Six ministries have been sent right to information requests after refusing to hand over data to the Maldives Independent, which wanted to fact-check claims made by President Abdulla Yameen.
Yameen rattled off figures and challenged “political leaders who say they do not see development” at the November 17 rally marking the four-year anniversary of his government.
His administration has completed 1,800 projects at a cost of MVR20 billion (US$1.2 billion), he said, amounting to nine projects for each inhabited island including 24-hour electricity for all islands and sewerage systems in 37 islands.
Clean water projects have been completed in 135 islands, Yameen added, pledging to bring down household water bills in the atolls to the same level as Malé. Nine out of 10 households nationwide would see a 57 percent reduction.
The government completed 42 mosques, 770 new classrooms and built more school laboratories, and 78 percent of the population has access to safe harbours.
Yameen also claimed 100,000 new jobs were created in the past four years and that 50 new resorts would have started operating by the end of 2018.
The RTI requests seek to verify and fact-check the claims made by the president. The ministries are: education; environment and energy; finance and treasury; housing and infrastructure; Islamic affairs and tourism.
Ministry representatives initially agreed to send the data via e-mail but said getting approval to do so could take weeks, prompting the RTI requests.
The Maldives Independent was unable to reach anyone who could speak to the media at the finance and housing ministries. Two ministry representatives said they were asked to wait for “political approval” before sending the information, meaning approval from a politically appointed official.
According to the Right to Information Act, the ministries have 21 days, including weekends and public holidays, to respond.
“There is a general tendency to restrict information as much as possible or make it as hard as possible for the public to access information,” said Ahid Rasheed, a senior project coordinator at Transparency Maldives (TM).
Although the Maldivian RTI Act is “very progressive, the enforcement and implementation is nowhere near to the spirit of that law.”
“Many of them [information officers] don’t act according to the spirit of the law. Maybe they don’t have much authority and are just following the orders of their superiors,” he added.
“I think it’s the department heads and the people at the top who totally ignore the RTI law and have no interest in providing information to the public.”
Under the RTI Act the ministries have to respond, say they cannot give the data because of reasons such as national security, hand over the information or ask for a 14-day extension if the information asked for requires a lot of research.