Bill proposed to raise disability benefits to MVR5,000 a month

MP Ibrahim Muttalib has submitted an amendment to the Disabilities Act to raise the monthly allowance provided to persons with special needs from MVR2,000 (US$150) to MVR5,000 (US$324).

The MP for Fares-Maathoda – who failed to win re-election in last month’s polls – stated in the draft legislation (Dhivehi) that its purpose was to provide financial assistance to families with persons with special needs to seek medical treatment overseas.

While treatment for disabled persons was covered in the government’s ‘Aasandha’ health insurance scheme, Muttalib stated that securing Aasandha in hospitals abroad was difficult for families.

The first reading of the bill took place at today’s sitting of parliament, after which the amendments will be tabled for a preliminary debate.

The Disabilities Act (Dhivehi) was passed in July 2010 to provide financial assistance and protect the rights of persons with special needs whilst a national registry was compiled in 2011 with more than 4,000 active members.

Citing a 2010 report by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives and the UNDP, the US State Department’s 2013 Human Rights Report on the Maldives noted that “most schools accepted only children with very limited to moderate disabilities and not those with more serious disabilities.”

“Children with disabilities had virtually no access or transition to secondary-level education. Only three psychiatrists, two of them foreign, worked in the country, and they primarily worked on drug rehabilitation. No mental health care was available in Male. There also was a lack of quality residential care,” the report stated.

State benefits

Meanwhile, in March, the government raised the old age pensions from MVR2,300 to MVR5,000 a month to fulfil a campaign pledge by President Abdulla Yameen and the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.

While the government insists that enough funds to provide the increased benefits could be generated by investing in pension funds and financial instruments, critics have argued that, with a MVR1.3 billion (US$84.3 million) deficit budget, the move will plunge the country further into debt.

“These are loans, and taking loans is acceptable to invest in to increasing productivity. But this is not such an investment, this is something the government is spending. Eventually people will have to bear the burden of this,” former Economic Development Minister Mahmud Razee told Minivan News last month.

World Bank report at the end of 2013 urged the government to reduce spending in order reduce the “unsustainable” public debt which currently stands at 81 percent of GDP, and could rise to 96 percent by 2015.

“Maldives is spending beyond its means and financing the budget risks affecting the real economy,” the report said.


Speaker regrets “false” allegations by MP Muttalib of Indian-backed coup

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid has expressed regret over “false” allegations by MP Ibrahim Muttalib claiming that parliament was planning to establish a 100-strong military force armed by India for the speaker to assume the presidency on November 11 in the absence of a president-elect.

A press release by the parliament secretariat on Saturday (November 2) stated that Shahid “regretted” the Adhaalath Party MPs’ remarks, which could “incite fear among the public and sow discord.”

“The Speaker of the People’s Majlis said that he assures the Maldivian people at this opportunity that he would not do anything in violation of the constitution of the Republic of Maldives,” the statement read.

Muttalib’s allegations at an Adhaalath Party press conference on Saturday followed the swearing-in of retired Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) first lieutenant Mohamed Haleem as the parliament’s sergeant at arms, who would be in charge of overseeing security of the Majlis premises – a task presently carried out by the military.

Parliament also announced plans to hire two deputies and four assistants to the sergeant at arms as well as 100 security officers to form a security unit that would take over from the MNDF.

The decision to set up the unit has since been slammed by the Defence Ministry, contending that overseeing security of parliament was among the security services’ constitutional duties.

The parliament’s press statement meanwhile noted that the post of sergeant at arms was among the Majlis officers listed in provision 11(a) of the parliamentary rules of procedure.

It added that Mohamed Haleem was appointed to the position following interviews conducted by the General Affairs Committee with interested candidates, after which it had proposed three names to the Majlis floor.

Haleem’s nomination was approved with 56 votes in favour out of the 57 MPs who participated in the vote, the statement noted, which included MPs from the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives, Jumhooree Party and the Maldivian Development Alliance.

The structure of parliament service employees to assist the sergeant at arms was determined by the General Affairs Committee, the statement added.

On October 27, parliament approved a proposal by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party for the Speaker of Parliament to assume the presidency in the absence of a president-elect at midnight on November 10.

At the Adhaalath Party press conference, Muttalib claimed that the purpose of establishing the security unit was to prepare for an attack if the police and military refuse to cooperate with Speaker Shahid becoming caretaker president on November 11 if there was no president-elect.

The Fares-Maathoda MP also alleged that the Indian government and GMR could provide weapons to parliament, adding that the formation of “two governments” would inevitably lead to bloodshed.

