Ministry of Finance asked to provide list of political appointees

Minister of Finance and Treasury Ali Hashim was asked today to provide the Parliament with details of the number of political appointees, their titles and salaries under the current government.

Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed requested the information from the minister.

He said there had been a “war on words” regarding the number of political appointees in both the former and current governments, with some people saying there were as many as 600 appointees while others claimed there were fewer than 300.

“There has always been a comparison between this government and the previous one,” Nasheed said, referring to one of the things the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) criticised most about the former government: that it was =‘top heavy.’

Nasheed said he did not ask Minister Hashim for a list of cabinet members or even for the VP’s salary, only for the number of appointees, but the minister “is providing more than I asked for.”

State Minister of Finance Ahmed Assad said the Ministry of Finance would provide Parliament with the list of appointees soon since “there is no reason to withhold it.”

Whether or not the list would become a matter of public knowledge, he said, was “for Parliament to decide.”

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Visaam Ali said the DRP was “really concerned” about the number of political appointees under the current government.

She said she was not only concerned about the government being “top heavy” but was worried because “they advocated different views” during their election campaign in 2007.

“What they are doing is different to what they promised the people,” Visaam said. “They promised the people an MDP government would be different.”

She added that the number of political appointees is even “worse than under the previous government” and there are more political appointees now earning higher salaries that they were under Gayoom’s government.

MDP Spokesperson Ahmed Haleem said government appointees “are not an issue” for the party, but issues dealing with civil servants were a major priority.

Haleem said during the 2007 presidential campaign, MDP had told the people they wanted the government of Maldives to be smaller.

“The former government had over 1,000 political appointees,” claimed Haleem. “Now we have just over four hundred.”


Amendments to Armed Forces Act dismissed by Speaker

Parliament has thrown out the proposed amendments to the Armed Forces Act, put forward last week.

The Majlis was stalled last Wednesday after two contradictory amendments to the Armed Forces Act were proposed.

The first amendment came from Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP for Manimaadhoo Amhed Mujthaz, proposing Parliament should ultimately have the power to approve or deny the president’s choice for army chief.

The second amendment came from Maldivian Democratic Party (MPD) MP Mariya Didi, which was meant to counteract DRP’s proposal.

MDP’s proposal sought the Act to remain unchanged, and for President Mohamed Nasheed to have sole discretion in appointing or dismissing the army chief.

DRP’s amendment was tied at 35 on each side and was settled by Speaker of the People’s Majlis Abdulla Shahid, who cast his tie-braking vote in favour of DRP.

However MDP’s subsequent amendment passed at 35-33 votes, causing both contradiction and chaos.

“The Constitution allows me to vote only if there is a tie,” Shahid said, adding that he should not comment on the issue since his role was an impartial one.

Shahid said he “consulted the two major parties [DRP and MDP] and the leaders advised me to throw out the amendments” and leave it open for the process to be started again.

He said he thought the amendments would be resubmitted in the future, but were currently no longer on the floor.

Mariya Didi said “now the bill is as it was before,” noting that “the Speaker has exercised his discretion” and decided the bill should not be considered at this time.

“You don’t make bills and pass legislation to cater only for that day, but for the situation to be better in the country,” Mariya said.

State Minister for Home Affairs Ahmed Adil said he personally thought giving the power to parliament was “a dangerous move” and the motives for the proposed amendments were “purely political”.

He said the fact that the amendments were thrown out showed “the country is moving in the right direction.”

Adil added the Parliament “should not put their hand in the judiciary or executive branches” and each branch should remain independent of the other.


President urges Majlis to think sensibly when voting on Armed Forces Act

In his weekly national address on the Voice of Maldives, President Mohamed Nasheed has urged the People’s Majlis to take national security into consideration when voting on the bill to amend the Armed Forces Act.

President Nasheed said according to the Constitution, “I am the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces” and he could not “allow any disruptions and divisions among the Armed Forces.”

The president said requiring Majlis’ approval in appointing high-ranking military officials was “undue interference” and it could be a barrier against national security, progress and peace.

President Nasheed added that he would “not allow any party to interfere” with national security or his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

He hoped members of the Majlis would think sensibly before voting on the bill.


