MDP activists confront Finance Minister after covert harbor meeting

Ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activists demanded Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz’s resignation last night after he was found holding a covert meeting with Mulaku MP Abdulla Yamin of opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The Minister, who has not resigned from his post, and MP Yamin had not responded to inquiries at time of press.

Minivan staff who witnessed the event said one activist lay down in front of Yamin’s car while another “dragged” Inaz from the vehicle and took him to MDP headquarters at Haruge.

Activists interviewed today claimed that Inaz was not forcefully taken from the vehicle.

Activists alleged that the two politicians had held a secret meeting, possibly involving a bribe. Inside Haruge, Inaz was pressured to send an SMS message to President Mohamed Nasheed, currently in Sri Lanka, conveying his resignation.

Inaz left Haruge after police arrived to address the agitated crowds.

Police received information of the disturbance after midnight, but finding no signs of violence upon arrival did not take action.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam reported that no case had been filed from either side of the dispute.

“Even today, we have received no complaint from Inaz or from the MDP and have found no reason to investigate the matter,” he said.

MDP senior activist Ibrahim ‘Dhonbeli’ Haleem said he discovered Inaz and Yamin holding a discussion “for two hours” near Male’s South Harbor, “a dark area poorly lit that is only really frequented by boys and girls, not for official business.”

“I told Inaz it was wrong, that Yamin is an enemy and why is he going to this area to hold a business meeting. If he needs to discuss business he should do it in his office.

“Inaz admitted it was wrong, and the MDP activists were yelling and shouting so I took him on my bike to Haruge (MDP headquarters),” said Dhonbeli.

He said Inaz appeared scared, and following his appearance at Haruge Dhonbeli “took him safely home.”

Dhonbeli believed Yamin was attempting to bribe the Finance Minister on behalf of the “money holder” opposition party.

Yamin is the half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He had not responded to phone calls at time of press.

Male’ City Councilor Lufshan Shakeed said he was among those who stood in front of Yamin’s car when he attempted to drive away. He explained that MDP activists were “ok if they meet in a cafe or on the roadside, but we don’t like these hidden discussions.”

Asked whether he expected the Minister would resign following last night’s encounter, Shakeed said “it’s up to him. The MDP activists and grassroots people are not very happy right now.”

PPM officials had not responded to phone calls at time of press.


DQP sues Finance Ministry for non-payment of fisheries subsidies

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has filed a lawsuit at the Civil Court against the Finance Ministry and Fisheries Ministry claiming that the government is withholding the budget allocated for fuel subsidies for fishermen.

The party has requested the court to order the Finance Ministry to issue the Rf100 million included in the 2011 budget for fisheries subsidy immediately.

According to local media, the state attorney said that it was not in the mandate of political parties to get involved with issues such as this.

Meanwhile, DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed has submitted a resolution to the parliament calling on the government to release the fisheries subsidy.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP and Media Coordinator of the MDP Parliamentary Group Ahmed Shifaz told Minivan News that the resolution has been accepted by the parliament and sent to parliament committee for further review.

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz told parliament last week that the state would have to reduce other subsidies before issuing Rf100 million (US$6.4 million) as oil subsidies for fishermen.

“It would have been easier if parliament had decided to reduce from a particular item,” he said, noting that potential items included subsidies for water, oil and foodstuffs as well as state benefits for persons with special needs.

“If we cut any of the [budget] items, we will be cutting basic needs,” he said. “The Majlis has not asked the government to cut any particular item so the government cannot cut any item and provide funding, and so hasn’t been able to find a fair way to issue subsidies for fishermen.”

Inaz told Minivan News today that it was too early to comment on the resolution that was submitted by Riyaz.


MJA calls for investigation into release of Rf456,000 to defunct media association

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) and senior members of the now-defunct Maldives Media Association (MMA) have called on the Auditor General and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate an alleged Rf456,000 (US$31,000) released from the states contingency budget.

The MMA – not to be confused with the Maldives Media Council (MMC) which is currently facing legal action for paying members almost Rf 1 million in ‘living allowances’ -was registered as an NGO in 2007 and was active for a year. However the NGO ceased its activities and many of its board members resigned.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, MP Ahmed Nazim, told local media this week that a report submitted by the Finance Ministry showed that over Rf450,000 from the state budget was issued to the MMA.

