LGA backs parliament decision to reinstate Miladhoo councillor

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has backed parliament’s decision last week to reinstate Noonu Atoll Miladhoo Island Councillor Nasrulla Mohamed after he was removed from the post through a resolution adopted by the council.

LGA member Ahmed Faisal told newspaper Haveeru that the LGA supports the parliament’s decision to reinstate the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) councillor as the authority believes Nasrulla was not dismissed in accordance with the rules or following due process.

He added that councillors can only be removed by the Elections Commission (EC) according to a Supreme Court ruling. While councils could vote to remove one of its members, Faisal said the decision would not be considered legal until the EC declared a seat vacant.

Nasrulla was dismissed after he allegedly did not attend seven consecutive council meetings, which is cause for removal according to the law. The LGA however did not accept the council’s decision and informed it to reinstate Nasrulla and pay him wages.

The LGA was set up by the landmark Decentralisation Act of 2010 as a parent body tasked with overseeing local councils and coordinating with the government.


Kun’burudhoo development hampered by bureaucracy, insufficient budget

The council of the island of Kun’burudhoo in Alif Dhaal Atoll is struggling to meet its mandate of bringing development to its population of just over 500 people, a problem they say is increased due to insufficient annual budget.

The Council President Mohamed Azmy, who was voted in as an independent candidate, echoed the concerns of atoll councils and the Local Government Authority(LGA) that the biggest challenge faced by the council was the lack of adequate funding.

“Last year’s budget covered nothing more than salaries and some stationery for the office. And this year, we have received an even lower budget,” Azmy said. “To add to this, the Decentralisation Act overlaps with other stronger laws and this in the end inhibits us from fundraising through other means.”

Azmy said the Ministry of Finance had notified island councils in late 2012 that any earnings of the councils are to be considered part of the state budget and must be deposited with the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA).

Council Member Ahmed Ashraf, from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), added that the past year’s budget had proved insufficient to maintain the office’s phone and fax lines, or to establish a work space for any of the council members besides the President.

“This is our work space,” Ashraf said, gesturing at a ‘joali’, a set of reclining seats, placed outside the office. “It’s impossible to work productively in conditions such as these. There is so much we are mandated to do for our island, but how will we achieve it unless the state can provide us with resources or at least the autonomy to raise funds ourselves?”

The councillors stated that despite a period of almost three years having passed since the local council elections, the LGA had still not transferred the government-owned lands, which can be used to generate income, to the jurisdiction of the council, citing administrative delays as a cause.

Relocation: President suggests Hulhumale’

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan pledged to address the major concerns of the council during a meeting held January 9.

Speaking of the small size of the island, and the ensuing lack of natural resources and difficulty in providing basic services, Waheed suggested relocating of the island’s population.

Vice President of the Council Mohamed Adam stated that the people of Kun’burudhoo had some demands if they were to be relocated, and that they would only accept the idea on condition that they were moved to a more developed island with a better standard of living.

“We haven’t released any land to individuals in over 30 years. Now there are large families sharing homes here and living standards are decreasing day by day,” Adam said, also pointing out the less than adequate health and education facilities.

The council said Waheed spoke of possibly moving the island’s people to Hulhumale’ during the second phase of its development or to the island of Maafushi, another island close to the capital city of Male’.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ahmed Thaufeeq denied that any mention of specific islands had been made during the time.

“Relocating smaller populations to larger islands is part of this government’s plan. However, we have not yet identified specifically which island will be relocated where. Moving people to Hulhumale’ is definitely not in our plans yet. I have no knowledge of any such plans,” he said.

Adam said that the council was aware that Waheed, as he had promised in the meeting, had approached the Health Ministry asking them to deal with the issues at the island’s health centre.

“It’s a level two health centre. Normally, centres at this tier have approximately 15 staff. In our case, we only have one doctor, one nurse, one community health officer, one administrative staff and one labourer. It’s extremely difficult to cater to people’s needs,” Azmy said. “We hope the health ministry responds to this in a timely manner.”

“There’s also the matter of our mosque. We closed it down last August when we discovered human remains on the premises. Now the ladies’ mosque is open for general use, but this cannot remain a permanent solution. We did put this matter forward to Waheed too,” Azmy continued.

The final issue the council took to the President was the matter of erosion and the damaged revetments of the recently constructed jetty.

The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) constructed the jetty in 2009 during Nasheed’s administration.

“This island has been facing the problem of erosion for years. When Nasheed came to power, he kept his pledge and constructed this jetty for us. Now, the jetty is showing signs of wear and tear. We are speaking with the government to find a way to deal with this before matters worsen, but there’s a confusion as to who has to take responsibility,” Azmy said.

Adam said according to the government, the MTCC had not officially handed over the jetty to the government to date.

“If we try to repair this ourselves, it might end up as us acting illegally. Unless this jetty is officially handed over, we ourselves can do nothing about it,” Adam said.