“Shahid is preparing to get himself sworn into office on November 11. So they are establishing a military force of 100 armed officers. India is heavily involved in this plot. Otherwise we wouldn’t be concerned about this. Given the present actions of India, we cannot rule them out being involved in such a thing. So this is a Majlis orchestrated coup to facilitate that,” Muttalib was quoted as saying in local media.

The governments of India, Britain, Canada and Denmark would then recognise the new administration, Muttalib claimed, after which Indian troops would arrive to protect Shahid’s government amidst the resulting chaos.


Amendments approved to parliamentary rules of procedure

Parliament on Tuesday approved changes to the house rules that would allow sittings to proceed even if the quorum of 20 MPs is lost.

Under the rules of procedure prior to the amendment passed yesterday (December 25), sittings must be immediately adjourned if the number of MPs in the chamber falls below 20, which is 25 percent of the 77 MPs in parliament.

The change was voted through with 69 MPs voting in favour, four MPs voting against and one abstaining.

A number of sittings of the People’s Majlis have been forced to a close due to loss of quorum. The amendment to the rules was reportedly proposed to address the recurring issue of loss of quorum.

Under the amended rules, the Speaker would be allowed to continue proceedings until a MP brings the loss of quorum to his or her attention.

However, a minimum of 20 MPs would still have to be in attendance to begin sittings while more than 39 MPs must be present for a vote to be called.

A second amendment to the rules of procedure was meanwhile passed 44-28 yesterday with two abstentions to allow sittings to be held during recess upon request by 26 MPs.

The amendment was proposed in a report by the General Affairs Committee.

MPs of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) voted against the report. While PPM MPs voted for a proposal by MP Ibrahim Muttalib stating that no-confidence motions could not be voted on during sittings held in recess, the amendment was defeated 43-27 with four abstentions.

Under the approved changes to the house rules, a request by one-third of parliament or 26 MPs to hold a sitting during recess must be accommodated within 14 days including weekends and public holidays.


Government inviting foreigners to usurp Maldivian businesses, claims MP Muttalib

A business registration bill proposed by the government as part of its economic reform package is “a deceptive ploy” to “open up the country to foreigners”, warns MP Ibrahim Muttalib.

During today’s parliamentary debate, the Jumhooree Party (JP) MP argued that provisions in the legislation allowing foreign businesses to establish branches in the Maldives and requiring at least US$1 million as capital “proves that this bill was drafted to allow foreigners to easily do business in the Maldives.”

“Under this law, a person with US$1 million would be able to easily register a business in this country,” he explained. “Considering the state of the Maldivian people, there won’t be any businessman who has US$1 million at hand. [Foreign businesses] will be able to conduct wholesale business and sell day-to-day necessities.”

Muttalib added that local businesses that trade in footwear and garments “would not have US$1 million, except for a very few people.”

He urged MPs to consider the consequence of foreign businesses entering the footwear, garment and wholesale industry: “What is being done today is part of a neighbouring country’s efforts to open up this country for its citizens,” he said.

“The Indian government proposed opening up the service industry, tourism, travel agencies, construction, health industry, social security, financial industry, maritime travel, air travel and airplane repair under a SAFTA [South Asian Free Trade Association] agreement,” he claimed. “But because all our local industries opposed it the government has decided to do it under a law.”

While the bill specified businesses that could not be conducted by expatriates – such as fisheries, agriculture and selling commodities out of a private residence – all other kinds of businesses were “opened to foreigners” under the proposed law.

“Honourable Speaker, I do not want to live in this country as a third-class citizen,” he said.

Foreign businesses understood that a relatively small amount of capital was enough to “easily bribe officials” and secure investments such as uninhabited islands, Muttalib claimed.

According to the draft legislation, the purpose of the bill is to ensure that businesses, partnerships and cooperative societies operating in the Maldives are registered; specify what kind of businesses must be registered along with procedures for registration; and oblige businesses to submit information to the Registrar of Businesses.

MP Abdulla Mausoom of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) meanwhile expressed concern that allowing foreign businesses to establish branches in the Maldives could pose challenges to local industries.

Mausoom argued that the US$1 million stipulated as a minimum capital investment for foreign businesses was too low: “All around us, whether it’s India, Celyon [Sri Lanka], Singapore, Malaysia or Africa, are looking at the Maldives; [because] their countries are saturated they are ready to do business in Maldives.

“If we open up too easily like this, [foreign] businesses will pose serious challenges to our small businesses,” he said, suggesting more restrictions to protect local industries.

MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik, acting chairperson of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), noted that there were numerous unregistered businesses operating in the Maldives by foreign parties.

“In the woods in some islands, especially [Laamu Atoll], there’s even an immigration department,” he said, adding that he has learned of work visas approved for ten people under the name of one person. “There’s no particular business done by these people, in sum they’re involved in all business.”