Committee approves authorising president to determine city council’s powers

The parliament’s national security committee has approved amendments proposed to the Decentralisation Act to authorise the president to determine the public services to be provided by the opposition-majority Malé and Addu city councils.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim’s bill states that president can assign municipal services to the Malé city council or transfer them to government ministries.

The amendment bill was sent to committee last week with 33 votes in favour and 15 against. The committee completed its review process today.

As suggested by pro-government MPs during last week’s debate on the legislation, the oversight committee also added a clause to authorise the president to determine the powers and responsibilities of the opposition-majority Addu City council as well.

The bill was passed with the support of two opposition Jumhooree Party MPs on the committee. Two main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs voted against it.

Reflecting its majority in the 85-member house, the PPM and coalition partner MDA have voting majorities in all parliamentary committees.

During last week’s debate, MDP MPs argued that the proposed changes would “destroy” the decentralisation system and reduce the city council to an “administrative desk at the president’s office.”

The MDP had won a majority of seats in the Malé and Addu City councils in both the February 2011 and January 2015 local council elections.

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PPM MP proposes removing Malé city council’s powers

The parliament today accepted for consideration a bill that would authorise President Abdulla Yameen to determine the public services to be provided by the opposition-majority Malé city council.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim’s revisions to the decentralisation law states that municipal services the president decides not to assign to the council will be transferred to government ministries.

If the amendment bill is passed, the president must determine the powers and responsibilities of the council within a month in consultation with his cabinet.

During today’s sitting of parliament, MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) heavily criticised the proposed changes, contending that it would “destroy” the decentralisation system and reduce the city council to an “administrative desk at the president’s office.”

The current administration is using its parliamentary majority to consolidate all powers of the state with the executive and paving the way for “autocratic rule,” the opposition MPs said.

But Waheed said the changes were necessary due to the council’s alleged corruption and behaviour as “a separate government”.

Other PPM MPs accused the council of obstructing the government’s efforts to develop the capital and focusing primarily on the MDP’s activities.

Pro-government MPs said the council had failed to solve the city’s garbage and flooding problems, but opposition MPs said the government had not granted the funds necessary to fulfil the council’s responsibilities.

Waheed’s bill follows the housing ministry evicting the council from the city hall building last month. In a long-running struggle, the housing ministry had also taken over management of Malé City’s public spaces, parks, harbours, cemeteries, and roads from the city council.

The MDP had won a majority of seats in the Malé and Addu City councils in both the February 2011 and January 2015 local council elections.

MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, parliamentary group leader of the MDP, said the amendments are contrary to the spirt of the 2008 constitution.

The changes would undermine the concept of separation of powers and decentralised administration envisioned in the constitution, he said.

Following preliminary debate, the amendment bill was accepted for consideration with 33 votes in favour, 15 against, and sent to the national committee for further review.

The People’s Majlis convened today for its second session of the year after a one-month recess.

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Southern atolls sign pact to defend decentralisation

The Maldives’ southernmost atoll councils have signed a joint declaration calling upon the government to protect the country’s decentralised authorities.

Atoll councils from Gaaf Dhaalu, Gaaf Alifu, and Fuvahmulah, joined with Addu City Council to sign the Medheaari Declaration yesterday (December 21).

The pact, which includes measures to secure fiscal autonomy, comes after repeated moves by the central government to remove powers granted to Malé City Council under the 2010 Decentralisation Act.

“What happened in Malé, will it be repeated in the atolls?” asked Addu City Council Mayor Abdulla Sodig.

“We always have the fear that the government will come after Addu City Council after it deals with Malé City Council.”

Representatives of the four councils met in Addu City Hall yesterday to sign the six point declaration, which Sodig described as “historic”.

As part of the arrangement, the councils passed a resolution vowing that all fees collected by local authorities should be deposited in council bank accounts.

Despite provisions in the 2010 act allowing for revenue raising measures, amendments to financial legislation have yet to be introduced, meaning that fees raised by local authorities are still sent to the capital Malé.

The 2014 UNDP Human Development Report has pointed out that harmonising laws remains a key challenge facing the decentralisation transition, as well as suggesting a pressing need to reduce the size of government at all levels.

While the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority has recently established an office in Addu, the city council has refused to allow it to begin operations until it pledges not to interfere with local fee collection.

Sodig explained that Addu City Council does not currently send its local fees to the capital, though the neighbouring atoll councils still do.

The President’s Office has declined to comment on the Medheaari Declaration.

An additional point contained in the document includes sending a letter to to the Majlis saying that any amendments to the Decentralisation Act must be brought in line with the spirit of the country’s decentralisation laws.

