Power bill deadline extended amid protests

Fenaka Corporation, the main electricity provider in the atolls, has extended the deadline for businesses to pay their March electricity bills after widespread protests over a subsidy cut.

Businesses and shops in several islands shut down in protest this week after electricity bills for March doubled and in some cases tripled following the removal of government subsidies.

Some have said they will not pay their bills until a new agreement is reached with the state-owned utility company.

Fenaka said in an announcement today that the new deadline is April 30, and businesses who pay by then will not face fines for late payment or disconnection.

However, the announcement warned that businesses will face fines or disconnection of services after May 1.

Businesses in Haa Dhaal Kulhdhuffushi, Gaafu Dhaal Thinadhoo, and Addu City have set up committees to negotiate with the government.

Businesses in Fuvahmulah and Vaikaradhoo are planning to submit a petition to the president demanding a fair price for electricity.

Gahdhoo in Gaaf Dhaal and Thulhaadhoo in Baa atoll meanwhile asked state electricity company Fenaka to pay the island councils for plots of land rented to the company.

Electricity prices are up to 72 percent higher in northern Haa Alif , Haa Dhaal, and Shaviyani Atolls and up to 37 percent higher in Addu City and Fuvahmulah than in Malé City, according to figures from Fenaka.


Local Government Authority conduct forums in the atolls

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has begun forums on decentralization and laws and regulations on local councils.

The main aim of the forum is to bring the local councils up to date with current laws and to ensure that different councils follow the same procedure, LGA officials told local media

The LGA also said that the forum will discuss ways to make the services provided by the councils more efficient and well structured.

The forums are open for councilors, women’s development committees, relevant government authorities and the public.


Human Development Report highlights Maldives’ regional divide

The UNDP’s second Human Development Index (HDI) report for the Maldives urges stakeholders to address regional inequalities which remain a “major challenge” towards human development.

The first sub-regional HDI report of its kind, titled ‘Bridging the Divide: Addressing vulnerabilities, Reducing inequalities’ was officially launched today, analysing the disparities between the Malé region and the outer atolls.

“Where one is born within the Maldives determines many of the opportunities and choices available to a person,” reads the report.

“Remote islands with small populations have limited accessibility to services including schooling, healthcare, social services, job opportunities and face overall isolation.”

Since its first HDI report in 2001, the Maldives has graduated to middle income country status. Today’s report, however, noted that while the nation’s HDI score is 0.688 – placing it in UNDP’s medium development bracket – the regional analysis reveals stark inequalities.

While the atolls’ development was revealed to be 0.627 in 2012 – placing it in the mid-level HDI group, alongside countries such as South Africa and Indonesia – Malé’s HDI was 0.734, putting it in the high development bracket next to Azerbaijan and Mauritius.

Used as a measure to gauge people’s choices in life – accounting for access to education, nutrition, healthcare, security, political and cultural freedoms – Norway currently tops the Human Development Index (0.955), while Niger ranks last (0.304).

The global average HDI average is 0.694.

The Divide

‘Bridging the Divide’ notes that income and educational choices are the most notable of the inequalities faced by those born outside of the capital.

“A person living in Malé is likely to complete three years more of schooling than a person living in the atolls,” explained the report.

It was also noted that the average income for a person living in Malé – equivalent to US$4251.90 – is one and a half times that of a person living in the atolls.

The report noted that rapid internal migration to the capital Malé has itself become a cause of inequalities

“In-migration to  Malé has led to a sharp increase in living costs, poor housing conditions, overcrowding, pollution and a general sense of frustration and impatience in the public.”

After categorising the Maldives into seven regions, the report showed regions 2 and 6 – containing Noonu, Raa, Baa, and Lhaviyani atolls in the north, and Gaafu atoll in the south – to be under performing.

The best performing region contained the central Meemu, Faafu, and Dhaalu atolls – reflecting the concentration of the tourism industry in the Malé area.

The HDI report recommends enhancing the benefits of of tourism – which has taken the Maldives from one of the world’s poorest nations in the 1970s to having South Asia’a highest GDP per capita today – to the wider population.

It was noted that the rich-poor divide was being exacerbated as the tourism industry “operates as a powerful oligarchy and has given rise to an elite class that owns much of the country’s wealth”.

While acknowledging the recent growth of the guest house industry, the report argues that the bulk of the luxury resort industry provides little opportunity for local small and medium enterprises.


Core physical vulnerabilities identified in the report included the Maldives’ small land mass, lack of natural resources, while economic weaknesses focused on the heavy reliance on tourism and a high external dependence on imports.

Such vulnerabilities reduce the ability of institutions to address inequalities, with the report suggesting that solution lies in “building resilience through improved spatial planning, increasing targeting and effectiveness of social protection measures, restoring fiscal and macro-economic stability and diversifying the growth base.”

