The government has withdrawn the bill on decentralised administration after parliament reached an impasse on the controversial model of provinces in the proposed legislation.
At today’s sitting of parliament, Speaker Abdullah Shahid said the president’s office sent a letter informing him of the decision.
“Since it has become difficult to continue Majlis sittings due to disagreements among MPs on the bill on decentralised administration and as the public and political parties have requested that it be withdrawn, the president’s office said the bill was withdrawn to be submitted again in the first Majlis session of 2010 after making amendments following consultations with the public and political parties,” he said.
Four sittings have been cancelled over the past three days after the opposition-dominated committee selected to review the legislation presented its report with an amendment to scrap provinces.
The third and final reading of the bill where MPs propose and vote on amendments could not be continued after heated rows, points of order and unsuccessful negotiations forced the speaker to call off sittings.
Over 700 amendments were tabled, the majority from MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to reverse the changes made by the committee.
While MDP MPs argued the opposition was infringing on the government’s prerogative of implementing its agenda, MPs of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) maintained that dividing the 21 administrative areas to seven provinces was unconstitutional.
Under the government’s bill, they argued, an atoll council would be elected from a province that includes three or four atolls, leading to unequal representation.
Islanders from the less populous atolls would have to travel to the province capital for essential services, they said.
Moreover, the legislation would give provincial state ministers undue authority and influence over elected councils, including the power to dissolve the bodies.
Chapter eight of the constitution stipulates that “the administrative divisions of the Maldives shall be administered decentrally”, while giving the president powers “as provided in law, to create constituencies, posts, island councils, atoll councils and city councils”.
Article 230(c) states “the jurisdiction and characteristics of constituencies, posts and councils created to provide for decentralised administration shall be specified in law”.
Economies of scale
Speaking at the inauguration of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Male’ Area last night, President Mohamed Nasheed defended the government’s decentralisation policy.
Concentration of power and development in Male’ has led to congestion and neglect of the atolls, said Nasheed, adding devolving decision-making powers were necessary for the equitable distribution of wealth and prosperity.
But, he added, it was the government’s responsibility to pursue decentralisation in a manner agreed upon by all parties.
While he respected the DRP’s main proposal, the government believed electoral constituencies should be grouped together for administrative purposes.
The president said 54 per cent of the people endorsed the MDP manifesto and its policy of dividing the country into seven regions or provinces.
“It was impossible for a single island or atoll to develop in the manner in which a province could develop exploiting 40 per cent of its income and natural resources,” he said. “Decentralised governance through regionalisation will not be a win for any specific political party. In reality it will be a victory for the Maldives.”
Economies of scale would only be possible through the creation of provinces, he argued, and the government’s legislation proposed granting authority of 40 per cent of a province’s income to the councils.
Economies of scale refer to the benefits of large scale operations when more units of a good or service can be produced while decreasing the average cost of production.
When parliament resumed at 2.30pm yesterday, MDP MPs as well as the Republican Party and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MPs urged the government to withdraw the legislation.
Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim, the sole representative of the Republican Party, said the bill should be withdrawn in the interests of social harmony and allowing parliament to proceed with other legislation.
Supporters of the two main parties gathered outside parliament to protest yesterday, leading to the arrest of activists from both sides. However, all who were taken into custody have since been released.
Gasim urged the president to exercise article 115(p) of the constitution and hold a public referendum on the issue of provinces.
The article authorises the president to hold referendums “on issues of national importance”.
Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed of the DQP reiterated the MDP criticism of the committee, invoking parliamentary rules of procedure that state committees could not make amendments that conflict with or negate the purpose of a bill.
“Therefore, considering the public interest and the rivalry of the two political parties, I would say the best thing would be for the government to take this bill back,” he said.
MDP parliamentary group leader “Reeko” Moosa Manik said the amended bill presented by the committee did not resemble the one proposed by the government at all.
Moosa called upon the government to withdraw the bill as it would not be able to pursue its policies or deliver on its promises with the committee’s version of the legislation.
At today’s sitting DRP MPs blamed the government and the MDP parliamentary group for the failure to pass the decentralisation bill as the constitutional deadline for local elections had elapsed in July.