Indian authorities report hundreds of workers forced from Maldives without wages

The Indian High Commission in Male’ has said it is aware of hundreds of cases over the last three months where its nationals have gone unpaid, before facing deportation or being forced to return home without their earnings.

State institutions and bodies including the country’s Labour Relations Authority (LRA), police, immigration officials and the foreign ministry have all been accused by the high commission of failing to fulfil their duties, and – in some cases – “deliberately encouraging” the mistreatment of foreign workers.

The concerns have been raised by Indian authorities after the Bangladesh government last week temporarily halted migration of its own nationals to work in the Maldives – unless accredited by the state – over fears they were becoming victims of a “section of unscrupulous recruiting agencies”.

In June, the Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for a fourth consecutive year – with the US State Department noting conditions of “fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage”.

Indian High Commission sources – citing the example of the Bangladesh Government – said that its own authorities should now consider similar intervention after increasing instances of workers being denied salaries and basic human rights.

“No employer can take a foreign national’s passport, yet this is happening. Some semi-literate workers who are here cannot draft letters or seek justice. Without pay they cannot go to the Civil Court,” said a commission source.

“So they are having to leave the country either with no salary, or instead compromising and getting just some of the money they are owed. Ultimately their employers just contact agents and then bring new workers to the country.”

Minivan News was last week shown several files containing correspondence by the Indian High Commission detailing its communications with Maldivian private employers who have not provided expatriates their wages, despite accepting that payments are owed to former Indian staff.

The majority of promises for financial reimbursement remain unfulfilled at time of press, with the employees in question having been forced to return home or turn to the high commission for food and support, Indian authorities have said.

Commission support

Indian nationals Santosh Kumar Ram and Harendra Kumar are the latest expatriates forced to leave the Maldives, after unsuccessfully pursuing months of unpaid wages that left them without food or income, and forced to beg their own government for financial support.

An official for the Indian High Commission said that the two men, who had both been in the Maldives since last year, had communicated their concerns on July 22, 2013, alleging they had not been paid by their employer for the final six months of their employment.

Despite the intervention of the high commission, both men – who had been staying in shelter provided by their employer – had been declared absconders by the state, resulting in them leaving the country this week as deportees. Their former employer, who denied responsibility for the two men, did provide return flights for the two Indian nationals, but declined to pay them the earnings claimed to be outstanding.

“This is completely unacceptable,” said a diplomatic source with knowledge of the case.

While provided shelter by their employer – who has denied ever employing Santosh Kumar Ram and Harendra Kumar – the two men have not been given food, relying instead on the commission to ensure they were fed.

The two men had previously sought support at the Department of Immigration and Emigration’s shelter for undocumented workers in Male’, opened this year as part of attempts to offer a more “humane” means of tackling the issue of unregistered foreign workers in the country.

However, the high commission said both expatriates were denied assistance at the shelter as their then-employer, despite not providing food, had given them accommodation.

In a similar case earlier this year, the Indian High Commission said another six of its nationals had been forced to leave the country without four months of salaries they were owed by their employer. The commission argued that they could not afford to remain in the country for ongoing legal action to claim their money.

In a letter seen by Minivan News, one employer said that delayed payments to the six workers was related to the “financial crises”, but promised the Indian High Commission the debt would be settled.

The six affected workers, since returned to India, are still waiting for their earnings at time of press.

High commission sources said that they had also been made aware of semi-literate foreign nationals being sent to other islands by their employers for non-existent work.  Once on another island, they were then being reported as having fled the company with whom they are registered for their visa.

Department of Immigration Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Munaaz and Chief Superintendent of Immigration Zubair Muhammad were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Minivan News was also awaiting a response from the Foreign Ministry at time of press over the high commission’s concerns.

“Systematic abuse”

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali has previously told Minivan News that while almost all foreign workers coming to the Maldives arrive under registered companies, some were finding themselves “illegally used” by employers due to “systematic abuse” of the visa system.

