DRP proposes bringing council elections forward

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Mohamed Mujthaz proposed an amendment to the Decentralisation Act yesterday to set December 31, 2010 as the deadline for local council elections.

On Sunday, the Elections Commission (EC) announced that local council elections will take place on February 5, 2010 after taking the upcoming school holidays as well as the Hajj Eid festivities into consideration.

The deadline in the Decentralisation Act had elapsed on October 13 while the complementary Local Council Elections Act, ratified on July 29, gave a 122 period for the elections.

Presenting the bill, Mujthaz said that as administrative constituencies were listed by the government after the amendment was proposed, he was willing to withdraw it at a latter stage.

The amendment bill also proposes considering administrative constituencies as listed in the appendix of the Decentralisation Act.

Meanwhile, an amendment to the Act proposed by the government to set the criteria for city status for populations with 10,000 was narrowly rejected at yesterday’s sitting.

While 34 MPs voted in favour of the proposal, 35 voted against and one abstained.


Amendment to Decentralisation Act allowing joint development projects among atolls defeated in Majlis vote

An amendment to the Decentralisation Act was rejected by a 5 vote majority in the yesterday’s sitting of the Majlis – 37 MPs against, 32 MPs in favor.

The current Decentralisation Act states that only the Majlis can authorise inter-atoll projects or combine two or more administrative units (an atoll or part of an atoll designated as an administrative unit) for economic, social or administrative purposes.

The amendment aimed to provide more leverage to the administration to implement joint economic and social projects between two or more atolls, or administratively divided parts of an atoll, reported Miadhu Daily.

DRP MPs spoke strongly against the amendment, and criticised the current administration.

President Nasheed (a member of the MDP) signed the Decentralisation Act into law on 17 May 2010.

MDP MPs criticised the DRP and other opposition parties for voting against government proposals which would benefit the Maldivian people, reported Miadhu Daily. MDP MPs said that the DRP’s words do not match their actions which they described as a sign of an irresponsible opposition, and MDP MPs said that DRP’s main strategy at the moment was gaining support through creating fear against the MDP administration and destroying the trust between the administration and the people, reported Miadhu Daily.

MDP MPs also said the opposition parties were conducting a major smear campaign in its efforts to oust the executive government before the end of its 5 year term, reported Miadhu Daily, and MDP MPs also cited examples from EU and ASEAN showing that joining two or more administrative units for economic purposes would bear fruit because unity is the key to development.

The amendment had been presented to the Majlis by the MP for Henveiru-South, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.


President hopes Decentralisation Act will be amended

President Mohamed Nasheed has said he will sign the decentralisation bill into law despite misgivings as any further delays would do “more harm than good”.

In his weekly radio address on Friday, President Nasheed said the constitutionality of some provisions could be challenged at court.

“I hope that after I ratify this bill, amendments will be made as soon as possible, within the present framework, to change the provisions where these conflicts could arise,” he said.

The president said grouping atolls into provinces and devolving decision-making powers concentrated in Male’ to seven regions was a campaign pledge of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“It’s not at all the case that the government decided to create provinces because there was a political opportunity or purpose in it,” he said, adding that it would be more politically advantageous to continue with the existing system of “considering the capital of the atoll to be the atoll council.”

Continuing with the traditional system would be the “narrowest” way of devolving powers, Nasheed said, adding he did not want to prolong the existing model of island and atoll development committees with “small, minimal powers”.

Meanwhile, the purpose of provinces was “to find a better path” for economic growth and development.

The province offices created in the first months of the new government was intended to “introduce and implement” the model, Nasheed said.

Moreover, he added, as the constitution empowers the president to create posts and offices for administrative purposes, desks were set up at the province offices for the main government ministries.

But, DRP MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News today the bill would not hamper development as it would vest “executive power” in the hands of the people and stipulate equal distribution of government funds.

He further accused the president of exercising executive power with “total disregard” to the constitution.

While the president was empowered to appoint councillors and state ministers by article 115 of the constitution, he said, the DRP did not accept that it could be done for the purposes of decentralisation in the absence of enabling legislation.

“We believe [the appointments] was made by misusing the powers granted by article 115 as it was done for political purposes,” he said.

Nihan added it would have been better for the president to voice concern about “building human resources” for decentralisation as the process was new to the country and was likely to result in teething problems.

On the issues of maintaining the existing administrative division into 21 atolls, Nihan said “the core reality is that Maldivians don’t want to lose their island identity.”

Moreover, he said the government’s fear that the bill would create “21 opposition governments within the country” was unfounded.


The decentralisation and regionalisation policy began with the appointment of state ministers under Home Minister Gasim Ibrahim, who quit his post 21 days into the new administration.

Gasim joined the DRP-PA MPs, several independents and the two MPs of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party to vote through the final bill by 42 votes.

