Government seeks to dissolve Male’ City Council

Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish.

The government has confirmed today it has requested the Local Government Authority (LGA) to dissolve Male’ City Council (MCC) – an elected body predominantly represented by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members.

The MCC has been involved in a number of disputes with the government during 2012 following February’s controversial transfer of power – most recently over the issue of funding and utility bill payments.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad confirmed to Minivan News today that any decision to dissolve the MCC would be made legally through a request to the LGA, which is presently chaired by the Home Minister.

“What I know is that we are getting complaints about [the council’s] inefficiency,” he said.

Masood was unable to comment further on the matter at time of press, forwarding inquiries to Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

Dr Jameel was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

However, Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem told Minivan News that the MCC had been informed that the LGA had been sent a request from the government to dissolve the council.

Of the eleven councillors of the capital, nine were elected on MDP tickets.

Kareem observed that article 66(a) of the Decentralisation Act grants the LGA authority to submit a case to the High Court requesting the dissolution, but believed no such motion had been filed at time of press.

“As far as I know, such a case has not been sent to the court,” he said

Kareem added that should the dissolution matter proceed, lawyers for the MCC were to appeal against any such motion, taking the case to the Supreme Court if it was unsuccessful during the High Court case.

Three grounds for dissolving councils are specified in article 66(a) for which a case could be submitted to the High Court.

These include repeatedly failing to carry out the functions and responsibilities of the council; misusing the council’s resources or facilities; and failing to carry out duties due to repeated failure to hold meetings.

Article 66(b) meanwhile states that the court must only grant the LGA request “if the court believes that there is no other way but dissolving the council.”

In the event that the High Court approves dissolving the council, fresh elections must be held within 45 days. The LGA would appoint caretakers in the interim to manage council affairs.

LGA member Ahmed Faisal told newspaper Haveeru today 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 oversight body formed to coordinate with and oversee local council.

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.”


President Waheed creates centralised utilities corporation, ‘Fenaka’

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has today established the Fenaka Corporation Ltd by presidential decree.

The corporation will take over from the seven utility corporations established during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, under its policy of decentralisation.

The objectives of the company, which has 100 percent government-owned shares, were detailed in a press release from Waheed’s office.

“The key objective of this company would be to ensure sustainable primary services to the populace in the regions of the country other than Male’; supply of clean water, sewerage and electricity, and to establish an environment friendly waste management system,” read the statement.

President’s Office Spokesman Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News that the previous utility companies, each with its own board, had become totally dependent on government finances, weighing heavily on the state budget.

“The separate utility companies were not well governed. There has to be continuity, accountability, and manageability,” said Abbas.

“Fenaka will take over the the utility corporations – there will be no more boards – it is more transparent,” he continued.

Abbas had previously explained to Minivan News that the government’s policy was largely intended to eliminate these “political boards” which he argued were impeding service provision.

Abbas also explained that there would be an option for islanders to acquire shares in the corporation.

The decree comes the day after President Waheed stressed the importance of population centralisation as he spoke to the media before leaving for the Rio +20 summit.

“One solution to the challenges we face is to centralise communities to more densely population islands and shape our development goals in order to secure a better future for us all,” local newspaper Haveeru quoted Waheed as saying.

Abbas explained that the President wished to reaffirm the government’s commitment to developing urban centres with greater market potential, just as previous government’s have worked to do.

Centralisation and efficiency

The issue of service and welfare provision and population dispersal has long been an issue faced by Maldives governments.

Population consolidation plans originated in the 1980′s under the banner of ‘Selected Islands Development Project’.

Concerned by the inefficiency of the distribution of social services and basic infrastructure in islands with small populations, and to counter migration towards the capital Male’, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration embarked on a revised resettlement program called the ‘National Population Consolidation Strategy and Programme’, published in 2001.

In the foreword to the most recent National Development Plan, in 2006, Gayoom outlined some of the reasons for voluntary population movements.

“This policy aims to mitigate the risks posed by future tsunamis and rising sea levels, help realise economies of scale in the provision of public and private services in the atolls, strengthen service quality in the atolls and improve welfare of the people,” wrote Gayoom.