Foreign low-wage workers are often lured to the country by agents after paying a ‘recruitment’ fee or entering into debt – sometimes as high as several thousand dollars – that is shared between local agents and recruiters in the country of origin, most significantly Bangladesh.

In many cases the workers are then brought into the country ‘legitimately’ by a specially-created paper company, created using the ID of a complicit or unwitting Maldivian national, for the stated purpose of working on a ‘construction project’ of dubious existence.

The exact scale of the Maldives’ unregistered foreign workforce remains unknown, with estimates ranging from between around 40,000 people to potentially double that amount.

In April, Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali confirmed that authorities had targeted the return of 10,000 unregistered workers by the end of the 2013.

The pledge to return a pre-determined number of expatriates was criticised at the time by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), which raised concerns that some workers were potentially being punished for the actions of employers or agents acting outside the law.


Government “not aware” of request to temporarily halt hiring of senior civil servants

The government has said it is “not aware” of a Civil Service Commission (CSC) request to cease recruiting for any position higher than the role of assistant director until 2013, despite reports in local media to the contrary.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said he had not been made aware of any requests to amend government recruitment practice and would need to clarify the matter, and referred Minivan News to the CSC.

Minivan News was awaiting confirmation at time of press both from Masood and CSC President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan over whether an official request had been made to curb government offices hiring senior civil servants.

However, local media, citing an an named government source, speculated that the reported CSC request was linked to “financial difficulties” currently facing the state.

The government official told the Sun Online news service that despite the need for new employees within the Finance Ministry, the recruitment process for such roles had been halted in line with the CSC’s request.

Earlier this week, Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad claimed the government was currently unprepared to meet its recurrent expenditure – including salaries – for the final three months of 2012 without a US$25 million loan promised by the Indian government.

While unable to confirm if the reported CSC request was linked to Finance Ministry fears over insufficient funding for state wages, key economic figures within the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan have maintained that more drastic budget cuts are required to balance expenditure.

Despite government commitments to cut departmental budgets by 15 percent in 2012, Jihad told Minivan News last month that even with financial assistance promised from China and India, further cuts would need to be made to state salaries over the next year to deal with deficit concerns.

Jihad and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Ahmed were not responding to calls at the time of press.

CSC President Fahmy said in September 2012 that as no request had so far been made by the government to reduce the size and budget of civil society organisations, it did not have concerns about potential job cuts.

“Our mandate is to provide human resources to the government. As long as there is no effect on the salaries or number of civil servants, we will not seek to intervene in the policy of government,” he said.

With state income lower and expenditure higher than predicted, this year’s budget deficit had been forecast to reach MVR6billion (US$389 million), equivalent to around 28 percent of real GDP.

Despite this deficit, President Waheed has been campaigning this week in Faafu and Dhaalu Atolls, reportedly to reassure the public that the economy was running smoothly, whilst criticising those who he claimed sought to weaken it.

Waheed is also reported as having said that he would not resort to borrowing from foreign governments in order to finance government activities.

“I will not try to run the government by securing huge loans from foreign parties. We are trying to spend from what we earn”, he was reported to have told the people of Nilandhoo.

“The Maldivian economy is fine. Don’t listen to whatever people say. We don’t have to [worry] about the Maldivian economy being in a slump,” he was quoted as saying during a rally in Meedhoo.

US$25 million in funding from India was agreed upon last month as part of the $US100 million standby credit facility signed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2011.

Unpaid bills

However, despite president Waheed’s reassurances, a number of state owned institutions have this month faced disconnection from the capital’s power grid as bills amounting to around MVR 150million (US$9.7million) were said to be owed to the State Electricity Company (STELCO).

Responding to blaming of his ministry, Jihad told Sun that the finances were simply not there, pointing to the adoption of spending policies of the previous administration.

“We are not receiving foreign aid as was included in the budget. How can we spend more than we receive? That’s why those bills are unpaid. We can’t spend money we don’t have,” he told the paper.

