LGA recommends making councillors part-time

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has recommended making councillors part-time with the exception of council presidents and vice presidents.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim – who chairs the institution tasked with monitoring councils and coordinating with the government – said the LGA has proposed amending the Decentralisation Act to pay part-time councillors an allowance for attending council meetings.

“For example, a teacher or a headmaster level person or someone with higher educational qualifications, they will have the opportunity to contest [council elections]; or for example if it’s a skilled person, a boat builder, they will only have to come for meetings and they’re done after giving their advice and opinion,” Nazim explained.

“The president and vice president will operate the council. Instead, now they have to leave their profession – the teacher, headmaster or boat builder has to give up his job.”

As a consequence, Nazim contended, the councillors’ time was not put to productive use.

“The benefit of [the changes] is that the councillor has to work a very short amount of time and be free to work productively for the island’s development,” he added.

Wage bill

The president of island councils currently receive a monthly salary and allowance of MVR15,000 (US$973) while council members receive MVR11,000 (US$713). The mayor of Malé is paid MVR45,000 (US$2,918) a month.

The president and vice president of councils are elected from among the members by secret ballot.

A total of MVR717 million (US$46 million) was allocated in the 2011 national budget to pay salaries and allowances for local councils, which accounted for 17 percent of the annual wage bill.

Under article 25 of the Decentralisation Act, a five-member council is elected in islands with a population of less than 3,000, a seven-member council for islands with a population between 3,000 and 10,000, and a nine-member council for islands with a population of more than 10,000.

City councils comprise of “an elected member from every electoral constituency of the city” and atoll councils comprises of “elected members from the electoral constituencies within the administrative division.”

The current model of more than 1,000 elected councillors approved in 2010 by the then-opposition majority parliament was branded “economic sabotage” by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government, which had proposed limiting the number of councillors to “no more than 220.”

The new layer of government introduced with the first local council elections in February 2011 cost the state US$12 million a year with a wage bill of US$220,000 a month.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told parliament’s Budget Review Committee last year that President Abdulla Yameen favoured revising the local government framework to reduce the number of island and atoll councillors.

In November 2013, the incoming administration proposed merging island and atoll councils, with the latter to be composed of a representative from each island of the atoll.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said at the time that “the president’s thinking is not to cut down on the number of councillors. But to elect councilors based on the population of the islands. This is a move to curb state expenditure.”

However, parliament did not move to amend the Decentralisation Act ahead of the local council elections on January 18, which saw 1,100 councillors elected for  three-year terms.

Three-year terms

Nazim meanwhile told the press yesterday that the LGA’s recommendations have been shared with the government and the legislature.

While the proposals were intended to reduce the state’s recurrent expenditure – which accounts for over 70 percent of the budget – Nazim said the LGA does not support changing the council’s term from three to five years.

Contending that the legal responsibility of local councils was implementing the government’s policies, Nazim said voters should have the opportunity to change their elected representatives during an ongoing five-year presidential term.

“Citizens get an opportunity to see what kind of results the council produced and the extent to which they upheld the government’s policies,” he said.

Nazim said that LGA Deputy Chair Ahmed Faisal’s public remarks concerning combining the local council and parliamentary elections represented his personal opinion.

The defence minister noted that the Elections Commission has yet to announce official results of the local council elections – held eleven days ago – and that conducting the polls simultaneously would create present difficulties for the commission.

In December, the World Bank warned in a report that the Maldivian economy was at risk due to excessive government spending, with an already excessive wage bill ballooned by 55 percent in 2013.


Government undermining decentralised administration, claims LGA vice chair

Vice Chair of the Local Government Authority (LGA) Shujau Hussain has warned that the government’s alleged non-cooperation and failure to provide funds for local councils could “bring the system of decentralised administration to a halt.”

Speaking at a press conference yesterday (April 17), Shujau claimed that the Finance Ministry was withholding funds to atoll and island councils.