“According to the NGOs Act, the Maldives Media Association was supposed to be dissolved for being inactive for a long time, but the Home Ministry has not yet announced it has been removed from the NGOs list,” the MJA said in a press release. “It is astonishing to hear that such a large sum of money has been given to the MMA from the state budget to pay their staff.”

The MJA said it understood that information on assistance given to the MMA was stored at the Information Department, and called for an investigation.

State Tourism Minister Mohamed Thoyyib was the last President of the NGO, and other figures such as Mohamed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, who is the current editor of Sun Online and Maldives Media Council member, along with Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) Sub-Editor Ahmed Muhsin, were all senior members of the MMA.

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz told Minivan News that he was not sure how the allegations surfaced.

“We are currently trying to determine whether it actually happened,” Inaz said, adding that the ministry would put out a press statement explaining the incident.

Hirigia, who was a senior member of the MMA, told Minivan News that the NGO had received no money from the government when it was active.

“We call on the Auditor General and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate this matter and we call on the government to tell everyone where the money really went,” Hiriga said. “It’s been almost 24 hours since the Public Accounts Committee told the media about this, and still the Finance Ministry has not said anything about it.”

The emergence of the issue indicated that the government may have been misusing funds out of the contingency budget, he said.

“There will be still more than Rf60,000 of the Maldives Media Association’s money stored in the Information Department, we want to know what happened to that as well,” Hiriga said.

The then-President of the Maldives Media Association, currently State Minister for Arts and Culture Thoyyib Mohamed, said that the association received no money from the government.

”We did not receive any money from the government, maybe there is confusion in the Finance Ministry,” Thoyyib said.


Finance Ministry appeals for cooperation with cost-cutting measures

The Finance Ministry has appealed for cooperation from all state institutions to the government’s cost-cutting measures by not hiring additional staff, creating new posts or replacing vacancies.

A budget circular issued by the ministry on Sunday notes that expenditure on state employees accounts for 35 percent of government spending in the 2011 budget while 49 percent of government expenditure so far this year (excluding foreign loans and free aid) was on salaries and allowances.

“Lately a number of institutions have been requesting permission from the ministry to add new posts in 2011 and hire employees for vacant posts,” reads the circular signed by Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz. “However since the ministry believes that, considering the state of the budget, there is no space to add employees or fill vacant posts this year, the ministry urges cooperation for controlling the number of employees.”

As part of the government’s belt-tightening measures to curb expenditure, the circular notes, the Finance Ministry requires offices and state institutions to seek authorisation in writing for capital expenditure and overseas trips as well as repair and maintenance work.

The ministry had previously informed all state institutions to not create new posts or fill vacancies, the circular noted.

“In addition, posts of employees who leave their government jobs under the ministry’s “voluntary redundancy programme” has been abolished,” it added. “The ministry believes that as a result of this programme expenditure on employees out of the state budget will be controlled to an extent.”

The Finance Ministry recently revealed that the country’s fiscal deficit in 2011 reached Rf1.3 billion (US$84 million) in the first week of September.

The circular meanwhile noted that the government has pledged not to raise nominal wages until the end of 2012 under the staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In May, the IMF gave preliminary approval for a three year economic programme in the Maldives, after the government agreed to “a package of policy reforms that will help stabilise and strengthen the Maldives’ economy.”

“In sum, this package of proposed policy reforms will help stabilize and strengthen Maldives’s economy, and the mission thus reached a staff-level agreement with the Maldivian authorities on a three-year economic program that could be supported by a new IMF lending arrangement,” reads an IMF press statement in May. “The agreement reached, however, remains subject to review by IMF management and approval of the IMF’s Executive Board, which could consider a program request from Maldives in July. It is anticipated that an approved program would encourage key donors to contribute additional financial support.”


MBC to sue Finance Minister for withholding its budget

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has declared it will sue Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz for withholding its annual budget approved by the parliament for the year 2011.

The parliament-created MBC and the 100 percent government corporation the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) have been engaged in a long-running tug-of-war for control of the assets of the state broadcaster, formerly Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM).

The government contends that the MBC board is stacked with opposition supporters and that its attempt to gain control of MNBC is effectively a media coup, while MNBC has been criticised for favouring the ruling party. Proponents claim that given the opposition’s influence over private broadcast media the consolidation of media ownership in the hands of a few opposition-leaning MPs, the government has no alternative.

Even the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has waded into the debate at the behest of the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), in support of MBC and an independent state broadcaster.