Former Minister of Economic Development Mahmood Razee has previously told Minivan News that this increased expenditure in the face of a pre-existing deficit represented the government “ignoring reality.”

“If they don’t get the loan, they will have to cut travel expenses, stop certain programs – take drastic measures or get another loan,” said Razee, claiming that the only alternative would be to sell treasury bills.

Following reports in August that the government was attempting to raise funds through the sale of treasury bills, former Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz said that this would not address the concerns of the IMF, prolonging economic uncertainty.

China has also made large commitments towards the Maldives’ economic development in recent months, although Razee said he believed that current changes within the Chinese government in the upcoming month made this an inopportune time to look there for additional financial aid.

In August, the current Finance Ministry announced its own austerity measures intended to wipe over MVR2.2billion (US$143 million) from this year’s budget deficit though few of these propositions have as yet been followed through.


Privileges Bill will see Maldives MPs earning on par with Sweden

A comparison of Maldivian MPs salaries and allowances with those of MPs in other countries reveals that should the recently-passed MP Privilieges Bill be ratified, Maldivian MPs will earn thousands more than their counterparts in many developed countries.

The comparative list, currently being circulated by protesters on the ‘Majlis Membarunge Musaara Bodu kurumaa Dhekolhah’ Facebook group lobbying against the recently-passed MP Privileges Bill, notes that Majlis MPs have voted themselves a total monthly salary increase from US$4863 to US$7083 (including base salary and allowances of $US1667), despite the country having a crippling budget deficit of over US$370 million.

According to the comparison, also available as an interactive graph, an Indian MP earns US$5966 per month, a French MP US$6651 and an Italian MP US$6936.

In fact if the bill were ratified in its current state, a Maldivian MP would earn just US$215 a month less than MPs in Sweden, one of the world’s most highly developed economies and ranked ninth in the United Nations’ Human Development Index. The Maldives ranked 86th.

Ahmed Adheeb, a local financial consultant in the private sector, observed that MPs were seeking to raise their salaries and allowances at a time when the country was in a “very critical economic situation”, and under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to drastically cut the wage bill for civil servants and independent institutions.

“I hope the President does not ratify it, for the sake of the country,” he said, suggesting that neither parliament or the independent institutions had performed to a standard befitting a substantial pay increase in a climate of economic catastrophe.

“Parliament and independent institutions are trying to give themselves increased pay and benefits without justifying what the country is getting in return – for instance, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has not concluded a case since 2008,” he observed.

“We haven’t had an Auditor General appointed for over a year. Banks are investing in T-bills and bonds because they feel they are more secure, and so they are giving loans to the private sector. The Maldive Monetary Authority (MMA)’s foreign exchange reserve is falling. Everyone, including the IMF, has agreed we are in bad shape.”

While the deficit had improved to 16 percent of GDP, this was in part due to several “once-off” income events such as the US$78 million upfront payment from Indian infrastructure giant GMR.

“I think people need to realise how bad the situation is – very few people are talking about the economy,” Adheeb said.

DRP MP Rozaina Adam, who voted in favour of the MP Privileges Bill, said the party had a whip line “and most MPs wanted to pass it”.

“It’s unfortunate that parliament has to decide its own salary,” she noted. “Ministers don’t decide their own salaries, we do it. On the other hand, it is written in the constitution that we determine our own.”

Rozaina explained that the figure of Rf 62,500 (US$4883) commonly given as the MPs salary “is not our full salary – it includes our living allowances, phone bills, secretariat, travel.”

It was also important to note, she said, that in the Maldives an MP’s salary “is also seen as a welfare fund by many people. If anything goes wrong, constituents go to their MPs. It has been like this for a long time now, and I feel we need to move out of it – these are things that are supposed to be done by the government, but it has been a tradition for a long time to ask MPs. When someone comes and says their nine year-old needs a kidney transplant, it is hard to say no. In the long term, this means that only rich people can be MPs.”

