Councils ordered to seek president’s permission before leasing state lands

The Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure has sent a letter to all local councils ordering them to refrain from making any decisions regarding state owned land without seeking prior permission from the president.

In a circular sent to the councils, the ministry stated that in accordance with the Land Act, it is the President who will decide on all matters concerning state owned land with the advice of his ministerial cabinet.

It was stated that the need to send a circular reminding councils of this had come after the president became aware of some councils continually failing to comply by the law.


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.


Goverment to amend Decentralisation Act

The Government has proposed an amendment to the Decentralisation Act in a bid to cut spending on the Civil Service.

The Act, regarding local councils, currently ensures that five council members must be elected for every island with less than 3000 people, while islands with more than 3000 people are entitled to seven councilors.

In cities, one councilor is elected for each constituency.

The proposed amendment amalgamates the island and atoll councils to a limited extent.

Individuals may belong to both councils, and there will no longer be separate elections for the atoll councils.

Ibrahim Muaz, spokesman for the President’s Office, said, “the president’s thinking is not to cut-down on the number of councilors. But to elect councilors based on the population of the islands. This is a move to curb State expenditure.”

The government hopes to implement the amendment before the local council elections in January.

However, Moosa Manik, MP for Hulhu-Henveiru and Chair of the Parliamentary National Security Committee, warned that it may be impossible to implement the changes before January.

The committee has recently passed other local council reforms, including designating any island with more than 10 000 people a city (currently 25 000) and inviting the president of the women’s committee into council.

The Maldivian Democratic Party had proposed similar legislation in 2010, aiming to cut down on administrative costs by establishing seven provinces in place of the twenty-one atoll system.

The bill was shot down by opposition MPs, mostly from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, on the grounds that the proposed changes were unconstitutional.


PPM, independent candidates claim island council by-election seats

The government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has claimed one of two vacant island council seats during by-elections held yesterday (January 26), according to local media.

Mohammed Abdul Samad claimed the vacant seat on Gadhdhoo Island Council with 879 votes for the PPM. Samad beat his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) by 58 votes, according to the Sun Online news service.

Meanwhile, independent candidate Hussain Shakir claimed the available seat on Kudahuvadhoo Island Council with 1087 votes. A rival MDP candidate received 870 votes in yesterday’s by-election, according to media reports.


Government decides to take back “some” services from Male’ City Council

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan yesterday announced the government would be taking over “some responsibilities” assigned to the elected Male’ City Council (MCC).

A press statement released by the President’s Office said the decision had been taken on the advice of cabinet to take back some services that are currently provided by the MCC.   These services are now expected to be given to the relevant government ministries.

The statement read: “Despite the legal system of the country [dictating] that several services given from the government to the public are delegated to local councils under the Decentralization Act, the decision of the President with the consultation of the cabinet, comes at a time where several of these local councils are failing to provide these services”

However, the statement did not reveal what services the government decided to take over.

The statement also said it was a constitutional duty of the president under the article 115 of the constitution to ensure that services given by the government are administered properly.

It added that the president wished to ensure such services were given properly, even if it meant taking back those responsibilities from the local councils.

The statement also said that the second reason for the decision was to ensure that the services were provided efficiently and easily as Ramazan was approaching.

“The members of the cabinet in the cabinet meeting highlighted the importance of providing services to the public efficiently and smoothly regardless of any political ideologies,” read the statement.

“Not undermining Decentralization Act”– President’s Office spokesperson

Speaking to Minivan News, MCC member Ahmed Falah said that it had not been informed by the government of a the decision to take back certain responsibilities.

“I am surprised that we haven’t been informed of the decision. Even I came to know about this from the local media” the councilor added.

He also expressed dissatisfaction at the decision, claiming the government intended to undermine the powers given to local councils under the Decentralization Act.

Speaking to Minivan News, Presidents Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza denied Falah’s claims, citing that the council has become “too politicised”

“We are not trying to undermine the Decentralization Act, but how can we delegate responsibilities to a council that does not recognize a legitimate government?  They don’t recognize the government, they don’t recognize the people or the law and they only recognize their salary,” he said.  “They are failing to provide government services that they are supposed to provide for the people.”

Riza further claimed that the government would not stand by when such services were not being provided, and would take action accordingly.

He added that the decision comes at a time when the holy month of Ramazan was nearing and the government intended to “ease up and smooth” the services it provided.

When asked if the government intended to re-delegate the services back to MCC at a later date, Riza said that they would only do so when it deemed the council ‘fit’ to provide services impartially and properly.

