Pro-government MPs reject Dr Shakeela’s re-nomination as health minister

Dr Mariyam Shakeela failed to secure parliamentary consent today after MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and ally Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) voted against approving her as Minister of Health.

Of the 73 MPs in attendance, 61 voted against endorsing her reappointment to the cabinet while 11 voted in favour and one abstained.

PPM reportedly issued a three-line whip against approving Shakeela following a secret ballot at a parliamentary group meeting this afternoon.

The health ministry has been under fire following a series of protests over regional healthcare services and mishaps in Malé.

The state-owned Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) – long criticised for lack of qualified doctors and inadequate medical facilities – transfused HIV positive blood to a patient in February due to an alleged technical error.

In June, Fuvahmulah councillors called for Shakeela’s resignation after a case of stillbirth, an interrupted caesarean, and the death of a soldier on the island. A few weeks later, over 300 protestors demonstrated in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi over deteriorating conditions at the regional hospital.

Shakeela was up for parliamentary approval today for a second time after President Abdulla Yameen modified her initial portfolio as Minister of Health and Gender.

During a debate today on a report by the independent institutions committee – which narrowly recommended endorsing her appointment – PPM MP Mohamed Musthafa accused Shakeela of reversing a decision by the previous minister to raise wages for doctors under a 48-hour work week.

He claimed that Shakeela had reduced working hours to 45 hours and lowered salaries.

“The consequence was all specialists working at IGMH and doctors in hospitals in the atolls and health centres leaving the Maldives,” he said, adding that the health minister should bear responsibility for the alleged exodus.

Musthafa suggested that “circumstances have changed” since President Yameen nominated Shakeela for the post.

MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) also voted against the health minister while Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs voted in favour.

MDP MP Rozaina Adam accused the health ministry of taking measures against health sector employees who provide information to opposition MPs. Such workers were threatened with dismissal and accused of “pestering” the government, she claimed.

Rozaina also strongly objected to the committee being unable to interview Shakeela due to a Supreme Court ruling.

JP MP Hussain Mohamed meanwhile noted that appointing cabinet ministers was a prerogative of the president, suggesting that the parliament’s confirmation role was a formality.

The party decided to endorse her as Shakeela’s reappointment implied that the president must have had confidence in her ability to implement his health policy, he said.

Health policy

Meanwhile, at a press conference yesterday, Shakeela said that the health sector had been strengthened despite “pressure” from elements within the government.

Shakeela insisted that she would not resign in the face of “obstacles and challenges” and said that President Yameen had not asked her to do so.

Shakeela contended that she had inherited a health sector “in ruins” with limited human resources and crumbling health centres and medical equipment.

She alleged that senior officials “within the system” were “obstructing” the ministry’s efforts.

Shakeela said she would “respect” the PPM MPs’ decision, but insisted that it would not be based on her performance.

Defending her track record, Shakeela said the ministry has formulated and submitted legislation to parliament on health services, health professionals, medical negligence, and medical devices.

The administrative framework of the health sector had been reviewed and revised, she said.

Shakeela said 70 percent of infrastructure had been damaged when the current administration took office, which has commenced repair work on 24 health centres at a cost of MVR14.1 million (US$914,397) while projects for repairing a further 49 centres were in the tendering process.

Contracts have been signed for constructing an 11-storey building for IGMH and upgrading the dialysis unit, she continued, adding that efforts were also underway to upgrade the Vilimalé health centre to a hospital.

Moreover, the ministry was purchasing equipment to upgrade the Hithadhoo and Kulhudhufushi regional hospitals to tertiary level, she said.

Among other ongoing projects were a quarantine facility and halfway house in Hulhumalé, a maternity waiting home in Kulhudhufushi, and newborn care centres.

A project to repair speedboats was also underway, Shakeela said, which has seen 13 out of 28 speedboats resume service. Four sea-ambulances have also been launched to fulfil a PPM campaign pledge, she noted.

While only 42 of 199 ambulances were functioning when she assumed office, Shakeela said 110 were now being used.

Noting that 80 percent of employees in the health sector were expatriates, Shakeela said the government was finding it hard to recruit professionals from overseas due to loss of confidence in the health sector by foreign workers.

A four-year long term plan for the health sector was being implemented, she noted.

Work has also begun on integrating a general practitioners service with the government’s ‘Aasandha’ health insurance scheme, Shakeela said.


PPM MPs reluctant to approve Dr Shakeela as health minister

Several MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) are not in favour of approving Dr Mariyam Shakeela as health minister in an upcoming vote on parliamentary approval for her nomination, reports CNM.

An unnamed MP told the online news outlet that Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan organised an informal secret ballot at a PPM parliamentary group meeting last Wednesday (July 23).

“Most members were not that positive,” the PPM MP was quoted as saying.

CNM has meanwhile learned that Nihan has communicated the results to the government as well as Shakeela and sought her opinion on the possibility of resigning from the post.

PPM MPs were against approving her to the post because of her handling of several incidents in the health sector during the past few months, CNM claimed.

The President’s Office submitted Shakeela’s name for parliamentary consent earlier this month. She was reappointed to the cabinet after her ministry was renamed Ministry of Health from Ministry of Gender.

The department of gender was meanwhile transferred under the newly-created Ministry of Law and Gender.

The parliament’s government oversight committee narrowly approved the nomination at a meeting last week and forwarded the matter to the People’s Majlis floor for a vote.

As opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs and Jumhooree Party MPs voted against recommending the nominee for approval, Chair Riyaz Rasheed cast a tie-breaking vote.