Nonetheless, Rozaina said, protests outside parliament over the MP’s salary increases “don’t really reflect what the public is thinking. Most of [the protesters] were MDP supporters. I think the government is very unpopular at the moment, and because of that the President is trying to degrade the work of parliament. and the government is doing its best to make people think parliament is not doing enough. After the bill was passed I travelled to Haa Alif and Haa Dhaal Atolls and nobody was talking about it there, and there were no protests.”

Adheeb suggested that because of the penchant in parliament and independent institutions for members to approve themselves salary increases, “I propose an independent commission to structure the pay scale, linked to the economy and bench-marked against the private sector – because it is the private sector that generates the income for the government.”

The country’s fledgling democracy, he said, was proving too expensive for the economy to sustain.

“The Constitution cannot be financed like this. When democracy first arrived in the US, people gave their own time to work in the Senate,” he noted.

Further taxing the private sector to fund a bloated state wage bill, he said, such as with the recently-passed Business Profit Tax, could not be done without improving confidence in the private sector.

“We have not had a direct tax on businesses before, instead we have had duties and a high import tax, relative to other countries, and businesses have passed the tax on to the public. Businesses prefer direct taxes, because it is a tax after profit rather than a tax on imports during operations. But my concern is not so much increased taxes, but whether the money that is being collected is being invested in good purposes.”

None of the three arms of state, or any of the independent institutions, were really concerned with the economy, Adheeb said, “just their own policies and agendas.”

“Parliament has passed a budget with a huge deficit, but if you see any of their statements, they say they are worried about the economy. Yet now they are increasing their benefits.”

MP’s salaries compared:

MP’s monthly salary (US $):7,083
(Base Salary: 5,416 & Allowance: 1,667)
GDP (US $) (2009 est): 1.683 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est): -$370 million

Sri Lanka
MP’s monthly salary (US $):877
Plus Rs 500 for every parliamentary session
GDP (US $) (2009 est): 96.47 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$291 million

MP’s monthly salary (US $):5,966
GDP (US $) (2009 est):3.68 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$26.63 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):9,264
GDP (US $) (2009 est):251.2 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):32.63 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):8,552
GDP (US $) (2009 est):2.123 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$23.65 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):14,500
GDP (US $) (2009 est):14.12 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$378.4 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):9,687
GDP (US $) (2009 est):321.6 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):8.73 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):6,651
GDP (US $) (2009 est):2.094 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$51.86 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):6,936
GDP (US $) (2009 est):1.737 trillion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):-$66.2 billion

MP’s monthly salary (US $):7,298
GDP (US $) (2009 est):335.1 billion
Current Account Balance (US $) (2009 est):30.23 billion

Interactive comparison:


Civil servants opt to strike

The Maldives Civil Servants Association (MCSA) has said that a large numbers of its members have requested to take strike action over reduced public sector salaries.

The government had pledged to reduce the salaries of civil servants along with the amount it pays independent commissions as part of attempts to slash costs during an era economic uncertainty.

By last year, civil servants demanded to have their salaries restored by 2011 and also demanded to add the restored salaries to this year’s budget.

President Mohamed Nasheed had said that the civil cuts were possibly to have been revoked by the end of last year.

However, it is the salaries of independent commissions that have been restored, alongside proposed hikes in the wages and privileges afforded to MPs, leading to protests across Male’ during the last few days from various groups.

”The majority of the civil servants want to be on strike, they are unhappy about the reduced salaries,” said Abdulla Mohamed, Spokesperson of the MCSA. ”They wish to stop work for five days.”

Mohamed said that the association had informed the Civil Service Commission (CSC) about the strike last Thursday, but added that it had yet to responded to the association on the matter.

”We do not have much hope that the salaries will be restored,” Mohamed said. ”Nobody seems to realise the importance of civil servants, so when they stop their work, people will understand the services they deliver.”

The MCSA has said that it hopes the strike action will bring the issue of civil service cuts to the attention of the government and the wider international community.