“The system coming to a halt will have a big impact on the country’s stability. Politicians should know this. It is not just squabbling among political parties that threatens stability. The day this system comes to a halt is the day this country is plunged into a deep pit,” he said.

Shujau claimed that employees of pre-schools in certain atolls have not been paid salaries for past three months, adding that a solution had not been found after months of meetings with the Finance Ministry and an exchange of official letters.

“The government says they want the system of decentralised administration to function very well. [But] what the finance minister is doing is withholding everything owed to councils,” he claimed.

“This government wants to keep the centralised system in place to govern. So I do not believe that President Waheed’s government is providing any cooperation at all for the system to function.”

Moreover, said Shujau, a number of island council offices have been closed due to lack of funds in the budget to pay utility bills.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad at time of press.

Shujau meanwhile went on to question the government’s “sincerity” in providing support for local government.

The LGA was set up by the landmark Decentralisation Act of 2010 as a parent body tasked with overseeing local councils and coordinating with the government.

Last week, Shujau criticised the Attorney General’s Office for failing to approve 2,000 LGA municipal regulations. He suggested that the lack of approvals demonstrated an unwillingness among the government and President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s cabinet to allow local government mechanisms to function.

In January this year, the government asked the LGA to dissolve the Male’ City Council (MCC), which has an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) majority.

The MCC has been involved in a number of disputes with the government during 2012 following February’s controversial transfer of power.

LGA member Ahmed Faisal told local media at the time that the Home Ministry requested the MCC be dissolved following deliberations by the cabinet.

“We have received a letter signed by the Home Minister. But we have not tabled the issue in the agenda yet. And I don’t even believe that the Home Minister could order a council to be dissolved like that. Because there are a lot of things the LGA has to complete before that,” Faisal was quoted as saying.

Faisal accused Home Minister Jameel of requesting the city council be dissolved for “political purposes.”

Faisal also criticised Jameel for allegedly being unaware of the difficulties faced by councils in his role as chair of the LGA. The LGA member stressed that dissolving councils was a long process and that the LGA has not made any decision yet, adding that dissolving the council without addressing difficulties it faced would be “unjust.”

Meanwhile, speaking at a rally last week, former President Mohamed Nasheed claimed that a host of public services has been either disrupted or discontinued following the transfer of presidential power last year.

“Every island that I go to, I see commenced projects unfinished. Harbours have come to stop. Sewerage systems have come to a stop. The change of school sessions to a single session have come to a stop. Aasandha [health insurance] has become a Baisandha [halved]. Transport [networks] have come to halt, everything has stopped. So I think Waheed’s campaign slogan is ‘halted’,” he was quoted as saying.

“President Waheed has neglected the most prosperous one and a half years of this nation. Since my government was changed through a coup, I can only perceive this coup [government] as something that has come to halt.”


Civil society criticises Home Ministry for decision to dissolve 70 percent of NGOs

Additional reporting by Mohamed Naahii

The Ministry of Home Affairs is facing criticism for publically announcing the dissolution of nearly 1300 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) without notification or supportive mechanisms.

State Minister for Home Affairs Abdulla Mohamed announced Tuesday (March 18) that the ministry will dissolve approximately 1300 of 1843 nationally registered NGOs – 70 percent – because they failed to submit annual reports or elect executive committees, local media reported.

Mohamed said that only around 200 NGOs had submitted the required documents and are functioning in accordance with the law.

He added that the announcement was made to the media and published in the government gazette.

“We had to make this decision because for ages the tradition was to register as many NGOs as possible. There is no tradition to dissolve or abolish NGOs.

“On average, four to five NGOs are registered on a weekly basis. But NGOs do not function as they should. If that is happening then NGOs need to be dissolved,” stated Mohamed.

The Maldives NGO Federation told Minivan News they have received complaints from NGOs that they were not informed prior to Minister Mohamed making this public announcement via the media.

“The Home Ministry should have informed these organisations directly and given them an opportunity to resolve their issues within a certain time period,” stated NGO Federation Vice President Imad Mohamed.

