Lawmakers on Monday approved parliament’s standing orders with new rules for evaluating nominees, disclosing assets and docking pay for absenteeism.
The new rules makes it mandatory for lawmakers to include the personal finances of their spouses and children under 18 years of age in their asset declarations, which would be published on parliament’s website.
The constitution requires lawmakers to annually submit to parliament’s secretary general “a statement of all property and monies owned by him, business interests and liabilities,” including “details of any other employment and obligations of such employment.”
However, the information was not made available to the public in the past.
According to the new standing orders, annual financial statements must be submitted before August 31. MPs who fail to comply would be suspended without pay and barred from attending sittings or committee meetings.
The rules do not require the statements to be audited by a certified professional. Verification of statements by an independent state body or external agency – along with fines and criminal prosecution for non-compliance – was among recommendations made by NGO Transparency Maldives.
– Confirmation process –
Significant changes were also made to the evaluation of nominees by oversight committees, which are mandated with interviewing individuals nominated by the president for ministers, ambassadors, prosecutor general, central bank governor, auditor general, Supreme Court justices and members of independent commissions.
The former practice of assigning marks based on experience, qualifications and integrity – which had been criticised as arbitrary and subject to manipulation – was scrapped.
The new rules state that a panel comprised of parliament’s staff would determine whether nominees meet eligibility criteria. The committee would only interview approved candidates. Nominees approved by a two-thirds majority of committee members would be forwarded to the parliament floor for a vote.
The public would also be invited to submit complaints about candidates. Committee meeting must be broadcast live on television, radio and other mediums.
The overhaul of the confirmation process comes after criticism of the evaluation of candidates for the Anti-Corruption Commission, during which former auditor general Niyaz Ibrahim – who had been sacked after exposing corruption during the previous administration – scored below the 75 percent threshold for recommendation to the floor.
Niyaz was among 12 candidates shortlisted by the president’s office and nominated for parliamentary approval after 68 people submitted applications. Both Niyaz and the second highest ranked candidate were passed over when the nominees were put to a vote in the order of the marks assigned by the committee.
Other changes brought to the standing orders include cutting by half the salary of MPs who fail to attend half of sittings scheduled during a month without a valid reason, such as illness and travel overseas on official trips. The speaker would also announce the names of absent lawmakers before the start of sittings. MPs who also fail to attend at least half of committee meetings would not be eligible for the MVR20,000 (US$1,300) monthly committee allowance.
A five-day notice period was introduced for summoning ministers or officials of independent institutions to oversight committees.
The amended rules reflect campaign pledges made by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party to ensure the integrity of parliament, Majority Leader Ali Azim said during the final debate.
The MDP parliamentary group leader commended the 11-member ad hoc committee that reviewed and amended the standing orders for completing its work within three months. The 18th parliament failed to approve new standing orders during its five-year term, he noted.
Along with 48 amendments approved at the floor after the committee submitted its report, the new standing orders were passed unanimously with 61 votes in favour.
The constitution requires parliament to make regulations concerning its administrative arrangements and employees as well as rules of decorum and attendance requirements.