The Supreme Court’s guidelines dictating the electoral process will present “many challenges” in the local council elections scheduled for January 18, Elections Commission Vice President Ahmed Fayaz has said.
The Supreme Court annulling the first round of presidential elections held on September 7 delineated 16 guidelines including obtaining candidate’s signatures on the voter registry, fingerprinted re-registration forms for voters who wish to vote in a location other than their home islands, and police support in transporting ballot boxes and papers.
The EC has previously criticized the guidelines for limiting the powers of the independent state institutions and said the clause stipulating candidate’s signatures on voter lists effectively gives veto power over elections to candidates.
The EC was forced to call off elections scheduled for October 19 when the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and Jumhoree Party (JP) refused to sign the voter registry and the police withdrew support in dispatching of ballot boxes and papers to polling stations and obstructed any EC staff from leaving the commission’s offices with any documents.
Fayaz said over 4000 candidates would contest in the local council elections and obtaining their signatures on the voter registry would be the biggest challenge.
However, the EC will continue to adhere to the guidelines as in the past, Fayaz said.
The EC has called for candidates to submit applications between November 25 and December 8.
Candidates must only hold Maldivian citizenship, and be of the Sunni Muslim faith. Full time students or any individual convicted of child abuse or rape or decreed debt cannot stand for local councils.
Local government in the Maldives is a two-tier system, comprising island councils and city councils, which are all accountable to an atoll council.
Every inhabited island in the Maldives – except islands where city councils are established – is governed by an elected island council. City councils are established on islands that have a population over 25,000 people
Island with a population less than 3000 elect five members, those with populations from 3000- 10000 elect seven members and those with populations over 10,000 elect nine members for the councils.
Elections will be held for two city councils in Malé and Addu cities, 20 atoll councils and 66 island councils. There are 17 city council seats for Malé and Addu, 132 atoll council seats and 942 island council seats.
The councils have the power to charge fees or rents for the services they provide and are allocated funds from the state reserves for office administration, provision or services and development projects.
City and island councils’ responsibilities include providing roads, waste disposal, pest control, water, electricity and sewage systems, primary health care, pre school education, and educational and vocational programs for adults.
Fifty percent of rent from atoll shops in Male’ and lease rent on uninhabited islands is to be given to atoll councils, the government has decided.
Speaking at a function marking the decentralisation of administration in the Maldives, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik announced strategies for providing financial support to local councils, local media reported.
As of July this year, the government plans to give 50 percent of rent from atoll shops and uninhabited island lease rent to atoll councils.
The president noted that for the decentralisation system to work there would need to be equal assistance and opportunities for the people. To do this, Waheed said it would take local councils to set aside their political differences.
Obstruction of religious sermons across the country by supporters of the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) amounts to “a great war to destroy religion”, the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party has claimed.
In a strongly-worded statement released on Sunday, the Adhaalath Party condemned MDP-led protests against visiting Sheikhs in several islands as “lowly and secular acts” allegedly intended to “sow discord in society” and “lead the people astray from Allah’s path.”
In recent weeks, city and island councils controlled by the former ruling party have refused to authorise sermons in mosques by prominent religious scholars of Adhaalath Party, on the grounds that it could “disrupt the peace and create unrest”.
Under the landmark Decentralisation Act enacted in 2010, permission to preach in mosques and other public places must be sought from local councils.
In the past month, attempts by Sheikh Ilyas Hussein, head of the Adhaalath Party’s scholar’s council, to preach in Addu City, Male’ City, Baa Atoll Thulhaadhoo and Haa Dhaal Vaikaradhoo were met with refusals by MDP-dominated local councils and angry protests by the party’s supporters.
On May 18, police arrested five people from a group of MDP supporters protesting outside al-Furqan mosque in Male’ during a sermon by Sheikh Ilyas, which saw clashes between rival supporters outside the mosque.
Prior to the unrest, Male’ City Council had asked police to stop the sermon from proceeding. The disturbance in the capital followed a similar dispute between the Adhaalath Party and the MDP-controlled Addu City Council, which had also refused to authorise Sheikh Ilyas to preach.
Local media reported violent clashes between MDP and Adhaalath Party supporters in the southernmost atoll following the Addu City Council’s decision.
