The council of the island of Kun’burudhoo in Alif Dhaal Atoll is struggling to meet its mandate of bringing development to its population of just over 500 people, a problem they say is increased due to insufficient annual budget.
The Council President Mohamed Azmy, who was voted in as an independent candidate, echoed the concerns of atoll councils and the Local Government Authority(LGA) that the biggest challenge faced by the council was the lack of adequate funding.
“Last year’s budget covered nothing more than salaries and some stationery for the office. And this year, we have received an even lower budget,” Azmy said. “To add to this, the Decentralisation Act overlaps with other stronger laws and this in the end inhibits us from fundraising through other means.”
Azmy said the Ministry of Finance had notified island councils in late 2012 that any earnings of the councils are to be considered part of the state budget and must be deposited with the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA).
Council Member Ahmed Ashraf, from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), added that the past year’s budget had proved insufficient to maintain the office’s phone and fax lines, or to establish a work space for any of the council members besides the President.
“This is our work space,” Ashraf said, gesturing at a ‘joali’, a set of reclining seats, placed outside the office. “It’s impossible to work productively in conditions such as these. There is so much we are mandated to do for our island, but how will we achieve it unless the state can provide us with resources or at least the autonomy to raise funds ourselves?”
The councillors stated that despite a period of almost three years having passed since the local council elections, the LGA had still not transferred the government-owned lands, which can be used to generate income, to the jurisdiction of the council, citing administrative delays as a cause.
Relocation: President suggests Hulhumale’
President Mohamed Waheed Hassan pledged to address the major concerns of the council during a meeting held January 9.
Speaking of the small size of the island, and the ensuing lack of natural resources and difficulty in providing basic services, Waheed suggested relocating of the island’s population.
Vice President of the Council Mohamed Adam stated that the people of Kun’burudhoo had some demands if they were to be relocated, and that they would only accept the idea on condition that they were moved to a more developed island with a better standard of living.
“We haven’t released any land to individuals in over 30 years. Now there are large families sharing homes here and living standards are decreasing day by day,” Adam said, also pointing out the less than adequate health and education facilities.
The council said Waheed spoke of possibly moving the island’s people to Hulhumale’ during the second phase of its development or to the island of Maafushi, another island close to the capital city of Male’.
President’s Office Spokesperson Ahmed Thaufeeq denied that any mention of specific islands had been made during the time.
“Relocating smaller populations to larger islands is part of this government’s plan. However, we have not yet identified specifically which island will be relocated where. Moving people to Hulhumale’ is definitely not in our plans yet. I have no knowledge of any such plans,” he said.
Adam said that the council was aware that Waheed, as he had promised in the meeting, had approached the Health Ministry asking them to deal with the issues at the island’s health centre.
“It’s a level two health centre. Normally, centres at this tier have approximately 15 staff. In our case, we only have one doctor, one nurse, one community health officer, one administrative staff and one labourer. It’s extremely difficult to cater to people’s needs,” Azmy said. “We hope the health ministry responds to this in a timely manner.”
“There’s also the matter of our mosque. We closed it down last August when we discovered human remains on the premises. Now the ladies’ mosque is open for general use, but this cannot remain a permanent solution. We did put this matter forward to Waheed too,” Azmy continued.
The final issue the council took to the President was the matter of erosion and the damaged revetments of the recently constructed jetty.
The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) constructed the jetty in 2009 during Nasheed’s administration.
“This island has been facing the problem of erosion for years. When Nasheed came to power, he kept his pledge and constructed this jetty for us. Now, the jetty is showing signs of wear and tear. We are speaking with the government to find a way to deal with this before matters worsen, but there’s a confusion as to who has to take responsibility,” Azmy said.
Adam said according to the government, the MTCC had not officially handed over the jetty to the government to date.
“If we try to repair this ourselves, it might end up as us acting illegally. Unless this jetty is officially handed over, we ourselves can do nothing about it,” Adam said.
Thaufeeq said that the matter was currently being discussed with MTCC. He stated that the government was working to solve the issue as soon as possible.
“Of the four issues discussed at the meeting, the only action we’ve seen so far from the government is the letter sent to the Health Ministry. There’s been no news on anything else, but I hope what was said at the meeting does translate into action soon,” Adam said.
Waste dumped into sea
“Land erosion has always been a huge problem on this island. After the jetty was built, the erosion is now occurring on the eastern side of the island, opposite from where we had the problem before,” Ashraf said.
Besides soil erosion, the second biggest issue was pollution of the seas. The island does not have any waste management system.
“We leave waste management up to the households. There is a designated area where households burn their waste, but food items and other such waste often just get dumped into the sea,” Adam said.
“I understand that the environment is a very fragile thing. Nevertheless, I don’t see how we can ask the people to not dispose of their waste in the sea unless we can show them alternative means.”
Azmy said plans had been set in place to build a garbage site on the island during the previous administration, but that the council had heard no news about the project after the change in government.
Meanwhile, a number of large dustbins have been placed along the road adjacent to the jetty, bearing the logo of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.
“Conrad donated those dustbins. The people are only allowed to throw waste like tins, bottles and packets into it. We at the council arrange its disposal. It’s strictly not for household waste,” Ashraf explained.
“Waste management is a massive problem which our government needs to deal with. The Environment Ministry is drafting up a plan to deal with the issue. There are currently mechanisms being put in place to manage waste in Male’, and we will do the same for big and small islands across the country in time,” Thaufeeg said, in response to the matter.