Jumhooree Party (JP) and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs boycotted parliament’s economic affairs committee today in protest of alleged procedural violations by the committee’s chair in his haste to complete reviewing the government’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) legislation.
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdulla Khaleel – the committee’s chairperson – was “repeatedly violating Majlis rules and committee rules as well,” said JP Leader Gasim after walking out of a meeting this morning and raising a point of order at the ongoing parliament sitting.
The SEZ law would authorise a board formed by the president “to sell off the entire country in the name of economic zones,” the business tycoon said.
He added that the committee was not considering recommendations by state institutions concerning relaxed regulations, exempted import duties and tax incentives.
PPM MPs wanted to complete assessment of the bill “like a snap of the finger,” he said.
Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, however, said he could not accept Gasim’s objections as a point of order and advised the Maamigili MP to submit a complaint outside the sitting.
Backing Gasim’s stance, MDP MP Eva Abdulla – who had walked out of the committee with Gasim – contended that procedural violations at committees must be dealt with by the speaker.
As the “smallest example” of Khaleel’s misconduct, Eva alleged that the chair was participating in votes while the rules stipulate that he could only cast a vote to break a tie.
The chair was completely “disregarding” recommendations and commentary sent to the committee by the Maldives Police Service, Customs Service, Local Government Authority, and Maldives Monetary Authority, Eva claimed.
Moreover, the views of JP and MDP MPs were deliberately being ignored, she added.
Parties in the minority should be respected, she continued, warning of disruptions to proceedings at parliament sittings if the issue was not resolved.
In a second point of order, Gasim said he would not stand for the PPM misusing its parliamentary majority to get its way in flagrant violation of rules.
If the SEZ bill is passed into law without revisions, Gasim said the country’s “independence would be lost” and “certain people” would be allowed to carry out corrupt dealings.
PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed meanwhile advised resolving the dispute through dialogue in lieu of disrupting proceedings with quarrels in the chamber.
Shortly after the second session of today’s sitting resumed at 11am, Speaker Maseeh adjourned proceedings in the face of consecutive points of order raised by JP and MDP MPs.
Khaleel had told newspaper Haveeru last week that he expected to complete the review process and send the bill to the Majlis floor for a vote before the end of the month.
Parliament breaks for a one-month recess at the end of August.
As the bill was a high priority for the government, the MP for Faafu Nilandhoo said he had decided to hold two meetings for every day when there is a parliament sitting.
Khaleel had stressed that stakeholders would be consulted and technical expertise would be sought.
Prior to walking out of today’s meeting, Gasim advised that it was “very important” to specifying a period for offering tax incentives to investors instead of leaving it to the discretion of a board.
Eva meanwhile objected to PPM MPs refusing to “accommodate” any recommendations from state institutions and urged the chair to “respect parliamentary practice.”
In response, Khaleel insisted that he was conducting proceedings in accordance with the rules and that comments that were “not against the spirit of the bill” were being considered.
After the JP and MDP MPs walked out, Khaleel continued the review process – with PPM MPs and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) Leader MP Ahmed ‘Sun’ Siyam Mohamed in attendance – and put articles 34 through 48 to a vote after seeking proposed amendments.
Reflecting its simple majority in the 85-member house, the PPM-MDA coalition has voting majorities on parliamentary oversight committees.
Meanwhile, responding to criticism of the SEZ bill from the opposition, President Abdulla Yameen insisted in a speech on Monday night (August 11) that foreign investments in the zones posed no threat to Islam or Maldivian sovereignty, assuring that the businesses would be fully subject to Maldivian law.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed contends that the zones would be used for criminal enterprises, “irreligious” activities such as gambling, and money laundering.
The opposition leader had dubbed the legislation the ‘Artur Brothers bill’, referring to an infamous pair of Armenians linked with money laundering and drug trafficking who made headlines last year after they were photographed with cabinet ministers.