Hundreds of civil servants at the finance ministry are on strike over mass job cuts. Protesting staff say they have no choice but to strike after discussions with the Civil Service Commission on Monday ended without a resolution.
The historic strike – only the second by civil servants in recent history – comes after President Abdulla Yameen insisted on making the dismissals, saying the Maldivian civil service is overstaffed.
“Last week, I had to do something I did not like. Last week, there had to be changes to many positions in the Ministry of Finance… I apologetically say, I find ministry of finance to be staffed with many highly skilled employees. But if you look at their input, I believe they are better utilized elsewhere.”
The ministry’s top civil servant, Ismail Ali Manik, resigned last week when he was ordered to sack more than 70 staff.
The president’s office then rushed to assure “technical staff” of jobs at other ministries, but many staff that The Maldives Independent spoke to said they are unsure of who would be dismissed and who would stay.
A staff on strike said: “We are protesting because we have no clue what is going on. We don’t know where we will be transferred or if we will have our jobs next year. We have families to take care of, bills and rent to pay.
“I understand that the civil service needs to be streamlined but this is not the way to do it. Most staff members have served in the government for many years, some even more than decades.”
There are some 379 civil servants and 14 political appointees at the finance ministry. The firing of 70 staff would “undermine and destroy the institution,” a senior employee who wished to remain anonymous said.
The highly placed source questioned why civil servants at the finance ministry are being singled out. “There are many political appointees. The minister has two advisors, who are paid the same salary as the minister himself. They are rarely in the office. There are other political appointees – no one knows what they do in the office all day.”
The source, also agreed on civil service cuts, but said downsizing must occur through a transparent and fair process.
A CSC spokesman said: “The matter is currently being discussed by the commission members, we will issue a press statement very soon.”
Maldivians are applauding the bravery of the finance ministry staff online, with some noting the strike comes in an environment of crackdown on political activities. Home Minister Umar Naseer last week banned street protests.
Yameen, speaking at a ceremony to inaugurate the Civil Service Commission’s strategic action plan, called for a performance and a human resource audit.
“I can tell you today, our civil service is over-staffed. There are more staff than required for the services we provide. We have been informed that the civil service must be downsized significantly… If we want to increase benefits, we must have an affordable civil service. That is why a human resource audit is important,” he said.
The staff to be fired from the finance ministry will remain within “the net of the civil service. They will be transferred to another government ministry that requires their services more,” he reiterated.
There are more than 20,000 civil servants in the Maldives and a total of more than 40,000 employees of the state in the Maldives. A large portion of the state budget accounts for wages and salaries, and successive governments have spoken on the need for a smaller government to reduce a persisting deficit.
Yameen’s administration has long-been criticised over large number of political appointments. There are some 682 political appointees.
In 2008, teachers at public schools staged a strike over low pay.
Additional reporting by Mohamed Saif Fathih and Zaheena Rasheed