“We would hand back the powers back to the council only when we see that they are capable of giving such services impartially and in adherence to the laws of the country,” Riza added.

The MCC, which has a majority representation of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members, and the new government of President Waheed have been at loggerheads after the controversial transfer of power that took place on February 7.

On February 12, MCC passed a resolution stating that the council did not recognise the government of President Waheed and demanded he step down and hold elections in two months.


EC condemns DRP MP Rozaina for “misleading the public”

The Elections Commission (EC) has condemned main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Rozaina Adam for allegedly misleading the public about a by-election to be held in Baa Atoll Thulhaadoo to replace a dismissed DRP councillor.

Thulhaadhoo DRP Councillor Umaira Abubakur was dismissed after she missed more than seven council meetings in a row without providing a valid reason, according to the EC.

Under article 119(b) the Decentralization Act, aa councillor can be removed if he or she misses seven consecutive meetings “without offering a valid reason that is acceptable to the council.” Umaira did not attend ten meetings which took place while she was ostensibly participating in a workshop in Bandos Island Resort.

Speaking at a press conference last week, Rozaina had said that Umaira was not informed of the council meetings as stipulated in the Decentralization Act, alleging that the four Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) councilors on the five-member island council conducted six emergency meetings in her absence as part of “a planned effort” to remove her from the post.

“There are a number of things that prove that she was dismissed without any grounds and that this was planned by them,” Rozaina had said. “Up until May, the Thulhaadhoo council held 23 meetings. However during the period when Umaira went to the workshop, they held ten meetings, four of which were normal meetings but the other six were held as emergency meetings.”

She added that the emergency meetings were conducted to decide trivial matters. “For example, an emergency meeting was held for the sake of changing the days where normal meetings take place.”

The EC contended in a press release yesterday that Rozaina’s remarks implied that it the decision to dismiss was made by the EC and not the council.

“In dealing with matters related to local councils or other matters, the Elections Commission does not refer to the wealth and gender of the person and will act with respect to the rights of the person and with adherence to the authorities vested in the commission under laws,’’ the EC in response to Rozaina’s remarks about discrimination against a female councillor.

Moreover, the EC denied that the commission was “in a rush” to hold the by-election, pointing out that the law dictates that an election has to be held within 45 days from the day a seat becomes vacant.

MP Rozaina was not responding to calls at time of press.


Addu council looking beyond single island resort model for mid-market push

Addu City Council has announced plans to kick-start a project aimed at attracting mid-market tourism to the region in a change of policy from the country’s established one resort per island policy.

Following in the footsteps of developments on the island of Gan in Laamu Atoll, Addu City authorities have said they will develop areas of the city as a Asseyri (Beachside) Project.

The project represents a tourism development plan by which guest accommodation, alongside recreation and entertainment facilities, will be developed in a specific area with each commercial component being rented out to different parties. The system differs from the country’s established tourism model that has generally been based on a single enterprise operating a resort property exclusively on a designated island.

The announcement of the Addu City project follows a cabinet decision made earlier this year to create an integrated tourism development policy.

“We have identified the areas we want to develop for the Asseyri project, and we have sent the proposals to the Tourism Ministry for approval,” says Abdullah Sodiq, Mayor of Addu City.

The two areas ear-marked for development under this project are the Maafishi Area of Hulhumeedhoo Island and the start of the Hankede area, Hithadhoo.


Moving away from the existing one island, one hotel tourism product, an Asseyri project aims to open up venues to allow larger numbers of local entrepreneurs to participate in the Maldives’ lucrative tourism sector.

The project will also open up doors for budget and mid-market tourists to visit Maldives, diversifying the Maldivian tourism product, according to developers.

A pilot Asseyri project was launched by the Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa in Gan in March. According to the proposed plans, two 300 bed hotels, 69 guest houses, as well as a number of restaurants, spas and sports/recreational facilities will be developed on the 25 hectares of land located on the western beach side of the island.

In trying to emulate the Gan project, Mayor Sodiq said “the Addu Assyeri project will also be a multi-owner project; with lodgings and other facilities like restaurants, spas and sports areas each being owned by a different enterprises.”

The proposals for the Addu project have now reportedly been drawn up and sent to the ministry for approval.

“The tourism ministry shared with us the details of their ongoing project at Gan and has been very supportive of our maiden venture into this area,” Sodiq said.

Addu City Council hopes the project will give a boost to the local economy by creating more job opportunities and helping with aims to increase the GDP of Addu Atoll within the next three years. It will also attract more visitors to the city which is already home to properties like Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa.