This document, the seventh such development plan, covered the years between 2006 and 2010. This document described, in depth, the issues concerning population dispersal and service provision.

“One of the most pressing challenges to the nation’s development [is] the wide dispersal of small communities,” read the report.

“Smaller communities are in an extremely vulnerable situation, as the unit cost of providing social infrastructure and facilities are high, and thus these islands do not have adequate facilities.”

Mohamed Waheed Deen used his first speech after being confirmed as Vice President in April to expound on the virtues of greater population consolidation.

“Without population consolidation we cannot achieve sustainable economic development…where is the economy of scale? If government continues to spend on small island populations, the expenditure will turn out to be a waste,” he said.

“I envision that people of Maldives will live in 25 to 30 islands. Each island will be of twice that of Hulhumale’. Around 60,000 to 70,000 will live on each island. This is a dream I see. I will try to make this dream come true,” said the Vice President.

The Nasheed government, led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), chose to focus on greater transportation and connectivity between island populations.

After the announcement in April of the government’s plans to centralise both utilities and health provision throughout the country, Policy Undersecretary for the former government Aminath Shauna, made the case for a decentralised policy of service provision.

“Maldives’ geographical fragmentation means one central board or company will find it impossible to effectively monitor and deliver services in an equitable manner,” Shauna said, before questioning the centralising tendencies of the current government.

“They want to re-establish a relationship of dependency between the islands and Malé. Their intent in this is to consolidate power. Islanders will once again have to come to Malé and beg for services,” she said.

Shauna explained that the policies of the Nasheed government had been intended to create reliable market-orientated policies, arguing that previous centrally run services were slow and corrupt.

Shauna acknowledged that the companies had not all been financially independent but argued that they were merely bolstered with state funds whilst they were “finding their feet”.


LGA to revise US$64 million-a-term local governance system

Plans are underway to bring several structural changes to the local governance system in a bid to create a more “economically viable and productive system”, the Local Government Authority (LGA) has said.

According to LGA member Ahmed Faisal, discussions on proposing changes to the system were prompted by serious concerns raised over the “economic sustainability” of the existing decentralisation model which compromises of total 1091 elected councilors. This includes 17 councilors from the two city councils; 132 councilors from the 15 atoll councils and 942 councilors from 179 island councils.

From the inception of the local governance system, over Rf200 million (US$36 million) has been spent on salaries and office expenses of elected councils, Faisal told Minivan News.

The LGA estimates the total expenditure will amount to almost Rf1 billion (US$64 million) at the end of the three year term. He added, “This is a far too economically costly model for the Maldives” – a key argument raised by then-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members in 2010 as they opposed to pass the decentralisation legislation citing it will provoke serious “serious social and economic consequences”.

“Therefore, our priority is to revise the existing local governance system into a more economically viable model by bringing major structural changes,” Faisal explained.

According to Faisal, LGA is working to” identify and incorporate international best practices most suitable to Maldives depending on the geographical uniqueness of Maldives, and create a cost-effective and productive system.”

He emphasised the proposed changes is expected to come into effect with the next council elections scheduled in 2015.

However, he added that the authority is pushing to implement some changes as soon as possible, provided it does not violate the Decentralisation Act and have no effect on the interests of existing councilors.

Appointment of part-time members

Among the key proposed changes include changing all the elected council members – except president and vice president of the councils– to “part-time members with a sitting allowance”. The current layer of government introduced by the elections cost the Maldives over US$12 million a year in salaries and allowances, or US$220,000 per month. The President of every island council receives a salary and allowance of Rf15,000 (US$1160), council members Rf11,000 (US$850). The mayor of Male’ receives Rf45,000 (US$3500).

Should the proposed amendment pass, full-time salaries must be only paid to the President and Vice President – elected through polls – while other elected members will be paid an allowance based on the number of meeting they attend.

“We are proposing this amendment to allow for a more technically sound team in the council. As the post is part-time, people employed in other fields such as doctors, legislators, teachers can participate in the councils.” Faisal observed.

