Parties, parliament, judiciary most corrupt institutions in the Maldives: Global Corruption Barometer

The judiciary is considered one of the Maldives’ most corrupt institutions, according to a poll conducted for Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer, along with parliament and political parties.

Of those surveyed, 69 percent felt the judiciary was a corrupt institution, while two percent of families admitted paying bribes to judges.

The political sphere was considered extremely corrupt, particular parliament (78 percent), and political parties (75 percent).

The military (44 percent) was reckoned to be almost as corrupt as police (47 percent), the business community (42 percent) and the media (48 percent).

Unlike the majority of other countries surveyed, the Maldives was notable for the high levels of perceived corruption in almost every institution with 30 percent of those surveyed even considering religious institutions corrupt. NGOs were considered the least corrupt, but the figure still stood at 24 percent.

The survey also found a strong trend in the perception that corruption had increased in the past two years, with 19 percent of those polled stating that it had increased “a little”, and 38 percent “a lot”.

At the same time, 84 percent agreed ordinary people could make a difference fighting corruption.

‘Counter-level’ corruption in the Maldives is generally low relative to other countries in the region, however the Maldives has a complex and long-standing patronage system that in many cases may not be recognised as corruption – MPs, for example, justified salary increases to Swedish levels in 2011 on the grounds that constituents were demanding greater amounts of money and services such as scholarships and medical treatment from their representatives.

DRP MP Rozaina Adam in January 2011 observed to Minivan News that 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.”

The patronage system is also evident in the culture of vote buying, recognised in Transparency Maldives’ pre-election assessment for the September elections as a key target for voter education ahead of the polls.

“A crisis of confidence in candidates’ sincerity to deliver on their electoral promises could be one of the main reasons why many people take offers. Almost all the participants in the discussions thought the candidates would not bother about them or their community post-elections, or after winning the elections. ‘They would not even answer their phones’ was a common retort,” Transparency noted in its report.

“There are particularly vulnerable groups of people who are targets of vote buying. Youth groups who are victims of drug addiction, for example, could be offered drugs, money to buy drugs, or drugs at discounted rates, in exchange of their votes. Similarly, the less disadvantaged people, people in need of medical treatment, or the more elderly, seem to be particularly vulnerable to vote buying,” the NGO added.

Large scale projects and training programmes promoting transparency and governance in the Maldives are also subject to subtle internal resistance, a senior government official responsible for such a project recently confided to Minivan News.

Senior authorities and civil servants were loathe to give up the discretionary power that came with their position in favour of an equitable system, the official explained, as this removed their influence as the ‘go to guy’ for particular services. While provision of such services was not often leveraged for money, it did often extend to ‘in-kind’ favours such as resort trips for family members, the official said.


Civil court rejects legal challenge to MPs’ committee allowance

The Civil Court today rejected a case filed on behalf of a civil servant challenging the legality of controversial Rf20,000-a-month committee allowances for MPs.

A group of concerned civil servants filed the case on behalf of Maah Jabeen, Seenu Maradhoo Fenzeemaage, arguing that releasing funds for committee allowance without reimbursing civil servants for amounts deducted from their 2010 salaries violated constitutional provisions on fairness and equal treatment.

On 26 September, the civil court issued an injunction prohibiting the Finance Ministry from releasing funds to parliament until the court delivered a judgment on the case.

In October 2009 – almost a year into the new administration – unpopular pay cuts of up to 15 percent for civil servants were enforced as part of austerity measures to alleviate the country’s ballooning budget deficit.

The austerity measures were met with a severe political backlash. In December 2009, the opposition-controlled parliament added Rf800 million (US$62 million) to the 2010 state budget, including the restoration of civil servant salaries to previous levels.

In January 2010, however, the Ministry of Finance and Treasury refused to restore the salaries after just three months of the cost-cutting measure.

After weeks of legal wrangling with the parliament-appointed Civil Service Commission (CSC), the ministry accused the independent commission of hiding “a political agenda”, and in February 2010 filed a case with the police asking them to investigate it on suspicion of trying to topple the government “and plunge the Maldives into chaos.”

At the height of the dispute in early 2010, permanent secretaries at ministries were ordered to submit different wage sheets by both the Finance Ministry and the CSC.