Thaufeeq said that the matter was currently being discussed with MTCC. He stated that the government was working to solve the issue as soon as possible.

“Of the four issues discussed at the meeting, the only action we’ve seen so far from the government is the letter sent to the Health Ministry. There’s been no news on anything else, but I hope what was said at the meeting does translate into action soon,” Adam said.

Waste dumped into sea

“Land erosion has always been a huge problem on this island. After the jetty was built, the erosion is now occurring on the eastern side of the island, opposite from where we had the problem before,” Ashraf said.

Besides soil erosion, the second biggest issue was pollution of the seas. The island does not have any waste management system.

“We leave waste management up to the households. There is a designated area where households burn their waste, but food items and other such waste often just get dumped into the sea,” Adam said.

“I understand that the environment is a very fragile thing. Nevertheless, I don’t see how we can ask the people to not dispose of their waste in the sea unless we can show them alternative means.”

Azmy said plans had been set in place to build a garbage site on the island during the previous administration, but that the council had heard no news about the project after the change in government.

Meanwhile, a number of large dustbins have been placed along the road adjacent to the jetty, bearing the logo of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.

“Conrad donated those dustbins. The people are only allowed to throw waste like tins, bottles and packets into it. We at the council arrange its disposal. It’s strictly not for household waste,” Ashraf explained.

“Waste management is a massive problem which our government needs to deal with. The Environment Ministry is drafting up a plan to deal with the issue. There are currently mechanisms being put in place to manage waste in Male’, and we will do the same for big and small islands across the country in time,” Thaufeeg said, in response to the matter.


Certain parties leasing city hall failed to pay rent: LGA

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has revealed that certain parties who have leased Male’ City Hall from the local municipal council had failed to pay the required amounts of rent.

A report compiled by the LGA, which was commissioned to probe difficulties faced by Male’ Cty Council (MCC) in fulfilling its mandate, showed that the decision to rent out city hall in order to generate revenue for the council had not been regulated.

Under the agreement to rent out the city hall, MCC members had decided to charge MVR 1,500 per day as rent.

LGA also alleged that the city hall’s availability for leasing had not been made public, which according to the authority violates the equality clause in Article 17 of the constitution.

Local media reported that MCC had been advised to recover the funds and establish a system to document the transactions of the council.


LGA blamed for hindering City Council’s mandate

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has been blamed by Male’ City Council for failing to cooperate with the council in providing services to the people.

In a statement made by the council, it alleged that legally obligated plans are currently pending due to LGA failing to heed requests for technical expertise for the work of the City Council.

The Council also highlighted that LGA had failed to provide information and extend cooperation needed to draft plans for the development of the capital Male.

“Male City Council has failed to provide the services to the people as the resources and funds needed haven’t been received from the relevant authorities.

“In addition, each and every responsibility being looked at in an investigative manner by LGA and relevant State institutions is unnecessary,” a City Council statement said.

The statement alleged that following the regime change on February 7, political influence has found its way into the new LGA board, creating a major obstacle to the council’s mandate.

The LGA have also been accused by City Council of launching investigations into every request made for the assistance of the authority.

The decentralisation system could collapse if the LGA failed to extend cooperation and assistance to the councils, City Council warns.


LGA warns MCC against allowing use of council facilities for political activities

The body assigned to monitor the work and activities of the councils created under the 2010 decentralisation act has urged Male’ City Council (MCC) not to allow its facilities or equipment to be used for political purposes.

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has reported several complaints about the use of council offices for political purposes and has released a statement on its website warning the council that such activities could undermine public confidence in the MCC.

“[The LGA] believes that this could disrupt the system by which these services are provided to the people. Hence, we advise all councils and council offices to refrain from leasing council property and equipment for political gatherings,” read the statement.

Under the terms of the 2010 Decentralisation Act* the LGA was created to “monitor the work and activities and coordinate the work of the councils.”

The act also commits the LGA to “ensure the work and activities of councils created is functioning in accordance with the constitution, this act, and the other laws.”

The LGA statement did not elaborate on its position concerning the legality of the use of MCC facilities for political purposes. Minivan News was informed by an LGA staff member that there was to be no further comment given today.

The legality of the use of council land has become the focal point in the dispute between the MCC and the central government.

The most recent development in the long-running dispute came on June 7 when the government filed a request with the Civil Court, requesting an order for the MCC to hand the Usfasgandu area over to the Housing Ministry.

The ministry first announced its intentions to reclaim the site on April 9 should the MCC fail to dismantle the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protest camp.

The government argued that the leasing of the land to the MDP for political purposes was in contravention of the decentralisation act. After the MCC refused to accept this interpretation of the law, the cabinet informed the MCC on May 9 that it was entrusting the Housing Minister to reclaim the area.

