Parliament’s Committee on Social Affairs submits social protection bill

Parliament’s Committee on Social Affairs on Monday (July 22) submitted a social protection bill to parliament for review, after amending the bill to stipulate 11 instances in which the state must protect and assist under-privileged citizens.

According to the report submitted by the committee, the objectives of the bill are to provide as-yet unspecified support to citizens facing difficulties as a result of poverty and to increase equitability between the rich and poor. Support for citizens lacking the means to obtain basic necessities and the provision of state facilities to all citizens in the most equitable manner possible were also among the aims.

The bill stipulates the provision of financial aid to single parents, and support to children under the care of guardians other than biological parents.  These same guardians and students are also included as recipients of support.

It furthermore guarantees support to neglected persons, as well as persons suffering from psychological disorders.

The bill additionally stipulates the provision of subsidies for expenses on food products, electricity, water and accommodation.

The bill offers support in “emergency situations”, while small and medium businesses located in any industrial district facing difficulties is also included.

Neither the amount of financial aid that an individual may be provided under the bill, nor the criteria individuals must meet to qualify for aid are included in the draft. Instead, the act says that these details must be established in regulations gazetted three months after the ratification of the bill.

According to the bill, an individual or a person on behalf of the applicant is required to register with the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) for support and subsidies granted by the state.

It also include clauses which obligates the NSPA to uphold the confidentiality of personal information of all persons who file for support, adding that employees of the agency who divulge such information may be subjected to fines ranging between MVR 5,000 (US$325) to MVR 10,000 (US$650).

The Social Protection Bill was initially submitted to parliament on October 19, 2010. It was sent to the Committee on Social Affairs for review and amendment on December 14, 2010.

The Committee had its first meeting regarding the bill on October 8, 2012, after a period of almost two years since the bill was sent for review. At this meeting, a subcommittee to focus on the matter was appointed.

The subcommittee included Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Rasheed, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdul Azeez Jamaal AbuBakr, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Hassan Latheef and Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Hassan Adil.

According to the committee report, other institutions that have provided comment and feedback on the bill are the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance and Treasury, Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights and the Attorney General’s Office.


Legislation passed for special assistance for the disabled

Parliament today passed legislation to provide financial assistance and protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Of the 53 MPs in attendance, 52 voted to pass the bill, while one abstained.

Presenting the committee report, Fuahmulah South MP Ahmed Maseeh Mohamed, said a bill proposed by the government in July to protect the rights of the disabled was combined with a bill submitted by Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed on providing monetary assistance to people with disabilities.

A sub-committee selected to review the legislation consulted with the Maldivian Thalassemia Association, Care Society and senior officials of the ministry of health as well as the attorney general’s office.

Once ratified, a council will be formed and entrusted with compiling a national database on the disabled, protecting the rights of the disabled, overseeing monitoring centres, formulating guidelines for their operation, addressing complaints and compiling an annual report.

The government will provide financial assistance of a minimum of Rf2,000 (US$155) a month for disabled persons.

The law states that the disabled should be given special protection in work places and cannot be discriminated against in the provision of employment.

It further calls for the establishment of a special educational centre for the disabled and for the government to provide free education for disabled persons up to the age of 18.

All government schools will be required to establish facilities for the disabled and no one shall be denied an education due to a disability.

Persons found guilty of harassing or mocking disabled persons are liable to be fined between Rf5,000 (US$389) to Rf10,000 (US$778).

Further, public places, such as supermarkets and parks, are required to have facilities such as ramps to enable access for disabled people.

Maldivian citizens with disabilities are among the most marginalised people in society. A study conducted in 2008 found that 25 per cent of children with disabilities in Haa Alifu and Haa Dhaal never left their homes.

The bill was passed today with three amendments proposed by Kelaa MP Abdullah Mausoom of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

Among the amendments were making people with disabilities on the national registry eligible for the monthly benefits without evaluating the extent of their disabilities.

Mausoom’s most contentious amendment was to make children with thalassemia eligible for the monthly benefits.

During the debate on the two bills, several MPs supported providing financial benefits to families with thalassemia children.

“Parents will have the option of not including their children on the list or registry,” said Mausoom.

The amendment was passed with 35 in favour, two against and 19 abstentions.

During the final debate before the vote, MPs on the committee said the thalassemia association objected to including thalassemia patients in a bill for persons with disabilities.

Maseeh, chairman of the committee, said the bill was based on article 35(b), which states “disadvantaged people are entitled to protection and special assistance from the family, the community and the state”.

He added the bill clearly specified people with disabilities in terms of psychological and physical disabilities who face difficulties in society.

“The bill is formulated to provide financial and special assistance to people with disabilities,” he said. “That is why the Maldivian Thalassemia Association said they do not want children with thalassemia to be given that label.”

Defending his amendment, Mausoom said the purpose of the legislation was providing “special assistance”, which includes families facing financial burdens to treat their children with thalassemia.

Thulusdhoo MP Rozaina Adam said the title of the legislation would not matter to families of children with thalassemia.

Most MPs spoke of the importance of allocating funds for the financial benefits in next year’s budget to ensure that the laws are enforced.