Funding for political parties withheld

Funding for political parties withheld
October 13 07:40 2016

Citing leadership vacuums and complaints over reckless spending and mismanagement, the elections commission has withheld public funding for all political parties.

In a letter sent Monday to the six political parties registered in the Maldives, Ali Sulaiman, the president of the national electoral body, said the commission was delaying public funding for 2016, indefinitely.

Some 0.2percent of the state budget is allocated for political parties and distributed each year according to the size of a party’s membership.

The elections commission is required to disburse the funds in the first quarter of the year, but delayed funding this year, initially blaming a legal battle over an order requiring parties re-register members whose fingerprints were not on file.

The ten-month wait has prompted complaints from both the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives and the main opposition, the Maldivian Democratic Party.

In response, Sulaiman wrote: “It has come to our attention that some political parties have failed to elect their leaders despite long periods elapsing since the positions were made vacant, resulting in a lack of oversight in spending, including on major expenses.

“We have received complaints that some elected positions were filled in against the party charters, or left vacant for long periods. Other complaints allege that some members to such positions were elected in fraudulent elections and that some parties are being governed without a leadership.”

He added: “We have also received complaints that leaders of some political parties have undermined the authority of committees mandated to administer local council elections, and suspended meetings of internal committees and the governing councils.”

Leadership vacuums have resulted in reckless spending, creating “obstacles to the disbursement of state funding for political parties,” he said.

The leaders of the MDP and its ally, the Adhaalath Party, were removed after the ruling party-dominated parliament passed a law stripping convicts of political party leadership.

Mohamed Nasheed, a former president and leader of the MDP, and Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who heads the AP were handed lengthy jail terms on terrorism charges in trials widely condemned as unfair.

The PPM is meanwhile in disarray amid a power struggle between its leader, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his half-brother and incumbent president, Abdulla Yameen.

Gayoom has suspended the party’s governing council and internal committees after its disciplinary committee expelled his son, Faris Maumoon, an MP. Gayoom loyalists claim the decision was invalid.

PPM MPs recently complained over the party’s preparations for the local council elections scheduled for January.

Abdul Aleem, the PPM secretary general dismissed the elections commission’s concerns, saying that procedures to administer elections had been set.

“So there is no need for a council meeting. The president has asked the party’s elections committee to make arrangements for primaries and the polls,” he said.

He went on to slam Sulaiman’s decision: “We have been regularly submitting audited financial reports and annual reports and minutes of the party meetings, and election commission had not raised any issues before. So they don’t have a reason to hold back funds now.”

The Jumhooree Party, the fourth largest party in the country, meanwhile accused Sulaiman of flouting the law, claiming that none of his concerns applied to them.

Ahmed Sameer, the JP secretary general, said the decision indicates that the government may have run out of money.

“The fact that a such a general letter – one that does not even attempt to specify the faults of a party that is not at fault – signed by the commission president and sent to all parties, is irresponsible and unlawful,” he said.

He added: “The rise in food prices and austerity measures, and now the commission refusing to give out funds that are owed by a law, with the local council elections just around the corner, is another sign that the state has run out of money.”

The MDP declined to comment immediately. It has previously accused the ruling party of stacking independent institutions with loyalists. Sulaiman was a senior member of a breakaway party founded by Yameen in 2008.

The election commission was not available for comment at the time of going to press.