Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed has proposed transferring land and lagoons under local council jurisdiction or ownership to the housing ministry.
“I am proposing amendments to the Decentralisation Act to the [People’s] Majlis today because of the disputes concerning land between councils, city councils and the housing ministry, and because the existing land law and decentralisation law does not make clear enough to us who has ownership of land,” said Riyaz while presenting the legislation (Dhivehi) at yesterday’s sitting of parliament.
“Therefore, I certainly believe that the state’s property should be under one institution.”
In the ensuing debate, MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) accused the government of attempting to “destroy” decentralisation and render councils powerless.
The amendments would defeat the purpose of devolving decision-making powers, they contended, noting that articles 234 and 235 of the Constitution state that local councils shall have the authority to “raise funds” and “own property and incur liabilities”.
Riyaz meanwhile argued that state assets should be under the control of the executive, alleging that councils with opposition majorities were deliberately obstructing development projects by refusing to provide land.
The deputy leader of the PPM’s parliamentary group claimed that some island councils have yet to arrange land for the fisheries ministry and youth ministry to build ice plants and sports arenas, respectively.
The current administration was “facing serious difficulties” in implementing its policies, he contended.
Following disputes between the housing ministry and councils, Riyaz noted that councils have recently been informed not to conduct transactions involving state-owned land or lease property without obtaining permission from the president.
In June, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure removed two parks from the jurisdiction of the MDP-majority Malé City Council, while Dharubaaruge convention centre was reclaimed by the government in May.
Riyaz also criticised the city council for leasing parks in the capital for restaurant businesses. While councils should have authority over land, Riyaz said the law should not allow that power to be misused.
“It should be done in accordance with the government’s policies,” he insisted.
During the debate, MDP MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa said the amendments would make councils “toothless” and the decentralisation law “useless.”
Ghafoor denied Riyaz’s allegations of non-cooperation from MDP-majority councils, adding that the claims were intended to “mislead” the public.
JP MPs also noted that property and lagoons under council ownership were the only significant means available for generating an income.
MDP MP Rozaina Adam said the government was trying to “cut off the arms and legs” of councils as they would not be able to do “any work when the government steals land from small islands.”
Several MPs suggested that there were many island councils doing exemplary work for the benefit and development of their islands or atolls. All local councils should not be punished or blamed for the actions of a few, the MPs said.
JP MP Hussain Shahid suggested amending the law to allow councils to function more efficiently, arguing that the number of councillors in each island were excessive.
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.”
Following the release of the UNDP’s second Human Development Index report in June – which found the rest of the country lagging behind the Malé area with its ‘highly developed’ score – Salma Fikry, a prominent campaigner and proponent of decentralisation, told Minivan News that lack of political will was to blame for the disparity.
“The whole point of decentralisation is scary for the Maldivian government because they like to keep people dependent, they like to think of themselves as doing people favours,” she said.
She predicted that “three quarters of the population would probably move to the capital and the rest of the country will be taken over by the corporations.”