Councilor suspended over tweet

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has suspended a fourth councilor for refusing to participate in the government-organized celebrations to mark fifty years of independence from the British

The president of the Baa Atoll Thulhaadho council, Ahmed Abdul Raheem, was suspended for one month without pay over a tweet in which he opposed the education ministry’s plans to hold a parade for students on May 30.

In a tweet on May 29, Ahmed said the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will start a door-to-door campaign to discourage students from participating in the parade.

The LGA, headed by home minister Umar Naseer, sent a letter to the council within hours asking why Ahmed had called for students to avoid the parade. The letter also warned the LGA will penalize any councilors who obstruct the parade.

In reply, the council said it was not aware of such a tweet.

The LGA then sent a second letter last week ordering the council to withhold Ahmed’s salary.

“This is a ridiculous move by the government aimed at destroying the decentralization system and this decision was made by Umar Naseer and his special committee,” Ahmed said.

He vowed to contest Naseer’s letter at the court. He also said he had not participated in the door-to-door campaign and was not aware if such a campaign had taken place.

All Thulhadhoo councilors are MDP members.

LGA spokesperson Mohamed Azmeen declined to comment and said that “the decision to suspend councilors are made at the top.”

Naseer was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

On May 31, the LGA suspended three councilors of the Alif Alif atoll council over a resolution declaring that the council will not participate in the Independence Day activities. All six members of the atoll council belong to the MDP.

The Thulhadhoo council will meet on Wednesday to decide on Naseer’s letter, said vice president Ahmed Rasheed.

In late May, the LGA had asked the Thulhadhoo council to withhold pay of their councilor Ziyau Rasheed, who was suspended for 2 months following his arrest at the opposition’s mass anti-government protest on May 1.

The council had defied orders saying that the authority’s order was contrary to relevant laws and regulations. Unless a court of law rules otherwise, the Thulhaadhoo council said it would be following an “unconstitutional order” if it enforced the decision.

In a letter on June 1, the council told the LGA to stop threatening the council and said the only office authorized to penalize councilors were the police and the courts.

A total of seven councillors were suspended for two months without pay for participating in the May 1 protest. Nearly 20,000 people took to the streets of Malé on May Day demanding the release of Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

In early May, MDP island and atoll councillors in Noonu atoll decided to chip in to pay the salary of suspended Holhudhoo councillor Hussain Habeeb.


Government plotting to “destroy decentralization,” says Malé Deputy Mayor

The Housing Ministry’s efforts to appropriate lands and property under the Malé City Council is an organized effort to discredit the council, destroy the decentralization system and punish Malé citizens for voting for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed has said today.

Since the takeover of the Dharubaaruge Conference Center, the ministry has asked for the hand over of two additional parks developed by the council, Shifa told Minivan News.

“This is an organized joint effort by the ministry and the government to discredit the council and destroy the decentralization system. When taking back lands [from the city council] is among the very the first decisions of the cabinet, it can also be seen as a revenge against people living in Malé, and people from all over the country who are living in the city. I dont think Malé citizens deserve this spirit of revenge from the government for voting for the MDP,” she said.

The ministry’s official reason for taking over the parks is “unlawful activity” taking place at the parks, but Shifa said the ministry failed to provide details of such activities.

The council had developed the two parks – Fini Park or Bondibai Park and City Park – with cafeteria services in 2012 in order to prevent drug dealing and criminal activity, Shifa said, accusing the government of taking back the parks to reverse gains.

President Abdulla Yameen’s administration is preventing the council from serving the people of Malé, she added.

“Even earlier [with Dharubaaruge and other lands] they could not give a valid reason or explanation. They just said it was based on the Attorney General’s advice which no one has ever seen. This time they say are saying unlawful activity without telling us what these activities are,” she said.

Police involvement

Council Member Shamau Shareef told local media yesterday that the Maldives Police Service was not cooperating with the council to clear out gang hangouts in Malé City’s public spaces. The police are “afraid to touch” such areas, Shamau claimed.

In response, the police said the council had not issued an official permit requesting action.

The council yesterday sent a letter requesting Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed to stop police participation in Dharubaaruge takeover without a court warrant, and asked him to investigate the incident.

No plan for development

In an official statement released yesterday, the council said the government is appropriating lands and property under the council without any plans for development and said the ministry has confirmed the absence of such a plan to the council in writing.

