President ratifies Decentralisation Act

President Mohamed Nasheed has today ratified the landmark bill on decentralised administration but vetoed the complementary bill on local council elections.

Addressing press today, Nasheed said Attorney General (AG) Husnu Suood advised the president’s office that although the decentralisation bill would not hamper the implementation of government policies, some provisions were “legally questionable.”

“If the bill becomes law, both the attorney general and this office has noted that there could be legal problems in enforcing it without amendments,” he said.

As the constitutional deadline for local council elections elapsed in July last year, he added, a further delay was not advisable.

Although the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) removed the concept of provinces from the government’s bill, Nasheed said the Act does not prohibit the creation of province as it stipulates that new legislation would be needed to form “province councils.”

Opposition MPs argued that grouping atolls into seven provinces was unconstitutional as 21 administrative areas or atolls were clearly specified in the constitution.

Nasheed stressed that it was important to distinguish between political decentralisation, or the formation of local councils, and administrative decentralisation.

The constitution empowers the president to create posts and offices in the atolls to provide services of various government ministries located in Male’, he explained.

“For example, the ministry of economic development registers companies,” he said. “In the past, to register a company you had to come to Male’, fill out the form and get the seal.”

Apart from providing services directly to the region, he continued, the province offices would work together with island and atoll councils on speeding up development projects.

13 points

A statement highlighting 13 legal points raised by Attorney General Husnu Suood regarding the decentralisation bill was issued by the president’s office today.

Suood noted that the bill does not preclude either the creation of provinces or collaboration among constituencies or administrative areas.

Moreover, the law does not prohibit either a government ministry or an independent institution from targeting services to two atolls or undertaking development projects for one or more atolls.

Thirdly, as the bill distinguishes between the central island and the capital island of an atoll, the powers and administrative framework of former atoll offices would be transferred to the atoll council.

It will therefore be left to residents of an atoll to to designate an island for the administrative office of the atoll council.

The AG notes that the composition of city councils specified in the bill was unfair as the city council of Male’, with a population of 125,000, will have 11 members, while the atoll council of Addu, with a population of 29,000, will have 12 members.

Further, the bill does not prohibit island councils from entering into agreements with the government’s utility companies, created for the seven provinces, to provide electricity, water and sanitation.

As the guidelines specified in the bill for island councils and atoll councils to offer municipal services differed significantly, “it is important to streamline the guidelines for providing these services.”

In the case of Fuahmulah, the only island in the Maldives that is also an atoll, the AG points out that its eight island councils with three members each, in addition to a six-member atoll council, was proportionately a high number of representatives compared to other atolls.

While the 9,000 people of Fuahmulah would have 30 elected representatives, the 125,000 people of Male’ would have 11 representatives on its city council.

Moreover, a government minister has to be on the board of the local government authority and is required to answer to parliament, but might not be elected as the chair of the board.

If the minister is not elected to the chair, Suood notes, it is doubtful whether he or she could report to parliament as mandated by article 140 of the constitution.

The AG recommends amending the law to require the chair of the board to report to a minister designated by the president.

Meanwhile, a provision that would allow councils to plan and organize services provided by government ministries was “unconstitutional” as it would strip the ministry of its authority and ministers could not answer to either parliament or the president.

Granting powers to local councils to invalidate contracts and agreements made in the constituency after the ratification of the new constitution “did not make legal sense” and was “unfair” as it could leave third parties without any avenues for redress.

On the twelfth point, the AG recommends designating council members apart from the president and vice-president “non-executive” members with lower pay.

As there was going to be around 1,200 council members in the country, between Rf400 million to Rf500 million would be needed annually for salaries and allowances.

Since the Decentralisation Act stipulates that elections must take place within 150 days of ratification, Suood notes that the local council elections bill must be ratified before June 15.

Local council elections bill

Although the president vetoed the bill on local council elections today, he conceded that he would sign it into law If parliament passes it again without an amendment to allow remote voting.

Fuad Thaufeeq, president of the Elections Commission (EC), told Minivan News earlier this month that the two bills had to be ratified within 28 days of each other to comply with the periods specified in both pieces of legislation.

At the press conference, President Nasheed denied claims by opposition parties that the government was stalling the elections to prolong the tenure of appointed island and atoll councilors.

Nasheed said the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) proposed at the Special Majlis that the parliamentary and local council elections should have preceded the presidential elections.

The number of island chiefs and deputies appointed in the past was above 800, he said, while the number of councilors would not exceed one to each island.


3 thoughts on “President ratifies Decentralisation Act”

  1. This is all giving me a headache.

    So, all these "unfair" points which Suood (our Attorney General) brought up - Are they going to be addressed? Is Fuvahmulah going to have 30 elected officials to Male's 22?

    Is the Majlis members going to rectify this discrepancy or let it come into existence as a ridiculous bureaucratic waste? What happens to actually streamlining the government and making things easier to happen? Making our budget more manageable? These two bills appear to be a complete travesty.

    And you know what I really wanted to hear about? Whether people who live in a constituency will be able to vote for their elected official even if they were not born there?

    I agree with the President, remote voting is complete nonsense. However, if someone is living in an Island or in Male' then they are directly affected by what comes under the City/Island councils! Roads, Water, Sanitation - The Residents of an area have EVERY right to vote for who represents them. This is not like our Majlis Election. It is Not like our Presidential Election. This is about municipalities, businesses, and homes.

    Are we depriving people of their democratic right to affect their places of living?

  2. I concur with Salim. These twin pieces of legislation appear to be a disaster in the making.

    Lack of popular awareness about issues of administration will however limit the success of politicking about discrepancies and shortcomings.

    The best possible outcome would be to reach a compromise across party lines. Bipartisan support should have been aggressively sought for these bills if it had actually not been.

    Would it have delayed the pace of development if the Nasheed administration had waited before investing too much in the de facto decentralization of government through the formation of provinces and assorted utilities companies? While the number of provinces seems largely symbolic, there might actually be political benefits in the groupings made. Would it have been worthwhile to negotiate with the other major party to decide on the number of provinces. This might have created a more permanent framework for local governance rather than the reactionary and adversarial legislation that the parliament has spat at the MDP administration's collective faces.

    There are very real concerns as to the appointments of board members at utilities companies, hiring of MDs and employment practices in general and the overall politicization of such institutions. Parliamentary oversight might have been useful in these areas as utilities are the lifeline of island communities and thereby providers can exert an undue amount of influence on populations which they serve.

  3. Why do we have all these ristrictions to move your place of residence anyway. If you have physically moved your residence to a new island why can't he register in the voting register of the new island. This is how it is done in other countries.

    In maldives only do we have this farcical nortion of permament address. This notion is used heavily and brutally to discriminate against islanders. The government do not have enough money to develope all the islands and then it restricts rights and opportunities of other islanders in the one place where all government money is spent. Atolls people need to start demonstrations to bring down this tradition of discrimination against people of atolls.


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