Committee approves six month jail term for violating MPs’ privileges

Parliament’s Privileges Committee completed work Sunday (December 23) on the parliamentary privileges bill submitted back in 2010 by MP Riyaz Rasheed. The proposed bill will now be forwarded to the People’s Majlis floor for a vote.

Under the draft legislation, a person found guilty of committing acts that are deemed disrespectful towards parliament, or that interferes with the Majlis work, would face a fine or a jail sentence of between three to six months.

The bill further stipulates that members of the public found guilty of disruption while attending the People’s Majlis to view proceedings would either be fined between MVR 500 or MVR 1000 or sentenced to jail for three to six months.

Moreover, persons found guilty of providing false information to the parliament or any of its committees would be fined an amount between MVR 3,000 and MVR 10,000 or sentenced to three to six months in jail.

On the arrest of serving MPs, the draft legislation conceded that parliamentarians could be arrested if they are seen committing a crime, but stipulated that the Speaker of Parliament must be notified at the earliest time following such an arrest.

In the event that an MP has to be arrested under different circumstances, police must provide a court order obtained through an application by the Prosecutor General.

The bill additionally stipulates that even when under arrest, MPs must be allowed to attend parliament proceedings.

In contrast to existing parliamentary rules of procedure, the draft privileges bill allows the arrest of MPs even at a time when a no-confidence motion against a state official has been tabled in the parliament.

The bill however stipulates that MPs under arrest must be allowed to participate in no-confidence votes.

The bill also states that no MP must be summoned to a court of law or any institution in a manner which may interfere with their official work at the parliament or in any of its committees.

It further states that a court summons must not be delivered to an MP while they are on the premises of the parliament building.

Additionally, the bill states that no MP must misuse his elected post or any information gathered in official capacity for personal benefit or to facilitate such benefit to a third party.

Minivan News attempted to contact Chair of the Privileges Committee MP Hussain Mohamed, but his phone was switched off at the time of press.

In the two years that the privileges bill has been pending at the committee stage, groups of concerned citizens have demonstrated against some of the clauses in the bill.

Some concerns raised by the group include the inhibition of criticism against parliamentarians, large amounts of remuneration, special treatment in criminal justice proceedings and a pension scheme unique to parliamentarians.


Political parties to decide amendments to Privileges Bill

Political parties represented in parliament will discuss amendments to the controversial MPs’ Privileges Bill vetoed by President Mohamed Nasheed in January, MP Riyaz Rasheed told press yesterday.

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz, chair of the committee reviewing the vetoed legislation, explained that representatives from the main parties would meet to discuss the 14 points noted by the President before agreeing upon possible amendments.

At yesterday’s press conference at parliament, Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim, a member of the committee, insisted that none of the contested provisions in the bill were unconstitutional.

Gasim said that the legislation was framed after considering privileges afforded to MPs in other counties of the International Parliamentary Union (IPU).


Mahlouf resubmits resolution cutting Rf20K committee allowance, after MDP forces Mariya to withdraw it

MDP MP and Party Chairperson Maryia Ahmed Didi today withdrew a resolution to cut the controversial Rf20,000 (US$1550) committee allowance from the MP Privileges Bill.

Mariya told Minivan News today that she withdrew the resolution following a vote by the MDP Parliamentary Group.

“I was not at that meeting,” she said, “but I bowed to the party’s rules and took it out. However I told parliament that I did not want the Rf20,000 committee allowance myself and urged group members not to take the committee allowance. That got a good reaction from quite a few MPs.”

Mariya acknowledged that there was strong public sentiment against MPs receiving the committee allowance, including among the party’s own member base, which on top of their Rf 62,500 (US$4860) salaries would place Maldivian MP income on par with that of Sweden.

“The Rf 20,000 committee allowance was in the small print of a report from the monetary committee on the salary of all institutions,” Mariya noted.

Leader of MDP Parliamentary Group ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik was not responding to calls at time of press.

Following Mariya’s withdrawal of the resolution opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf resubmitted it.

“I was the first one to raise it before Mariya, but the Speaker [DRP MP] Abdulla Shahid went with Mariya’s changes, perhaps because of the factional fight [the opposition] is having. When Mariya withdrew it today I resubmitted it.”

Mahlouf’s submission means the resolution will go to committee stage which will debate the matter before submitting it to the floor for a vote.

Increasing MP salaries by Rf 20,000 would be a huge blow to parliament’s credibility, Mahlouf said, “as the public do not believe we are working to their expectations.”

He said he believed Mariya had been pressured by the MDP Parliamentary Group to withdraw the resolution.

“I decided this by myself. Nobody pressures me any more because I don’t follow DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen in parliament,” said Mahlouf, who has sided with the party’s dismissed Deputy Leader Umar Naseer and its Honorary Leader, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, against Thasmeen’s faction.

The core issue regarding the salary increase, he explained, was the number of people petitioning MPs for money and assistance. This, he said, was the reason he had initially voted in favour in favour of the increase.