It was acknowledged that considerable improvements in poverty levels, life expectancy, and access to education had been assisted by “fiscal prudence” between the mid 90s to the mid 2000s which must return in order to continue the country’s HDI progress.

The effective targetting of vulnerable groups – those facing more than one impediment – is needed in order to design policies and programmes to address their development needs. The removal of blanket subsidies was one example of such a policy change.

The development of a hub and periphery model in the atolls – improving local services and relieving the pressure on the capital – was mooted alongside the completion of governmental decentralisation.

Finally, it was suggested that long-term thinking among political leaders – beyond a five-year election cycle – is key if human development is to be enhanced in the island nation.

“Political parties and political leaders need to start thinking beyond the ballot,” read the report. “With democratic transition, the country’s long-term development planning process has been side-lined.”

While noting that human developed requires a strong democracy, the report concluded by suggesting a reappraisal of the state’s “extraordinarily high costs”.

“For a small country like the Maldives, with mounting pressures, fiscal crisis and high debt distress, it is time that political parties, institutions, civil society and the public engage in debate; and agree to right-size the governance system, to make it more sustainable and to maximize the democratic dividend and enhance the freedoms and choices for the people.”


Government proposes abolishing Women’s Development Committees

The government’s proposal for amendments to the Decentralisation Act include abolishing Women’s Development Committees in the islands.

The amendment requires the councils to abolish the committees and to form four new advisory committees – a Women’s Development Advisory Committee, an Economic Committee, a Development Advisory Committee, and an Environment Protection Advisory Committee – that would advise island councils.

According to the amendment, the funds and assets of the existing Women’s Development Committees will be transferred to the council, and will only be permitted for use after consulting with the Women’s Development Advisory Committee.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group leader and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik said that the parliamentary group had not yet reviewed the amendments.

Introduced by former President Nasheed in 2010, the Decentralisation Act created Women’s Development Committees for the purpose of generating income for the development of local women, working to increase religious awareness, and to improve the health, education, and political participation of women.

Following its observation of this month’s Majlis elections, the EU Election Observation Mission noted an “extremely low numbers of female candidates,” with a total of 23 women standing – just 5 of whom were elected.

The report noted that this, along with the low voter turn out for women, was in part down to “prevailing and increasing social and cultural norms which disempower women, confining them to the domestic sphere.”

Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s 2013 gender gap index noted that the Maldives had fallen behind in both economic and political gender equality – ranking 97 out of 136 countries ranked.

In the same amendment bill – given its first reading last week – MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur, who submitted the bill on behalf of the government in December also proposed cutting the monthly salaries for all council members except for the president vice president of the council in the islands – instead, paying an allowance for each meeting attended.

The current act ensures that five council members must be elected for every island with less than 3000 people, while islands with more than 3000 people are entitled to seven councillors.

The presidents 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.

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.

Since assuming power last November, President Abdulla Yameen’s government has made clear its intention to reduce the size of local government in order to reduce the state’s recurrent expenditure – which accounts for over 70 percent of the budget.

In December, the World Bank warned in a report that the Maldivian economy was at risk due to excessive government spending.

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 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.


Indian government offers to replace destroyed police vehicles

The Indian government has offered to replace all police vehicles destroyed during the unrest that flared across the country following the recent transition of Presidential power.

The police bore the brunt of the anger that followed former President Nasheed’s resignation, resulting in damage that the Ministry of Home Affairs has estimated to amount to Rf183million.

The majority of the damage occurred in the atolls where 16 vehicles were destroyed during February’s upheavals.


US$90 million solar power project for Thaa and Laamu atolls

A US$90 million (Rf1.2 billion) project agreement to provide solar powered electricity to the Upper South Province of Maldives (Thaa and Laamu atolls) has been signed by Upper South Utilities Limited with BBM Infra Limited of India.

The 24 mega watt solar power facility will be built by BBM in association with two Chinese companies to provide electricity to all islands of Upper South Province .

The project should commence within 2-3 months, says the managing director of Upper South Utilities Limited Ahmed Saeed Mohamed, and would reduce the cost of electricity by 20 percent.

BBM Infra Ltd is part of the BBM Bommidala Group, based on the tobacco trade. BBM Infra, the newest company in this group, is expanding into solar power, construction machinery, and highway projects.


President submits decentralisation bill

President Mohamed Nasheed has submitted the revised Decentralisation Bill to the People’s Majlis.

The bill states that each of the administrative divisions stated in Schedule 2 of the Constitution—except Malé—will be administered by an atoll council elected in accordance with the Constitution.

It also provides representation to both men and women in the elected island and city councils.

The bill gives the president the authority to establish province offices to provide the services of ministries and coordinate government projects in different regions.

The president also proposed the 2nd amendment bill to Act 2/99 (Tourism Act), to make the industry more sustainable and increase the government’s revenue from tourism.