosperity and contentment of future generations. I wish to see the judiciary reformed and functioning properly.


Parliament rejects resolutions on torture commission, committee allowance

Parliament yesterday (November 12) rejected resolutions proposing the formation of an inquiry commission to investigate torture in prisons and scrapping controversial MVR 20,000-a-month committee allowances.

resolution submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Rasheed ‘Kubey’ to form an independent commission with foreign judges to investigate torture and custodial abuse during the 30-year rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was rejected 40-28 with two abstentions.

MDP MPs voted in favour of the resolution while government coalition MPs and some independent MPs voted against the proposal.

A resolution submitted by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahloof to scrap committee allowances was meanwhile rejected 33-23 with 12 abstentions.

During preliminary debate on the resolution, MPs from both the MDP and government-aligned parties questioned MP Mahloof’s sincerity in submitting the allowance, with many alleging that the Galholhu South MP has one of the poorest attendance records in Majlis.


MPs clash on controversial committee allowance

MPs clashed yesterday on a resolution proposed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahloof to scrap a controversial MVR 20,000-a-month committee allowance.

During a heated debate at Tuesday’s sitting of parliament, several MPs questioned the sincerity of the PPM MPs’ proposal, with some claiming that the Galolhu South MP had not attended committee meetings for the past five months.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Thoriq noted that Mahloof was being paid MVR 500,000 by the state as pay for several months for which he did not do any work. Fellow MDP MP Mohamed Riyaz meanwhile noted that MPs who do not attend committee meetings would not be eligible for the allowance.

Presenting the resolution, MP Mahloof said he had not discussed the matter with the PPM parliamentary group before submitting the proposal.

PPM MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla said he could not support the resolution in its current form, claiming that he would support a proposal to cut the entire salary of MPs and force them to work pro bono.

He added that the 17th parliament was the most productive in Maldivian history as it had passed the most number of bills during the past three years.

Almost all of the 12 MPs who spoke during the debate opposed the resolution. However, a consensus developed around creating a Pay Commission to streamline the state’s pay scale or structure.


Parliament to investigate alleged violation of MPs privileges

MPs voted 32-26 in favour of a proposal by Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed to investigate a supposed violation of MPs special privileges by a group of social activists who put up posters of MPs across Male’ with their phone numbers.

Under the proposal voted through yesterday, the parliamentary Privileges Committee has been tasked with conducting an inquiry into the alleged violation and decide whether to ask police for an official investigation.

Last week, Riyaz submitted a motion without notice claiming that a civic action campaign against controversial Rf20,000-a-month committee allowances approved last year violated MPs’ special privileges.

A loose association of concerned citizens and members of local NGOs launched a campaign in late August after parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) decided to issue a lump sum of Rf140,000 (US$9,000) as committee allowance back pay for January through July this year.


Concerned citizens seek court order against committee allowance

A group of concerned citizens protesting a controversial Rf20,000-a-month (US$1,290) committee allowance, approved by MPs for themselves in December 2010, have filed a case at Civil Court seeking a court order to stop the Finance Ministry from releasing the funds to parliament.

A loose association of concerned citizens and members of civil society organisations launched a campaign last month after parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) decided to issue a lump sum of Rf140,000 (US$9,000) as committee allowance back pay for January through July this year.

Speaking to press outside the court building, lawyer Mohamed Shafaz explained that the grounds for the claim were constitutional provisions on non-discrimination (article 17) and equal protection and benefit of the law (article 20).

“For example, the reduced amount from civil servant’s salaries was in the 2010 budget [to be paid back] and in the 2011 budget as well if you look at it properly,” he said, arguing that Finance Ministry could not release funds for MPs’ committee allowance, which was approved in December 2010, without paying back civil servants.

“The money is coming from the same place,” Shafaz continued. “If something the civil servants have not received is going to be given to others, which was approved much later, the chance of civil servants receiving the reduced amount will be very slim.”

A court order was sought to halt the release of the funds until a court of law delivers a ruling on the issue, Shafaz said.