Either the island council president or vice president will represent the constituency in the atoll council and will similarly receive a sitting allowance, he added. Meanwhile, the president and vice president of the atoll council will be elected based on atoll wide poll.

“This model will provide an equal voice to all islands while allowing a sense of ownership of the atoll council, as the elected president and vice president can be made accountable by the constituents. Currently, all members are representatives from the islands and no specific member is personally responsible for the council,” Faisal noted.

No changes will be made to the number of seats in any councils, except for the two city councils: the capital Male’ and Addu City in the south. The LGA suggests the Mayor and Deputy Mayor must be elected, in addition to the members elected from each constituency of the city.

Although the number appointed to city councils would increase, Faisal argued that the costs will decline as the members – except mayor and deputy mayor – will remain as part-time.

“We want the the proposed part-time members to become effective as it will facilitate the council’s work. A lot of decisions are pending due to the absence of members, and other work is hindered due to operational difficulties. But they will be paid full salaries until term is over,” the LGA member noted.

Parliament created Local Government Authority

In a bid to address the current operational difficulties, the LGA has requested parliament form the regulatory body of the councils with five members.

“Right now only two members in the LGA are appointed by the parliament vote while the remaining are representatives from the authorities and councils. However the authority has to do a lot of technical work, so it must compromise of a technical team.”

He also observed that the decentralisation legislation must be amended with a clear mandate on how to remove a member deemed to be unqualified.

“The LGA’s primary responsibility would be to regulate, monitor the councilors and conduct capacity-building initiatives,” he noted.

Increasing Women’s Participation

A great emphasis was put on increasing women’s participation in the local governance process, Faisal noted. “The LGA has however stopped short from proposing to [specifically] allocate seats for women as it may be deemed as marginalising women.”

Meanwhile, he said that the authority will push for women’s participation through the introduction of Women’ Development Committees `(WDCs) as proposed in the legislation. “Women will become more engaged in community development work, empowered and use the platform to kick off their career into local governance, and ultimately run in the elections on an equal footing with men.”

Currently only 57 out of the 1091 councilors are women- a disturbing trend of gender inequality observed from economic, political and public spheres of Maldives.

Flawed from start

The Act was passed in mid-2010 after months of deadlock in parliament. The MDP wanted 200 councillors and seven province councils instead of 21 atoll councils. Husnu Suood, attorney general at the time, warned of the exorbitant cost of paying salaries and allowances for over 1,000 full-time councillors- who were elected as a direct result of the changes proposed to the bill by then opposition.

The bill was eventually passed in a completely partisan vote after MDP MPs walked out in protest.

In line with these concerns, at the time parliament’s Deputy Dpeaker Ahmed Nazim took the example of the number of decentralised administrative posts created through last month’s Local Council Elections as an example of unsustainable spending.

The PA MP claimed that MDP government policies based on building housing or harbours across a wide number of islands was creating further problems for future national cost cutting. As a solution, Nazim claimed that it would be important to consider depopulating and reducing the total number of inhabited islands by offering the population a choice of relocation possibilities.

Meanwhile Chairperson of the MDP at the time, Mariya Ahmed Didi, accused the DRP of ”total disregard to the democratic state we want to develop.”

“We parliamentarians did warn the public that DRP is still a dictatorial group,” she said. “Their behaviour in the Majlis proves the point. We are approaching the deadline in the constitution to have local government in place and to have local elections. I do not think we have time to veto and go through the whole process,” she said.

It would be difficult to ensure development of the atolls with the bill as it was passed, she added.

“I hope people remember that the MDP had nothing to do with the bill when in campaign the DRP starts screaming about the islands not being developed as envisaged by the MDP. The basis of our election promise was that the Maldives would be developed as seven provinces. They have by this bill destroyed the fundamental basis on which those promises were made,” Didi said.


HDC opens bids to develop Hulhumale apartment complex

Bids to develop and sell an apartment complex in Hulhumale are now being accepted by Hulhumale Development Corporation (HDC).

