Thursday roundup: businessmen-lawmakers oppose income tax
A roundup of the day’s top stories.
MP Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, owner of Sun Siyam resorts and leader of the minority opposition Maldives Development Alliance, contended on Wednesday that the country does not need to introduce a personal income tax.
In a tirade during debate on the government’s income tax bill, Siyam declared that taxing personal income without explaining what the revenue would be used for amounts to “theft” from the public, accusing government officials of stealing taxpayer’s money.
“Those running the state should know what will happen if we take this tax now. I am the person who pays the most tax in the country. I pay millions each year to the Maldivian people. I pay it through hard work,” the MP for Dhaalu Meedhoo said.
Speaking at rally on Wednesday night, Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, owner of the Villa business empire, meanwhile argued that “social justice would be upside down” if higher incomes are taxed at higher rates under the proposed progressive tax, which he called undemocratic and contrary to the constitutional principle of equality.
“The percentage of tax taken from a person who finds prosperity by working day and night and a person who earns income by working two or three hours being different is a very immoral thing,” the MP for Maamigili was quoted as saying by Vnews.
The Villa Shipping and Trading conglomerate pays more than US$45 million as taxes annually after paying land rent and import duties, he continued. “And some MPs are talking about taking more from what we earn as dividends. I wonder what’s happening, what kind of an environment they’re working towards bringing to our country,” he said, falsely claiming that the proposed legislation was contrary to income tax regimes in other countries as well as recommendations from the IMF and World Bank.
Gasim said he was not advocating for taxing average citizens but “participation should be equal from what we earn and what you earn…No matter how rich or poor you still get one vote. So participation should be equal.”
In contrast to the reaction from the resort owners, MP Mickail Naseem from the Maldivian Democratic Party accused the government led by his party of drafting the legislation to favour “tycoons,” objecting to an exemption for income earned as dividends.
The rates proposed for high income brackets were very low compared to neighbouring countries but businessmen were “shaking like a raw fish” over the prospect, he said.
Travel to Syria prohibited by anti-terrorism law
Maldivians have been prohibited from travelling to Syria after President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih declared the Middle Eastern country a war zone.
The president was mandated with declaring war zones under changes made to the anti-terror law in September. The revised law prohibits unsanctioned presence in a war zone as well as the act of assisting a person to join a militant group. Permission would be needed from the defence ministry ahead of travel to a war zone for humanitarian assistance, journalism and other work related to international relations.
The president also added two new groups – Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and Hurras al-Din – to a list of designated terrorist organisations, which also includes Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Not a single suspected jihadi fighter has been convicted since the anti-terror law was passed five years ago, despite estimates of around 200 to 250 Maldivians thought to have joined militant groups in Syria and Iraq. Many fighters are believed to have died in battle and widowed women are seeking to return to the Maldives.
President Solih announced plans to amend the anti-terrorism law after an inquiry commission concluded that missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan had been murdered by a local extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Justice Adam Mohamed granted last chance to hire lawyer
The Judicial Service Commission on Thursday granted Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla a final opportunity to appoint a lawyer.
The judicial watchdog is conducting an ethics probe against three justices in light of a report that flagged 17 instances where the Supreme Court violated the constitution or usurped powers of the executive, parliament and independent bodies.
Justice Adam Mohamed appeared without legal counsel at Thursday’s hearing after the JSC’s investigation committee refused to accept former vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel as his lawyer, on the grounds that a case filed by the lawyer challenging his July 2015 impeachment is before the Supreme Court.
Adam Mohamed contended that there was no conflict of interest as he has recused himself from the case. He accused the watchdog of depriving him of the constitutional right to legal counsel. It was proving difficult to hire a different lawyer after the JSC filed a complaint against Jameel with the Bar Council over his involvement in the case, he said.
The investigation committee rescheduled the meeting for next Monday and informed the justice that it would not postpone any further.
Civil Service Commissioners face impeachment
Parliament’s independent institutions committee has launched a probe against four members of the Civil Service Commission over politically motivated dismissals during the previous administration.
