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Raft of bills rushed through to fulfil pledges

Legal changes to eliminate tariffs on agricultural equipment were approved Tuesday.



Parliament approved Tuesday legal changes to eliminate tariffs on agricultural equipment amid a rush to push through bills submitted by the new administration to fulfil campaign pledges.

Amendments proposed to the import-export law to exempt custom duties for items listed by the agriculture ministry were passed unanimously with 56 votes in favour.

The amendment bill was among six pieces of government-sponsored legislation debated and sent to committee at Monday’s prolonged sitting of parliament. It was sent back to the floor and put to a vote after review by a committee of the full house.

With the People’s Majlis due to break for a recess of a month and a half next week, Speaker Gasim Ibrahim – one of the leaders of the four-party ruling coalition – has been expediting the legislative process to pass the government’s bills, many of which are necessary to fulfil President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s pledges in line with a 100-day action plan.

According to the attorney general’s office, 16 bills are needed as part of the 100-day legislative agenda, several of which have now been submitted.

Along with three bills accepted for consideration at Tuesday’s sitting, 10 bills are currently at committee stage:

  • Legal profession bill
  • Whistleblower protection bill
  • Presidential commissions bill
  • Amendments to Tourism Act –  transfer powers to authorise projects on resorts from the tourism ministry back to the Environment Protection Agency
  • Amendments to Company Act – authorise registrar of companies to dissolve companies that fail to pay annual fees or submit paperwork. The number of companies that failed to pay the annual fee or submit financial records, director’s reports and audit reports has exceeded 7,000 during the past 22 years.
  • Amendments to Jails and Parole Act – allow non-commissioned officers at the Maldives Correctional Services to be appointed Commissioner of Prisons and Director of Prisons. The former post is currently vacant.
  • Amendments to National Language Act – bring Dhivehi Language Academy under newly-created ministry of arts, heritage and culture
  • Amendments to Pension Act – allow utilisation of retirement pension scheme savings to finance first-time Hajj pilgrimages and cover 50 percent of the cost
  • Amendments to National University Act – remove inconsistencies that arose due to changes brought in July 2015 to authorise the president to appoint nine members to the university’s council
  • Amendments to Import-Export Act – eliminate tariff on diesel used by powerhouses and fishing boats

The previous administration raised the import duty for oil from zero to 10 percent in December 2014 as a revenue raising measure. It was brought down to five percent in December last year.

Reducing the cost of electricity is among the pledges to be fulfilled within the first 90 days of the Solih administration.

In March 2016, electricity bills for households in the Greater Malé region increased by more than 20 percent after the previous government revised tariff rates and discontinued subsidies. In the rest of the country, bills increased by up to 45 percent on some islands.

Cutting electricity subsidies for businesses also sparked protests on several islands after bills at shops and restaurants doubled and even tripled in some cases.

The state-owned utility companies levies 38 laari per unit as a fuel surcharge if the price of diesel exceeds MVR8 (US$0.5) per litre.

About 30 percent of the Maldives’ GDP is spent on importing fossil fuels. More than MVR3.5 billion (US$227 million) worth of fuel was imported in 2016, according to customs statistics.