Regulations on transfer of lands between the local and central government states the government is authorized to take over land from the councils on a cabinet decision for socio- economic purposes and national security purposes.

The ministry also intends to take over the artificial beach, carnival area, south harbour area, lands near the T-Jetty and Usfasgandu area on the city’s southeast.

The council condemned the “unlawful takeover,” noting that the police and housing ministry officials who entered and changed Dharubaaruge locks yesterday had done so without a court warrant or any official document indicating the center had been transferred to the ministry.

The council called on President Yameen and senior members of the government to take action against such unlawful actions and asked the government to ensure the implementation of its policies would not harm the citizens of Malé City.

The statement also explained that the Ministry of Finance and Treasury rejected the council’s request in December 2012 for funds to repair a badly damaged and deteriorating Dharubaaruge.

According to the council they were asked to utilize funds allocated for the council in 2013, and the council informed the ministry the funds were insufficient for repair. However, the ministry refused to release additional funds, the council claimed. Copies of the letters was shared with the media.

When funds were denied, the council handed over the maintenance and development of Dharubaaruge to a private company, under a public-private partnership agreement through a public bidding process.

The council statement also said the ministry’s actions were “without any respect to the legal contract between the council and a private party” and without considering  how the action may affect members of the public.

Although MDP dominates the council, a council member from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Zaidul Ameen has also condemned yesterday’s incident.

The MDP has on several occasions accused the ruling PPM of opposing decentralization and said their policies reflect the party’s founder President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s centralized policies.


MDP councils must cooperate with government developments: President’s Office

The President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has called on the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) majority councils to cooperate with the government’s development plans.

Speaking to local media on Monday, Muaz said the MDP majority councils should focus on working with the government to bring development to the citizens.

According to a Minivan News analysis of the local council election results, the MDP has gained a majority in 79 councils and won 457 seats. The ruling coalition which include the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the Jumhooree Party (JP) and the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) control 57 councils and won a combined total of 465 seats.

Muaz specifically called on the MDP led Malé City and Addu City Councils to extend cooperation to the government at a time when President Abdulla Yameen’s administration is initiating major development projects.

“The government will of course always respect the decision of the citizens. However, those people who got elected to councils must bear in mind that today the people desire to overcome political turmoil and focus on bringing development to their cities and islands,” Muaz said.

The Elections Commission (EC) completed announcing the preliminary results of the local councils yesterday.

PPM’s view

PPM’s Local Council Election Coordinator Mohamed Ashmali expressed confidence that the local councils, regardless of party affiliation, would work together in the interests of developing their areas.

“I would like to believe that we will see cooperation from the councils. We saw that even in parliament, MDP provided cooperation in passing some bills key to the government and I believe we will see such cooperation even from the councils,” Ashmali stated.

“The councils must communicate with and work together with whichever government is in power in order to do what they must for their constituencies. There are people who are very close to us in other senses in various parties. Political affiliation is a completely different matter anyway,” he said.

“I think the Maldivian people are still a bit new to the party system, but we are seeing a gradual improvement.”

Ashmali said that as the coalition had worked together in the local council elections, it is important to compare results between the MDP and then the coalition as a single unit, instead of separate parties.

“According to our review of the tentative results, coalition partners mainly got the island and atoll councils. In Addu City, it is true we were not able to conduct sufficient work. The turnout there was also relatively quite low – approximately 60 percent. However, compared to previous years, I believe that having gotten three seats in the Malé City council is quite a good achievement,” he stated.

“I did even suggest to Fuwad Thowfeek [Elections Commission President] that the EC places a ballot box for residents of the island, and a single separate box for voters in an island who originate from other constituencies. This would have assisted in getting the preliminary results out much faster. By just counting the boxes specific to each constituency, citizens and parties would have learnt sooner which seats had been won or lost. This is the information which the parties would most pressingly need after an election,” he added.

No manifesto

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor confirmed that the party’s approach would be to focus on holding the government accountable and to remain a responsible opposition.

“The councils will display a healthy mix of being a responsible opposition and holding the government accountable,” Hamid said.

“The issue that may arise is that while government asks for cooperation, they don’t even have a manifesto to show. This will cause local councils to ask them what it is that they want cooperation for. That it is unclear what exactly the government plans to do,” he continued.