Bids will be accepted until Thursday, reports Haveeru. Documents are available for purchase until 2:30 pm today, January 8.

The apartment complex will be developed in two separate plots of 2,4500 feet squared each.

HDC requires that a five-storey complex be built on each plot, with 27 rooms in each complex.

Development of Hulhumale is part of the government’s plan to reduce the level of congestion in the capital Male’, which currently houses one-third of the Maldives population of 350,000.


Thilafushi closed for clean-up as ‘garbage island’ overflows

Male’ City Council has banned waste dumping at Thilafushi, commonly known as ‘garbage island’, until the current overflow has been cleaned up and boats can access the appropriate dumping areas.

“We decided to ban all the parties from dumping waste until we draft regulations and devise policies on dumping waste,” Councillor Ibrahim Shujau told Haveeru News yesterday.

He explained that parties bringing waste from place other than Male’ would be allowed to dump in designated areas only after a cleaning operation had been carried out and new regulations published.

Minivan News was unable to reach Shujau at time of press.

Tourism Ministry Deputy Director General Moosa Zameer Hassan said the temporary closure “can’t go on for long,” and hopes to re-open the area by the weekend. “But boats will be monitored to ensure they follow procedures,” he added.

Hassan said “waste being brought to the site is not properly put into the collection area–many boats are impatient so they dump their waste outside of the designated area. Now boats cannot access the collection area.”

Thilafushi accommodates only a few boats at a time for dumping. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director Ibrahim Naeem earlier said that limited capacity was pushing boats to break the rules.

“The mechanism for waste collection and disposal needs to be improved,” he said previously. “The EPA has to do some work on the matter, and the people who are bringing in the garbage and contributing to its buildup also need to take responsibility.”

Naeem today reiterated that the solution lay with management.

“The City Council has to be more active in getting the necessary equipment and budget to manage waste disposal,” said, adding that boats should also be more patient even in queues one to two hours long.

This is the third time in three months that reports of free-flowing waste have come out of Thilafushi, Naeem notes. Hassan said transferring Thilafushi management to the City Council as per the Decentralisation Act has affected operations.

While City Council does not have sufficient capacity to fully support Thilafushi operations, solutions including splitting the cost of waste operations and utilities among users have been agreed upon. They will be implemented at a later date.

Naeem said an Indian company had been contracted to manage waste disposal, and had submitted its Environmental Impact Assessment. “But we don’t know when that will start. There are deadlines, but I think [the council] is a bit behind,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Council is trying to manage the situation effectively in the short-term.

Among the parties implicated for the waste overflow were resorts, which lean heavily on Thilafushi’s services.

“Right now the issue is about management at Thilafushi,” said Hassan. “Of course there are issues with resorts but they are indirect, such as with transfer boats from outsourced parties.”

Hassan said that tourism regulations require resorts to have an Insinkerator system, a bottle crusher and compactor, and a long-term oil storage system. “Most resorts have the mechanisms but few use them,” he said. “Up until lately Thilafushi has worked well, so there was less incentive to operate their own machinery.”

Incinerators create smoke, and operating the machines is high-cost and highly specialised, Hassan explained. Resorts generally crush and condense waste, but “it’s not a total solution, it’s a step towards on-site management. Thilafushi is the ultimate destination,” he said.

The ministry today met with concerned parties, and enacted plans for immediate clean-up and to re-start operations. The EPA and the Environmental Ministry have agreed on the need to restore waste management operations as as soon as possible.

The clean-up operations will be overseen by Thilafushi Corporation and the city council.


Visit to Fares-Maathoda shows challenge of decentralised development

In the final part of a special report from the island of Fares-Maathoda, Minivan News looks at the challenges for communities developing beyond Male’s glance as they attempt to switch to decentralised governance and overcome their natural vulnerabilities.

Sitting in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, the conjoined landmasses making up the island of Fares-Maathoda present an environment that has seen little of the economic and infrastructure changes witnessed in the population hubs in North Male’ atoll.

Yet like everywhere else in the Maldives, the formation of island and Atoll councils following nationwide local elections in February 2011 has raised new challenges to bring about change on a more decentralised basis.

