Small islands reject administrative consolidation

Small island populations overwhelmingly rejected the government’s proposal for administrative consolidation and the creation of city councils at Saturday’s referendum amid a 30 percent turnout across the country.

Of 88,882 eligible voters, less than 27,000 participated in the referendum.

Provisional results show that 86 islands voted against the proposal for grouping smaller islands to form large population centres, while only 19, mostly larger islands, voted in favour.

Voting took place in 105 islands listed by the government for administrative consolidation and the creation of city councils ahead of the enactment of the landmark Decentralisation Act and upcoming council elections.

Following the evident lack of voter enthusiasm, the government has been severely criticised for inadequate efforts to raise awareness and inform voters of the benefits of the proposed administrative changes.

After a bitter year-long struggle between the government and opposition parties in parliament over the draft legislation for local governance, the Act was passed in a partisan vote in April after MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) walked out in protest.

The dispute centred round the government’s stated policy of grouping two or more atolls to form seven provinces, which the opposition argued was unconstitutional and could marginalise less populous atolls with disproportionate representation.

While the opposition insisted that the existing division of 20 administrative atolls and the capital Male’ must be maintained, the government argued that consolidation was necessary to achieve economies of scale or cost advantages in the long run.

Saturday’s referendum was necessitated by article 136 of the Decentralisation Act, which states that islands could be grouped to form constituencies if the respective populations make an appeal to the president.

Following discussions between the two main parties before listing administrative constituencies for the council elections as stipulated by the Act, the parties agreed that a public referendum would have to decide the disputed issue of consolidation.

After the plan for combining islands was announced, opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali criticised it as “senseless”, warning of “dire consequences for the people” should the proposed administrative changes fail.

The parliamentary majority leader also argued that “it would be highly irresponsible to spend taxpayer money” on the referendums in islands with traditional opposition to consolidation.

“Anyone who understands the politics of the different islands would understand that some of the groupings are just non-starters,” he said.

Meanwhile in his weekly radio address on Friday, President Mohamed Nasheed reiterated that developing a large number of small island units was not economically viable.

“Based on my education and experience, I see that a small unit could be developed to a particular extent, a particular limit,” he explained. “When that limit is reached for the small unit, there is very little that can be done.”

Referring to the islands Inguraidhoo, Kinolhas and Fainu in Raa atoll, separated by four nautical miles, Nasheed argued that the administrative consolidation would create a population centre of over 2,500 people.

“When the government as well as aid agencies and well wishers look to help, it is likely that more attention will be given to an island where 2,500 people live than an island with a very small number of people,” he said.

A larger budget could therefore be earmarked for the new constituency, he added, allowing for large scale operations to provide utility services, such as one powerhouse for three islands.

Of the 105 islands where voting took place, the proposal was endorsed by Alif Alif Mathiveri, Alif Dhaal Maamingili, Thaa Omadu, Baa Dharavandhu and Goidhu, Haa Alif atoll Baarah and Thakandhu, Haa Dhaal Finey, Noonu Kendhikulhudhoo, Raa Inguraidhoo and Rasgethymu, Shaviyani Fonadhoo and Milandhoo.

The Elections Commission (EC) is expected to announce the official results tonight.


6 thoughts on “Small islands reject administrative consolidation”

  1. Government severely lack the knowledge of the island man. They think the only reason why small island population exist is because of few superior leaders of the island. This is one reason but not the entire story.

    Small island populations benefit from many things. They have their own identity in addition the don't have the complications and social problems of huge island communities.

    What gov couldn't make the people understand was that they can still hold their island identity and at the same time be in the grouped administrative island council.

    Other thing was the representation. When island A has 800 population and other two has 200 population, it is obvious that island A is going to fill up the council. The law didn't guarantee that 1 of small island's members will be in the council.

    Next reason is commercializing MNBC. MNBC although a state run broadcasting company didn't had any interest in the subject matter. Due to government policy of not providing them with budget they had no interest in spending their prime time on issues like this. Even the day before elections the prime time of MNBC1 was covered by entertainment and advisement programs.

    TVM and VOM played a great role in introducing the pros and corn of party system and new constitution in 2007 and 2008. But today it's just a commercial TV station more on entertainment and advertisement, trying to pay up it's loans from finance ministry.

    The other simple issue is, people just don't know, if they need to register, vote or even if there was a vote that day.. people just didn't know..

  2. @Ali,
    How very sad...a very good idea proposed that could have benifitted the whole country if only the people were made more aware

  3. Now, one thing is for sure. The island communities will continue living their medieval life for the next hundred years or more...

    A chance lost...

  4. Everyone paid mere lip service to a concept without which the Maldives cannot develop in the future. Lack of sincerity may have been in order to keep communities credulous and vulnerable to the machinations of politicians.

    Consolidation and agglomeration are inevitable processes for our economy to grow. What our politicians have done is just delay a process that could have made everything a lot easier. Creating the necessary reasons for younger generations to make the move is what is important and the current government has not yet failed in this aspect. The hope is that within about 20 years or less, we might realize the economies of scale which will allow the development of cities and modern towns and such.

    We are not China and our sociopolitical system does not allow our government to play with our communities like pawns on a chessboard (although this might have its benefits).

    More awareness is key to easing the consolidation process along in the future.

    Also, in order to increase access to education, better levels of nutrition and general awareness, future governments might try to break down the barriers which prevent young generations in island populations from seeking lucrative job opportunities on island resorts.

  5. This means people dont know much about the imoortance of working in a group for development rather staying in small numbers in small island. A vote that shows people in this country have failed, its a win for both MDP & DRP

  6. We all know that small islanders or big islanders would not lose anything though combined with the bigger one administratively. They would still can have their identity and everything of that sort. But the problem is not what we think. The problem is more alarming and stigmatizing.
    The referendum did not reflect the majority views of the people due to only the administrative failures of the poorly managed government of mr.nasheed. This is because Mr. Nasheeds and his government is slowly and unconsciously drowning into same quagmire of political drunkenness. This what happened to Mr.Gyoom as well soon after he started abusing political toxic drinks which led to ultimate demise of his regime.
    So it is also very sad to know that there has been no awareness programs aired through mass media to promote consolidation referendum. for this, i point my finger right at the government.
    unscrupulously exhausting state funds is the norm of this ill government. So we are not surprised when voter turn out is unexpectedly low in a nationwide referendum.


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