“The thing, however, is that the culture of the past system is still prevailing in the government’s approach. They tend to treat local councils in the manner they approached the former island chief systems, and tend to ignore the fact that councillors are elected and not appointed like island chiefs, and the fact that councillors have a legal mandate and rights,” Hamid said.


President Yameen has no cabinet, says former President Nasheed

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has criticised President Abdulla Yameen for dividing his cabinet among coalition partners and “giving half of it to a business tycoon.”

Speaking at the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) local council campaign rally in Addu City last night, Nasheed  said development projects that had come to a halt during Dr Mohamed Waheed’s “coup government” had not restarted after the election of the new government.

Yameen’s administration “does not even have a development plan,” Nasheed alleged.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) won the second round of presidential polls held on November 16 with the backing of third-placed candidate business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Gulhun.

The coalition constituted the Jumhooree Party (JP), the religious Adhaalath Party, and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP). The PPM promised the Jumhooree Coalition over 30 percent of government positions.

“The Maldivian state does not have a cabinet, the president does not have a cabinet. There is no government, and there will be no development a non-existent government could provide for the people of Maldives,” Nasheed said.

The former president has been a vocal critic of coalition governments after having come to power as part of a short-lived coalition in 2008, with the backing of several smaller parties including the JP and DQP.

Speaking on decentralisation, Nasheed said Yameen’s half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s loyalists had  initially been critical of the policy.

It was the MDP who had drafted and proposed chapter eight of the constitution on decentralised administration, he said.

Nasheed accused the government of trying to “fit the decentralised system into a unitary system”.

He said that the result of a unitary system would be similar to what had happened “during the thirty long years and hundreds of years before that” where Island Chiefs were at the mercy of Ministers in the capital Malé, thus slowing down development.

Responding to Nasheed’s comments, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said that Nasheed “likes to lie when elections are approaching” and that his comments were targeted only for upcoming local elections.

“I think it is in his nature to do this sort of thing, perhaps it is because he does not have much to say politically. But people are more aware now, people know what exactly is happening here.” Muaz said.

“The people of Addu City would be asking whether a dysfunctional government would be working to build a multi-specialty hospital in Hulhumale, airports in Felivaru and Kulhudhufushi, and Hulhumale’ bridge. And would such a government ease the obtaining of Indian visas and construction materials, expunge criminal records of youth. Will a dysfunctional government do all these things?” he asked.

Muaz stated that President Yameen was working very efficiently with the JP’s Gasim Ibrahim, the MDA’s Ahmed Shiyam, the Adhaalath Party and other members of the coalition.

“The cabinet we have now is a very capable one. It is divided into two councils, an Economc Council and a Social Council. Both councils will report directly to the president or the vice president”.

“All members of the cabinet are working very hard as a single team. Perhaps Nasheed was referring to 29 June 2010, when he did not have a cabinet,”  Muaz continued, referring to the mass resignation of Nasheed’s Cabinet in 2010.

Nasheed, who is in Addu City for local council election campaign, will be visiting all regions of the city and will participate in a  door to door campaign.

At last night’s rally he endorsed MDP candidates for Addu City council and all MDP candidates for other councils, calling on the public to “vote for the MDP ideology”.

He has announced that he will be travelling to all inhabited islands of the Maldives before the parliamentary elections on March 22.


Government to annul provincial health and utility corporations, centralise services

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said the government intends to annul 30 government companies, including the provincial health and utility companies, in order to streamline government policy and improve service delivery.

The seven provincial utility companies—charged with providing electricity, gas, water and sanitation services—will be annulled and brought under one central umbrella corporation.

Furthermore, the seven provincial health corporations will be dissolved and health services will now be provided through the Health Ministry and the Centre for Community Health.

Riza said the provincial companies had failed to deliver services and that ousted President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration had set up separate utility and health corporations in each of the seven provinces only to award salaries to Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activists.

Nasheed’s former Policy Undersecretary Aminath Shauna said the act represented a “move back to Gayoom’s policies”, and defeated the purpose of decentralisation. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled the Maldives from 1978- 2008.

“Malldives’ geographical fragmentation means one central board or company will find it impossible to effectively monitor and deliver services in an equitable manner,” Shauna said.

“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 added.

Effective Service Delivery

Speaking to Minivan News, Shauna said Nasheed’s administration had pursued a policy of corporatisation at provincial level in order to decentralise and improve service delivery.

