Another contentious parliament sitting on Wednesday has left angry opposition lawmakers and public alike stunned and understandably outraged. This time, the government, for the first time in Maldives' history pushed through a landmark free trade agreement with China.
Maldives and China entered into free trade talks in 2014 and had held multiple rounds of discussions. But for the government controlled parliament to give the green light for the government to sign the agreement took under half hour.
Speaker Abdulla Maseeh had called in an emergency parliament session to accept the agreement before immediately sending it for the national security committee for review. The committee also with government majority had signed off on the agreement in less than 10 minutes sparking opposition outrage and concern saying that lawmakers "had not even seen the actual agreement."
Thirty lawmakers present during the late Wednesday sitting voted in favour of signing the agreement, with most government MPs echoing the benefits of the pact to the archipelago with of course no opposition lawmaker present.
"A 1000 page Agreement on Free Trade between China & Maldives rushed through Parliament today. First sitting lasted 5 mins. Committee reviewed Agreement in under 10 mins. Took 10 mins to vote at the Final sitting. MPs not shown document. No debate. Serious questions on legitimacy!" senior opposition lawmaker and former Speaker Abdulla Shahid lamented on Twitter.
"Parliamentary Committee vetting the Free Trade Agreement with China took less than 10 minutes to approve it. MPs were not given a chance to review or even see the actual Agreement," North-Galolhu MP Eva Abdulla also bemoaned.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) lawmakers are right. The break neck speed in which the parliament signed off in the agreement has truly raised serious questions on its legitimacy. Opposition has every right to question the true motives of the government alleging that the agreement would "enslave" the Maldives and its already fragile economy would be at the mercy of China.
Government had however, assured that the agreement would favour the Maldives and would provide a huge boost to the Maldives highlighting the fisheries sector as the primary beneficiary.
"The door has been opened to export our fish products to the largest consumer market in the world on zero percent [duty]," economic minister Mohamed Saeed told reporters after the cabinet gave the go ahead to sign the agreement earlier Wednesday.
"The door has been opened to export our fish products to the largest consumer market in the world on zero percent [duty]," Saeed enthused.
The minister insisted that the agreement has been designed to favour the Maldives more than China.
"... this could very well be the first time in history that such a large market has agree to deal with a small country and that too to largely favour and benefit us," he had added.
The agreement would undoubtedly open Maldives to the largest consumer market in the world. But the rushed nature in which something of such significance was pushed through suggests a sinister motive or at the very least accentuates a glaring fact.
The government is definitely hiding something. Or is attempting to. Otherwise just "development at Google speed" cited by government lawmakers would not be its only defence. There is no fathomable reason why the government could not have adopted a more transparent course of action especially if the agreement truly benefits the country. Because even the harshest critic would give the government credit for never failing to pass up an opportunity to glorify its every achievement or to put down and belittle its predecessors by rubbing its every triumph in their faces.
The lack of an over the top 'ceremony' or the government not deploying its loyal 'foot soldiers' to talk up the FTA on state television, are the blaring warnings that the country and its people has every right to be concerned.