Parliament stalled by contradicting proposals to amend Armed Forces Act

Two contradicting amendments to the Armed Forces Act of Maldives were proposed at the People’s Majlis yesterday.

In May last year, Kulhudhufushi South MP Mohamed Nasheed submitted two bills to amend the Armed Forces Act and Police Act, respectively.

If passed, the president would need approval from the parliamentary committee on security services before appointing or dismissing the heads of both the army and police.

During the final reading of the bill yesterday, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP for Hanimaadhoo Ahmed Mujthaz proposed an amendment which would require parliamentary approval for the appointment of the army chief.

Currently, only President Mohamed Nasheed has the power to appoint or dismiss high-ranking military officials.

If the bill is passed with the amendment, a Majlis committee will review the president’s nominee, and he or she will be approved by a majority vote on the floor. If the president wants to dismiss the army chief, the same committee will evaluate the reasons and present a report to the floor before a vote.

After the vote on the amendment was tied at 35 on each side, Speaker Abdullah Shahid cast the tie-breaking vote, siding with DRP’s proposal to make parliamentary approval mandatory.

Another amendment to the bill was proposed by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Didi which would counteract the DRP amendment.

Didi proposed that the power to appoint and dismiss the army chief should remain solely under the president’s discretion. This amendment passed at 35-33 votes.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said “the president should have the discretion to choose the army chief”, adding that the bill was only passed because “the speaker took their side—he belongs to DRP.”

He said the president’s point of view was that “it is dangerous to politicise the defense forces,” and he hoped the “Majlis will come around to that [same] view.”

Zuhair noted that in a “worst-case scenario, the President will send [the bill] back for reconsideration.”

State Minister of Defense, Muiz Adnan, said “the president is the Commander-in-Chief and according to the Constitution he should have the power to make decisions.”

When asked why this amendment had been proposed in the first place, DRP MP Rozaina Adam said “if the president was treating everybody fairly, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

She said it became an issue “because we don’t trust the government to protect everyone’s rights.”

MDP MP Sameer said his party is not making any comments since the amendments are still being considered by the speaker. But in his own opinion, “the president should have the power.”

He said the speaker is “supporting the parliament having the power”, support he called “a conflict of interest” because “we know he is picking sides when he is meant to be impartial.”

The sitting was stopped when numerous MPs raised points of order after the conflicting amendments were passed.

Parliament will renew the issues on Monday, when the speaker will decide if there will be another vote or if he has made a decision on the issue.


President submits decentralisation bill

President Mohamed Nasheed has submitted the revised Decentralisation Bill to the People’s Majlis.

The bill states that each of the administrative divisions stated in Schedule 2 of the Constitution—except Malé—will be administered by an atoll council elected in accordance with the Constitution.

It also provides representation to both men and women in the elected island and city councils.

The bill gives the president the authority to establish province offices to provide the services of ministries and coordinate government projects in different regions.

The president also proposed the 2nd amendment bill to Act 2/99 (Tourism Act), to make the industry more sustainable and increase the government’s revenue from tourism.


Government debt reaches $553 million, a third of GDP

President Mohamed Nasheed has highlighted the financial problems the government is facing, mainly foreign debt and a gaping budget deficit.

In his speech President Nasheed reminded the Majlis of his address last year, when he said his “administration was prepared to provide equitable services to all citizens and to be accountable for the people.”

The president noted his administration had made “satisfactory progress in these endeavours,” but also mentioned some startling figures regarding budget deficit and debt.

In 2009 the government’s debt to foreign financial agencies and banks stood at US$553.8 million (Rf7 billion), which amounted to 37.6% of the country’s GDP. The government’s total expenditure for the same year was US$617.2 million (Rf7.9 billion).

The estimated government expenditure for 2010 is of US$648.4 million (Rf8.3 billion). The People’s Majlis approved a total of US$710.9 million (Rf9.1 billion) to be allocated for government spending.

The estimated revenue for 2010 is of US$781.2 million (Rf10 billion) and the estimated deficit for this year is of US$429.7 million (Rf5.5 billion).