However, some opposition politicians believe that the government was “not fully prepared” in its plans to devolve power locally, and that has caused friction between the government and local councils over what exactly their roles and responsibilities are in relation to overseeing potential changes.

For the residents of Fares-Maathoda and the five-member council elected to serve them, these changes include a proposal to use aid funds from Denmark to try and offset continued flooding resulting from drainage and waste management issues as part of wider development aims.

Ibarahim Shareef, spokesperson and deputy leader for the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) told Minivan News that he believed a combination of a lack of experience among elected councillors and obstruction by central government was limiting the roles of individually elected councils to oversee and deal with projects such as development.

“There is disagreement over the role of councils and what duties are being issued to them. Our country is disintegrating around us,” Shareef claimed, accepting that divisions between the present and previous leaderships of his own party had added to the partisan atmosphere of the country’s political backdrop.

“We should get all the parties including the government and opposition groups to stick together and try and resolve the differences like this issue.”

Speaking earlier this month during a visit to Fares-Maathoda, two islands that were linked together in the 1990s by reclaiming area between them – a move that exacerbated flooding problems – UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox said he believed that environmental and development facing the country required cooperation from all stakeholders in light of decentralised government.

“What seems to be the case at the moment is that the decentralised structures [island and Atoll councils] are developing and that’s fine. But what that means at the moment is that until things become clearer in some of the areas where we need to work, we need to stay closely connected with everybody. Yet we appreciate the need for strong coordination,” he said.

“In the end, you need the right environment if you are going to attract large-scale funding. In actual fact for the money to come to the Maldives there needs to be a favourable environment for that and even more so there needs to be a good investment environment, because that’s the way that you are going to do large-scale projects.”

Cox was on Fares-Maathoda alongside representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, the Ministry of Housing and Environment, the National Office and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to meet with local councillors and outline how Danish donor aid for funding climate change adaptation would be allocated on the island.

Pointing to a sea-wall development riddled with flags, displaying the yellow of the MDP on one side and the blue of the DRP on the other, Cox suggested that was a powerful reflection of the country’s partisan political functioning and the challenges it created for decentralising aid distribution.

“You have the blue on one side and the yellow on the right, which typifies the Maldives more than anything else,” he added.

However, Cox claimed that rather than acting as a test for the viability of other collaborations with recently appointed local councillors in delivering aid, Fares-Maathoda represented the need for “development best practice” and how best to try and mitigate detrimental environment and economic factors over partisan thinking.

“In the end, people involved in a project need to be involved in its decision making. That’s the bottom line, so frankly I think if you succeed, you succeed and it’s good for development and everyone who is involved can take credit,” he said. “But if you fail, it’s important to know why you failed. Then you try and reflect that back when you expand an approach outwards than you better find a way of taken advantage of that knowledge and understanding and don’t do it again.”

However, Ibarahim Shareef said he believed that in opting to decentralise power following February’s elections, President Mohamed Nasheed and his fellow MDP members had been “shocked” by the number of island councils seats that fell to opposition parties like the DRP.

Shareef claimed that he believed the government was now aiming to try and centralise power in an apparent reversal of its original intentions.

“Local people have been in a long struggle for democracy, yet some are now questioning the wisdom of supporting democratic reform,” he said. “They have not got empowerment at the level they expected.”

Shareef said that despite these uncertainties regarding the exact role of local councils, everyone involved in the process of decentralisation needed to work together to set out what powers councillors did and did not have in order to function properly.

“It is in everyone’s interests to ensure they are working properly,” he claimed.

In a bid to try and help coordinate the development projects undertaken by local councils such as those bought forward by UN aid, the President’s Office announced the formation of seven national offices back in March that it claimed were not related between some isolated disputes with local councils.

Speaking from Fares-Maathoda during the UN visit, Mohamed Shareef, Deputy Minister of State for the Upper South Province national office, claimed that government coordination remained vital to ensure all councillors are sufficiently trained to oversee development and aid in the future.