In a statement issued yesterday the MBC said that the corporation had been unable to pay rent for its office building as well as other bills, and had been fined as a consequence.

“MBC decided to sue the Finance Minister after informing the ministry about all these issues and repeatedly seeking to solve them, but the ministry has failed to explain why the budget was withheld,’’ the statement read. ‘’The MBC has been unable to find a solution to this through the parliament and Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).’’

The MBC said the court was the last resort after exhausting all other avenues.

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz told Minivan News that he did not wish to comment on the matter.

The MBC was formed by a law enacted by the parliament, which attempted to force a transfer of MNBC’s assets to the new corporation.

The MBC won its first suit against the government on June 12, with the Civil Court ordering that all the assets and staff including the land of MNBC was to be be transferred to MBC within 20 days.

However, the government claimed that the MNBC was a private TV station and that as long as the MNBC board opposed the transfer of assets and staff it would be violation of the corporation’s rights.

Now the government has appealed the Civil Court’s ruling in High Court on July 6, which ordered the Civil Court’s decision be delayed pending a final ruling.

Meanwhile Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed said last week that staff at the former Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM) could not work with the parliament-approved MBC board.

Responding to a question by a journalist at a forum organised by the Maldives Media Council (MMC) on July 25, Nasheed explained that the MBC Act was intended to transform the corporatised state media into a public broadcaster but the board voted through by opposition MPs was engaged in “political football.”

“Everything went right, but because of those who were chosen for the director’s board, the whole thing turned into political football,” MP Nasheed said.


Q&A: Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz was approved by parliament in late April 2011, replacing Ali Hashim who was among President Mohamed Nasheed’s cabinet ministers to be ousted by the opposition-majority parliament. He was approved just as the government implemented a managed float of the rufiya, and spoke to Minivan News about the recent and rapid changes to the country’s economy, the challenges it is facing and the future outlook.

JJ Robinson: An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission is in town following the conclusion of the Article IV consultation last year. What is the current status of the government’s involvement with the IMF?

Ahmed Inaz: The IMF is discussing a new three program [with the government]. We are talking about structural adjustments that need to be brought in, and on the revenue side we are agreeing measures we foresee need to take in the next two years. We are trying to agree on the policy side.

They have their suggestions and recommendations and we have the policies the President is proposing, and we are trying to come a common agreement hopefully by the start of next week. I’m hopeful we will re-enter the program.

JJR: The IMF delayed the third tranche of funding in November last year citing “significant policy slippages” on behalf of the government. Did the third tranche get delivered?

AI: The question is not about that, the question is what can be practically done in this country. The new government came in with a new democratic setup, but not the budget to support that. The budget didn’t carry the cost of the new reforms.

It is not a matter of whether we can cut down expenditure – yes there are fat layers in the country, not only in the civil service, also in the judiciary and independent institutions. But the fundamental issue is that because of the democratic transition we have a state with recurrent expenditure higher than its revenue.

To make matters worse, the salaries of the state payroll are higher than our income. You can see where the problem lies.

What we foresee is that there are two ways in which we have to work to rectify this issue.

One is to trim the fat layer, by matching outputs with staff and increasing productivity.

The other thing is by increasing our revenue. We need to move from the current inefficient way of raising revenue – which bases revenue on import duties – to a more direct taxation policy.

We currently have the import duty which is a burden for businessmen, because they are taxed before they sell. We will abolish most duties, apart from those on items that are environmentally damaging, those that affect health, and other discouraged items.

The rest will be abolished and we will move into a direct taxation policy when the business profit tax starts in July. We have also started collecting revenue from a Tourism Goods and Services Tax (TGST), and we propose that we increase this as well as introducing a general GST for the public, and an income tax.

This would not be a payroll tax. It would be an income tax on people earning above Rf 30,000 (US$2300) per month. We think this is more justifiable.

Some may feel that this will collect only a very small amount of revenue – but this not just revenue from employment, but income from business dividends, house sales and so forth.

JJR: The former auditor general reported difficultly getting people to declare assets. Is this difficult with high net-worth individuals in the Maldives?

AI: One thing you have to understand is that this is a path other countries have walked. I remember when I was doing my graduate studies, even then we were talking about this. It was something the educated intellects were advocating. It never happened because there was no political willingness – willingness we now have.

I believe that once we start we will sort the rest of the issues. The TSGT is already being taken from big resorts as well as small guest houses on remote islands – very small businesses. They declare – amazingly, they declare.

