Staff at the Department of National Registration have refused to continue issuing national identity cards 94 days before elections, complaining of a malfunctioning air conditioning unit and “discomfort in working conditions” for the past four days.
Services were stopped abruptly at approximately 10.30am this morning, after a long queue of customers had already been issued service tokens, according to local media.
Service seekers had expressed anger at the announcement that services will no longer be available, with some reports stating that the people had demanded that services be resumed as “whatever heat the staff feel, we feel too”.
Assistant Director at the Department of National Registration Abdulla Haleem has confirmed to local media that services have been temporarily discontinued due to faulty air conditioning in the department’s service area.
He stated that staff has continued to complain about the difficulties of working “under such warm and uncomfortable circumstances” for the past couple of days.
Haleem said that the department’s failure to repair the air conditioning has led to staff refusing to serve at counters, instead resorting to “sitting in the innermost rooms of the department which has functioning air conditioning”.
Haleem further stated that staff refused to provide services despite more citizens coming to apply for national identity cards during the school holiday period, when people from the islands find it more convenient to visit the capital.
Civil Service Commission Media Official Ali Nizar stated that the commission had not received any official complaints about the matter.
“As a commission, we focus on staff interests. We believe that the department should provide appropriate working conditions for their staff,” Nizar stated.
“Unless we get a direct official complaint, we tend to not get involved in such matters,” he said.
“As far as we know, services will commence again tomorrow once the department solves the issue and provides staff with suitable conditions,” he said.
The Department of National Registration was not responding to calls at the time of press.
“It is a concern, but will one day affect elections?” : Transparency Maldives
Local NGO Transparency Maldives, which will be active in elections monitoring during the September 7 presidential elections, stated that the interruption of services is a concern, if it may affect the upcoming elections.
“If the issuing of ID cards is affected by today’s suspension of services, then it may negatively affect elections. In such an instance, the problem needs to dealt with as soon as possible,” stated Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed Ibrahim.
“It is a question whether one day of non-service will have an effect on the elections, we hope it doesn’t. We need to be extremely careful these days and if there is a chance that it may have a negative impact, then it must be addressed as soon as possible,” he said.
“Huge concern with elections just 94 days away”: contesting parties
With 94 days to the presidential elections, contesting political parties have expressed concerns that the interruption in issuing identity cards may compromise the constitutional right to vote of a large part of the electorate.
“If we get to have a free and fair election, we intend to win it in a single round. However, with the state the system is in now, it is very complicated,” said member of the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP)’s Membership and Campaign Committee, Ahmed Shahid.
“From the information we have gathered, we understand that approximately 40,000 identity cards will expire before September 7. According to the information we have, the Department of National Registration has the capacity to issue about 350 or so cards a day. This suggests that the 40,000 people from the electorate will not all be able to get the cards renewed before the elections. In a situation like this, now we have the service suspension from that department. This is a huge concern for us,” he said.
“From what we are seeing now, it doesn’t seem as though the state is really trying to solve these issues prior to elections,” Shahid alleged.
“In meetings with the Elections Commission (EC), we were told that about 1500 inmates will also be having their cards expired before election day. The Commission seemed unsure of who has to bear the responsibility for getting these cards renewed. An idea was floated that parents of inmates should take the initiative, but I don’t think that is a practical approach. The state must find a more responsible alternative,” Shahid continued.
“The EC also spoke of concerns that the department is not cooperating at its best so far, and about the reluctance to place absolute trust in them as the department is a government body. They’ve been requesting access to the department’s records in order to run a comparison with the EC’s electorate list, but said they’ve only been granted access a week ago,” he said.
“We are in an extremely sensitive situation now. With things as they are, actions like what the Department of National Registration has done today is a cause for extreme worry,” Shahid stated.
Jumhooree Party Spokesperson Moosa Ramiz also voiced concerns that the denial of a service as vital as the issuance of identity cards will lead to many voters and candidates being stripped of their constitutional rights.
“This leads to a huge loss for the citizens, as well as presidential candidates. The elections are looming close overhead, and the government is halting the issuance of IDs, which are absolutely necessary for anyone to be able to vote. Citizens are being thrust into a very sad situation,” Ramiz stated.
“The institutions which must be responsible need to attend to this immediately, even if they need to give up on all else they are doing now,” he said.
Gaumee Ihthihaadh Party (GIP) Ahmed Thaufeeq, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leader Ahmed Thasmeen and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Spokesperson Ahmed Mahloof were not responding to calls at the time of press.
Elections Commission President Fuad Thaufeeg and Secretary General Asim Abdul Sattar were also not responding. EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz’s phone was switched off at the time of press.