In April 2010, the Civil Court ruled that Finance Ministry did not have the legal authority to overrule the CSC. Although the government contested the ruling and refused to restore salaries to previous levels, the High Court upheld the lower court ruling in May this year.

Meanwhile in the verdict issued today, the Civil Court noted that the state had appealed the High Court ruling at the Supreme Court, which has since agreed to hear the case.

The court ruled that there were no legal grounds to order the Finance Ministry not to release the funds to parliament as the two budget items in question were “not in the same state or condition.”

Civic action

After parliament’s Public Accounts Committee decided to issue the committee allowance as a lump sum of Rf140,000 as back pay for January through June, a loose association of concerned citizens launched a campaign noting that the state had a staggering fiscal deficit of Rf1.3 billion (US$85 million) as of the first week of September.

Neither lawyer from the civic action campaign was available for comment today.

Some sources have meanwhile criticised the MPs for comparing their salaries and privileges to those of United States congressmen.

“You can’t do that, the two countries are too different,” said No MP Allowance Media Coordinator Hamza Khaleel.

“The salary difference between the highest-paid civil servant and a congressman in the US is 175%, while in the Maldives it’s 365%,” Khaleel pointed out. “Our MPs get as much as MPs in Sweden, but our GDP is nowhere near Sweden’s.”

NGOs have retreated from the issue in recent weeks, but No MP Allowance, a group of concerned citizens which operates primarily through social media outlet Facebook and has almost 3000 members, has been networking to protest the allowance since February. Khaleel said the group is the “single largest civil movement for this issue.”

“You can see that our Facebook page is very active. All of the members might not show up to protest but they are writing letters and suggesting ideas, so you can see that they are involved,” said Khaleel.

Khaleel noted that MP opposition and negative media have deterred the group from publicising its plans, but he said media coverage lately had improved.

Upon hearing of the court’s verdict today, Khaleel said No MP Allowance’s campaign did not depend on a court ruling but on the constituents’ opinions.

“If you ask the MP’s constituents, they will say that the MPs aren’t doing as much as they could have. Very few MPs have taken up issues that are community-focused,” he said.

“Our main focus is still to get constituents to write to their MPs asking them not to take the allowance. We have drafted sample letters that we are distributing for signatures, and will collect and deliver to the MPs. We represent the constituents, if they are not satisfied then we still have work to do,” Khaleel said.


LDC graduation will impact aid from donor nations: Swedish Ambassador

Swedish Ambassador accredited to the Maldives, Lars-Olof Lindgren, has acknowledged that the Maldives’ 2011 graduation to the UN’s definition of a middle income country will affect its ability to seek financial development assistance.

Lindgren, who is based at Sweden’s embassy in New Delhi, observed during a brief meeting with local media yesterday that his own government “has very strict of GDP per-capita criteria and has decided to focus its aid elsewhere on least developed countries, particularly in Africa.”

The Maldives this year became one of only three countries to graduate from the UN’s definition of ‘Least Development’, since the introduction of the term. As a consequence, the Maldives loses access to both concessional credit, certain trade concessions, and some of the foreign aid upon which aspects of the country – such as civil society – have historically depended on for both skills and financial support.

A World Bank Economic Update Report released in November 2010 showed a per capita Gross Net Income (GNI) for the country of US$4090 for 2010, up from US$3690 in 2009.

“In one sense this graduation not been positive in this respect,” Lindgren said. “At the same time, certainly I think we have to look at other aspects of the Maldives – the fact the country taking first steps as a democratic country, steps towards getting the party system to work – that is one reason why the international community should support this – support not only government, but the whole society.”

There was also potential for countries such as Sweden with experience in high-tech renewable technology to work together with the Maldives on tackling climate change, Lindgren added.

Swedish involvement in the Maldives so far had been “not very impressive”, he admitted, “although Swedish companies do have investments in the country in things like logistics and domestic transport.”

“But I think we could do a lot more together on the environment, particularly with regards to renewable energy and energy efficiency. We have a lot of experience high technology, and a long tradition of doing these things with results. For example, we have done a lot to keep our homes warm using insulation – in the Maldives it is a matter of keeping the cold inside. There’s a lot to be gained by doing it efficiently.”