State wage bill sent back to Majlis for the third time

President Abdulla Yameen has returned ‎the state wage policy bill back to the People’s Majlis for reconsideration after expressing concern over the inclusion of some public companies and parliamentary oversight.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said that the inclusion of public companies with more than fifty percent shares would create difficulties as these are separate legal entities which would subsequently have an outside authority setting wages.

The other key issue related Article 18 of the bill which states that all decisions of the pay commission regarding the setting of wages and formulating wage policies must be approved by parliament.

“The president does not believe the commission would be an implementation authority if the People’s Majlis is to approve its decisions,” said Muaz, noting that it would create difficulties in implementing the Pay Commission’s decisions.

Majlis economic committee member, Kelaa MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, told Minivan News the bill was being delayed mainly due to a conflict between the two branches of the government, arguing that the Majlis ought to have final say on pay awards as representatives of the people.

The bill which was passed on April 27 had been returned twice by the previous President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

It aims to resolve public sector pay discrepancies through the creation of a National Pay Commission and was first proposed by Kulhudhufushi South MP Mohamed Nasheed in March 2011, and was passed by the Majlis in December 2012 and again in April 2013.

In a letter sent to the speaker of the majlis, President Yameen has requested that points noted by the government be considered.

According to Muaz, further issues emerging from the bill are that it essentially hands over the authority to decide salaries of all institutions, including president’s staff and security forces, which are currently under the executive according to the constitution and laws.

He described the parliament’s deciding upon all changes to salaries and benefits of state employees as “People’s Majlis infringing on the executive’s responsibilities”.

The constitution is clear on the parliament’s roles in allocating salaries independent institutions, continued Muaz, and the parliament’s role when it comes to the wages of other state employees – not specifically stated in the constitution – should be limited to formulating policies on the matter and holding other relevant stakeholders accountable.

President Waheed had previously told the Majlis that the requirement for parliament approval of commission decisions “dissolves the separated boundaries of, and would present difficulties in carrying out the functions of, the state – particularly in carrying out the duties of the executive”.

In response, the economic committee of the Majlis which reviewed the bill said “the best way to maintain checks and balances” is keeping the bill as it is, instead of leaving the power of determining the wages under the total control of the executive.

“People’s Majlis has the largest number of people’s representatives and should be viewed as the people. [In the bill] all the decisions are made by the [Pay] commission and it is only sent to the parliament to see if the people approve of it,” said Dr Mausoom.

When asked if the issue could take another turn with the newly elected parliament, Dr Mausoom said that he believed the new members of the parliament would make a responsible decision.

The ruling Progressive Coalition currently maintains a parliamentary majority and has won a ‘super-majority’ of two-thirds in the newly elected parliament.

The government is currently under pressure from workers over pay discrepancies and minimum wage, with both civil servants and teachers considering strike action in recent weeks.

Meanwhile President Yameen yesterday ratified five bills passed along with State wage bill at the eighth sitting of Majlis’ ‎first Session, on 27 April ‎‎2014.

The five bills which were ratified are the sole proprietorship ‎bill, business registration bill, the fourth amendment to the ‎‎Maldives Land Act,  the sexual harassment bill, and the sexual offences bill.


Parliament’s Finance Committee revises pay scheme for senior state officials

Parliament today passed revisions to the pay scheme approved by the Finance Committee for senior officials in the executive, judiciary and independent institutions.

The revisions included a MVR 5,000 (US$324) pay raise for board members of the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA).

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.”

The task of determining salaries and allowances is entrusted to the Finance Committee under section 100(a) of the parliamentary rules of procedures.

Among the changes brought by the committee to the pay structure passed on December 28, 2010 was a monthly phone allowance of MVR 1,000 (US$65) for MPs, ministers, judges of the High Court and Supreme Court, members of independent commissions, the Prosecutor General, the Attorney General and the Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority.

If the phone bill exceeds MVR 1000, the officials would be allowed to claim compensation for the cost of phone calls made for official purposes.

The Finance Committee also decided to discontinue monthly salaries for drivers of cabinet minister’s cars (MVR 7,500) as well as an allowance for petrol cost (MVR 1,000). Ministers would be instructed to settle the expenses out of their salaries from April 2013 onward.

However, the committee did not terminate similar expenses for other officials provided state cars.

The committee meanwhile approved raising monthly salaries of Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) board members by MVR 5,000 (US$324) and the health insurance premium for judges and their parents from MVR 4,500 (US$292) to MVR 7,000 (US$454).

MIRA board members would now receive a monthly pay of MVR 15,500 (US$1,005).

Followings its review of the pay scheme and consideration of requests, the Finance Committee however decided not to increase the salaries of Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) board members.

The committee also decided against making any changes to the remuneration of MPs.

Moreover, requests by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for a committee allowance as well as an additional allowance for Criminal Court judges ruling on extension of detention for criminal suspects were denied.

The revised pay scheme was passed with 38 votes in favour, two against and five abstentions.

Presenting the Finance Committee report (Dhivehi) to the floor, MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed said the change to phone allowance was made in light of issues raised by the Auditor General’s Office in various audit reports regarding the waste of public funds and phone credit transfers.

The decision was made to impose one rule and limit for all institutions and reduce costs, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Nolhivaram said.

As a recommendation to reduce state expenditure, the Finance Committee also decided to advise the government to merge the Customs Integrity Commission and the Police Integrity Commission to form a “National Integrity Commission” with oversight over all state institutions, Nasheed said.

Nasheed added that eliminating salary for minister’s drivers and fuel allowance would save 89 percent from the budget item.

Meanwhile, on December 23, the Finance Ministry issued a circular instructing government offices to arrange a medical insurance scheme for ministers, their spouses and children under 18 years of age to receive medical treatment in the Maldives as well as overseas in SAARC and ASEAN nations.

