The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has told a Parliament Petition Committee hearing that the agreement, which allows First Lady Sajida Mohamed to provide consultancy to the Ministry of Health, is neither special nor unprecedented.

First Lady Mohamed currently holds the position of Senior Scientific Officer at the Maldives Food and Drug Authority (MFDA). Prior to taking her role as First Lady, she took a four-year unpaid leave from her position. Subsequently, the Ministry of Health informed the CSC that her technical assistance was required and requested that her consultancy be made available on a contract basis.

The CSC subsequently decided to enter into a contract with the First Lady, under which she would receive an allowance of MVR 75 per hour for a total of 40 hours a month.

As First Lady, Mohamed also receives compensation equal to one-third of the President’s salary which led to the CSC being brought before the Independent Institutions Committee of the Parliament.

Mohamed Nasih, President of the CSC, told the committee that he had initially requested First Lady Mohamed be given concessions allowing her to fulfill both roles while in permanent employment; however, the rules do not allow for such arrangements. The only other option was to impose a suspension of pay for her position within the health sector and allow her to serve on a contract basis, he said.

Nasih said the First Lady initially decided to serve on a contract basis without taking any pay; however, since the contract was signed on 7 December, it falls on the commission to arrange remuneration for work undertaken. Under the contract, the First Lady is required to provide technical advice and staff training, and assist in policy formulation.

The CSC president said this case was not without precedent and nor was it a special arrangement for the First Lady because employees of other agencies have also been given similar opportunities. Employees with permanent positions have been offered contractual work on government projects, he said.

“There are five Ministry of Finance employees, since 2018, who have been given this opportunity. There are two employees in the Ministry of Environment. The period may vary but they have been given this opportunity. There are three employees in the Ministry of Housing,” Nasih said.

Several members of the Independent Institutions Committee strongly suggested there was a conflict of interest in giving the First Lady the opportunity and asked the CSC for its views on the matter.

Meekail Ahmed Naseem, Member of Parliament (MP) for South Galolhu, said a First Lady working within the civil service would report to the Minister of Health, who is appointed by the First Lady’s husband, the President, which illustrated the extent of the conflict of interest in this case.

“The staff could possibly equate the first lady to be the Minister of Health. There is a power imbalance. So the case-by-case approach by the commission should take decisions based on ethical considerations,” he said.

Addressing the remark, Nasih illustrated that according to global best practices, the First Lady of the United States continues teaching children and it is not prohibited by law in the country. He said that, similarly, there were no restrictions in Maldivian law and that the commission would always follow the law.

“I know if the legislature wants to introduce restrictions in the future, it could do so. But right now there is no legal obstacle,” Nasih explained.

Nasih said conflicts of interest are matters that those in responsible positions should themselves pay attention to as well and not everything can be written into law.

Concluding Tuesday’s hearing, the committee chair and MP for Addu Meedhoo, Rozina Adam, said that since the matter was of considerable public concern, the committee would review the issue and decide on any changes to the law.