“These island-based associations are not aware of what is happening, some do not have access to the media – internet or television. Additionally, some atoll and island councils did not inform NGOs based on the islands.

“I am not able to comment on legal issues at the moment, but any NGO should be dissolved according to the law and due process should be followed. We will discuss this issue with the Registrar and will voice the NGOs’ concerns,” Imad added.

The need for clearer government regulations to protect NGOs from state interference was emphasised in the Comprehensive Study of the Maldivian Civil Society report, issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2011.

The report highlighted the need to “introduce clear procedures specified for the state’s investigation of alleged or suspected cases of illicit or unconstitutional activity and for the de-registration of a civil society organisation (CSO)”.

It also discussed the need to develop clear standards for annual reports and timely (positive and negative) feedback to help improve the quality of reporting.

Key recommendations were to clarify “the powers, responsibilities and the limits of power of the Registrar of Associations [currently the State Minister for Home Affairs], and ensure the post is not politically appointed”.

“[Also] ensure that any allegations against CSOs of unconstitutional or illicit activities by any agency of the state require evidence and are not based on arbitrary state decisions.

“Moreover, the process should follow those of a fair hearing. The [Associations] Act should specify the protections for CSOs from exercise of arbitrary state power,” the report reads.

The Associations Act of 2003 is the current regulatory framework for associations in the Maldives. It states that either two years or repeated faults – including anti-Islamic actions or conducting political activities – are grounds for dissolution by the Registrar of Associations.

However, de-registration can only by conducted “after giving a period to settle debts and properties of the association”.

Civil society politicised

Mohamed also stated that some island council’s complained that actions – political work – by certain NGOs have caused chaos in society.

Imad explained that island-based NGOs are often politically labelled by the island councils who feel their power is threatened, because these organisations often focus on awareness and advocacy activities, as well as fill critical service gaps to meet community needs.

“NGOs play a different role in society, they promote democracy, human rights and good governance. Island councils feel that these NGOs are against them.

“Some island councils are not able to meet the expectations of the public, so NGOs are meeting these needs instead. This creates a conflict,” said Imad.

Imad emphasised that most of the NGOs facing dissolution are objective, island-based and not conducting political activities, however they are in need of capacity building.

Often island-based NGOs are run by all volunteer members who work full time, have extensive family obligations, and may engage in political activities separate from their community development work. However, the distinctions between public, private, and family life are frequently overlooked.

“It is true that some organisations do get involved in political activities and this is a current challenge for the sector to overcome. Additionally, there are inactive NGOs registered for various purposes,” stated Imad.

“However there are also quite active NGOs, but they are not good with internal management.

“The Home Ministry is only regulating and dealing with registration, they are not fulfilling a facilitation role to assist these organizations. The Home Ministry should be playing a facilitation role as well,” he added.

The UNDP study also recognised the challenges NGOs face at the island level.

“CSOs need to be made aware of their role not only as partners of local government but also of their watchdog functions in ensuring that the government is held accountable for the governance of their administrative areas,” reads the report.

Funding shortages

Mohamed said the government budgeted 10 million Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR) for dispersal “depending on the proposals it receives from NGOs to carry on its projects”.

“When we look to support NGOs with financial assistance, we don’t have the funds to give to 1843 NGOs. We face a lot of challenges following that,” Mohamed explained.

“The ministry needs criteria for disbursing funds, then I can discuss this issue,” Imad responded.

The UNDP study found that “ NGOs are not active mainly due to a lack of managerial and project implementation capacity, as well as a lack of legal framework and availability of funds”.

A larger number of NGOs are based in the atoll islands and tend to be “more responsive to a community’s broader and changing set of needs”.

Whereas, Male’ based NGOs are issue specific and have more readily available access to resources.

“The efforts of CSOs to raise their own funds through membership fees and other efforts should be commended,” reads the report.

The Ministry of Home Affairs was not responding to calls at time of press.