The situation escalated once more on May 29 after the government obtained a warrant from the Criminal Court to search the area after the Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed had alleged complaints of illegal activity in the area. Among the purported misdemeanours listed on the warrant was “suspected black magic performed in the area”.

The security forces began to dismantle the camp before the MDP obtained an order from the Civil Court to halt the process.

The MDP, which enjoys a majority of seats in the MCC, has also been using Male’ City Hall, the council’s main office, for party press conferences in recent weeks.

Under the Decentralisation Act, the LGA is empowered to file suit with the High Court to dissolve the council. One of the situations detailed as warranting such action is the misuse of council’s faciltities.

Article 140 of the constitution states that a member of the cabinet must be assigned responsibility for each of the non-independent government authorities. The Home Minister currently fulfils this role.

*These details have been taken from an unofficial translation of the act.


Road to 2013 uncertain for opposition despite election gains, says PA

The path towards 2013’s general election is unclear for the Maldives’ political opposition according to the People’s Alliance (PA) party, despite last weekend’s local council elections serving as an “encouraging” guideline for how they could fare during national polling.

PA Secretary General Ahmed Shareef told Minivan News that in light of the performance of opposition parties, particularly the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) in securing the majority of island councils around the country, the manner in which they would come together to try and hold the government accountable was far from certain.

Shareef said a formal coalition between four or more of the country’s opposition parties was one possible option, but added that this remained far from a certainty in the current political climate.

The claims come amidst reports of further political infighting within the DRP, the country’s main opposition party, as factions supporting current leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and dismissed former Deputy Leader Umar Naseer vie for control of the party.

The disputes led yesterday to protests outside the DRP headquarters by a crowd calling for Thasmeen’s resignation, followed by his announcement of the signing of a second coalition agreement with the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP). The PA and DRP already maintain a coalition and together own a parliamentary majority.

Although not wishing to comment on the reported disputes between factions in the DRP itself due to allegations of the involvement of the PA in instigating them, Shareef added that party did not currently believe that the DQP’s coalition with the DRP would affect its own coalition agreement leading up to 2013’s race for the presidency.

“I don’t think the coalition with the DQP will affect our position with the DRP yet,” he said. “If the DRP, DQP, PA and JP came into a formal coalition than that would be provide strength for the opposition.”

However, following a local council elections campaign that saw the DRP obtaining the majority of the island and atoll council seats at the expense of conceding municipal gains in Male’ and Addu Atoll to the rival Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the potential for a formal arrangement between various parties was uncertain, at least according to Shareef.

“Personally, looking at the political status of the Maldives, especially the opposition parties, I don’t see a clear picture of what will happen in 2013 [the date of the country’s next general elections], he said.

Although Shareef said that the PA’s key focus at the elections centred primarily on reducing the number of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) seats obtained across the country, he claimed that the party was in support of local councils and encouraged them to work for constituents and not their own partisan ambitions.

However, the PA Secretary General reiterated comments made by other political parties like the DRP concerning the lack of details on the exact role and responsibilities that the newly appointed local councils will have on the nation’s politics.

“We really don’t know how system will work or how affiliated it may be with government,” he said.

In this uncertain post council election environment, Shareef said that he believed there were already reports that numerous opposition parties were working to stifle possible developments or strategies planned by elected councils.

“We hear from many councils that they will do this or that to especially make things difficult for the opposition,” he said. “If DRP candidates are there, they will make things difficult for the MDP people in the island, if MDP is in the councils the opposite will occur. That will not be the real objective why we have elected a council.”

The PA secretary general claimed that he believed one problem from the local council elections was the lack of any published rules written within the legal acts outlining decentralised government and objectives for the local councils – legislation he said that should have been in place before voting started.

Shareed claimed that a lack of voter education, particularly on what was expected of them and the significance of their vote, might be problematic in cases where councils provided “favours” such as land rights to their respective parties.

“So far these rules and regulations are not developed,” he said. “There are many important procedures and rules to be developed by the Local Government Authority (LGA).”

With the appointment of members onto the LGA expected to take place soon, he hoped these rules and other mandates would soon be developed and formally published.

“Maybe at the end of the month, with all the election results announced, we would expect for the LGA to be formed,” he said. “It is formed, but it currently only has one member – the Home Minister, who is the President’s representative on the LGA.”

The Home Minister was not responding to calls at time of press.

From the perspective of the PA, emotions were mixed on the reaction to the local council elections.

Due to its ongoing coalition agreement with the DRP, where it opted not to compete directly against candidates perceived to have strong chances of being elected, Shareef said that the PA had itself acquired one atoll council seat out of eight candidates running on a ticket from the party.

While accepting that the elections were free, Shareef said he did not believe they were fair; particularly in terms of the resources available to the ruling MDP, which he alleged had used state funds to aid its election campaigning as well as providing itself disproportionate access to state media at the opposition’s expense.