Shafaz also referred to article 43 of the constitution, which states that “Everyone has the right to administrative action that is lawful, procedurally fair, and expeditious.”

Austerity or bust

In October 2009 – almost a year into the new administration – unpopular pay cuts of up to 15 percent for civil servants were enforced as part of austerity measures to alleviate the country’s ballooning budget deficit – among the highest in the world at 26 percent of GDP in 2009 (the International Monetary Fund had refused financing to Sri Lanka because the country’s fiscal deficit reached 10.5 percent).

However the austerity measures were met with a severe political backlash. In December 2009, the opposition-controlled parliament added Rf800 million (US$62 million) to the 2010 state budget, including the restoration of civil servant salaries to previous levels and subsidies for sectors ranging from fishing and agriculture to private media.

“One of the primary drivers of the large fiscal deficit has been government spending on public wages, which has more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, and is now one of the highest in the world relative to the size of the economy,” Rodrigo Cubero, IMF mission chief for the Maldives, said in January 2010.

“Measures that would substantially raise the budget deficit, such as a reversal of previously announced wage adjustments, would also put the [IMF-backed structural adjustment] programme off track, jeopardising prospects for multilateral and bilateral international financing,” Cubero warned at the time.

After weeks of legal wrangling over restoring civil servants salaries, the Ministry of Finance accused the Civil Service Commission (CSC) of hiding “a political agenda”, and in February 2010 filed a case with the police asking them to investigate it on suspicion of trying to topple the government “and plunge the Maldives into chaos.”

At the height of the dispute in early 2010, permanent secretaries were ordered to submit different wage sheets by both the Finance Ministry and the CSC.

In April 2010, the Civil Court ruled that Finance Ministry did not have the legal authority to overrule the CSC. Although the government contested the ruling and refused to restore salaries to previous levels, the High Court upheld the lower court ruling in May this year.

Consequently in November 2010, the IMF delayed its third disbursement under the US$92.5 million programme, citing “fiscal slippages” caused by insufficient progress towards reducing the wage bill and passing tax legislation.

In March this year, Cubero told Minivan News that the IMF saw “bringing the fiscal deficit down as the key macroeconomic priority for the Maldives.”

“A large fiscal deficit pushes up interest rates, thereby undermining private investment and growth, and also drives up imports, putting pressure on the exchange rate and inflation, all of which hurts the Maldivian people, particularly the poor,” he said.

“With the government borrowing at the rate it has [to plug the deficit], it reduces the amount of credit available to the private sector, and that constrains the ability of the private sector to provide jobs and employment,” Cubero explained. “That then constrains economic growth. Furthermore, by spending more than it earns, the government is putting pressure on imports and the exchange rate.”

An internal report by the World Bank obtained by Minivan News observed that the Maldives was “facing the most challenging macroeconomic situation of any democratic transitions that has occurred since 1956.”

Civic action

Volunteers for the civic campaign meanwhile distributed information leaflets at bus stops in Male’ yesterday.

“Two of our group went on the bus and talked to passengers,” said Badr Naseer, a senior activist in the effort. “Ninety-nine percent of people support [the cause].”

Badr said he had personally filed a complaint at the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) requesting an inquiry into claims by some MPs that they functioned as “welfare officers” for their constituents.

Earlier this month, Transparency Maldives (TM) condemned remarks by MPs justifying the inflated allowance, noting that “such actions fall under article 3 of of the anti-corruption law and article 13 of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act regarding bribery.”

Badr revealed that the group had met MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) as part of diplomatic efforts alongside the street activism.

He added that the citizens group also hoped to meet former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – who is in the process of forming a new party with a number of MPs previously in the DRP – to discuss the committee allowance issue.

The awareness raising campaign is set to continue from 4:30pm to 6:00pm today at bus stops and ferry terminals in Male’.


MDP MP attacks committee allowance protesters for invading MPs privacy

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Musthafa has said that protesters against MPs committee allowance have invaded the privacy of MPs and violated MPs privileges, after the protesters put up posters of photos of MPs with their personal mobile phone numbers.