“We have already experienced the disadvantages of centralising services; it made service delivery slow and led to corruption. Corporations were instituted because utility companies were not run on a business model. Island electricity providers often came to the finance ministry asking for debt relief. We wanted to eliminate this dependency. Corporatisation also creates reliable services and creates economies of scale,” Shauna said.

In response Abbas said the provincial companies had failed to deliver services.

“These companies could not manage their capital. In 2010 alone, Rf 800 million (US$52 million) was spent on supporting the salaries of so-called corporations,” Abbas said. The companies did not share common polices and operated on very different models, he claimed.

Although the provincial companies will be terminated, the operational units at province and island levels would continue to exist.

“This is centralised coordination to streamline policy. The operational units at provincial and island levels will continue to exist and the staff will retain their jobs,” he said.

“What we are doing is eliminating political boards. There were 30 separate boards before. Some boards had as many as 15 board members, and they were all political appointees. The former government did this in order to grant party activists salaries,” he alleged.

“When you eliminate political boards, service delivery will in fact be faster. If you look at the health records, we are slipping back and we believe this happened because service delivery was not efficient or effective,” he claimed.

However, Shauna said Nasheed’s “ultimate aim was to make these companies public companies and fully independent. They were state sponsored until they could find their own feet.”

Some companies had been more successful than others, Shauna admitted. For instance, the Southern Utilities Ltd – serving Addu and Fuamulah Atolls – had contracted Biwater International Ltd in 2010 to build six seawater reverse osmosis desalination plants to provide potable water. The contract is valued at US$42 million. The Southern Utilties Ltd had also handled all roadwork and landscaping for the 2011 SAARC Summit held in Addu atoll.

“All of the companies were improving gradually. They were finding their own feet, and contracting partners through public private partnerships. Our vision was for the government to step out of service delivery and play a monitoring role,” Shauna said.


A second benefit of the centralisation of utility and health services is that the policy would empower local councils, Riza told Minivan News.

“Decentralisation means administrative decentralisation through elected councils. It does not mean making corporations. Now the ministry will be working very closely with the councils, where tasks will be delegated to councils, whereas corporations can and did override councils before,” Riza said.

In response Shauna said the spirit of decentralisation was to decentralise service delivery and to promote greater accountability.

“When you have regional companies, you have service providers working closely with the public. These companies will have to face the public everyday and this improves accountability,” Shauna said.

“How can a central authority with a limited number of people provide equitable services to the entire country? A few people deciding for the entire country does not help the people,” Shauna said.


Fokaidhoo islanders ‘hijack’ island council office

Islanders of Shaviyani Atoll Foakaidhoo have “hijacked” the island council since yesterday afternoon, a council member has told Minivan News.

Abdulla Nahid, one of the four Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) council members on the island told Minivan News that a group of middle-aged women and men entered the Council Office yesterday afternoon and refused to leave the office saying that they had hijacked the Council Office.

“They came here while we were having a council meeting regarding the issue of handing the power house of the island to the utilities company,’’ Nahid said. ‘’This is the real issue, there was a dispute between the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters and DRP supporters on the island about handing over the power house.”

He said that while the DRP supporters opposed the utilities company, MDP supporters demanded the council hand over the power house.

‘’We called for a vote to see what the majority of the islanders want, but MDP supporters boycotted the vote and more than 90 percent opposed the idea of having the utilities company run the power house,’’ Nahid explained. “The MDP supporters sent us letter and petitions so we went for a second vote, but DRP supporters boycotted that vote and more than 90 percent of the islanders present that time voted in favor of handing over the power house.”

He said yesterday the council was about to discuss the matter during the meeting but MDP supporters arrived and told the councilors that they would not leave the office unless the council gave them a final answer.

“We told them that we have to hold a council meeting to make a decision according to the law, but they did not allow us to have a meeting and are sitting inside the council office now as well, they were there all night,’’ he said.

Nahid said that they were not obstructing the work of the council members or being violent, but just sitting down inside the council office saying that they had hijacked the office.

“They threw paper rockets at us, and sometimes make noises using a loudspeaker, but most of the time they remain quiet,’’ he said. ‘’Because they did not leave the office last night, two council members stayed up in the office and this morning did not come for work, so today we were not able to hold a meeting and the matter is being delayed.’’

He said he personally supported the MDP supporters’ idea, and had told other council members to support the idea and put the politics aside.

