DRP, MDP oppose amendments to “take power” from local councils

The government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has said it would not support any measures that “take power” from local councils after parliament today voted to reject amending the Decentralisation Act.

DRP Deputy Leader Dr Abdulla Mausoom said that while the party might consider some “balancing measures” to enforce controls on councils to combat political bias, it would not favour efforts to curb their powers.

The claims were made as parliament today rejected an amendment to the Decentralisation Act that proposed a number of changes, including dissolving councils which rejected the legitimacy of any serving government.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said the vote reflected increasing support even among government-aligned parties for decentralised governance, despite what it alleges are continuous “politically motivated” attempts to undermine local councils.

Government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed had proposed the decentralisation amendments, which were rejected by 30 MPs today in parliament. According to local media, 13 MPs were in support of the proposed amendments.

Local news service Sun Online reported that the proposals contained nine amendments to the act, that would also grant the government stronger control over municipal councils including their right to lease land and lagoons.

MP Rasheed was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Council powers

Dr Mausoom said the DRP did not support the proposed amendments, believing that local councils at island and municipal level needed to be empowered and improved, rather than weakened.

“The DRP will not support taking away their powers,” he said.

Addressing the challenges facing decentralised governance across the Maldives, Dr Mausoom claimed that the distribution by councils of already limited resources to their constituents was in certain cases being impacted by political bias.

He contended that some councils had been reported to provide services and resource along party lines, possibly requiring in future some form of measures to ensure all members of the public were being treated equally.

Dr Mausoom denied DRP dominated councils may be favouring their own members however, while praising the overall majority of councillors for how they were conducting their duties.

“Some MDP and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) councils are dong very well, but others are biased in their work,” he added.

A few months after the formation of local councils back in 2011, former opposition and state figures expressed concern to Minivan News that general inexperience among local councillors and obstruction by the government of former President Nasheed had led to some significant teething problems for the decentralisation process.

“Ridiculous” amendments

MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today claimed that while a number of MPs aligned to the present government had continued to try and reverse decentralisation, the DRP was more openly supporting councils against “ridiculous” amendments such as those proposed by MP Riyaz Rasheed.

Hamid alleged that the DRP had in the past “not believed” in decentralisation that was introduced following inaugural local council elections in 2011.

However, he claimed there had been an apparent change in policy since a split within the DRP that saw a number of members including its founder and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom break away and form the PPM, which now holds the minority leadership within parliament.

Speaking following today’s parliamentary vote, Hamid said that despite the amendments being rejected, other government-aligned parties were constantly working on legislation that would reverse decentralisation introduced following inaugural local council elections in February 2011.

“They are trying to reverse what we have gained,” he claimed. “[When decentralisation was passed] we got about 60 percent of what we wanted for these councils. The DRP had a huge majority back then and made life very difficult for us. They were able to overturn our plans for financial decentralisation.”

Hamid said he believed the present DRP members, which include former senior members of former President Gayoom’s autocratic government, had shown there was support for retaining local councils.

However, he accused government-aligned parties of backing a “constant number” of amendments to the Decentralisation Act that directly target opposition-led bodies such as Male’ City Council (MCC).

‘Usfasgandu’ issue

The MCC has notably been locked in legal wrangling with the Housing Ministry over the last 12 months concerning its ability to lease an area of land known as “Usfasgandu” to the MDP for use as a staging ground for protests and other activities.

Usfasgandu was handed back to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) by Male’ City Council earlier this week.

The area was cordoned off by police in January after the High Court issued a warrant requesting the area be kept under police custody until it reached a verdict on the case.

Male’ City Council leased the Usfasgandu area to the ousted ruling party in March 2012, prompting repeated attempts by the government to reclaim the area on the grounds it was being used for criminal activity, including the practice of black magic.

The MDP had moved to the area after a previous protest camp at the tsunami monument was dismantled and completely repainted by police and military on March 19, 2012.