Mr Rodrigo Cubero, IMF mission chief for Maldives, said in a press release issued in January 2010: “The Maldivian economy continues to face serious challenges. In particular, addressing the very large fiscal deficit is of paramount importance to secure a stable economy, equitable growth, and lasting poverty reduction.”

The government has said it plans to minimise the deficit by reducing government expenditure, including by cutting down the number of public servants and decentralising several government agencies. Both measures have encountered heavy opposition.

On this subject, President Nasheed said “the government will continue to make every possible effort to bring about a positive change to the salaries of civil servants and government employees.”

The government will also “include processes to increase revenues of the state.” This includes the proposed taxation bills—the bill on administration of taxation, the bill on business profit tax, and a newly submitted bill on taxing from sales of tourism service providers.

The president said he was “confident that this Majlis will work to ensure that these…bills are passed as soon as possible.”

Permanent Secretary for the Finance Ministry Ismail Shafeeq explained that most of the debt was owed to “loans from foreign institutions, banks and other agencies” as well as foreign and domestic borrowings, most of which are being used in the economic development of the Maldives.

“The loans will take a long time to pay back, some of them are for 40 years,” said Shafeeq, but added that the government is making the payments on time.

“The deficit is a problem. It means a shortage – the government has spent so much.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in partnership with the UNDP, will be hosting the IV Maldives Partnership Forum, also known as the Donor’s Conference, later this month. The forum seeks to find foreign investment for their development plans, which would help significantly in lowering government expenditure.

“Reducing expenditure and restricting unnecessary spending” are key to solving the country’s financial debt, according to Shafeeq.

The government is also following recommendations from the IMF and ADB, both of whom have given out significant loans to the government for the economic development program.

In a press release produced by the IMF in December 2009 Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair of the IMF, Mr Takakoshi Kato, said:

“The authorities’ program, while subject to considerable risks, is strong, comprehensive, and well-focused, and deserves strong support of the international community. If fully implemented, it will put the Maldivian economy back on a path of macroeconomic stability and set the conditions for sustained economic growth and poverty reduction.”

President Nasheed said in his speech that “the government has embraced the advice of international financial agencies and begun the implementation of some of the measures suggested by these agencies. We have started enjoying the benefits of these measures.”

The IMF allocated a loan of US$92.5 million last December to go towards the economic recovery program.

The ADB has assisted with two loans, one of US$\1.5 million and one of US$3 million. Both are to go towards the economic recovery programme.

The Ministry of Finance could not provide Minivan News with the estimated debt for 2010 at time of publication.


2010 to be a productive year at parliament, promises speaker

Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid said he will work to make 2010 a productive year at parliament, reports Miadhu.

Out of 77 MPs, 64 were present at yesterday’s meeting, the first parliamentary session of the year.

Shahid said 2009 was also a productive year. Since the new parliament was sworn in on 28 May 2009, the Majlis have conducted 33 deliberations and adopted 6 legislations.

There will be priority given to those issues that were being discussed when parliament was called into recess in December 2009.

Kulhudhuffushi South MP Mohamed Nasheed has criticised the parliament for taking a two month long recess, arguing that it will be difficult to complete the parliament’s work in the six remaining months of the transition period.


New regulations on resort rent and lease periods will bring changes

President Mohamed Nasheed has said that government will amend the Maldives Tourism Act, reports Miadhu.

The president said that once the taxation bill and the resort rent and lease bill become legislations, there will be major changes to the tourism sector.

President Nasheed added that according to the ‘Third Tourism Master Plan’, the government is working on increasing bed capacity to 36,659 beds by 2012. He said the Maldives must not only target the high-end market, and announced the government will begin to create a mid-market.

Both the taxation and the Tourism Act amendment bill are being examined by the People’s Majlis.


President to give address tomorrow at People’s Majlis

President Nasheed will deliver a presidential address tomorrow at the People’s Majlis.

The president’s address will be delivered at 10:00am tomorrow, marking the first parliamentary session for this year.

President Nasheed declared 1 March a public holiday last week to commemorate the first sitting of the year of the People’s Majlis.

The presidential address will be webcast live via the President’s Office website