”We know the strike will not restore salaries for the sector and we also understand it is no solution,” the MCSA spokesperson added. “But we just want to bring it to the attention of the international community and the government.”


High Court concludes hearings into Public Service salaries dispute

The High Court has concluded hearings in the appeal case involving the finance ministry’s order to government offices to prepare salary sheets in accordance with reduced salaries scales, after the civil service commission (CSC) announced the restoration of wages, Haveeru reports.

The Civil Court earlier ruled that the ministry did not have authority to make the order.

Solicitor General Abdulla Muiz spoke on behalf of finance ministry before Judge Ali Hameed on Thursday, saying that the Majlis had not decided to restore civil service wages and no separate budget was allocated for it. Instead, the Majlis decision was to allow the ministry and the commission to work in agreement, he said.

Representing CSC, former communications minister Dr Abdulla Jameel responded that it was against article 96(c) of the constitution not to give the money allocated for civil service wages. The article was included in the constitution because the former government had not kept up with the budget, he claimed. The commission’s independence would not be maintained, said Dr Jameel, if it was required to act on recommendations.

Judge Hameed concluded the hearing and said an additional hearing would only be held if the court finds something that should be clarified.


CSC and political appointees: Pay cuts (Part II)

In part two of our comparisons between salaries of political appointees and civil servants, Minivan News examines the pay cuts initiated last year, parliament and the government’s promotion of state-owned companies.

The figures reported by Minivan News yesterday represented the fixed salaries of both political appointees and civil servants. The pay cuts made to salaries last October meant a 20 percent reduction for political appointees and a 15 percent reduction to civil servants’ salaries.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuahir, said starting on 13 May 2010, civil servants and political appointees will get a 7 percent reimbursement from the government, which will go into a pension fund.

“Meaning those who had a 15 percent reduction will now only have an 8 percent reduction,” Zuhair noted.

Most members of the civil service are in the middle management services, who earn anywhere from Rf 7,680 to Rf 10,106 after the pay cuts. This rank includes directors, senior technical officers and deputy and assistant directors.

The wages of Permanent Secretaries have also been queried, as they are civil servants working for political appointees. They are not in the regular structure but are linked to deputy ministers.

Their fixed salaries were originally of Rf 20,500 plus Rf 15,000 for allowances. After the 20 percent pay cut which started in October 2009, they now earn a total of Rf 28,400 a month. This makes permanent secretaries the highest paid members of the civil service, followed by professors who now earn Rf 20,280 after the pay cuts.

Civil servants and political appointees

The figures obtained by Minivan News show the highest number of political appointees are island councillors, with 168 across the country. After the pay cuts, they are making Rf 9,600. In total, the government is spending Rf 1,612,800 per month on island councillor’s salaries alone.

The figures also show that 35 state ministers and 55 deputy ministers are currently working for the government. State ministers are currently being paid Rf 37,600 a month, while deputy ministers get  Rf 28,400 per month, after the 20 percent salary reductions.

Together, the wages for state and deputy ministers add up to Rf 2,878,000 per month.

Despite Parliament’s decision to pass the decentralisation bill without the provinces act, and the government’s promise to reduce political appointees, former Utility Development Director at the President’s Office, Ahmed Nasheed, was appointed Deputy Minister of State for the South-Central Province yesterday.

His wages bring the figure up to Rf 2,906,400 each month.

Government-owned companies

Another point of contention has been the creation of government-owned companies which have been transferred from the civil service, such as the Malé Health Services Corporation.

Those who are critical of the salary cuts for civil servants have argued the government is still technically paying the wages of those working in these companies, which means government expenditure on wages has not reduced.

Zuhair said the creation of these companies was not only to reduce the civil service, but “it is also a more practical model.”

He said these companies are “self-sufficient and depend on earnings as a commercially viable business,” and are now relying more on Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) than on government subsidies.

