Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ahmed Nazim has claimed that he would welcome moves to promote transparency in the People’s Majlis, such as revealing the financial assets of MPs to the public, but added similar commitments would also be needed from the country’s judiciary and executive.
Speaking to Minivan News earlier this week, Nazim, who is also a serving member of the People’s Alliance (PA) party and the Majlis’ Public Accounts Committee, said he would “fully support” any initiative to improve the image of parliament such as providing details of the property and assets of MPs. However, the deputy speaker said he believed that the appointment of an auditor general, a position that has been vacant since March 2010 when Ibrahim Naeem lost a parliamentary no-confidence motion by 43 votes to 28, was needed to oversee such a process.
The claims were made as debate over whether MPs should publicly declare details of their assets and income was found to have reached an impasse, with opinion divided in the Majlis over whether doing so was a constitutional necessity.
The issue had also been raised by the political NGO, Transparency Maldives, which claimed that it was having difficulties in getting details on the assets and financial status of MPs despite parliament showing a generally more open attitude to supplying information.
The NGO, which operates a project called Parliament Watch alongside the Maldivian Democracy Network, believes that the right of the public to know the financial details of their elected representatives in the Majlis was “in the spirit” of the constitution. Transparency Maldives added that it believed that transparency within the actions and decision making of parliament had nonetheless improved in recent years despite possible concerns about MP finances.
Although the decision for public declarations of MPs’ financial statements was rejected this week, parliament also failed to agree to two additional recommendations that financial statements should be released only under a court order or to the public upon investigations by state institutions.
On Tuesday (April 19), Nazim in his capacity as deputy speaker of the Majlis, said the matter had been declared “void” on the basis that neither proposal was accepted by MPs, but he added that parliament’s Secretary General had sought counsel on the matter and would go ahead according to the “rules of procedure”.
Speaking before the vote, Nazim said that the issue had been sent to parliament by the Majlis’ secretary general over concerns about an isolated issue raised by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in requiring the financial statements of one unidentified MP.
Under present standing orders that outline parliament procedure, the deputy speaker claimed that sitting MPs were required to provide information to the Majlis by the end of October each year detailing their annual finances between the twelve months from May 29 to May 28.
Nazim said that amidst the ensuing debate over whether these statements should be made freely available to the public, the decision to do would definitely serve to “improve the image of parliament.”
While provisionally welcoming the initiative, Nazim claimed that he believed the Majlis would only public release details of their financial status alongside a similar commitment by judges and senior cabinet ministers.
“It would be for the auditor general to collect this [financial] information from cabinet ministers, judges and government members,” he said, accepting that the position had been vacant for more than 12 months.
“No [financial] information has been put into the public domain, once this happens the Majlis would consider following suit.”
Presidential Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News that ultimately, the decision on whether to make the financial statements of MPs available to the public was down to parliament itself and not related to the government.
“It all depends on how transparent they [parliament] wish to be,” he claimed. “There are opportunities to be accountable, yet holding back on these details might lead to allegations [of possible corruption].
When asked whether cabinet member were themselves considering or already required to reveal details of their earnings and assets, Zuhair added that the issue related to a very different kind of social contract that they were bound to.
“Government employees are banned from working in the public sector or within any positions that might create a conflict of interest,” he added.
Aiman Rasheed, Projects Coordinator for NGO Transparency Maldives, claimedthat MPs were generally operating in a much more transparent manner during the current parliament. However, he added that while parliamentarians were not required to supply their financial statements to the public, choosing to do so would be more in the spirit of the constitution.
Through its work on the Parliament Watch project, Rasheed claimed that at present NGOs like Transparency Maldives were finding it very difficult to know which MPs submitted their financial statements to the Majlis by the required deadline of October, with requests for a detailed list of members still not being met.
“There is obviously a lot of discomfort about this in the Majlis,” he said. “But for the most part, documents [relating to MPs] are available. As far as we are concerned this parliament is really open.”
Despite welcoming possible improvements in the transparency of the Majlis, Rasheed said that the Parliament Watch project would be releasing a report in the next few months detailing its findings in trying to bring greater scrutiny to parliamentary records in relation to members’ attendances and work rates.
However, amidst the debates over public accountability in the Majlis, a number of MPs have raised criticisms of the role of media in shaping public perceptions of parliament and its work.
(Maldivian Democratic Party) MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik said this week that while he agreed with the constitutional principle of publicly declaring assets and wealth, it was not an advisable time to do so in “today’s political atmosphere.”
The MDP parliamentary group leader remains embroiled in an acrimonious feud with private broadcaster DhiTV, owned by business magnate “Champa” Mohamed Moosa.
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 humiliate 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.
Along with debates over accountability, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom claimed yesterday that despite the cancellation of a scheduled meeting in the Majlis’ main chamber , work was still ongoing 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.