Vaikaradhoo Island Council Chair Ahmed Waheed told Minivan News last Thursday that the council denied permission to the Sheikh because “we are certain that we could not control any unrest that might be created if Sheikh Ilyas is allowed to preach here.”
A number of MDP supporters meanwhile protested at the Vaikaradhoo jetty with chants of “traitor” when the Adhaalath delegation arrived, forcing the party leaders to disembark under police protection.
“An effort to eradicate Islam”
“What [the protesters] are saying is that they do not want to listen to religious counsel from scholars sent by the present government,” reads the Adhaalath statement.
“But they have no problem accepting salaries and services provided to citizens by the current government, such as healthcare, electricity, water and other services. Therefore, it is certain that their action is a great war to destroy religion in the guise of political activity.”
As the Maldives is “a 100 percent Muslim country,” the statement continued, religious scholars should not face any obstacle to preach and raise religious awareness among the public.
The Adhaalath Party called on the government to impose “harsh measures” against persons who obstruct religious sermons.
Meanwhile on its official twitter account, the party contended that “the ongoing harassment of scholars is nothing but an effort to eradicate Islam here in Maldives and open up the country to other religions.”
Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed – who represents the Adhaalath Party in President Mohamed Waheed’s cabinet along with Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz – told Sun Online today that obstruction of religious sermons was carried out to show the outside world that there were Maldivians “opposed to Islam.”
Councils that refuse to permit religious sermons should be dissolved, the Islamic Minister said, adding however that some MDP-controlled councils had welcomed religious scholars and were cooperating with the ministry.
In September 2011, following frequent clashes with President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration over various issues— selling alcohol on inhabited islands, making Islam an optional rather than a compulsory subject in secondary school and introduction of ‘religious unity regulations’ – the Adhaalath Party voted to sever its coalition agreement with the former ruling party.
In late 2011, Adhaalath Party teamed up with a coalition of eight political parties and religious NGOs to stage a ‘mega-protest’ on December 23 to ‘Defend Islam’ from an alleged “securalisation agenda” pursued by the deposed president.
Responding to the religious conservative party’s charges today, MDP Spokesperson and Maafanu North MP Imthiyaz Fahmy argued that “the coup itself is the war to destroy the religion, civilisation and democracy in the Maldives.”
“The coup-sheikhs and their partners in crime are the real culprits to blame and no one else,” MP Imthiyaz said. “People of those islands or the vast majority of citizens of the Maldives do not consider them Sheikhs anymore but rebels and traitors. So certainly people will protest against such rebels and coup-sheikhs wherever they go.”
On the role of local councils denying permission to preach “politicised” sermons, Imthiyaz said the party’s councils would “act in conformity with laws and regulations.”
“MDP is an advocate and promoter of a decentralised system of governance,” he continued. “But this coup government has been trying to destroy the system. [Plans to bring] mosques directly under the [Islamic] ministry is such an attempt, thus back to the old days.”
Imthiyaz further argued that the MDP government “freed Sheikhs from jails and allowed them to freely delver speeches and sermons.” Under the 30-year rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a number of religious scholars were reportedly detained and tortured. A number of scholars claimed they had their beards shaven with chili sauce.
“We are the only party which does not use religion as a political tool or exploit religion for that purpose,” Imthiyaz said, adding that the party accorded “the highest degree of respect to religion.”
Plans are underway to bring several structural changes to the local governance system in a bid to create a more “economically viable and productive system”, the Local Government Authority (LGA) has said.
According to LGA member Ahmed Faisal, discussions on proposing changes to the system were prompted by serious concerns raised over the “economic sustainability” of the existing decentralisation model which compromises of total 1091 elected councilors. This includes 17 councilors from the two city councils; 132 councilors from the 15 atoll councils and 942 councilors from 179 island councils.
From the inception of the local governance system, over Rf200 million (US$36 million) has been spent on salaries and office expenses of elected councils, Faisal told Minivan News.
The LGA estimates the total expenditure will amount to almost Rf1 billion (US$64 million) at the end of the three year term. He added, “This is a far too economically costly model for the Maldives” – a key argument raised by then-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members in 2010 as they opposed to pass the decentralisation legislation citing it will provoke serious “serious social and economic consequences”.