Despite the PPM majority on the key oversight committee, the vote was tied 5-5 after PPM MP Abdul Latheef Mohamed abstained.

The MP for Haa Alif Dhidhoo had joined the ruling party after being elected as an independent.


Government hampered by “restrictive” public finance law, says President Yameen

Amendments brought to the Public Finance Act by the opposition-controlled parliament during the three-year tenure of former President Mohamed Nasheed are posing challenges and difficulties to successive administrations, President Abdulla Yameen has said.

The amendments (Dhivehi) voted through in June 2010 stipulated that the executive must seek parliamentary approval before either obtaining foreign loans or leasing state property. Nasheed at the time declared that the law would make it “impossible for the government to function.”

Addressing supporters in the island of Naifaru in Lhaviyani atoll Sunday night (May 4),Yameen claimed that laws imposing “various restrictions” on the executive were passed by the People’s Majlis due to the “irresponsibility” of the former head of government.

But former President Dr Mohamed Waheed had also faced “difficulties” in governing after succeeding Nasheed in February 2012, Yameen said adding: “This is the problem we are facing as well.”

The executive was still forced to seek parliamentary approval “even for a MVR1,000 (US$65) loan,” he said.

“Scorched earth” tactics

The passage of the amendments in 2010 prompted the en masse resignation of President Nasheed’s cabinet on June 29 in protest of the opposition’s alleged obstruction and “scorched earth” policy.

While former Special Majlis MP Ibrahim Ismail ‘Ibra’ characterised the amendments as the “grand finale of decimating the executive” by wresting control from the executive, the Nasheed administration filed a case at the Supreme Court contesting the constitutionality of some provisions.

Yameen, who was leader of the minority opposition People’s Alliance at the time, said Nasheed’s “selling off of state assets and giving up uninhabited islands” had prompted the opposition’s actions.

“When many such actions that were harmful to the public occurred, a group of people advocating as the people’s representatives – myself included – determined things that cannot be done without a say of the parliament and passed a law called the Public Finance Act to hold the government accountable,” he said.

Following the controversial transfer of power in February 2012, the new administration – made up of former opposition parties – sought to reverse the restrictions concerning the sale and lease of state properties.

In December 2013, the Auditor General’s Office revealed that President Waheed’s administration violated finance laws in securing a domestic loan worth MVR300 million (US$ 19.45 million) from the Bank of Maldives (BML) for budget support.

Yameen also noted that he inherited an MVR30 billion (US$2 billion) national debt when he assumed office in November.

“That means to reach the ground I have to travel 30,000 million feet,” he said.

Coalition discontent

Contrary to Nasheed and Waheed, Yameen said he did not anticipate difficulties due to non-cooperation from the legislature as the Progressive Coalition – comprising of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and coalition partners Jumhooree Party (JP) and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) – has secured a comfortable majority in the incoming 18th People’s Majlis.

But Yameen has admitted to “some discontent” within the ruling coalition due to a dispute over which party should control the seat of Majlis Speaker.

“The public should work to change this discontent among us to contentment,” he said, adding that constituents should demand the cooperation of opposition MPs as well as JP MPs.

Yameen suggested that the public voted for candidates fielded by the JP and MDA due to the trust the Maldivian people had in PPM leader, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Stressing the importance of the public’s backing and support for the government, Yameen urged constituents to “constantly remind” their MPs that they would not have “a second chance” if they vote against government proposals.

As the public voted for a change in both the presidential and parliamentary elections with high hopes for economic progress, Yameen said that the government’s policies and development projects should not be hindered due to problems within the coalition.


Names of five cabinet appointees sent to parliament for approval

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has sent the names of five cabinet appointees to parliament for approval.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz told local media that the president had sent the names of the first five appointees to the cabinet.

The five Ministers are Minister of Defense and National Security Retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim, Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad, Minister of Tourism Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb, Minister of Transport and Communication Ameen Ibrahim and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon.

“The government will send the names of other members of the cabinet very soon,” Muaz said.

After assuming power, President Yameen appointed a cabinet consisting of fifteen cabinet ministers.

All Ministers are constitutionally required to be approved by parliament in order to permanently remain in their positions as per the article 129(c) of the Constitution.

Furthermore, a Supreme Court ruling in December 2010 – made in response to requests from then-opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) MPs – overturned then President Mohamed Nasheed’s argument that the provision was “ceremonial”, forcing him to replace seven of his cabinet ministers.

According the President’s Office Spokesperson Muaz, the president is expected to hold his first cabinet meeting this week.

President Yameen’s cabinet:

  • Minister of Defense and National Security, Retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim
  • Minister of Finance and Treasury, Abdulla Jihad
  • Minister of Tourism, Ahmed Adheeb (PPM)
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon (PPM)
  • Minister of Transport and Communication, Ameen Ibrahim (Jumhoree Party)
  • Minister of Home Affairs, Umar Naseer
  • Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed (Adhaalath Party)
  • Minister of Housing and Infrastructure, Dr Mohamed Muiz (Adhaalath Party)
  • Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr Mohamed Shainy
  • Minister of Economic Development, Mohamed Saeed (Jumhoree Party)
  • Minister of Environment and Energy, Thoriq Ibrahim
  • Minister of Education, Dr Aishath Shiham (PPM)
  • Minister of Health and Gender, Dr Mariyam Shakeela
  • Minister of Youth and Sports, Mohamed Maleeh Jamaal (PPM)
  • Attorney General Mohamed Anil