“MPs have been subjected to disturbances from citizens that hate them, and publishing the personal mobile number of MPs invades the privacy and privileges of MPs,” Musthafa said. “They have invaded our personal life by doing that.”

Musthafa said he had asked Speaker Abdulla Shahid to look into the matter, and said he was looking forward to hearing from the parliament.

“I think the parliament will issue a press release today, I am looking forward to it,” he said. “Shahid is currently abroad on an official trip so I sent him a text message to bring it to his attention.”

Musthafa said that some MPs have said they are unable to use their numbers any longer.

“One MP told me that he had been using his number for 12 years and the number was used for international relations as well, but he said now he has no other choice but to throw it away and get a new number,” he said. “How the NGOs acted on this matter is very disappointing, they could have done it a better way.”

He alleged that were “senior figures” behind the NGOs.

“MPs are members representing constituencies and become an MP with the consent of their constituency, so people should have at least some respect for them,” Musthafa said.

In the text message sent to Speaker Shahid, Musthafa said that it was very concerning that MPs personal contact numbers had been published on a poster with their photo in Majeedee Magu.

He told Shahid that the personal details of MPs could not be published without their consent, alleging that culprits had asked people to call and disturb the MPs.

“It is the legal duty of the parliament to find out the culprits, and they should be prosecuted and action should be taken,” Musthafa said.

Project Coordinator of Transparency Maldives Aiman Rasheed’s mobile phone and landline was not reachable and he was unavailable for comment.

Parliament meanwhile issued a press statement today noting that the constitution protected the privacy of individuals.

“Matters should be brought to MPs’ attention responsibly in a way that does not undermine their dignity and reputation or create difficulties in their personal lives,” it reads, adding that making MPs photos and contact information public “as a nusisance to them” was a “matter of concern.”

Noting that MPs had special privileges under the law, it continues, “any action that undermines MPs’ dignity can be seen as violating MPs’ privileges.”

The statement concludes by urging the public not to violate “social norms” in contacting MPs.

A Majlis media official confirmed to Minivan News today that only 19 of 77 MPs have written requesting that the lump sum of Rf140,000 not be desposited with their salaries. They include 16 MDP MPs, Independent MP ‘Kutti’ Mohamed Nasheed and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and his wife MP Visam Ali.

Last Monday Aiman told Minivan News that the campaign against the committee allowance will continue and there was hope for success.

“Today we presented the Finance Ministry 1365 letters signed by concerned citizens and eight cabinet members, plus high-profile people across the country,” he said at the time.

“We have made plans to continue the letter campaign and to make the citizens aware of the impacts of this committee allowance.”

MP salaries have increased 18-fold since 2004, according to a graph released by the NGO.

The committee allowance was Rf18 million, Rasheed said. “In comparison, the budget to combat drugs is Rf 14 million, the budget subsiding the fishing industry is Rf12 million, medical services Rf18 million and the budget for small and medium businesses is Rf16 million,” he said, adding that these areas would be impacted by the increased expenditure on MPs.


Quarter of chamber absent as MPs approve themselves Rf20,000 in committee allowances

The parliament yesterday rejected a resolution presented by Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf to cut Rf20,000 in committee allowances on top of MPs’ existing salaries.

The controversial allowances would see MP’s existing monthly salary and allowances rise from Rf62,500 (US$4053) to over US$5350 – higher than the per capita annual income of US$5000 for an ordinary Maldivian.

Prior to the government’s devaluation of the rufiya this would have put MP earnings on par with MPs in developed countries such as Sweden. At the official pegged rate of Rf12.85 an Maldivian MP would take home over US$7000,  outearning an MP in France.

Out of the 58 MPs present, 17 MPs voted to accept Mahlouf’s resolution and cut the committee allowance while 20 voted in favor of keeping it. 16 MPs abstained from voting. 19 were absent – almost a quarter of the chamber.

Minivan News attempted to obtain a breakdown of the vote by MP, however this section of parliament’s website was not functioning at time of press.

The resolution to cut the committee allowance was first presented to the parliament during the last term of the parliament by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Chairperson and MP Mariya Didi, who reluctantly withdrew it after the party’s parliamentary group’s majority ordered her to do so.

