Parliament denies RTI request for list of MPs who declared assets

Parliament denies RTI request for list of MPs who declared assets
November 13 23:57 2016

The People’s Majlis secretariat has denied a right to information request for a list of MPs who have declared their assets as mandated by the constitution.

Ahid Rasheed, a senior project coordinator at anti-corruption group Transparency Maldives, said the parliament secretariat cited discretion under the landmark Freedom of Information Act to deny RTI requests “where the information is concerning the personal affairs of a third person.”

The secretariat also cited a provision that allows institutions to withhold information that contains trade secrets whose disclosure would be prejudicial to the commercial or financial interest of a third party.

I filed the RTI form as a member of the public to check if my representative had submitted his asset declaration,” Rasheed told the Maldives Independent. “I did not request for the asset disclosure statements. All I asked for was the names of the MPs who had submitted the statements before the deadline. How could that be considered third party private information or information on business affairs that would result in irrevocable damage?”

“It is a constitutional obligation for MPs to declare their assets and we have to know whether our elected representatives did so or not,” he said.

MPs are required to annually submit “a statement of all property and monies owned by him, business interests and liabilities” to the secretary-general of parliament. However, they are not legally obliged to publicly disclose the statement and the secretary-general has previously refused to release the information on privacy grounds.

Rasheed said the auditor general’s office has also denied RTI requests for a list of senior officials who have submitted asset declarations, insisting that it was not legally obliged to do so.

But the judicial watchdog had complied with a similar request for a list of judges who have declared assets, he noted.

“They responded to us saying in general that all judges have declared their assets. It is a matter as simple as that. This shows how three institutions interpret the matter differently.”

Rasheed plans to challenge the parliament’s refusal at an appeals committee formed under the freedom of information law.

Earlier this year, Transparency Maldives, the local chapter of Transparency International, launched a social media campaign urging MPs to disclose their assets.

Only eight out of the 85 members of parliament released financial statements in response to the campaign, which also sparked debate about loopholes in the Maldives’ asset declaration regime.

Critics noted that MPs’ claims cannot be verified since the submissions are not audited. Several MPs meanwhile insisted that details of their income and wealth are private.

After this year’s deadline at the end of October, two MPs have meanwhile disclosed their assets on social media.

According to a financial statement shared on Twitter by ruling party MP Abdulla Rifau last month, his bank account balance at the end of May 2016 was MVR41 (US$3).

In contrast, opposition MP Abdulla Shahid, a former speaker of parliament, revealed that he owned a house in London and had US$5.4 million in the bank.