Political appointments of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration have come under fire as activists of coalition parties and family members of top officials continue to be chosen for senior government posts.
At least three people were appointed this week to new positions created under the title ‘Policy Director,’ prompting questions over whether they were selected based on merit.
According to media reports, Ahmed Irash was appointed the policy director at the ministry of youth, sports and community engagement, actor Ahmed Azmeel was appointed executive director of the National Center for the Arts, and Maldivian Democratic Party activist Mohamed Maumoon was appointed the executive director at the ministry of housing and urban development.
They were the first of 31 appointments at the policy director level, Mihaaru reported.
The continuing appointments more than four months into Solih’s administration have also raised questions over the pledge to have 100 fewer political appointees than the previous administration with a 19 percent lower wage bill.
The policy director post was created during the transition period after September’s election, president’s office spokesman Ibrahim Hood told the Maldives Independent.
“It is not a new position. It has always been part of our framework since the transition period,” he said.
“And for the record, 31 new positions have not been filled. That is the ceiling that we have set for maximum appointments in that position.”
Hood insisted the Solih administration would have 120 fewer political appointees. “We are nowhere near that number. I think we have only reached half the amount” he said.
In his first TV interview since assuming office, President Solih said Wednesday morning on Raajje TV that appointments to political posts have proven the most challenging aspect of his job so far due to pressure from both the public and coalition partners.
“The hardest thing in running a coalition government is appointing people to positions and removing them. Parties are pushing to get their nominees get appointed to government jobs,” he said.
“Every time a job is not given it becomes a big problem. Some people criticise the appointments in public when they don’t get the job. This has been the hardest thing for me to solve – deciding to give jobs or not to give them. “
He added: “Sometimes when the appointment list is made public, political leaders go on media and say ‘we didn’t get our portion.’ But I believe that those appointed to government positions must be appropriate people. That is still the biggest challenge for me. It’s very difficult for me.”
Allegations of nepotism have also persisted since the announcement of the cabinet in November.
Mohamed Hameed, who was appointed commissioner of police on Monday, is the first lady’s brother-in-law and the president’s sister Fathmath Solih is the senior secretary at the president’s office, after serving in the same post under the four previous presidents.
Prior to his dismissal in August 2012, Hameed had served in the police force for more than 17 years. He has a masters degree from Australia in policing, intelligence and counter-terrorism.
Vice President Faisal Naseem’s sister Nazra Naseem – also wife of Youth Minister Ahmed Mahloof – was appointed as his chief executive. The first lady’s niece Sabra Nooradeen was appointed the foreign secretary at the president’s office and the foreign minister’s son Yamin Shahid is the counsel to the ambassador to the United Kingdom.
On social media, government supporters argued that their qualifications trumped the family connections. Some suggested such family and business ties were inevitable due to the small size of the Maldivian population.
But Maurifa Hassan, a member of the leftwing political group Navaanavai, dismissed arguments made in defence of appointing family members.
“Of course they may be qualified, but you cannot justify nepotism with that argument. There’s conflict of interest and even if there’s the perception of corruption it’s a problem,” she told the Maldives Independent.
“In a workplace it creates an unfair power dynamic between employees. Imagine, the president’s sister is in charge of the presidential secretariat and protocol. Would the staff be comfortable talking openly, knowing that the person in charge of them is the president’s sister? The foreign minister’s son is a counsel to the ambassador to UK. The minister is in charge of all embassies. Would someone in that embassy be comfortable making a complaint about Yamin Shahid, the minister’s son?”
Aiman Rasheed from anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives observed that “the culture of patronage where politically concerned individuals and parties are provided preference over merit encourages rent seeking behaviour.”
“The public purse should not be misused for political gain of a few. Such actions increases corruption and reduces public trust in public institutions,” he said.