Speaking to Minivan News, Mohamed Shareef said he believed that criticism of the national offices stemmed from incorrect presumptions that the government was acting against its own decentralisation plans by giving the president more power over the country.

To try and offset these criticisms the national office has said it is offering training programmes across the country in places like Thinadoo and Addu City that aim to provide information to councillors and outline their responsibilities.

“Councillors have come from many different walks of life, but many haven’t been in administration or management, so they are very new to these procedures and understanding them,” said Shareef. “They keep saying that there are no procedures, but it is just a matter of understanding what the procedures are. So we have to keep on running training programmes. The government has a very extensive programme to try and make the councillors and the public aware of the system.”

With the councils now in place, Shareef said that these training programmes would be vital to try and ensure the success of decentralisation. However, he accepted that there was a notable difference of opinion between whether more details and information should have been given to candidates and the public before electing councillors or whether the system should be fleshed out afterwards.

Despite criticisms that more education for the public and councillors on the exact purpose of decentralisation in the Maldives should have been in place before voting began, the national office claimed that it believed the best way – as has happened – was to start the programme and learn along the way.

“I think if we had earlier tried to make people understand what [the government] were trying to do, it would have been a difficult process. On the other hand, if you have bought the system and make everyone learn by experience it might have been easier for us – it could be debated either way,” Shareef said. “We were in need of immediate change that was for sure. So we wanted a change to be implemented and it was done very quick.”

In terms of main challenges facing national offices like those in the Upper South Province, Shareef said that the cost of running five member councils across the country was definately a concern.

“We have a very poor income and the country is very small in terms of people and resources. We can discover new resources in terms of tourism but the challenge lies in the expense of bring about these changes [local councils]. It is an expensive process.”

Shareef claimed that the national councils would ultimately like to see more responsibility being taken by local councillors in dealing directly with donor agencies such as the UN over development and aid projects, while it held a light coordination role in instead.

“This would allow the direct impact [of these funds] to be felt more closely by the councils. Otherwise we should have a major role. It’s not very easy for the government agencies,” he said. “In terms of being more responsible, I think the councils can very much have a role in making the maximum use of aid coming in.”

Mohamed Shareef added that the belief of the national councils was that training projects would be at the heart of granting more development roles to local councillors in the future.

“The vision of the government is that we are going to have a very big leap in terms of development by having decentralisation. So the councils need to be very responsible and capable if they want to take up these challenges,” he said. “It all depends on how capable the councils are. In one way it’s a big relief for the government that there are councils and governors who are interested in dealing with them. For the government, it doesn’t make it very easy, but it’s the way they want to go forward I guess.”

Ultimately, Shareef said that the main plan in the long-term for each council would be to have them become more technical and development orientated rather than trying to serve a particular party political interest.
“That was the stand with which the councils came into their position, but still we have some way to go to get the councils to realise they are a technical and development body and not a political body.”


MP Nazim highlights decentralisation as budgetary concern on back of IMF findings

As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this week released its latest update on the Maldives’ finances, prominent opposition MPs have criticised the government’s budget strategy in areas such as decentralisation, despite conceding the need for greater political cooperation from rival parties.

Ahmed Nazim, MP for the People’s Alliance (PA) party and a member of the Majlis’ Public Finance Committee, told Minivan News that he believed current government policy was ultimately stifling economic development, claiming administrative costs within the civil service remained a notable problem.

“We have small percentage [of funds] to invest in the economy.  We cannot move finances to a higher level though as the government doesn’t have the right policies to do this,” he claimed.  “For instance, we need to reduce the number of [inhabited] islands by linking them and cutting the overall number of cost centres required for decentralisation.”

The comments were made as the IMF claimed that the Maldives economy was currently “unsustainable” even after cuts made to the annual 2011 budget, as it concluded its Article IV consultation.

The IMF’s Mission Chief to the Maldives, Rodrigo Cubero, told Minivan News at the time, that while the government had introduced the core components of a modern tax regime that would begin generating revenue from this year, these achievements were offset by new spending on legislative reforms such as the decentralisation act.

