The long delayed bill on decentralised administration was passed today after MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) walked out in protest, withdrawing the party’s amendments to the draft legislation.
The party proposed over a hundred amendments to reverse the changes made to the bill by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) dominated committee and restore the model of provinces.
But, more than an hour into the process of voting on amendments, “Reeko” Moosa Manik, MDP parliamentary group leader, announced that the party was withdrawing its proposals as it was clear that “the spirit of the Majlis was against the MDP, even if it’s an amendment we proposed to correct a grammatical error”.
He added MDP MPs did not wish to “heat up” the sitting by remaining in the chamber.
The mass exit was greeted with ironic applause and jeers from the DRP MPs.
The seminal piece of legislation was passed shortly before 6pm with 42 votes in favour and one against after the sitting was extended until the amended bill could be put for a vote.
Ahmed Rasheed, MDP MP for Hoarafushi, stayed behind to cast the sole dissenting vote.
A total of 68 amendments, the majority of which were proposed by the DRP, was passed today.
Speaking to Minivan News, Mohamed Aslam, MP for Hithadhoo North, expressed concern that the amendments proposed by the DRP would divest the councils of its powers and rule out any collaboration between atolls or constituencies.
Some of the amendments proposed by DRP would defeat the purpose of devolving decision-making powers and hinder development, he said.
In its current form, the bill would “isolate single atolls” as they were not legally empowered to participate in joint development projects with other atolls.
“For example, if Fuvahmulah wants to build an airport, it can’t lease an island from Huvadhoo Atoll to foreign investors,” he said.
Although the parliamentary group has not officially decided to recommend that the president veto the bill, Aslam said he personally did not believe the bill should be ratified.
“I don’t think any MDP MP would want this bill to be ratified,” he said.
A majority of 39 votes would be needed to override a presidential veto.
Mohamed Zuhair, president’s office press secretary, said the president would make a decision after “serious consideration” of the social and economic consequences of the law as well as potential legal problems.
“The president will seek the opinion of the attorney general and the legal office before making a decision,” he said.
Chairperson of the MDP, Mariya Ahmed Didi, accused the DRP of ”total disregard to the democratic state we want to develop.”
“We parliamentarians did warn the public that DRP is still a dictatorial group,” she said. ”Their behaviour in the Majlis proves the point. We are approaching the deadline in the constitution to have local government in place and to have local elections. I do not think we have time to veto and go through the whole process.”
It would be difficult to ensure development of the atolls with the bill as it is, she added.
”I hope people remember that MDP had nothing to do with the bill when in campaign the DRP starts screaming of the islands not being the developed state as envisaged by MDP. The basis of our election promise was that the Maldives would be developed as seven provinces. They have by this bill destroyed the fundamental basis on which those promises were made.”
At yesterday’s sitting, a resolution proposed by DRP Vice-President and MP for Thohdhoo, Ali Waheed, was adopted to postpone the upcoming recess until the two bills necessary for local government elections could be passed.
The resolution was sent to the general affairs committee with the support of 62 MPs out of the 69 in attendance.
Under the new rules of procedure, parliament is due to break for recess on 30 April.
Concluding today’s sitting, Speaker Abdullah Shahid said a decision over the resolution would be made at tomorrow’s sitting.
The intractable dispute between the two main parties over the issue of provincial councils led to recurrent deadlock and protests outside parliament last year, culminating in the president withdrawing the bill at the eleventh hour.
In his weekly radio address on Friday, President Mohamed Nasheed said he would accept parliament’s decision on the bill and would not “react harshly” to the outcome.
The amendments made to the government’s bill by the committee would “create 20 small governments”.
While the MDP manifesto proposed dividing the country into seven provinces for decentralised administration, the DRP insists the existing division into 21 administrative areas should be maintained.
During the protracted debate, opposition MPs argued the creation of seven province councils instead of 21 atoll councils would result in disproportionate representation, marginalising the smaller, less populous atolls.
“I am completely prepared to do this in the way the People’s Majlis decides,” said the president. “All will be well when members of parliament think about this, find a way to facilitate development of this country and proceed accordingly. The government’s thinking of decentralisation with seven provinces is for economic purposes. There is no political purpose behind it…In my mind, there is no political rivalry in this matter. We are going ahead with this to pave the way for the country’s development, not to achieve a political purpose.”