Zuhair noted although many state-owned companies such as STELCO were receiving government subsidies in the past, new policies mean they will not be subsidised any more. “MNBC salaries were given out based on revenue,” he added.


MPs are currently earning Rf 62,500 a month, and are among the few sectors paid by the state who did not take a pay cut last year.

Parliamentary sittings take place three days a week, and there are three Parliament sessions a year. The sessions are held for three months and are followed by a one-month break.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Hoarafushi, Ahmed Rasheed, said he would not support a reduction to MPs’ salary cuts because he is always helping his constituents by giving them money of his salary. “I am not using a single rufiyah from my salary,” he said. “Last month, I spent Rf 134,600 for my island’s people. When you look at it like that, 62,500 is not much.”

Rasheed said this money was used mostly for medical purposes, including bills from IGMH and even air fares to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

He said people from his island “are very poor, and right now they don’t know what to do.”

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP for Galolhu South, Ahmed Mahlouf, said if the economic situation was really that bad, “then yes, of course we would agree with lowering our salaries.” But, he said, “DRP and other opposition MPs don’t believe that the salary of any servant should be reduced.”

He said “Maldives is not going through such a bad economic stage,” adding that “even during the tsunami salaries weren’t reduced.”

Mahlouf said no one’s salaries should have been reduced, and “if we agreed to reduce it, it would mean we agree with the economic situation being that bad. That is why we are fighting for their rights.”


CSC and political appointees: what they get paid (Part I)

Eight months after civil servants got their first pay cut, the political situation has deteriorated with law suits between the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Ministry of Finance.

President Mohamed Nasheed promised to reduce government expenditure, primarily by reducing the civil service and increasing privatisation in the country, and several privatisation partnerships are seeing the transfer of posts from the civil service to government-owned institutions.

Many opposed to the civil servant salary cuts have speculated about the amount paid to political appointees, arguing that it is unfair to cut civil servant salaries while paying large salaries and allowances to appointees. Minivan News has obtained the figures from both sides for the sake of comparison.

The civil service VS political appointees

The Maldivian government is currently spending approximately Rf 5 billion on civil servant salaries per year, approximately 74 percent of the Rf 6.8 billion budget. There are over 29,000 civil servants in the Maldives, comprising almost 10 percent of the population.

Documents obtained by Minivan News show that comparatively the government spends approximately Rf 173 million on the salaries of 354 political appointees per year, and around Rf 75.8 million on salaries for 77 MPs each year.

Labourers earn Rf 4,100 a month with the civil service, the lowest paying job in the CSC. The lowest paying job for political appointees is that of island councillors, who make Rf 12,000 a month.

The highest paying job under the CSC is that of a professor, with earnings of Rf 25,350 a month. Excluding the president and vice president, who earn Rf 100,000 and Rf 75,000 a month respectively, cabinet ministers earn Rf 57,500 a month.

The special envoy for science and technology, for example, earns Rf 45,000 a month, while an assistant professor under the CSC makes Rf 20,920 a month.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said although political appointees get a higher salary, civil servants have better job security “since they have unlimited tenure.”

On the other hand, he said, political appointees can serve a maximum of ten years in their post, “unless they keep jumping parties,” since a government can only hold two five-year terms.

“A political appointee will fall with the government,” Zuhair added. “But a civil servant can serve for forty, fifty years.”

He said political appointees also have a more authoritative role than civil servants, justifying a higher salary: “If they are not in an authoritative role, how can they be effective?”

Zuhair said political appointees comprise less than two percent of the civil service, and they are the ones “who supervise and ensure the civil servants do their jobs.” Hence, they deserve a higher salary, he added.

Additionally, he said, not all political appointees are “appointed. Some of them are elected.”

One of President Nasheed’s campaign promises was reducing the “top-heavy” government by reducing the number of political appointees, and according to Zuhair, there are fewer political appointees under this government than the previous one.

Minivan News reported in April last year there had been 440 political appointees under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government, and at the time, there were 538 political appointees under President Nasheed’s government.