The model of provinces was removed from the government’s bill by the opposition DRP-dominated committee after it was submitted for a second time in March this year.

Opposition MPs have argued that the atoll councils referred to in article 230(b) of the constitution must be established at the atoll level for the 21 administrative atolls of the country.

The battle over the legislation throughout the first two sessions of parliament involved forced cancellations, clashes in the chamber and protests.


Decentralisation bill passed as MDP MPs walk out

The long delayed bill on decentralised administration was passed today after MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) walked out in protest, withdrawing the party’s amendments to the draft legislation.

The party proposed over a hundred amendments to reverse the changes made to the bill by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) dominated committee and restore the model of provinces.

But, more than an hour into the process of voting on amendments, “Reeko” Moosa Manik, MDP parliamentary group leader, announced that the party was withdrawing its proposals as it was clear that “the spirit of the Majlis was against the MDP, even if it’s an amendment we proposed to correct a grammatical error”.

He added MDP MPs did not wish to “heat up” the sitting by remaining in the chamber.

The mass exit was greeted with ironic applause and jeers from the DRP MPs.

The seminal piece of legislation was passed shortly before 6pm with 42 votes in favour and one against after the sitting was extended until the amended bill could be put for a vote.

Ahmed Rasheed, MDP MP for Hoarafushi, stayed behind to cast the sole dissenting vote.

A total of 68 amendments, the majority of which were proposed by the DRP, was passed today.

Presidential veto?

Speaking to Minivan News, Mohamed Aslam, MP for Hithadhoo North, expressed concern that the amendments proposed by the DRP would divest the councils of its powers and rule out any collaboration between atolls or constituencies.

Some of the amendments proposed by DRP would defeat the purpose of devolving decision-making powers and hinder development, he said.

In its current form, the bill would “isolate single atolls” as they were not legally empowered to participate in joint development projects with other atolls.

“For example, if Fuvahmulah wants to build an airport, it can’t lease an island from Huvadhoo Atoll to foreign investors,” he said.

Although the parliamentary group has not officially decided to recommend that the president veto the bill, Aslam said he personally did not believe the bill should be ratified.

“I don’t think any MDP MP would want this bill to be ratified,” he said.

A majority of 39 votes would be needed to override a presidential veto.

Mohamed Zuhair, president’s office press secretary, said the president would make a decision after “serious consideration” of the social and economic consequences of the law as well as potential legal problems.

“The president will seek the opinion of the attorney general and the legal office before making a decision,” he said.

“Still dictatorial”

Chairperson of the MDP, 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.”

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

”I hope people remember that MDP had nothing to do with the bill when in campaign the DRP starts screaming of the islands not being the developed state as envisaged by 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.”


At yesterday’s sitting, a resolution proposed by DRP Vice-President and MP for Thohdhoo, Ali Waheed, was adopted to postpone the upcoming recess until the two bills necessary for local government elections could be passed.

The resolution was sent to the general affairs committee with the support of 62 MPs out of the 69 in attendance.

Under the new rules of procedure, parliament is due to break for recess on 30 April.

Concluding today’s sitting, Speaker Abdullah Shahid said a decision over the resolution would be made at tomorrow’s sitting.

The intractable dispute between the two main parties over the issue of provincial councils led to recurrent deadlock and protests outside parliament last year, culminating in the president withdrawing the bill at the eleventh hour.

In his weekly radio address on Friday, President Mohamed Nasheed said he would accept parliament’s decision on the bill and would not “react harshly” to the outcome.

The amendments made to the government’s bill by the committee would “create 20 small governments”.

While the MDP manifesto proposed dividing the country into seven provinces for decentralised administration, the DRP insists the existing division into 21 administrative areas should be maintained.

During the protracted debate, opposition MPs argued the creation of seven province councils instead of 21 atoll councils would result in disproportionate representation, marginalising the smaller, less populous atolls.

“I am completely prepared to do this in the way the People’s Majlis decides,” said the president. “All will be well when members of parliament think about this, find a way to facilitate development of this country and proceed accordingly. The government’s thinking of decentralisation with seven provinces is for economic purposes. There is no political purpose behind it…In my mind, there is no political rivalry in this matter. We are going ahead with this to pave the way for the country’s development, not to achieve a political purpose.”


President inaugurates MWSC Production Centre in Maafushi

President Mohamed Nasheed inaugurated the MWSC’s (Malé Water and Sewerage Company) Production Centre in Maafushi on Saturday, which will provide desalinated water to the residents of the island.

President Nasheed noted the government recognised basic utilities like water and sewerage were essential for the development and prosperity of the people.

He said the government was aiming to provide these services in a sustainable manner, but needed support from the private sector which is why the government is pursuing a policy of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to carry out developmental activities.

