The government has hit out at opposition parliamentarians it alleges have actively sought to sabotage its attempts to reduce the state budget by voting for amendments that will double the number of city councillors currently serving in the country.
The criticisms were made after amendments to the country’s Decentralisation Act were passed yesterday in the Majlis, doubling the number of people elected to each city council. The amendments have served to create eleven additional seats on Male’ City Council, which will increase to 22 representatives, while Addu City Council will have 12 elected councillors as a result.
Opposition politicians claim that the amendments have been made to try and bring more equity to the representation of city council members when compared to their island and atoll counterparts also appointed during the country’s first local council elections in February.
According to Haveeru, the amendments forwarded by South Hithadhoo MP Hassan Latheef were passed by 36 votes in favour, while 33 votes went against the bill – reportedly mainly from Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members loyal to the government.
Back in February’s local council elections, where one councillor was appointed to each city constituency, results showed that the MDP had taken the majority of city seats despite losing out on an overall seat majority to the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) who claimed significantly more island and atoll councils.
Considering this vote, Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News today that aside from capitalising on the availability of the additional city council seats in the country, he believed opposition parties favoured the bill in order to sabotage cost cutting measures.
“From the outset [of the decentralisation process], the government has been of the position that the total number of councillors should be kept down as much as possible,” he said. “We at the beginning suggested that the total number of councillors should be no more than 220, yet opposition parties like the DRP wanted more.”
According to Zuhair, as part of its pledge to limit numbers, the government established seven national offices in an attempt to coordinate national developments within a decentralised Maldives and support the efforts of those elected to oversee projects in their constituencies.
Although Zuhair did not object to the councillors themselves, he claimed continued increases in their numbers represented a significant budgetary issue, particularly after parliament had agreed upon the final number of representatives before February’s elections.
“The government is actively working to reduce civil service wages as it is being constantly asked by groups such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We have offered to pay people to leave their jobs, yet all this is being undone,” Zuhair claimed. “The DRP hopes to capitilise on the formation of eleven more seats from city councils, where it is not really represented [after losing the city seats in the local council election].”
DRP Spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef rejected Zuhair’s allegations, claiming opposition support for the amendments to the number of city councillors was to make “a fairer and more equitable system” in comparison to the number of elected members on island councils. Shareef added that the vote did not necessarily represent an attempt to set back budgetary reform.
“The addition of these councilors will not be a strain on the [state] budget. The president has himself clearly stated that he has no intention to reduce the civil service bill, rather he will try to generate income through taxes,” he said. “The possible expansion of the state budget is a concern. But we do not believe the government has sufficient plans to reduce it.”