‘’But according to the law, I need one more council member to support my idea before we can go for a vote – if the vote is equal the Chair of the council can vote but there has been no other member to support this,’’ he said.

Nahid added that the council members did not want to use the police to move the protesters out of the council office.


Legal confusion over local council elections

The government claims to be seeking legal advice concerning issues relating to the local council elections scheduled for October.

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said there were contradictory definitions mentioned in the decentralisation and local council acts.

For instance, Hulhudhoo and Meedhu in Addu Atoll are considered two different islands and have their own island offices, but both are located on the same land mass.  Under the decentralisation act,  two islands on the same land or in the same lagoon would be considered one island, Zuhair explained.

“But in the local council elections act island offices are [allocated] for every island. As a result, it is now difficult to determine on which islands councils should be established,’’ he said.

Zuhair said the Elections Commission [EC] would try to hold elections on time, regardless to the issues raised.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party DRP MP Abdulla Mausoom said DRP has already presented a bill to the parliament to resolve the issue.

”We will amend the law to provide power to the citizens, and we might as well amend the constitution if necessary,” said Mausoom. ”In the bill it will determine how the local councils should be established in the controversial islands of Addu Atoll and Fuvamulah.”

In May, the parliament passed legislation on local council elections. The bill was initially passed in such a way that any person who lived out of their birthplace was required to travel to their home island.

Article 4 of the first legislation passed said voters would have to be present in their island of birth or registered constituency in order to cast their ballots.

President Mohamed Nasheed vetoed the bill, claiming a large number of people from the atolls living in Male’ or “40 per cent of the population”, would be deprived of the right to vote if he ratified the bill.

President of the Elections Commission Fuad Thaufeeq did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Government fails to amend decentralisation bill

The parliament yesterday voted to dismiss amendments to the decentralisation bill proposed by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Out of the 69 MPs present, 37 MPs voted against the amendments while 32 voted to continue the bill. One MP abstained.

The controversial bill has seen protests outside parliament and mass-walkouts by MPs. As a result of yesterday’s vote, the DRP’s key sticking point on the issue, the concept of provinces, has been defeated.

DRP MP Ahmed Nihan has previously told Minivan News that while the DRP has never been against decentralisation, as the Constitution states the country should be run by a decentralised government – “it is unconstitutional” to divide the country into seven provinces and not the stipulated 21 regions.

MDP MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor, who presented the bill on behalf of the government, said the party’s objective had been to amend some articles in the decentralisation bill.

”There are some articles in (the recently approved) bill that alienates the islands both socially and economically,” said Gafoor.

Gafoor said MDP proposed the amendments in a bid to make the country economically sustainable.

”When all the powers of the executive are taken by the parliament, the pace of reform slows,” Gafoor said. ”There are many cunning articles included in the decentralisation bill added by the opposition.”

However, DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom said that the government proposed the amendment to the bill to gain more influence by narrowing the power of the people.

”I would not say it was a bill of amendment, it was more a bill that was proposed to reverse the bill previously approved,” said Mausoom. ”The government just want to promote their dictatorship,” he added.

”Local governance is about letting people make their decisions on their own for themselves,” he suggested.


Parliament accepts drug bill

Parliament yesterday accepted a drug bill that will lead to greater sophistication in the country’s treatment of drug crimes.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair explained the bill would dramatically affect many drug cases, distinguishing between ‘soft drugs’ and ‘hard drugs’. and detailing punishments for dealers and users.

“[It proposes] a special court for drug cases,” he said, noting that the government discussed the bill with the Islamic Ministry before presenting to the parliament.

Maldivian Democratic Party MDP MP Ahmed Easa said the bill was “remarkable” and that the government deserved to be praised.

”The bill was designed based on the experience the country has had during the past years, after discussion with concerned departments and NGOs,” Easa said.

One of the most significant points in the bill, Easa said, was the protection for witnesses to drug cases.

Easa also said that while the bill included rehabilitation for drug abusers, “the punishment for dealers is very strict.”

”There would be a Rf50000 (US$3850) to Rf5000000 (US$385,000) fine and a prison sentence of 5-15 years, as well as confiscation of the offender’s properties by the government.”

He said according to the bill a drug court would be built where all the drug cases would be heard, “with a special team appointed to identify drugs and their level.”

He said if the bill was approved, “all the doors for drugs would be closed.”

DRP MP Waheed said there were amendments to be made to the drug bill, but said would not like to go into details at this time.