Parliament yesterday reached an impasse on making MPs’ annual financial statements public after voting against a proposal put forward by the Ethics Committee.
According to Article 76 of the constitution, “Every member shall annually submit to the Secretary General of the People’s Majlis a statement of all property and monies owned by him, business interests and liabilities. Such declarations shall include the details of any other employment and obligations of such employment.”
Tasked by Secretary General Ahmed Mohamed in November 2010 to determine whether MPs’ financial statements should be released to other state institutions upon request, a majority of the 11-member Ethics Committee decided that the information should not be made available unless ordered by a court of law.
In a frenzied debate after the committee presented its report to the floor, MPs were however divided over the need for a public declaration of assets.
While several MPs argued that such sensitive information about MPs’ personal lives should not be made public at a time when “defamation and slander about MPs” were widespread in the media, others contended that the constitutional provision did not give MPs a choice in the matter.
“Some MPs have said the constitution does not say anything about making [the statements] public. The constitution doesn’t say that it should be released only if ordered by a court either, but that’s what we’re trying to do, and it is not acceptable,” argued MP Mohamed Thoriq of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), adding that the information should be published on the Majlis website and accessible to all citizens.
Hamdhoon Abdulla Hameed of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) urged MPs to consider that “if this information is not revealed or made public at all, the pointed fingers will be pointing towards all of us.”
Backing the committee recommendation, Minority Leader “Reeko” Moosa Manik said that while he agreed with the constitutional principle of publicly declaring assets and wealth, it was not advisable in “today’s political atmosphere.”
Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed concurred with Moosa, claiming that parliament should be concerned about concerted efforts by some media outlets to “disgrace and humilate MPs.”
“This is not being done by DhiTV’s owner or its management, we know that now” he said. “But previously we believed that it was planned and carried out by the management there. But that is not the case.”
Echoing a claim made by several MPs in past weeks, Riyaz alleged that unsuccessful candidates for parliament and their family members or associates were behind hostile media coverage of parliament.
“In truth, when the financial status of MPs is made known, some MPs will be worried and others will embarrassed,” said minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur.
“That is, those who have a lot of money might be very worried and those who do not will be embarrassed. Therefore, at a time when our status is being revealed in the media, I don’t accept at all that these facts should be available to just anyone.”
Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed meanwhile argued that MPs should not shirk from their constitutional responsibilities by blaming the media. “We will answer in the media to the things said in the media,” he said.
At the end of the debate, the committee’s recommendation that financial statements should be released only if ordered by a court of law was put to a vote.
While the committee’s proposal was defeated 34 to 25, a motion proposed by Independent MP Ahmed Amir stating that financial statements should not be made public unless it was required for an investigation by a state institution did not pass either.
The MP for Kudahuvadhoo’s motion received 20 votes in favour and 38 votes against.
Since neither proposal was accepted, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim declared the matter “void”.
“However, the Secretary General’s request for counsel on this matter has not been decided one way or the other,” he said. “So the Secretary General will go ahead with it according to the rules of procedure.”