I think this is something the country can take, and then we can move to rectify problems and perfect the system.

JJR: The general popularity of the idea seems quite sour with members of the opposition. How do you propose getting this tax through the opposition-majority parliament?

AI: All the businessmen I have met – all the reasonable businessmen I have met – believe that the country has to move to a much more structured, predictable and more coherent system of governance. And to do that we need an economic system that supports social change, and supports the change we have brought politically.

To sustain their businesses it is important that they have social and political stability. It would be a grave mistake if one stands up and says they don’t support [income tax], because that will bring instability to the country and harm businesses.

The other thing is that once you have a system of redistributing wealth through direct tax, such as we are proposing, this is spent on infrastructure, welfare, education, transport – all of these things that directly benefit wealthy businessmen, because they don’t have to pay for it on an individual basis. So the cost of doing business will be lowered.

I believe MPs, businessmen and business-MPs will support this. Those I have met have given their full support – they just want to be consulted first.

JJR: Don’t you think that as a potentially populist issue this may become a victim of the country’s adversarial politics?

AI: I think the opposition is very mature. When we were in the opposition, then the opposition was very mature. I think they will choose the best for the country. We are doing the tough job here – by 2013 the game will be easier. We are laying the foundation for the country, not only by changing the political scenario but bringing huge economic changes. I think they will support it.

JJR: Back to the IMF. A theme in their reports last year – and also those of the World Bank – was that while the Maldives’ income might be increased gradually, the country’s immediate problem was the inflated state budget, leading to a high deficit, while the country was at the same time insisting on a pegged currency. The government’s attempt to introduce cuts last year were scuttled – in your mind what were the reasons for this?

AI: One thing was that the business profit tax was delayed in parliament – for reasons I don’t think I have to elaborate. The TGST we proposed was higher than what are getting now, and that has also had an impact on us.

Also we have to remember that the redundancy of the civil service is not an easy thing – the country’s employment has been totally dependent on the government. It is a very big change, and we have said we want the government to be a policy maker, a regulator, but not doing business, so jobs are created in the private sector.

I’m happy to say our redundancy program – with assistance from the Asia Development Bank (ADB) – has to this date enrolled 800 people and already some of them have already been paid and moved out of the civil service. We hope over the next few weeks we will achieve our target of 1300 – the idea is that they will retrained and not return to the government for at least three years.

JJR: A key criticism of the government’s economic policy from the opposition is its spending on political appointees.

AI: Out of total government expenditure, 75 percent is paying the payroll. The political appointees are three percent of that payroll.

I believe that any appointee, whether political, civil service or judicial – any unproductive appointee – is a burden on our system and we should make them redundant.

JJR: Enmity between the Finance Ministry and the Civil Service Commission (CSC) last year led to the ministry filing charges with police against the CSC, just as the cuts issue entered the court system. What is the relationship like now between the Ministry and the CSC?

AI: We are working very closely with them and they have been very cooperative on the redundancy issue.

JJR: A number of private sector businesses have expressed concern that while the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA)’s decision to enforce the use of the rufiya for all transactions is fine when you have a freely-convertable currency, it presents a serious problem when the banks refuse to sell dollars to them.

AI: The government doesn’t print dollars, and the government doesn’t earn dollars, except for fees and taxes, which is a very small percentage of the total demand for dollars in the country. The dollars are earned primarily by the resorts and fish exporters.

What we want is a system where the foreign exchange system operates as a market. We have introduced a banded float [within 20 percent of the pegged Rf12.85 to the dollar]. What we want is that the dollar earners will sell this to the market, and within the next three months an equilibrium will be achieved.

I don’t mean a low rate – I mean an equilibrium. Once that is set and the speculation and market adjustment has competed, we will have addressed the fundamental reason as to why the black-market existed.

Firstly, because the existing laws and regulations were not enforced, and existing legislation relating to money changers legislation was not being enforced – we cannot have 220 money changers in the country. I have not seen this in other countries. They have to be proper money changers who have invested a certain amount of capital, just like the banks.

I emphasise this but I still don’t get the commitment I need from stakeholders to address it.

Secondly, the monetary regulation states that rufiya is the legal tender for all transactions, with the exception of the government’s collection of taxes and fees. I think we should enforce this irrespective of the sector. We should have rufiya prices – what other country has prices in another country’s currency?