Zuhair told Minivan News today that when the civil service was created in 2007, the former government transferred many of its appointees to posts in the civil service “so in case they lost the election, they still have many people with them.”

He added the former government was “not counting right” and their numbers “weren’t technically correct,” as they had everyone, including muezzins, working for them as political appointees.

In mid-March 2010, Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed requested a list of political appointees and their salaries from the Ministry of Finance, to clarify exactly how many appointees were working under the government.

Another of President Nasheed’s promises was to reduce the civil service and thus reduce government expenditure. The health sector is one of the first industries to go through this transition.

Member of the CSC, Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, said there have been many posts which have been abolished from the CSC and transferred to independent institutions, such as TV Maldives and and newly formed Maldives Health Services Corporation.

“The number of civil servants will be less now,” Fahmy said, “but the question is, how do you define public service?”


Attorney General appeals to High Court over civil servants’ salaries

The Attorney General sent an appeal to the High Court last Thursday on behalf of the Ministry of Finance, regarding last week’s decision in favour of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) concerning civil servant salaries.

Last Tuesday the Civil Court ruled in favour of the CSC in their suit against the Ministry of Finance regarding civil servants’ salaries, which were reduced in October last year. Although the court ruled in favour of the CSC, they did not specify whether the ministry had to restore civil servant salaries.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, member of the CSC Mohamed Fahmy Hassan said he was “confident the Finance ministry will give the salaries as we requested,” after which members of the CSC and the ministry met last Thursday to discuss the issue.

Today Fahmy said they were “very surprised” when they received instruction from the High Court “not to take any action [regarding the salaries] until they have made a decision.”

He said last week, the Finance Ministry “were very positive and we did not think they had any intention to appeal.”

Fahmy said the issue of salary restoration will again be put on hold until the High Court makes its decision. “I don’t know how long this is going to take,” he said. “It depends on whether any party appeals to the Supreme Court.”

He noted the CSC was not planning on appealing the case yet, but it was a possibility which would be looked at depending on how the AG’s appeal process was going.

“This is a very clear case,” Fahmy said, “civil servants cannot be singled out. There are many other staff paid by the government.”

Fahmy noted the CSC would continue with this case “until it is resolved or a decision is made by the highest authority.”

He added the continued reduction of civil servants’ salaries was “against the Constitution.”

Attorney General Husnu Suood said his office was “speaking against points of law involved in the judgement.” Basically, “we are not happy with the interpretation [of the law]” made by the Civil Court last week, he said.

“The interpretation of the law is not correct,” he stated.

Suood said his office along with the Ministry of Finance and the CSC were having “discussions as to how we should proceed with judgement passed by the Civil Court.”

He said although it was “too early to say” whether civil servants would have their salaries restored soon, he was “very hopeful that it will be settled outside of court.”

Suood reiterated the point that they wanted to settle the matter outside of the court system, and this appeal was only meant to speak against the Civil Court’s ruling.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said “in this kind of scenario when they can’t agree,” the appeal is meant to give the Ministry of Finance more time to resolve the issue with the CSC out of court.

He noted Parliament still has not yet passed any of the bills which would provide the government enough revenue to surpass the needed Rf7 billion to restore civil servants’ salaries.

“We will not reach it this year,” Zuhair said, “no bills have been discussed in the house.”

He added the CSC “has no right to demand higher pay” when the government’s revenue is still not beyond the stipulated Rf7 billion.


Civil Court rules in favour of CSC regarding salary cuts

The Civil Court has ruled in favour of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) yesterday on their case against the Ministry of Finance regarding civil servants’ salary cuts, but did not rule on whether the salaries have to be restored.

Civil servants’ salaries were officially reduced in October 2009 with salary cuts of up to 20 percent. This measure was taken when the government’s budget deficit forced several independent commissions and government offices to reduce salaries in order to alleviate expenditure.