Ultimately, the 2011 budget was passed on December 29, days ahead of a constitutionally-mandated New Year deadline, with 69 out of 77 MPs voting to pass the bill with five amendments.

Earlier during the same day, Mahmood Razee, acting Finance Minister of the time, said it would also be vital to try and ensure the predicted 2011 budget deficit remained at about 16 per cent, after coming under pressure institutions like the IMF to cut the 2010 figure of around 26.5 per cent.

While preliminary figures had pegged the 2010 fiscal deficit at 17.75 percent, “financing information points to a deficit of around 20-21 percent of GDP”, down from 29 percent in 2009, the IMF reported.

Ahmed Nazim, who was part of a multi-party evaluation of the draft 2011 State Budget before it was sent for Majlis approval, said that joint committee meetings to discuss the IMF’s findings were set for next week (9 March).

However, talking to Minivan News ahead of these consultations, the PA MP said that he believed one of the key concerns highlighted in the report was that of recurrent government expenditure.

According to Nazim, the costs, which he said resulted from use of electricity and other day-to-day needs, were accounting for about 17 percent of total government expenditure – charges, he claimed, that could have been cut further.

In line with these concerns, Nazim took the example of the number of decentralised administrative posts created through last month’s Local Council Elections as an example of unsustainable spending.

The PA MP claimed that present government policies based on building housing or harbours across a wide number of islands was creating further problems for future national cost cutting.  As a solution, Nazim, claimed that it would be important to consider depopulating and reducing the total number of inhabited islands by offering the population a choice of relocation possibilities.

“It [depopulation] is the only way to reduce the wage bill, otherwise every island will have to have services like health centres and councils,” he said.  “The only way to cut spending is to transfer small island populations to other habited islands of their choice.”

Nazim claimed that a government strategy of attempting to increase mobility of the population to find jobs and homes in other atolls and islands through an improved transport network had failed to achieve these goals so far.

However, the PA MP said that he believed some opposition groups such as the majority opposition the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) had been too “heavy handed” in their approach to working with government on decentralising the country.

“I was advocating that even now, we will work with the MDP to reduce the number of [island] councilors in small areas from five to three posts.  There is simply not enough work for all of them to do,” he said.  “Some opposition took a heavy handed approach meaning there was no need for compromise.  The DRP wanted it their way when it came to each of the wards.”

Nazim claimed that he still hoped to work with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on plans to reduce the number of posts on councils. He said this was particularly the case on smaller islands, boasting populations of less than 1000 people, which could be cut to just three council representatives instead of five.

State Minister for Finance Ahmed Assad said that he was ultimately encouraged by the role of parliament and political opposition in working to try and reduce the country’s budget deficit compared to last year.

“If we look back to the passing of the budget in 2010, this time parliament were much better [in evaluating the budget].  They just asked for some shuffling about of the figures,” he said.  “That tells us they tried to work within the framework and limits of the budget set by the treasury and finance ministry.”

However, in considering affordability of the overall budget and government financing in the year ahead, Assad claimed that he believed that cost cutting would have been easier with the support of legislative bodies and the judiciary.

As of January 1 2011, the government reinstated the wages of civil servants and political appointees to similar level before respective cuts of 15 per cent and 20 per cent were made back in 2009. The government claimed revenue expectations for the year would ensure the salaries were sustainable.

Addressing recent controversy, over issues such as a Privilege Bill for judges and parliamentary figures, Assad said that MPs and the judiciary also needed to bear the brunt of cost cutting.

“Civil servants understood the need for salary cuts, but at the same time why should only they have to face it.  It is a hardship everyone should share,” he added.  “It is a matter of sharing the responsibility.  The government was not followed by the judiciary on the issue of wages.”

While accepting that more cuts were needed to be made to the civil service in line with IMF expectations, Assad claimed that it was not possible to make redundancies in the civil service without creating additional jobs elsewhere.

“Obviously, we appreciate that we can’t just make lots of people unemployed from the civil service,” he said.  “But, we can’t go on like this.”