Recently proposed amendments to decentralisation – from pro-government MP Riyaz Rasheed – called for a reduced number of local councils and to cut the salaries of all councillors except the council’s president.

At yesterday’s meeting, the councils also agreed to write to all government institutions requesting that they respect the Decentralisation Act and uphold the powers of the constitution, and its specific provisions on local governance.

The removal last week of further lands originally granted to Malé City Council prompted the capital’s mayor to condemn what he called the government’s systematic abrogation of the council’s powers.

“We are now only in charge of facilitating construction in Malé, issuing death and birth certificates and cleaning mosques. But the constitution clearly states the Maldives must be administered through decentralised councils,” said Mayor Mohamed Shihab at the time.

The southern atolls yesterday also pledged to meet annually as well as to sign a joint MoU on February 24, agreeing to work together on socio-economic issues.

The southern atolls have traditionally supported the current opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – as is Malé City Council, which has labelled the government’s removal of its authority an attempt to destroy decentralisation.

All of Addu City’s 6 councillors are MDP members, while the party won just over 40 percent of island, atoll, and city council seats nationwide in January’s local elections. The elections commission was unable to provide information on the current distribution of councillors in Fuvahmulah, Gaaf Alifu, and Gaaf Dhaalu at the time of publication.

Previous comments from government officials have suggested that political decentralisation must follow economic development throughout the atolls.

“Land, labour, and capital – the central government and the regional governments are fighting for it as we don’t have enough resources even for the existing government to cover the budget deficits,” Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb has explained.

“I believe when there’s enough economic activity we can give more powers to the councils.”

Analysts have suggested that political wrangling over the implementation of decentralised governance – which included wholesale revisions to the original act proposed by the MDP government – has left the atolls’ populations less empowered than ever.

Addu, Fuvahmulah, and Huvadhoo (containing Gaaf Alif and Gaaf Dhaalu atoll councils) currently contain 14 percent of the Maldives population.

The same three atolls declared independence from the central government in 1959, forming the short-lived United Suvadive Republic before government forces regained control in 1963.



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EC announces official results of Feydhoo, Velidhoo by-elections

The Elections Commission (EC) announced the official results of Saturday’s by-elections in Noonu Velidhoo and Addu Feydhoo yesterday.

The by-elections took place on September 20 for vacant seats in the Velidhoo island council and Addu City Council.

In the Feydhoo constituency of Addu City, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Ali Fahmy Ahmed defeated ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Eana Naseer.

While Fahmy won 1,068 votes (55.14 percent), Eana received 869 votes (44.86 percent). With 3,782 eligible voters, the turnout was 1,965 (51.96 percent).

On the island of Velidhoo in Noonu atoll, government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) candidate Ali Mujthaba beat MDP candidate Abdulla Ahmed Shafeeq with 647 votes (55.54 percent) to 518 votes (44.46 percent).

The victory secures a majority of the five-member Velidhoo island council for the PPM-MDA ruling coalition with three pro-government councillors and two MDP councillors.

The Velidhoo by-election was called after an MDP councillor resigned. Of 1,803 eligible voters, 1,189 people (65.95 percent) cast their ballots.

All six seats of the Addu City Council is meanwhile held by MDP councillors. The by-election was announced after former Feydhoo councillor, Abdulla Aswan, died of a heart attack on July 8.

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Addu City Council denies disagreement over stadium lights

The Addu City Council has denied President Abdulla Yameen’s claim that a project to install lights at the Feydhoo stadium was stalled due to disagreements within the council.

Newspaper Haveeru quoted Deputy Mayor Abdulla Thoyyib as saying that contrary to Yameen’s remarks in Feydhoo last week, the project to upgrade stadiums in the southernmost atoll was financed out of the city council’s budget.

The project was awarded to the Hithadhoo Southern Maldives Contracting and Trading Company, Thoyyib explained, and remained stalled due to disagreements among youth in the island.

Four youth associations met the council last month and presented plans for installing the lights, he added.

Final preparations were underway to install the lights in accordance with the wishes of the youth groups, Thoyyib said.

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President Yameen announces land reclamation project for Addu Feydhoo

President Abdulla Yameen announced last night that a land reclamation project would commence next year in the Feydhoo ward of Addu City.

Speaking at a ceremony held in Feydhoo to inaugurate a road construction project, President Yameen said construction of the Rahdhebai Magu “will greatly assist the island’s residents, while paving the way for further development projects in Feydhoo,” according to the President’s Office.

President Yameen was accompanied by First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb during his visit to the southernmost atoll.