Finding developers

Tourism authorities in the country have also pledged to try and assist the Addu City beach-side developments.

“We are holding discussions with Addu City Council to plan their Asseyri project,” says Moosa Zameer Hassan, Deputy Director General at the Planning Department of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

Hassan added that the Tourism Ministry was currently working to change its approach to the Gan Asseyri project after evaluating project proposals that were submitted ahead of a June deadline.

“We received two proposals, one from a local company to do the water and sanitation component of [the project], the other from a foreign company to develop the hotel component. At present we are negotiating with both parties,” Hassan said. The initial idea for the project was to try and find a party interested in the total development of the whole area and to lease out the different components of it afterwards, though tourism authorities are now reviewing this.

“The area is very big that might be the reason [for the review]. So now we are going to put out a tender for the development of hotels and guest houses, and hold discussions with the local council for them to rent out the land plots for other components of the project like restaurants, spas, recreational facilities and such,” Hassan claimed.

Aslam Moosa, a representative for Gan Island Council said he and his fellow members had been kept in the dark regarding the project.

“Yes, I have seen the area marked on the map, and heard the announcement for the proposals, but nobody has held discussions with us on the project,” he added. Moosa claimed that the council was presently only involved in the development of a 300 bed hotel by an Indian Company in Gan.

Hassan confirmed that discussions have not been held since local councils were elected. in February. “But we hope to hold discussions with them and to be able to rent out plots of land within two months,” he said.

While the tender for hotels would be open to foreign parties, bidding for running guest houses will be only for locals, Hassan stressed.

“Guest houses have always been protected investments just for locals. By law, the Tourism Ministry’s involvement is vital as guest houses and hotels can only be leased by them. The ministry does not envisage giving priority to residents of the Atolls involved,” he said. “Bidding for guest accommodation will be a process open to all Maldivians. Though local councils can decide if they will prioritise residents of their island in the bidding for involvement in other components of the project.”

Meanwhile, Addu City Council has said it is finishing up the administrative work for the Asseyri project and would soon be drawing up the final plans.

“We are very confident that our proposed plan will be approved by the ministry. It will be well regulated, we will assign land areas and have a limit on the height of the buildings.”

The tentative date to complete the tender for the Addu Asseyri project is by September. However, Sodig says actual physical work on the project will be put off until December, to enable the scheduled 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit to go without any hitches.


Local council elections cost Rf45 million: EC report

The Elections Commission (EC) has claimed the bill for the local council elections, held in February this year, reached Rf45 million (US$3.5 million) – approximately US$15 for every voter in the Maldives.

Money was spent on transport, supplies, printing, salaries, overtime allowances and food, the EC stated.

In its report, the EC stated that problems encountered during vote counting were minor and solved quickly.

“Elections carried on rather successfully compared to previously held elections. Ballot counting was finished with minimal obstructions,” the report said.

Several cases sent by the EC to the Prosecutor General’s office including a man who gave false information to contest in the election (Rf20,000 fine), a man caught videoing the ballot (Rf12,000 fine) and a man who attempted to alter voter registration details and was sentenced to a year in prison.

The EC has yet to report party preference results from the election. The ruling MDP won seats in most populated areas almost unanimously, while the opposition DRP won the majority of seats overall, taking islands into account.


Police confirm island councillor charged over sexual abuse allegations

The Maldives Police Service has confirmed that an individual recently appointed to serve on the island council of Vaikaradhoo in Haa Dhaal atoll had been arrested on suspicion of sexually molesting a 14 year-old minor.

A police spokesperson confirmed to Minivan News that the arrest of a councillor serving on the island had taken place, but was unable to give any details on the suspect’s identity.

Local press have speculated on the identity of the suspect, who they claim had been identified by sources within the police as a councillor representing the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). If convicted, the Elections Commission (EC) has confirmed that the suspect would be stripped of the councillor position that was appointed during last month’s local council elections.

Elections Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq said that standard procedure in the case of criminal convictions within the recently formed local councils would be that the Local Government Authority (LGA), which oversees devolved government in the country, would have to inform the EC of any serving members found guilty of a crime.

“There are conditions of candidacy, where if a person [serving on an elected council] is convicted of committing a crime they would be ineligible for office for a period of time,” he said.

Thaufeeq stressed that in the case of serious crimes like sexual abuse, there would be “no chance” that any convicted candidate would be eligible for election ever again.

“As it stands, [the criminal conviction of a serving councillor] will require a separate election to be held for their vacant seat,” he added.