President Nasheed also said the government’s wish to create seven provinces was “not for political gain but for the benefit of all citizens.”

He said the government “does not desire to do anything through arguing and fighting in the People’s Majlis,” but is trying to do what is best for the citizens of the country.

He noted if anyone could explain why creating the provinces would obstruct the development of the country, “we are ready to concede.”


MDP to take province issue to Supreme Court

Spokesperson for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group MP Ahmed Shifaz has said the parliamentary group intends to take the dispute over the province section of the decentralisation bill to the supreme court.

Shifaz said according to the constitution, when the parliament disputes an issue by resolution it has the power to ask for advice from the supreme court.

”The opposition say it is unconstitutional to divide the country in to seven provinces,” Shifaz said, ”so we are going to present a resolution to the parliament, and see what the Supreme Court says,”

He said he hoped the opposition MPs would agree to pass a resolution to hear what the Supreme Court says.

”According to the constitution the Supreme Court is able to give the last word,” he said. ”I hope they agree and pass the resolution.”

MDP MP Ahmed Hamza said the MDP parliamentary group had decided to present a resolution according to the Article 95 of the constitution.

Aricle 95 of the constitution reads as follows: ”The People’s Majlis may by resolution refer to the Supreme Court for hearing and consideration important questions of law concerning any matter, including the interpretation of the Constitution and the constitutional validity of any statute. The Supreme Court shall answer the questions so referred and shall provide the answers to the People’s Majlis, giving reasons for its answers. The opinion shall be pronounced in like manner as in the case of a judgement on appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Hamza said that the opposition MPs claimed that dividing the country into seven provinces was against article 230 [b] of the constitution.

Article 230 [b] of the constitution reads as follows: ”In order to provide for decentralised administration, the President has the power, as provided in law, to create constituencies, posts, island councils, atoll councils and city councils.”

”This is not a constitutional issue, in fact, this is a political issue,” Hamza said, ”we want the Supreme Court to say whether dividing in to seven provinces is against 230 [b] of the constitution.”

Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed said did not wish to comment on the issue yet.

”This might even be a political issue,” he suggested.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Nihan said it was written in the constitution “in clear words” that the country’s administrative units cannot be divided into seven provinces.

Nihan said the party would not change its stand.

”I do not think the Supreme Court would say we are wrong either,” he said. ”I think our party will not change its mind.”

He said dividing the country into administrative units would make it more difficult for people to get services from the government.

Deputy Leader of DRP Umar Naseer said that presenting a resolution to the parliament to hear what the Supreme Court had to say on the matter “does not have any weight.”

”Although the Supreme Court can say whatever it likes, it’s in the hand of MPs to decide what to do with the provinces,” he said. ”They are just trying to delay this bill.”

He said that MDP MPs were already aware that people did not want to divide the country’s administrative units into seven provinces.


“Hell will come” to parliament over provinces section: MP Mohamed Nasheed

Parliament’s decentralisation committee has removed the concept of ‘provinces’ from the contentious Decentralisation Bill, claiming that dividing the country into seven provinces and not keeping it divided into its current  21 administrative regions is unconstitutional.

During the decentralisation bill’s third innings at Parliament, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)-led committee in charge of reviewing the bill voted in favour of removing the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) proposal of provincial division.

In protest against the removal of the ‘provinces’ from the bill, four MDP MPs walked out of the committee meeting last week leaving the remaining seven members to take a vote on whether the provincial divisions should remain or be removed.

According to Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed, this “sticking issue” has been causing disagreements in Parliament and within the committee since the Bill was first introduced. The reasons behind the argument were “partly legal, partly political,” he explained.

According to the Constitution, the country should be divided into 21 administrative districts. Nasheed points out that the Constitution does not mention provinces; nor does it say whether the country can or cannot be divided into provinces.

Nasheed said the DRP is against the move because they claim it is unconstitutional, while the MDP counters that because provincial governance is in the party’s manifesto and people voted for MDP, it should be allowed.

Nasheed said the government began constructing new province offices and appointing ministers while the bill was still being disputed, and has spent Rf125 million (US$9.6 million) on administrative costs already.

“The government did not consult with the main opposition [before going ahead],” he said.

In an effort to avoid the protests and disruption that occurred during the last vote in parliament over the bill, Nasheed suggested a compromise whereby the president has the right to group regions together for administrative reasons, similar to the way it is done in the health and education sectors.

“It does not need to be crystallised in law,” he explained.

He noted that creating provincial councils would only complicate things as it would mean four layers of government in the country: island council, atoll council, province council and national government.

However Nasheed said he believes that “no one will give up” on the issue, as “the government has climbed the ladder so high, it would be a major political defeat if they back down. Right now, it’s MDP against everyone else,” he said.

Nasheed said he expects “a lot of friction” in Parliament this coming week, suggesting that “hell will come” when the issue is sent back to the Majlis.