A by-election for a vacant seat in the six-member Addu City Council is meanwhile scheduled to take place on September 20.

The election comes after Addu City councillor for the Feydhoo constituency, Abdulla Aswan, died of a heart attack on July 8.

All six seats of the city council were won by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party candidates in January’s local council elections.

Speaking at a meeting in Feydhoo last night, President Yameen reportedly criticised the city council over a stalled project to install lights at the Feydhoo football stadium.

The project remained stalled due to a disagreement between councillors, Yameen claimed, calling on the council to cooperate with the government’s development efforts despite political differences.

“If something else is beneficial [to the public], they don’t have to consider the ideology of a political party. They should do it the way the public wants,” he was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

Yameen urged the people of Feydhoo to vote for ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate for the Feydhoo council seat, Ena Naseer.

The Feydhoo branch of PPM handed over membership forms of 100 new members to First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim at last night’s meeting.

The opposition MDP meanwhile selected Ali Fahmy Ahmed as its candidate to face the by-election in a primary last month.

Speaking at a press conference today, MDP MP for Addu Meedhoo, Rozaina Adam, accused President Yameen of attempting to unduly influence the upcoming by-election by launching or announcing development projects in Feydhoo.

Referring to pro-government MPs rejecting an urgent motion in parliament over power outages in Addu City, Rozaina questioned the president’s sincerity and commitment to develop the city.

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MVK agrees to resume ferry services in Addu City

MVK has agreed to resume stalled ferry services in Addu City following discussions with the Addu City Council and the Ministry of Economic Development this week.

MVK Maldives Pvt Ltd was contracted to provide ferry services in the southernmost atoll under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement signed by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government in 2009.

Officials from the company has previously told parliament’s government oversight committee that plots of land awarded under the agreement have not been handed over.

Addu City Deputy Mayor Abdulla Thoyyib told online news outlet CNM that the company has agreed to resume ferry services next week while the city council agreed to hand over the plots of land within a month.

However, the company requested until December to start ferry services to nearby Fuvahmulah, he said.

Last month, MDP MP for Addu Meedhoo, Rozaina Adam, described the government’s “indifference” to providing regular ferry services in Addu City as discriminatory.

While there have been no regular service for the past two years, Addu City Mayor Mayor Abdulla ‘Soabe’ Sodiq said at the time that many are forced to take expensive private boats, while in medical emergencies people usually hire a speed boat for approximately MVR2,500 – double that rate at night.

Hulhumeedhoo, with an estimated population of over six thousand, is disconnected from the rest of the inhabited islands of the city which are joined by the 14km Addu Link Road causeway.

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Approximately MVR10 million spent on mosque renovation, says Islamic minister

The government spent about MVR10 million (US$648,508) on renovating mosques across the country ahead of Ramadan this year, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed informed parliament yesterday.

Responding to a question tabled by Addu Meedhoo MP Rozaina Adam concerning developments in her constituency, Shaheem said MVR1 million (US$64,850) was allocated in July for the renovation of 65 mosques in the southernmost atoll.

Plans for the construction of a large “modern” mosque in the Hithadhoo ward has been discussed with the Addu City Council, he revealed.

As the people of Addu City, however, requested the construction of an Islamic Centre with classrooms and a library, Shaheem continued, the project has been revised “in line with the people’s wishes.”

Funds have been allocated in this year’s budget to commence the project, he added.

The council was also informed earlier this year of plans to construct a waqf building to raise funds for Islamic affairs, he continued, noting that proceeds from leasing the building would be spent under the council’s supervision.

The funds would be used for mosque renovation and Quran classes, he explained, adding that the ministry was seeking finances from the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah.

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Ali Fahmy Ahmed wins MDP Feydhoo by-election primary

Ali Fahmy Ahmed, of Aafahi in Feydhoo, has won the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) primary to contest for a vacant seat on the Addu City Council.

Fahmy won the primary with 208 votes while his closest contender, Ibrahim Khaleel, received 141 votes. Five candidates contested in the primary held on Friday (August 8 ) and voting took place both in the capital Malé as well as the Feydhoo ward of Addu City.

A total of 628 ballots were cast, according to the results announced by the party yesterday.

The primary comes after Addu City councillor for the Feydhoo constituency, Abdulla Aswan, died of a heart attack on July 8.

The Elections Commission has since announced that a by-election for the vacant seat would take place on September 20. A by-election has also been scheduled for the same day for a vacant seat on the Noonu Velidhoo island council.

In January, MDP candidates won all six seats in the Addu City Council as well as a majority in the Velidhoo council.

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