The Ministry of Finance and Treasury last week instructed all government offices to enforce cost cutting measures in a bid to reduce recurrent expenditures and manage government cash flow.
A circular issued by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad instructed offices to limit overtime pay to no more than five percent of the office’s annual budget.
Other cost cutting measures included targeting subsidies, limiting allowances to 35 percent of an employees’ salary, and not covering phone expenses of senior officials – with the exception of cabinet ministers.
Moreover, offices were instructed not to hire speedboats for official travel in areas with a ferry service.
Finance Minister Jihad told local media this week that the government has also decided to reduce the MVR80 million (US$5 million) allocated in this year’s budget for civil servant’s salary bonus to MVR40 million (US$2.5 million).
Jihad said recurrent expenditure was too high for the government to “make ends meet.”
In December, parliament passed a record MVR17.5 billion (US$1.16 billion) budget for 2014, prompting President Abdulla Yameen to call upon the legislature to approve revenue raising measures proposed by the government.
On Sunday, parliament accepted with a 38-vote majority three bills submitted by the government to raise additional revenue.
The bills included an amendment to raise the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) from eight to 12 percent as well as two amendments to the Tourism Act in order to reintroduce the discontinued flat US$8 bed tax and to require resort lease extension payments to be paid as a lump sum.
An 11-member subcommittee chaired by business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim – leader of the government-aligned Jumhooree Party – is currently in the process of reviewing the government-sponsored legislation.
The committee met representatives of the Maldives Association of Travel Agencies and Tour Operators (MATATO) and the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) today to discuss the impact of the tax hikes on the sector.
Following the Majlis’s failure to extend the tourism bed tax before the end of last year, Jihad told local media that the resulting shortfall in revenue would be MVR100 million a month.
In an interview with Minivan News last week, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb criticised parliament for going into recess without passing bills designed to generate income.
“This causes the budget to expand, but there’s no way for the government to earn enough to implement it. The T-GST matters even more to the state income. The state keeps expanding, the allowances and salaries keep increasing, but the income for all of this still depends on the 25,000 tourist beds. Unless we expand this, how can we increase what we earn? We can’t keep expanding the state, and then squeezing the existing tourism sector without expanding it,” Adeeb warned.
Shortly after assuming the presidency, Yameen announced that he would only draw half the presidential salary of MVR100,000 (US$6,500), and would reduce the number of political appointees at the President’s Office.
Submitting the 2014 annual budget to parliament last year, Jihad noted that recurrent expenditure (MVR12 billion) accounts for 73 percent of the total budget, with almost half spent on salaries and allowances for state employees in addition to administrative costs, interest payments and subsidies.
Jihad advised implementing a raft of austerity measures, contending that the “expensive” public management model adopted in the Maldives was inappropriate for a small island state.
Almost 50 percent of government income was spent on employees, Jihad observed, advising revision of the state pension system and reduction of the numbers of island and atoll councillors as well as members of independent institutions and boards of government-owned companies.
In its professional opinion on the 2013 budget, the Auditor General’s Office stated that a policy of population consolidation together with effective measures to reduce the public sector wage bill was necessary to rein in the continuing fiscal deficits.
When announcing his resignation at a press conference earlier this month, former Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Governor Dr Fazeel Najeeb contended that the structure of government was outsized for the Maldives and warned against printing money to cover the “far too hefty expenses of many state institutions.”
In November last year, Najeeb told parliament’s finance committee that the public bank account was overdrawn by MVR1.5 billion (US$97 million) as a result of having to finance government expenditure.
“When we have to accommodate every request by the government we are forced to act completely against the MMA law,” he said, referring to printing money.
Jihad explained to MPs on the committee that the government was forced to approach the MMA because foreign banks were refusing to buy or rollover treasury bills.
While MVR500 million (US$32 million) a month was needed to pay salaries and allowances for state employees, government income in some months was just MVR300 million (US$19 million), Jihad noted, leaving no option but turning to the central bank.