Discontent among ruling coalition MPs over the scarcity of development funds for their constituencies erupted into heated arguments yesterday, with a minister calling MPs “idiots.” MPs in turn reportedly threatened to initiate a no-confidence motion against Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee.
The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Mohamed Musthafa said in a tweet yesterday: “The issue of Shainee calling MPs idiots has become heated. Shainee must apologize to MPs.”
In the ongoing review of the 2016 state budget, MPs including those of the ruling coalition have complained that development projects set for this year never began, and have now disappeared from the 2016 budget.
The proposed budget stands at a record MVR27.4billion (US$1.7billion), of which an unprecedented MVR9.1billion had been set aside for infrastructure projects, the Public Sector Investment Programme.
But the majority of the PSIP funds is to be spent on development of the Malé airport and a bridge between the capital and its suburb islands. Only a third of the budget is allocated for the outer islands.
MP Faris Maumoon, nephew of President Abdulla Yameen, today tweeted that he was lobbying with the government to include funds for his constituency.
#Budget2016 lobbying with govt to try and incorporate specific PSIP requests from Dhiggaru Muli Maduvvari Veyvah n Raiymandhoo
— Ahmed Faris Maumoon (@afarismaumoon) November 19, 2015
Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad previously told MPs that the government’s priority is development of Malé region, and consolidating small populations, now dispersed over some 188 islands.
The complaints forced majority leader Ahmed Nihan to arrange for MPs to meet with Yameen earlier this week.
According to an MP present at the meeting, Yameen very firmly told MPs that he would not add new projects to the budget. Instead, he offered MPs the discretion to switch already allocated projects between the islands in their constituencies.
The MP also said that Yameen had argued that the US$200million allocated for the bridge is an indispensable expenditure. Developing atolls is important, he is reported to have said, but the bridge would have a “magnetic draw effect,” stimulating migration from the remote islands.
The president reportedly expressed concern over rising expenses and the state of finances. The Maldives is fast becoming a welfare state and this must be reversed, he said.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have long warned Maldives of risks over a ballooning budget deficit and high levels of public debt.
Speaking to The Maldives Independent today, PPM Vice President and MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla downplayed the row between the government and MPs, and denied that MPs had called for Shainee’s removal.
Shainee, who co-chairs the cabinet’s economic and youth council, is acting as mediator between the government and ruling coalition MPs.
Abdulla said: “There are no serious disagreements or conflicts regarding the budget allocations but as you would understand, all MPs will do their best to allocate most number of projects for their constituencies.”
Shainee was not responding to calls.
But MP Ali Mauroof, a member of the Maldives Development Alliance, a ruling coalition partner, said there had been “some tension” over budget allocations, but insisted that it was “not unusual or serious.”
“Obviously the MPs will pressure the government to allocate as much funding as they can for their constituencies, but we understand the financial constraints and the need for prioritizing,” he said.
During his presentation of next year’s state budget to the parliament, Finance Minister Jihad said the dispersion of the Maldivian people in 188 islands is an obstacle to economic development, reiterating that the government’s population consolidation policy is to settle 70 percent of the population to the reclaimed island of Hulhumalé.
The cost of living is also comparatively high in the Maldives and the government does not get “value for money” for infrastructure projects in small islands, he said.
Due to economies of scale – the benefits of large-scale production – Jihad said the government could not afford to provide quality healthcare, education and utilities to small island populations.
According to the 2014 census, only four islands have a population exceeding 5,000 and only 20 islands have more than 2,000 people. The Maldivian population is 338,434, of which 38 percent resides in the congested capital.
The government says it has drafted a bill on population consolidation.