After widespread public criticism at the decision – made at the same time as the country is attempting to reform its way out of a crippling budget deficit – many opposition and MDP MPs announced they would refuse to accept the committee allowance if it was retained.

However during  parliament’s session yesterday, MPs attacked Mahlouf for presenting the resolution to cut the allowances.

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed alleged that Mahlouf was attempting to gain more support from the public by presenting the resolution, and claimed that his intention was to portray himself as ‘’a good MP.’’

Mahlouf said he presented the resolution because due to the introduction of committee allowances, the parliament had become the subject of heavy criticism.

”By presenting the resolution to the parliament I believe my lawful duty is fulfilled, It is not for me to decide how the MPs should vote,” Mahlouf told Minivan News. ”However, it is a regrettable decision made by the parliament.”

Mahlouf said he believed that parliamentarians were already paid an adequate salary and there was no need to increase it.

”The objectives of the MDP are questionable since this was [resolution was dismissed] with their new majority of parliament,” he said. ”I do not have issues with critics, but it wasn’t my intention to gain fame and support -there are other ways I can gain fame and support.”

MDP MP Ahmed Easa said recently that he did not support the committee allowance, but he acknowledged that the MPs who did support the allowance “have reasonable points.”

”It’s true what they say – MPs have so much to do with their salary each month. People can’t even imagine how many calls a MP receives each day asking for help,” Easa explained.

“Anyone in trouble from any area will run to their MP first. MPs have to lend money to people in need of medication, even for reasons such as people coming to get money to pay the school fees of their children.”

Easa also explained that most of the MPs were not from Male’, which forced them to live in rented apartments.

”As everyone knows, a standard apartment’s rent in Male’ will be Rf10000-20000 (US$750-US$1500), and what about all the phone calls that MPs have to make, that costs an additional Rf5000 (US$375) each month, and what about their family, wife and kids?” he asked, claiming that MPs “already have to spend most of their salary on society.”

MP’s salaries compared:

MP’s monthly salary (US $): 5350 @ Rf15.42, including allowances
GDP (US $) (2009 est): 1.683 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est): -$370 million

Sri Lanka
MP’s monthly salary (US $):877
Plus Rs 500 for every parliamentary session
GDP (US $) (2009 est): 96.47 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$291 million

MP’s monthly salary (US $):5,966
GDP (US $) (2009 est):3.68 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$26.63 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):9,264
GDP (US $) (2009 est):251.2 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):32.63 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):8,552
GDP (US $) (2009 est):2.123 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$23.65 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):14,500
GDP (US $) (2009 est):14.12 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$378.4 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):9,687
GDP (US $) (2009 est):321.6 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):8.73 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):6,651
GDP (US $) (2009 est):2.094 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$51.86 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):6,936
GDP (US $) (2009 est):1.737 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$66.2 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):7,298
GDP (US $) (2009 est):335.1 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):30.23 billion


MDP MPs refusing to accept committee allowance

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs are coming forward to declare they would not accept a Rf20,000 committee allowance on top of their salaries, if approved by parliament in the controversial MP Privileges Bill.

The MPs came forward in support of the party’s Chairperson MP Mariya Ahmed Didi, who yesterday withdrew her resolution to cut the allowance after the MDP Parliamentary Group voted in its favour.

“I was not at that meeting but I bowed to the party’s rules and took it out,” Mariya told Minivan News yesterday, adding that she had informed parliament that she did not wish to receive the allowance herself.

MDP’s internal branches were today criticising their parliamentary group following the decision.

Official website of MDP today carried a statement that MDP MPs Eva Abdulla, Hamid Abdul Gafoor, Ilyas Labeeb, Mohamed Gasam, Mohamed Nazim and Ibrahim Rasheed had also announced that they did not support the committee allowance and would not accept it.

Following Mariya’s withdrawal of the resolution opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf resubmitted it.

“I was the first one to raise it before Mariya, but the Speaker [DRP MP] Abdulla Shahid went with Mariya’s changes, perhaps because of the factional fight [the opposition] is having. When Mariya withdrew it I resubmitted it.” Mahlouf said yesterday.

