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Barbs and boycotts as record budget sails through committee

The finance minister said the government would prioritize development projects in the constituencies of lawmakers who voted for the budget.



A record budget of MVR27.9 billion (US$1.8 billion) was approved Monday without any cuts by a parliamentary committee after opposition lawmakers boycotted meetings.

The budget was approved thanks to the votes of 12 politicians aligned with the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) with only one change – to a public sector investment project for an island. The budget will now be sent to the parliament floor for a vote.

The opposition boycotted the committee meetings after ruling party MPs proposed to limit debate time for the budget, but the suggestion was not considered for a vote.

According to the proposed 2018 budget, the government will spend MVR24.9 billion and collect MVR22.4 billion as revenue. The deficit of MVR2.5 billion would be 3.2 percent of GDP.

Opposition lawmakers raised concerns about ballooning foreign debt and challenged Finance Minister Ahmed Munawar.

“Now debt is at 63 percent of GDP. According to the fiscal responsibility act, that rate has to be maintained at 60 percent. This budget proposal is against the law,” MP Eva Abdulla said.

Munawar conceded the debt incurred by the current government was more than MVR15 billion.

“Opposition is always complaining about high debt. On the other hand, they are also asking me to add more [development] projects. So what do you want me to do? Should I run projects? Should I take loans? I think we need an answer to this question,” he said.

“We have incurred a lot of debt, but with that we have increased the amount of development projects to record numbers. Within the last four years we have spent MVR18 billion on development. We are going to spend even more on development. So I think we should stop talking about debt,” he told the committee.

Munawar said the country incurred debt worth MVR14 billion between 2009 and 2013, but spent close to MVR9 billion on development.

He added that every lawmaker had to vote for the budget as it was the people’s right and that the government would prioritize development projects in the constituencies of those who voted for it.

“We will have difficulty in conducting [development] projects for those who do not for the budget, right? This is the reality. We have to see when the budget is passed, how many will [not vote] for it. In other countries even if they debate against it and oppose it, they [lawmakers] vote for the budget,” Munawar said.

Opposition lawmakers criticized him, alleging that his words amounted to “threatening to discriminate” between constituencies with ruling party MPs and those without.