“Therefore, our priority is to revise the existing local governance system into a more economically viable model by bringing major structural changes,” Faisal explained.
According to Faisal, LGA is working to” identify and incorporate international best practices most suitable to Maldives depending on the geographical uniqueness of Maldives, and create a cost-effective and productive system.”
He emphasised the proposed changes is expected to come into effect with the next council elections scheduled in 2015.
However, he added that the authority is pushing to implement some changes as soon as possible, provided it does not violate the Decentralisation Act and have no effect on the interests of existing councilors.
Appointment of part-time members
Among the key proposed changes include changing all the elected council members – except president and vice president of the councils– to “part-time members with a sitting allowance”. The current layer of government introduced by the elections cost the Maldives over US$12 million a year in salaries and allowances, or US$220,000 per month. The President of every island council receives a salary and allowance of Rf15,000 (US$1160), council members Rf11,000 (US$850). The mayor of Male’ receives Rf45,000 (US$3500).
Should the proposed amendment pass, full-time salaries must be only paid to the President and Vice President – elected through polls – while other elected members will be paid an allowance based on the number of meeting they attend.
“We are proposing this amendment to allow for a more technically sound team in the council. As the post is part-time, people employed in other fields such as doctors, legislators, teachers can participate in the councils.” Faisal observed.
Either the island council president or vice president will represent the constituency in the atoll council and will similarly receive a sitting allowance, he added. Meanwhile, the president and vice president of the atoll council will be elected based on atoll wide poll.
“This model will provide an equal voice to all islands while allowing a sense of ownership of the atoll council, as the elected president and vice president can be made accountable by the constituents. Currently, all members are representatives from the islands and no specific member is personally responsible for the council,” Faisal noted.
No changes will be made to the number of seats in any councils, except for the two city councils: the capital Male’ and Addu City in the south. The LGA suggests the Mayor and Deputy Mayor must be elected, in addition to the members elected from each constituency of the city.
Although the number appointed to city councils would increase, Faisal argued that the costs will decline as the members – except mayor and deputy mayor – will remain as part-time.
“We want the the proposed part-time members to become effective as it will facilitate the council’s work. A lot of decisions are pending due to the absence of members, and other work is hindered due to operational difficulties. But they will be paid full salaries until term is over,” the LGA member noted.
Parliament created Local Government Authority
In a bid to address the current operational difficulties, the LGA has requested parliament form the regulatory body of the councils with five members.
“Right now only two members in the LGA are appointed by the parliament vote while the remaining are representatives from the authorities and councils. However the authority has to do a lot of technical work, so it must compromise of a technical team.”
He also observed that the decentralisation legislation must be amended with a clear mandate on how to remove a member deemed to be unqualified.
“The LGA’s primary responsibility would be to regulate, monitor the councilors and conduct capacity-building initiatives,” he noted.
Increasing Women’s Participation
A great emphasis was put on increasing women’s participation in the local governance process, Faisal noted. “The LGA has however stopped short from proposing to [specifically] allocate seats for women as it may be deemed as marginalising women.”
Meanwhile, he said that the authority will push for women’s participation through the introduction of Women’ Development Committees `(WDCs) as proposed in the legislation. “Women will become more engaged in community development work, empowered and use the platform to kick off their career into local governance, and ultimately run in the elections on an equal footing with men.”
Currently only 57 out of the 1091 councilors are women- a disturbing trend of gender inequality observed from economic, political and public spheres of Maldives.
Flawed from start
The Act was passed in mid-2010 after months of deadlock in parliament. The MDP wanted 200 councillors and seven province councils instead of 21 atoll councils. Husnu Suood, attorney general at the time, warned of the exorbitant cost of paying salaries and allowances for over 1,000 full-time councillors- who were elected as a direct result of the changes proposed to the bill by then opposition.
The bill was eventually passed in a completely partisan vote after MDP MPs walked out in protest.
In line with these concerns, at the time parliament’s Deputy Dpeaker Ahmed Nazim took the example of the number of decentralised administrative posts created through last month’s Local Council Elections as an example of unsustainable spending.
The PA MP claimed that MDP government policies based on building housing or harbours across a wide number of islands was creating further problems for future national cost cutting. As a solution, Nazim claimed that it would be important to consider depopulating and reducing the total number of inhabited islands by offering the population a choice of relocation possibilities.