Increasing MP salaries by Rf 20,000 would be a huge blow to parliament’s credibility, Mahlouf said, “as the public do not believe we are working to their expectations.” he said.

MDP MP Ahmed Easa also said he did not support the committee allowance, but he said the MPs who did support the committee allowance “have reasonable points.”

”It’s true what they say, MPs have so much to do with their salary each month. People can’t even imagine how many calls a MP receives each day asking for help,” Easa explained. ”Anyone in trouble from a area will run to their MP first, MPs have to lend money for people in need of medication, even for reasons such as people coming to get money to pay the school fees of their children.”

Easa also explained that most of the MPs were not from Male’, which forces them to live in rented apartments.

”As everyone knows, a standard apartment’s rent in Male’ will be Rf10000-20000 (US$750-US$1500), and what about all the phone calls that MPs have to make, that costs an additional Rf5000 (US$375) each month, and what about their family, wife and kids?” he asked, claiming that MPs “have to spend most of their salary on society.”

”As for me, there has never been a month that I have saved any amount of money in my bank account. I am ready to provide any document necessary to prove it,” he said.

However, Easa said due to the economic condition of the Maldives it was not wise to increase the salaries of MPs or any other institution of the government.

”The government’s recurrent expenditure may rise over 80 percent next year which means there will be only 20 percent of the budget to spend on development,” Easa said.


Mahlouf resubmits resolution cutting Rf20K committee allowance, after MDP forces Mariya to withdraw it

MDP MP and Party Chairperson Maryia Ahmed Didi today withdrew a resolution to cut the controversial Rf20,000 (US$1550) committee allowance from the MP Privileges Bill.

Mariya told Minivan News today that she withdrew the resolution following a vote by the MDP Parliamentary Group.

“I was not at that meeting,” she said, “but I bowed to the party’s rules and took it out. However I told parliament that I did not want the Rf20,000 committee allowance myself and urged group members not to take the committee allowance. That got a good reaction from quite a few MPs.”

Mariya acknowledged that there was strong public sentiment against MPs receiving the committee allowance, including among the party’s own member base, which on top of their Rf 62,500 (US$4860) salaries would place Maldivian MP income on par with that of Sweden.

“The Rf 20,000 committee allowance was in the small print of a report from the monetary committee on the salary of all institutions,” Mariya noted.

Leader of MDP Parliamentary Group ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik was not responding to calls at time of press.

Following Mariya’s withdrawal of the resolution opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf resubmitted it.

“I was the first one to raise it before Mariya, but the Speaker [DRP MP] Abdulla Shahid went with Mariya’s changes, perhaps because of the factional fight [the opposition] is having. When Mariya withdrew it today I resubmitted it.”

Mahlouf’s submission means the resolution will go to committee stage which will debate the matter before submitting it to the floor for a vote.

Increasing MP salaries by Rf 20,000 would be a huge blow to parliament’s credibility, Mahlouf said, “as the public do not believe we are working to their expectations.”

He said he believed Mariya had been pressured by the MDP Parliamentary Group to withdraw the resolution.

“I decided this by myself. Nobody pressures me any more because I don’t follow DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen in parliament,” said Mahlouf, who has sided with the party’s dismissed Deputy Leader Umar Naseer and its Honorary Leader, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, against Thasmeen’s faction.

The core issue regarding the salary increase, he explained, was the number of people petitioning MPs for money and assistance. This, he said, was the reason he had initially voted in favour in favour of the increase.

It was, he said, “very normal” for him to give away US$2000 (Rf 25,700) of his salary every month, “not only to constituents, but people from other parts of the country. People who are very poor come forward and ask me to please help them, and get very mad at me if I don’t.”

“At first I voted in favour [of the increase] because so many people were coming to me for help. This was something that was done for a long time back, and people now expect aid from parliamentarians. I was not a rich person before I was elected and I can’t give all my salary away, so that was the main reason I voted [in favour]. But maybe the next time somebody asks I can [justify] myself. When the general public are asking us not to do this, we should stop doing it.”