The government had promised to restore salaries once the budget rose above Rf7 billion (US$544 million). The cut was expected to last only three months.

In December 2009 the CSC requested the government restore salaries as the proposed mid-term 2010 budget was anticipated to exceed Rf7 billion. But disputes over whether the budget included foreign aid or not complicated the issue further, as the Finance Ministry said, excluding foreign aid the budget was Rf6.8 billion.

After months of incertitude and awaiting a decision, the court ruled “the Finance Ministry does not have the legal authority to order amendments to salaries”, according to Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair.

Zuhair said President Mohamed Nasheed had not yet said anything on the ruling, or whether the government would appeal the decision, but noted it was a possibility an appeal would be made on the ruling.

Member of the CSC Mohamed Fahmy Hassan said the court’s decision showed “the independence of the judiciary and non-interference [of the government] in affairs of the judiciary.”

He said the CSC is hopeful “the issue will be solved” and they are “confident the Finance Ministry will give the salaries as we requested.”

Fahmy said they hoped their salaries will be restored soon, and added they will be “flexible” when negotiating the back-log of payments. He estimates the total amount of money ‘owed’ to civil servants since the pay cuts started in October 2009 is approximately Rf120 million.

“We have always had the national interest as our concern,” he said, “and we will try to come to an amicable solution.”

He noted “preliminary discussions [with the ministry] went very positively,” and said “final decisions will be announced soon.”

Fahmy said the CSC took the court’s decision as an order for civil servant salaries to be restored. “We don’t see any other interpretation.”

He added “the government is very keen to resolve this issue to the satisfaction of everybody involved,” and noted the issue would probably be solved once President Mohamed Nasheed returns to the country after his visit to Bhutan.

Deputy Minister of Finance Ahmed Assad said his reading of the court’s ruling is that “it’s the CSC’s decision” on whether they want to have their salaries restored.

“Regarding the judgement, there are no negotiations,” he said, adding the ministry is “still talking” to the CSC about the issue.

“We’ve said this before,” Assad said, “it’s not because we want to [cut their pay] but because we don’t have a choice.”

He said as far as the economy is concerned, “we don’t see any economic event that has changed [the situation].”

Assad said “we want to give it some time” and they are now waiting for the CSC to make their decision.


After salaries were initially reduced in October 2009, the CSC and Finance Ministry have been disputing the legality and rationality of the pay cuts. The Maldives is still among the countries with the largest civil service as a percentage of its population. In 2008, civil service salaries amounted to 34 percent of total government expenditure.

Spokesperson for the Civil Servants’ Association, Abdulla Mohamed, told Minivan News in December last year, “we believe this damage was done to civil servants as a punishment and if there really were special economic circumstances, members of parliament and independent institutions too should have taken a pay cut.”

Pay cuts for independent institutions came into effect in December and several MPs volunteered for a pay cut.

On 30 December, the CSC issued an announcement stating civil servants’ salaries and allowances had been restored, as the 2010 budget was expected to exceed Rf7 billion.

But by mid-January 2010, the issue was still unresolved and salaries had not been restored.

At the time, the Ministry of Finance stated “employees will receive the salary that was reduced due to the economic circumstances,” and disputed the CSC’s statement claiming they had not discussed it with the ministry before publicising the announcement.

In January, the Ministry of Finance asked Parliament and the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) to arbitrate the dispute between them and the CSC.

Fahmy told Minivan News at the time that they would put the country’s interests above the interests of civil servants, but added, “it is difficult to justify that to 29,000 civil servants if the government is spending on all the other items in the budget.”

Shortly after Parliament and the MMA were asked to intervene, the CSC warned to take legal action against the ministry. The ministry threatened to also take legal action against the CSC.

By the end of January, the government announced salaries of staff at independent commissions, courts, parliament and the judicial services had been restored, and civil servant salaries would follow in April.

On 3 February 2010, the CSC announced they would take the issue to court and “claim for the amount reduced from the salaries of civil servants.”