A subcommittee formed to review complaints filed by more than 90 sacked government workers saw grounds to accuse the independent commissioners of dereliction of duty. There were also complaints about the lack of protection from the oversight body when civil servants were forced to attend rallies of the former ruling party.
The four commission members are president Dr Ali Shameem, vice president Shaheed Mohamed, Zakariyya Hussain and Ibrahim Shaheeq. The subcommittee was also looking into the eligibility of Shaheed after an impeachment process was launched earlier this month.
At a meeting on Thursday, the oversight committee decided to make a decision on recommending their dismissal after considering the subcommittee’s report.
Maldives aims to become regional Islamic finance hub
The current administration’s goal is to make the Maldives a regional hub for Islamic finance, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said on Thursday at a forum jointly organised by the Capital Market Development Authority and the Maldives Stock Exchange on Bandos resort.
In his remarks at the opening ceremony, President Solih stressed the importance of developing the capital market for the growth of Islamic banking and finance, which would also facilitate financial stability for small and medium-sized enterprises.
“He also spoke about the role of investment banking and Public-Private Partnerships to finance the socio-economic development of the country and the development of Islamic tourism through the Islamic Capital Market,” the president’s office said.
The theme of the forum, the first of its kind in the Maldives, is ‘Capital Market for Social Harmony.’ It features interactive presentations and panel discussions with policymakers, leaders in the financial sector, entrepreneurs and investors.
At the opening ceremony, the president presented listing tokens to eight companies listed on the Maldives Stock Exchange and accepted a plaque of appreciation from CMDA acting CEO Fathmath Abdulla Kamaluddeen and MSE CEO Mohamed Aushan Latheef.
Chief justice chastises prosecutor over Adeeb appeal
The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the Prosecutor General’s office two days to decide whether to proceed with its appeal against a High Court decision that set aside former vice president Ahmed Adeeb conviction over the theft of US$5 million paid as a resort acquisition fee.
A cooperation agreement was signed with Adeeb on September 25 after he confessed to his role in the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation’s embezzlement scheme, prosecutor Mohamed Alim told the court, according to media reports of Wednesday’s hearing.
In exchange, the state agreed not to proceed with the appeal before the Supreme Court. But the PG office would want to resume the appeal if Adeeb does not plead guilty to seven fresh corruption charges filed with the criminal court in late September, the prosecutor told the court.
The remarks drew an angry response from Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, who reportedly declared that the Supreme Court was “not a section of the PG office” and that cases could not be “parked” upon request. The prosecutor was told to inform the court of a decision within two working days.
Court orders re-evaluation of awarding of Nolhivaram plots
A court in Haa Dhaalu Nolhivaram on Wednesday ordered the reevaluation of 75 plots of land awarded to the island’s residents in early October.
Mohamed Mausoom, chief judge of the atoll, issued the ruling after residents filed lawsuits accusing the island council of unfairly dismissing their applications and awarding the plots in violation of regulations.
Three residents filed lawsuits against the land plot allocations, with two men claiming that they did not receive points for numbers of years of marriage despite submitting the required paperwork. A third case was filed claiming a woman was awarded a plot of land against regulations.
Land, a scarce resource in the Maldives, is a divisive issue in many small island communities. Plots have not been handed out in Nolhivaram for eight years. The island is the second most populous in the northern Haa Dhaalu atoll with 1,830 residents, according to the 2014 census.
Aasandha launches ‘open procurement’ policy
The state-owned Aasandha health insurance company on Thursday launched an open procurement policy after consultations with the local chapter of Transparency International.
All information related to tendering processes exceeding MVR25,000 (US$) will be posted on the company’s website with effect on October 31, Aasandha announced. The company plans to post all information on all procurements, including smaller tenders, in the future.
The policy aims for transparent procurement under the government’s ‘Zero Tolerance to Corruption’ policy. The majority of cases filed with the Anti-Corruption Commission during the third quarter involvement alleged graft or wrongdoing in procurement.
Top officials from the company previously alleged that it spent over MVR 9.5 million on a jogging track and the former first lady Fathimath Ibrahim’s charity foundation.