By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
In a report on the economic situation in Maldives, the World Bank report said that “a less destructive political climate” will be needed to maintain positive development.
It is interesting to see how two young democracies in the sub continent are faring. While in Bhutan, the opposition though small in number is active enough to save and sustain the democracy, in Maldives, the opposition with its brute majority is out to destroy the constitution from within.
How else does one explain the vindictive action of the opposition in rejecting the nomination of half the cabinet members, bringing governance almost to a stand still? President Nasheed rightly remarked that they have the last dictatorship as the opposition and yet he was good enough to say that “he did not want to destroy them through legal action,” but to bring them around through a democratic process.
In the earlier paper 4197 of 28th November, I had mentioned about the constitutional crisis that had arisen over the continuance of seven of the cabinet ministers whose nomination by the President had been rejected by the opposition. The contention of the government as well as that of the opposition was discussed in detail then.
In the Supreme Court, the government in addition made three points.. 1. Maldives had a unique constitutional process. 2. If Article 129 is to be strictly interpreted, it would mean that any appointed person can be removed by a simple majority and that would result in serious instability. 3. Detailed procedure given in the Constitution for a no confidence motion by the Majlis should have been followed in removing a miniser.
The Supreme Court did not accept the plea of the government and went strictly by the wording in Article 129 c and d of the Constitution. The full bench of the Supreme Court that included the Chief Justice ruled that the seven rejected ministerial appointees cannot remain in their posts and that they can continue in the post on a temporary basis until the President appoints new nominees to avoid a constitutional void.
Those rejected included ministers who were holding important portfolios like Home, Defence, Finance and Foreign Affairs. Eager to set up a tradition, the ministers promptly resigned the next day and fresh appointments are being made.
It is a pity, that the best brains had to quit because of the vindictive attitude of the opposition. All of them were competent. No major reason was given for the rejection. It was sad to see the Foreign Minister quitting the post. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed had worked very hard to bring Maldives to the World Map and its views were heard with all seriousness in UN bodies on climate change and human rights.
President Nasheed could have re nominated the same ministers once again and he can do as many times as he wanted as the constitution does not prevent him from doing so. Yet he chose to accept the verdict with all humility in his weekly address and said that it was a great achievement for the democratic process of the country.
Later he added that it makes the “interpretation of the Constitution much more clear” and would therefore assist governance.
The whole issue could have been avoided if the President had not acted in a huff to let the entire cabinet resign to protest against the “throttling” tactics of the opposition when it was known that the nomination of ministers will again have to be confirmed by the same opposition,
In the hard talk of the BBC during his visit to London, President Nasheed made some important points.
On the problems he faced, he said that being a young democracy, Maldives faces challenges in consolidating democracy and pointed out that his is the only 100 percent Muslim multi party democracy in the world.
When asked as to why he was being soft towards his predecessor, he said that he does not want to follow the culture of ruthlessness followed against former presidents and on the question of not bringing former president Gayoom to court, he remarked that ‘democracy will dispense justice better than a court room drama’.
He conceded that he has a huge problem with a bloated democracy handed over to him by his predecessor and remarked that in the absented of political parties, all a dictator can do it to build a huge civil service. (The IMF had delayed the transfer of third tranche of funds for not reducing the strength of the civil service personnel. President Nasheed rightly pointed out that the administration would “snap” if any drastic reduction is made.).
In the first week of December, the Finance Ministry unveiled the state budget for 2011 that indicated a target of reducing the deficit to 15.3 percent of GDP in the coming year from 26.25 percent of 2009. The fiscal outlook presented along with the budget said that the main objective of the government is to bring expenditure in line with revenue and maintain the deficit within a sustainable range.
The main problem and a sensitive one too is – how to reduce the expenditure on public servants that takes away 49 percent of the budget. The IMF warned as early as June that as a result of the failure to enforce pay cuts and injection of an additional US 62.2 million in spending by parliament, the annual deficit targets for 2010 and 2011 are going to be missed. This is to be seen in the context of the global financial crisis of 2009 and a reduction in tourist arrivals that reduced the government income by 23 percent.
The civil service is not going to oblige by accepting voluntary cuts and the hostile opposition is in no mood to oblige either!
It is doubtful whether the government could at any time in the near future reduce the deficit to a sustainable level and certainly not even to 15 percent by 2013 as projected in its fiscal policy statement.