MDP response

MDP MP for Henveiru South Hamid Abdul Gafoor said the bill “should have been enacted into law on 1 July 2009… it has to be done within the transitional two years [since the change of government]. There are only three months left.”

Gafoor said because the population of individual atolls are so small, sometimes under 10,000 people, it is not enough people to make administrative costs economically viable.

“We need [about] 40,000 people [in each region] to make it economically feasible,” he said, noting that this would mean cutting civil servants “as the extra layer simplifies the system.”

Gafoor said there would still be atoll councillors, but there wouldn’t be a need for representatives of the central government in each atoll, therefore reducing costs.

“We will cut down on red tape, on bureaucracy,” he said.

Gafoor added that if this section of the bill is passed, the subsequent elections for provincial ministers and representatives would be “a landmark election” for the country.

DRP response

Chairperson of the Decentralisation Committee and DRP MP Mohamed Mujthaz said there will only be another vote if an MP proposes amendments. Otherwise, he said, “tomorrow, the committee will finish [reviewing the bill].”

DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said the DRP has been “refusing to add” this concept of provincial division from the beginning.

He said DRP has never been against decentralisation, as it clearly stated in the Constitution the country should be run by a decentralised government. But he added “it is unconstitutional” to make the division into seven provinces and not the stipulated 21 regions.

Nihan said this new division would only complicate things more, adding “the public is now confused” as to where to go: the island office, atoll office, or province office: “The service is getting far away from the people.”

Nihan said MDP can ask for an amendment in Parliament, but said he thought “the public is not in the mood to let this happen.”

Government response

Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, said “the president’s view has been publicly stated. Just having atoll councillors does not prove good economics; it is too small a population.”

Zuhair said although the Constitution stipulates the country be divided into twenty-one atolls, “it does not prohibit” dividing it by provinces.

He said grouping the atolls into provinces was “necessary” and noted that “aid agencies have [also] grouped them. This is not a new idea.”

Zuhair said MDP MPs are boycotting the committee and said “there will still be intervention,” assuring “there will be a vote” in Parliament to resolve this.

He added that the president could, “by decree” include the provinces into the bill, “but it’s not the ideal situation. The president is still trying to garner support.”


Councilor says dismissal was for failing to obey MDP

Councilor of Maavah Laamu atoll Waleed Zakariya has claimed he was dismissed from the post earlier this month because he failed to give into demands by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activists on the island.

Speaking to Minivan News, Waleed said he has learned that he was fired on the request of an MDP member on the island who was unhappy with him.

“The MDP people who worked to get me fired asked me to do illegal things and made complaints to try and make me do those things,” he said, adding the actions they wanted him to take could not be taken “even by a dictator”.

Among the demands were repossessing parts of enlarged plots owned by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) supporters and refusing to issue licenses and ID cards to them.

Waleed said some people demanded that he give out part of his salary to them and publicly refuse to provide any service to DRP supporters.

“I begged and pleaded with them and told them I can’t do those things, but they refused to accept,” he said, adding they believed the island office should pass criminal judgment on opposition members.

He added the government’s decision to dismiss him was very “irresponsible” as it was based on the complaints of “just three people”.

The three MDP activists in question had ties to high-ranking officials in the president’s office, he said.

Minivan News could not reach the president’s office press secretary for a comment at time of press.

While the MDP supporters claimed Waleed was ordered by the government to marginalize DRP supporters, Waleed said he did not receive any such orders. He had been councilor for 11 months prior to his dismissal.

A DRP supporter on the island told Minivan News that MDP “activists” did not like the councilor consulting opposition party supporters.

“They don’t even want to see him talking to anyone other than an MDP supporter,” he said.

Waleed said the DRP supporters on the island were happy with the job he had done. “I think the reason is that under my watch, I have rented out a lot of empty plots on the land to increase revenue for the people. When I took over the office, the total finances were Rf900,000. But, in these past 11 months, I have raised it to Rf2.2 million.”

MDP supporters are outnumbered by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) on Maavah, which is represented by opposition People’s Alliance MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakuru.

After the MDP supporters alleged in public that Waleed stole money from public coffers, the letter of dismissal was posted outside a popular café on the island.

Waleed said he had been approached by many islanders to express condolences and urging him to contest for the upcoming local council elections.

He said he was “100 per cent certain” that an MDP candidate would not win a seat.

Waleed said he still did not have any clear information about why he was fired when he was told about it on 3 December.

“It came as a shock to me. I said I’m at the office working right now and I haven’t heard anything either from the atoll office or the province office. And I have not been asked by anyone to clear up any information about my work. I said I found it hard to believe that I have suddenly been fired.”

He added neither the home affairs ministry nor the atoll office was informed of his dismissal even three days after the letter was sent out.