Cash handouts to single mothers from President Abdulla Yameen and First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim has sparked concerns of corruption and a return to the patronage systems of old.
Single mothers who have children under the age of 18 are eligible to collect MVR1000 (US$65) per child. Since Thursday, the first couple have now disbursed MVR790,000 (US$51,232) for some 790 children.
There are some 3000 single parents registered with the state. They receive MVR1000 per child under 18 years of age, up to a maximum of MVR3,000 (US$195) per family. More than 5,000 children benefit from the allowance, which means the first couple will distribute more than MVR5million (US$324,254) to single parents.
According to Fathimath Zaina, an aide at the First Lady’s Office, the charity handouts is aimed at “helping single mothers with the costs of the upcoming academic year.”
Zaina declined to comment on whether the funds are disbursed from the president’s salary, but said the funds did not come from the state budget. “This is a gesture of kindness,” she said.
The cash handouts can be collected from the state-house Muleeaage. Single parents in the atolls can receive the handouts by having an authorized person present their children’s national ID cards.
The news prompted outrage on social media with several Maldivians saying the move amounted to making single parents “beg” the first couple.
It's indeed sad to see again single mothers with their small kids queued up near Muleeaage to "receive funds" from President & First Lady –
— ｷ尺乇乇 ㄎԾЦﾚ (@MunnimSaeed) December 8, 2015
First Couple opened a charity ,for a single mothers . Wow what a clever way to make citizens Beg. https://t.co/ebgK8REXl0
— June (@junerasheed) December 2, 2015
handouts from the first couple, to empower 'single mothers'. way to go maldives … :/ https://t.co/C6HXqw5i8Y
— fasy (@fasyibrahim) December 2, 2015
Ibrahim Muaz, the president’s spokesman, told local media that the money came from “well-wishers,” and said he was deeply saddened by comments that obstruct the first couple’s social work.
Imthiyaz Fahmy, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s spokesman, labeled the move a public relations campaign.
“The only purpose of this program is to improve the president’s public image. It is a feature of autocratic governments to appear to be good while neglecting the basic needs of the people. Grants like this with no transparency makes them vulnerable to corruption,” he said.
The president of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Hassan Luthfy, however dismissed allegations of corruption saying: “It is separate from the state budget, individual aid from the president and first lady, so we have no concern regarding the case. The funds, as president’s office stated, were given by well-wishers.”
Since there are no laws on asset declaration, it is not possible to find out the source of the funds, he said.
The Maldives Constitution requires the president, cabinet Ministers, parliamentarians and judges to submit their financial and business interests annually, but there is no law that prescribes measures against anyone who fails to do so.
Even when assets are declared the information is not made to the public.
Thoriq Hamid of anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives stressed the importance of asset declaration to clear doubts over corruption.
“Even if it is aid given by the president and first lady’s own funds, transparency and accountability must be maintained through asset declaration. This would allow the public and media to scrutinize and see where the money comes from.”
While the handouts to single mothers may not be a clear case of corruption, the process is far from ideal, Thoriq said.
“Maldives has a history of clientelism and patronage and such aid out of the state budget and the social welfare system further enforces this practice,” he added.
In June, the first couple distributed food to the diabled in capital Malé and visited the chronically ill at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital. At the time, an eyewitness said he had seen the first lady handing out envelops with money to patients, but the first lady’s office dismissed the allegation.