National office formation not a response to council disputes, government claims

The formation of seven national offices to oversee government projects at regional and local level is not a response to ongoing disputes with some councils following decentralisation, the President’s Office has today said.

The administrative structures of the seven national offices were formed by members of the cabinet yesterday to oversee developments within seven regions across the country to try and coordinate national developments within newly decentralised councils. The councils were themselves established after last month’s local elections.

Administering these local councils has already led to problems in some areas, with police being called in to try and work through disputes concerning the government and newly elected local councils over whether they have the right to relocate their offices.

Some opposition parliamentarians today moved to criticise the formation of the administrative offices as a contradiction to the purpose of decentralizing power to allow councils to meet specific needs of their constituents.

However, the President’s Office has said that the formation of these administrative centres were constitutionally required and not a response to developments this week that saw confrontations with police at the islands of Thulusdhoo and Funadhoo.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the seven offices were established as stipulated under Article 71 of the Decentralisation Act as a means to oversee government development programmes and ensure budgets were being met by councils.

As a result of the formation of these offices, the President’s Office said that the cabinet had decided that all activities of the city, island and atoll councils formed during last month’s local elections were conducted through the offices.

While all these councils at “ground level” were able to meet and deliberate on local matters that affected their constituents, Zuhair said that they “technically remained” part of the national executive when it came to overseeing national developments set out by the government.

“There are budgeted programmes for each island that the government has decided to extend nationally,” he said.

Zuhair added that these seven regional offices would therefore work to oversee the administrative functions of decentralized government and any national developments undertake locally.

According to the President’s Office, the session saw the cabinet appoint individual personnel to oversee each regional office. These positions included:

• Mohamed Hunaif as Minister of State for the Upper North Province and head of the National Office for the Upper North Region

• Ali Niyaz as Deputy Minister of State for the North Province and head of the National Office for the North Region

• Hussain Irfan Zaki as Minister of State for the North Central Province and head of the National Office for the North Central Province

• Ibrahim Mohamed as Deputy Minister of State for Central Province and head of the National Office for the Central Region

• Ahmed Mujuthaba as Minister of State for the South Central Province and head of the National Office for the South Central Region

• Mohamed Shareef as Deputy Minister of State for the Upper South Province and head of the National Office for the Upper South Region

• Ahmed Adhham as Deputy Minister of State for the South Province and head of the National Office for the South Region

Although not directly related to disputes this week between the government and local councils, the president’s press secretary claimed that the offices were a means of overseeing councils were accountable nationally.

According to Zuhair, decentralisation resulting from local elections held on 5 February did not equate to granting individual councils the power to act as independent federal states.

“What we are saying is, that it is for the president to decide which state owned buildings shall be used for council offices as stipulated under the constitution,” he added.

However, the formation of the national offices was met with criticism by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf who said that opposition parliamentarians would oppose the cabinet on the issue through the courts if necessary.

“It can’t be done,” Mahlouf said in regards to the formation of the seven offices. “We went through the [local council] elections to give power to the people. No government authority can stop or control work [of the councils].”

With the majority of councils under control of the DRP and other opposition parties outside of the major residential municipal regions of Male’ and Addu Atoll, Mahlouf claimed that he believed opposition parties would oppose the national offices.

“[The decision] may go to the courts. It is something we would support. There is no need to send the police,” he said, pointing to this week’s disputes over council offices.


Declaring Addu a city “against spirit of decentralisation Act” claims DQP

The criteria for establishing a city given by the government last week, prior to its second declaration of Addu as a city, was “against the spirit of the decentralisation Act”, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has claimed.

Haveeru reported that Secretary General Abdulla Amin had sent a letter to President Mohamed Nasheed complaining that announcing the criteria through the one-member Local Government Authority was “in contradiction with the idea of decentralisation”, and “humiliates the manners of democracy”.

Amin claimed in the letter that declaring Addu a city was premature as it did not have a functional sewerage system, or even a paved road other than the primary link road, and accused the President of “escaping from his responsibilities.”

The party has said it will support the development of Addu as a city “if done according to the law.”