The offices were asked to make arrangements from their budgets for the health insurance scheme from the Allied Insurance Company with an annual premium of MVR 12,500 (US$810).


Parliament cancelled over ‘lack of work’

Today’s main parliamentary session was cancelled the basis of there being no work on its agenda.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom has meanwhile claimed that the Majlis was nonetheless “on track” with its legislative duties and was being unfairly criticised for a perceived spike in gang violence across the country.

Speaking to Minivan News, Dr Mausoom claimed that despite the cancelation of a scheduled meeting in the Majlis’ main chamber today, committee work was still continuing in the parliament, which he believed was playing its part in pushing legislation to allow law enforcement officials to deal with violent crimes, despite certain “public perceptions” to the contrary. The opposition party MP claimed that parliament was stepping up its workload to ensure the government, as the country’s executive branch, had the right powers and capabilities to uphold the law.

While alleging that current statistics indicated that there were an estimated 460 people on the country’s streets who should be held in custody over their suspected involvement in criminal activity, Mausoom said he believed that national media had incorrectly created an impression that potential parliamentary failings were solely responsible.

“There are people who have been sentenced [for criminal behaviour] that are currently out on the street. There is a public perception that a lack of legislation has led to this,” he said. “The media perception is that more legislation is needed to do their work and that they have to be detained somehow. However, I do not think this is the case.”

Mausoom said that the formation by the president of a National Crime Prevention Committee and the passing during the current parliamentary session of a number of bills, such as measures to punish individuals carrying items that can be used as weapons, served to highlight that the Majlis was working to try and deal with public concerns about gang violence and other major crimes.

“MPs and opposition parties have made agreements to try and work together to ensure major bills are passed quickly,” he said. “Two of the bills currently in the Majlis relate to criminal process and witness protection, but these will take time as they are very technical.”

Mausoom added that he understood possible frustrations from the public that parliament’s main session had been cancelled and would not reconvene till next week after Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim said that certain MPs wishing to present bills to the floor were unavailable to do so today.

However, Mausoom claimed that “public perceptions” about the cancellation of today’s main session and wider concerns that MPs may not be acting professionally were failing to address wider societal problems concerning crime that he believed represented a failure of the government to deal with the issue.

“The Majlis is not the executive [governing] branch, we are the legislative branch,” he said. “My question to the government would be; what is the missing piece of legislation that is preventing you from doing your jobs and protecting people?”

Mausoom’s comment come after parliamentary speaker and fellow DRP MP Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News last month that he believed that while the Majlis had become much more productive in the number of bills and legislation it was passing, the institution had still failed to live up to public expectations.

“The three branches of government are trying to deal with a situation where, as in any transition, the expectations of the public are at a very high level. When you have a new democracy come in, citizens will be wanting things to change overnight. [These expectations] have been seen in many countries,” the speaker said at the time. “The challenges that we have here – with the judiciary and parliament – are not because we are unable to perform, but that we are unable to perform to the expectations of the people.”

Shahid accepted that subjects such as outlining a clear and clarified penal code, as well as an Evidence Bill to support judicial reform and policing, were vital areas needed to be addressed by MPs, with partisan behaviour between rival parties within the Majlis creating the impression that there was no interest in having such bills passed.

In order to facilitate a faster moving reform of criminal legislation, Shahid claimed that talks had been opened during March between the various political stakeholders required to finalise any agreements.

“I met with party leaders and also the chair of all the committees yesterday (March 30). There is the general desire amongst the leadership to find ways of increasing the productivity rate of the house. We feel even though we continue to do work ahead of what any other parliament had done, still we are far behind in meeting the public’s expectations,” he added.  “The reality is that we need to meet these public expectations. The committee chairs have given me an agreement that they will try and finds ways of fast tracking many of the bills, while political parties supplied an agreement that on issues on which they may disagree, they will endeavour to deal with the technical and more mundane bills faster.”

Aside from MPs working along partisan lines, Shahid said that the issue of language was another significant challenge for members to overcome – especially in translating very technical proposals relating to legal definitions into Dhivehi from other languages.

While other Commonwealth countries were able to take existing legislation and adapt the document accordingly, the Speaker took the example of the Penal Code. In its original English draft, put together by Professor Paul Robinson at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the code was said to have perfect sense, yet the Speaker said it did not translate directly into the Dhivehi language.

The speaker’s comments were generally shared by certain local NGOs like Transparency Maldives, which claimed that it believed parliament was additionally failing to meet its responsibilities as set out in the national constitution.

Aiman Rasheed, Projects Coordinator for Transparency Maldives, told Minivan News earlier this month that although it accepted that there had been improvements within the effectiveness of the Majlis concerning the amount of legislation passed, the NGO was concerned that parliament had failed to work independently and pass vital bills such as a national Penal Code.

“Shahid is right when he says that parliament has failed to meet public expectations,” he claimed at the time. “It is not just in meeting public expectations that the Majlis has failed in, but constitutional expectations as well.”

Rasheed said that although parliament was holding the president and the executive accountable for their actions, he believed that there was a failure to review legislation in terms of financial and political impacts before it was being passed from parliamentary committees back to the Majlis.

Rasheed said that the NGO had spoken with 15 MPs from across a number of political parties including the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the DRP as part of a project called Parliament Watch designed to try and put a spotlight on governance and political decision making. From these discussions, Rasheed claimed that the NGO had uncovered a wide consensus of concerns over parliament’s ability to review and research the legislative process.

“All the parliamentarians that we have spoken to said that they believed that the current set up is not sufficient for parliament to meet its constitutional requirements,” he said. “There is no proper system of review mechanisms [within parliament].”