You can still pay in dollars – but this is the exchange rate. For [the customer] it may still seem as though you are paying in dollars, but the transactions are actually happening in rufiya. In Colombo you pay in local currency, even if you use your credit card. We need to have that enforcement irrespective of the sector.

In the medium term we need to address the budget deficit, especially recurrent spending, which has to be matched with income. A state cannot be operated without matching recurrent expenditure to its income – that is madness. A state has to have a prudent economic system – capital expenditure can still be borrowed, because future returns are there.

We working with the ministries to streamline and reduce the deficit in the budget. Next year we are hoping to have a balanced budget.

JJR: The opposition-majority parliament has substantially added to the last two budgets submitted by the government, and the President has been compelled to ratify these. How do you deal with this?

AI: We are trying to work on the legal side as well as the practical, and make sure this is enforced – at least that recurrent expenditure and income is matched, and that any additional bill passed during that particular year is supported with a revenue measure.

They can’t just simply tell us to pass a budget, and then pass bills giving us additional expenditure – every bill comes at a cost. What we propose is that they think about this and rectify it – this is very important.

The third long term goal is increasing productivity and exports, to make sure that whichever government is in power, our manifesto continues and the country can move forward. We need exports to be increased, and earn dollars. Long term, that is the only solution to counter this [economic situation]. In the long run there should be a regulatory framework that supports this.

JJR: Speaking of the regulator, where does the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) fit into this? It was only recently that the government was calling for the resignation of MMA Governor Fazeel Najeeb for failing to help address the situation.

AI: I don’t want to dwell on that. For me the governor – whoever is there – I should work with them. What I want is the regulations to be there. For example, the devaluation of the currency within this 20 percent band – that has to be supported.

Once we make a decision, such as the devaluation, we cannot go back. The fundamental health of the economy told us that we had to do this. The President met with the MMA Board, which advised, and a decision was made. It is not time for us to affect the confidence of the economy – an economy cannot survive without confidence. That is the crucial factor an economy needs – and state institutions need to ensure that confidence is there.

JJR: If the government was convinced that the value of the rufiya was going to fall somewhere within that band, why not float the currency altogether?

AI: The reason what that if we float the currency it would have short-term consequences and immediate jumps. A band means the government will defend that band – that is what we are doing with the weekly auction of dollars to the banks.

Secondly we have numbers from the TGST income that suggest we have been underestimating our economy. By having our policies in place – productivity increasing policies and growing additional exports – we are confident we can pull the value of the rufiya down to 10 in the long term – that is our aim. It is not a joke.

JJR: There is a lot of concern, particularly in resort circles, that the new policy restricting expatriate remittances will reduce the willingness of people to work in the Maldives. What was the logic behind that decision?

AI: We understand that expatriate employees are very important. We will never hurt them and we will ensure that their interests are protected. The regulation that the Ministry and MMA are working on will only limit repatriation of what they earn legally under their contract. If they remit more, obviously they will have been earning illegally.

They are living and spending in the Maldives as well – but they can still repatriate up to what they earn. What we are trying to do is limit illegal workers [remitting dollars out of the country].

JJR: If at the same time you are enforcing use of the rufiya when there is some doubt as to whether you can walk into a bank and exchange that into dollars to remit it overseas – does that not impact confidence in the economy?

AI: We believe the market is currently unstable because of the changes we have brought, and that these changes will take three months for the various variables to work. In that period the government will work with the MMA to ensure that stability exists.

There will be a lot of low confidence and instability, and that will not only be felt by the expatriates. All our imports and consumables, medicine, education – is imported. But we are confident we can get through this.

JJR: Potential foreign investors looking at the economy and observing the recent changes may be unsettled by this instability. How do you address this concern?

AI: The current government is a centre-right government, and we are opening our doors to an unimaginable level for foreign investment.

We will not be treating foreign investors different from local businesses. We will not put in unreasonable controls on the economy, and we will make sure foreign investors are consulted, as with the locals.

We have not done this in the past.because we have been very tightly focused on politics as well as the economy, and haven’t been able to communicate as much in English perhaps as we should have.

I believe [foreign investors] have confidence in our economy, and we will ensure their investments are protected in this country, and that wel continue to have policies to encourage further investment. This country does not have a solid financial sector so we need foreign investors very much. That is understood by the current government, and the policy is to attract foreign investors.

JJR: So economy before politics from here on in?

AI: Yes. Until the next election!