It was, he said, “very normal” for him to give away US$2000 (Rf 25,700) of his salary every month, “not only to constituents, but people from other parts of the country. People who are very poor come forward and ask me to please help them, and get very mad at me if I don’t.”

“At first I voted in favour [of the increase] because so many people were coming to me for help. This was something that was done for a long time back, and people now expect aid from parliamentarians. I was not a rich person before I was elected and I can’t give all my salary away, so that was the main reason I voted [in favour]. But maybe the next time somebody asks I can [justify] myself. When the general public are asking us not to do this, we should stop doing it.”


MP Privileges Bill sent to committee for amendment

The MPs Privileges Bill has been today sent back to committee for review and amendment.

Out of 67 MPs present in the Majlis today, 40 of them voted in favor of sending it to the committee for amendment.

DRP MPs did not vote to send the bill to the committee, according to Haveeru, while there were two MPs who did not vote on the issue. Some DRP members did speak out during the session to call for amendments to the bill.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Alhan Fahmy, who previously voted in favour of the bill, said during today’s parliamentary sitting that the privileges for MPs were very clearly stated in article 90 of the Maldives constitution. He called on fellow members to send the bill to committee for amendment.

”In all the other countries, MPs do have some privileges,” said Alhan. ”In Article 127 of the constitution the procedures of how a MP should be arrested on criminal charges is mentioned.”

DRP MP for Naifaru, Ahmed Mohamed also suggested the bill should be sent to a committee for amendment.

”This bill was passed by the vote of MDP MPs, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Independent MPs, now there is no reason that either should criticise the other,” said Mohamed.

Mohamed said he would not approve article 4[c] of the MPs privilege bill, which “states that MPs cannot be arrested while they are on the way to the parliament, inside the parliament or while they are on the way back from the parliament, even if they are charged on a criminal case,” said Mohamed.

”A MP might commit murder while on their way to parliament, but he can’t be arrested.”

PA MP for the Maavashu area, Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakuru, also suggested that the bill should be sent for a committee for amendment.

”If this bill does not get passed I am fine, and if it gets passed also I am fine,” he said.

On January 17 President vetoed the controversial privileges bill, which would have seen MPs earning salary and benefits on a level with developed countries such as Sweden, as well as excusing them from paying import duties on automobiles and giving them immunity from prosecution.

The President made the decision following legal council from the Attorney General, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, as well as consultation with the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM).

The bill, which was submitted by Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed, was passed with 44 to 21 in favour, and 10 abstentions, and would have seen MPs earning thousands of dollars more in salary and allowances than MPs in countries such as France, India and Italy.

The matter has triggered lively demonstrations outside parliament since it was first announced, while a group of “concerned citizens” petitioned the President claiming that not only was the salary increase excessive, but that elements within it gave MPs extrajudicial and unconstitutional privileges. The bill was about less about state-building and more about status, the petitioners claimed.


Protesters petition President not to ratify MP Privileges Bill

A group of “concerned citizens” today gathered outside the President’s office to present a letter to president Mohamed Nasheed requesting him not to ratify the recently-passed MPs Privilege Bill.

The protesters claimed that the bill was passed by the MPs for the sake of unfair personal gain, and should not be ratified.

”If the bill is to be passed, the salaries and allowances for the police and independent commissions should be increased,” said a protester, claiming that “we are not from any political party but we are representing the citizens.”

The letter stated that the Privileges Bill was against the Constitution and the objective of parliamentary privileges.

”[The Bill] allows [MPs] to import expensive assets (such as cars) duty free, receive pensions in a different manner to normal citizens, and benefit from an expensive insurance scheme, all of which are definitely against the purpose of MP privileges,” the letter said. ”The bill also obstructs the conduct of criminal justice proceedings in the Maldives, antd contains many other things that independent democratic countries do not accept.”

The letter noted that the bill stated that MPs were to be treated differently in criminal cases, and called on the president to reject the bill and to send it back to parliament.

Minivan News reported last week reported that should the bill be ratified, the salaries and allowances of Maldivian MPs would amount to thousands of dollars more than their counterparts in many developed countries.

In their defence of the bill some MPs have argued that an MP’s salary of Rf 62,500 a month includes allowances, while the cash component represents a “welfare fund” to be drawn on by their constituents.

Even before the proposed increases, every Maldivan indirectly spends approximately US$20.65 (Rf 265) a year (derived via ‘invisible’  taxes on goods such as import duties) supporting roughly 120 politicians across both parliament and the executive, assuming a population of 350,000, GDP of US$1.6 billion and a share of the country’s ‘cake’ equal to about US$5000 (ignoring income disparity).

In similar vein, Australians pay approximately US$7.40 (Rf 95) a year to support parliament and the executive across all states and territories – meaning that Maldivians not only individually pay three times more than Australians in dollar terms to support their politicians, but seven times more when this bill is expressed as part of each citizen’s share of total GDP.