President appoints finance minister as acting tourism minister

President Mohamed Nasheed has appointed Finance Minister Ali Hashim as the acting tourism minister.

Former Tourism Minister Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad was appointed Attorney General when former Attorney General Husnu Suood resigned, claiming his job was untenable because of parliamentary obstruction. The appointment is awaiting approval of parliament.

President Nasheed has said he will appoint a new tourism minister shortly.


Vice President on official visit to Saudi Arabia

Vice President Mohamed Waheed has departed the Maldives for an official visit to Saudi Arabia.

Dr Waheed’s visit is mainly focused on lobbying the upcoming Maldives Partnership Forum, or Donor Conference, to be held on 28-29 March.

The vice president met with the Saudi Finance Minister Dr Ibrahim Al-Assaf on 20 March, briefing him on the Donor Conference and thanking the Saudi government for its support of the Maldives.

Dr Al-Assaf said Saudi Arabia would participate in the Donor Conference and would continue its support to the Maldives.

Vice President Waheed then met with Governor of Riyadh Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.

They discussed bilateral relations between the two countries and ways to strengthen them, especially in the areas of economic cooperation.

Governor Prince Salman assured the Maldives of further economic assistance, saying it was the duty of Saudi Arabia to assist Islamic countries around the world.

Vice President Waheed then met with Assistant Secretary General for Economic Affairs of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Dr Mohamed Bin Obeid Al-Marzoi.

Dr Al-Marzoi said it would encourage GCC countries to participate in the Donor Conference and the GCC itself would participate in the Conference.


Finance ministry snubs parliamentary committee

Finance Minister Ali Hashim failed to appear before parliament’s internal affairs committee today, after he was called to clarify the manner in which independent institutions in the Maldives are funded.

Hashim was asked to appear after institutions including the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Election Commission (EC) and the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) complained to parliament that they lacked financial independence and must “beg” for funds from the Finance Ministry.

“He left the country,” said independent MP Mohamed Nasheed, the committee’s chair. “He said he was preoccupied during the first time we set, so we sent him a formal letter rescheduling the meeting for this morning at 11:15am. He didn’t respond and we learned he had left the country.”

Nasheed said the committee had instead asked the State Finance Minister Ahmed Assad to appear, “but he said he was in another meeting. I said he should give this one priority, so he sent two junior officers.”

Nasheed said the committee had decided to invoke article 99 of the constitution and force Hashim to attend the next committee meeting after 9 January. That article allows: “the People’s Majlis or any of its committees the power to summon any person to appear before it to give evidence under oath, or produce documents.”

“If he doesn’t appear, we’ll make a report to parliament questioning his confidence,” Nasheed warned. “He’s being irresponsible and it’s so unnecessary and uncalled for.”

Hashim was unavailable when Minivan News attempted to contact him.

A question of independence

Independent institutions are currently required to seek approval from the Finance Ministry for all funding, a situation they argue undermines their ability to function independently of the executive.

“It is actually a problem,” explained Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem. “We haven’t had financial independence and we have to seek approval from the finance ministry to run programs. The money has already been budgeted and there is no need for us to be overseen by the finance ministry.”

During a meeting between the parliamentary committee and the heads of independent institutions, HRCM President Ahmed Saleem complained that the process undermined the commission’s integrity by leaving it unable to pay bills on time.

“We just got the money yesterday to pay for an invoice received two to three months ago,” he said. “This undermines our credibility.”

Saleem noted that while the PGO had yet to have a request for its money denied, the EC had not been so lucky.

“97 per cent of the finances we had allocated for training this year are still untouched and it is already December,” complained Mohamed Farooq from the EC.

“We don’t get any finance for our programs unless the Finance Ministry approves it. They are the ones who decide if we should conduct training programs.”

The prosecutor general, HRCM, EC and ACC “are all reading from the same script on this issue,” Nasheed said.

“Even when their budgets have been approved they still have to ask for permission, because the money is not physically transferred to a separate account.”

Furthermore, he said, the ministry’s decision to reduce the salaries of staff in independent institutions by 15 to 20 per cent “was made in violation of the laws used to create those institutions.”

The finance minister had previously suggested a percentage of the institution’s budgets might be made available, “but that still doesn’t solve the issue,” Nasheed argued.

“They see this as encroaching on their independence. If there is less money available then the budgets of these institutions should be subject to quarterly review and adjusted by parliament.”