Meanwhile Chairperson of the MDP at the time, Mariya Ahmed Didi, accused the DRP of ”total disregard to the democratic state we want to develop.”
“We parliamentarians did warn the public that DRP is still a dictatorial group,” she said. “Their behaviour in the Majlis proves the point. We are approaching the deadline in the constitution to have local government in place and to have local elections. I do not think we have time to veto and go through the whole process,” she said.
It would be difficult to ensure development of the atolls with the bill as it was passed, she added.
“I hope people remember that the MDP had nothing to do with the bill when in campaign the DRP starts screaming about the islands not being developed as envisaged by the MDP. The basis of our election promise was that the Maldives would be developed as seven provinces. They have by this bill destroyed the fundamental basis on which those promises were made,” Didi said.
President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has launched a scathing attack on his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed, accusing him of corruption, hijacking the Majlis, destroying the judiciary, and called him “a liar lacking in any sincerity”.
Waheed made his remarks at a rally on the island of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll on Saturday, after Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters mobbed his car calling him a “traitor.” The MDP alleges Waheed came to power on February 7 following a coup d’état carried out by mutinous elements of the police and military.
Meanwhile, local councils controlled by the MDP have refused to engage with Waheed’s administration. Several MDP councilors rejected meetings with Waheed during his tour of Haa Dhaal Atoll over the weekend.
Speaking on Hanimadhoo island before his visit to Kulhudhufushi, Waheed had appealed to local councils to engage with and support his administration in order to continue providing services to the public.
However, Kulhudhufushi Council President Ibrahim Rameez said he was “ashamed” as an elected representative to meet with an “unelected” president. Waheed was Nasheed’s Vice- President.
Moreover, Rameez claimed he could not support President Waheed as his administration had stopped all development projects in the area. In March, the Economic Ministry halted all public-private-partnership programmes claiming the legality of the contracts needed to be reviewed.
“How can Kenereege Nasheed love the people?”
In his Kulhudhufushi speech, President Waheed painted Nasheed as an authoritarian and corrupt leader who could not tolerate dissent.
“Kenereege Mohamed Nasheed won that election because I became his running mate. Today, he does not understand that,” Waheed said. Further, Nasheed had spurned all the political leaders who had backed him against Maumoon Abdul Gayoom during the 2008 election and “beat” them out of the coalition government established after the election.
Waheed said Nasheed was unable to work with the MDP leadership, forcing consecutive party presidents out of power. The MDP last week took a vote of no confidence against the party’s president Dr Ibrahim Didi and vice-president Alhan Fahmy, a motion that received 95 percent support from the party’s 73-strong national council.
“All the issues MDP faces today are because President Nasheed has hijacked the party and has not allowed young leaders to rule the party,” he said.
He went on to accuse Nasheed’s supporters of “terrorism”, and said he would bring them to justice.
“What kind of democratic party is this? This is not a type of democratic party that we know. But they think there are none more democratic than they are, they shout and scream on the streets, they set fire to and vandalise public property, what kind of democrats are these? These are not democrats. I say they are terrorists. We will not step back in giving them their rightful punishment.”
“If the events of February 7 had not transpired the way they did with God’s will, we would not have a judiciary now. He had decided to destroy the judiciary then. He had decided to abolish the lower courts. Reduce numbers in the higher courts. He had sent the police a list of 60 people to be arrested,” Waheed said.
“Afterwards, he tried to beat down the courageous people who have worked for Islam and the country. He planned for a few thugs within the MDP to attack them. When they tried to attack, our beloved police force came out to stop them. But then he ordered the police not to do so. He ordered the police to leave, and tried to get the military to intervene. He tried to do all of these things, and all his plans exploded in his hands. At that point, he did not know what to do, he knew the people were not with him, he knew there was no longer a police or military officer who would obey him any longer, so he resigned and went home,” Waheed continued.
“Then, he did not think all the people who he’d made promises to, made companies for, given resorts to would lose everything. He thought of that only 24 hours later. He understood after 24 hours had passed. He understood and woke up, and said ‘I have lost everything. This should not happen like this.’ And then all these people he’d made promises to came to see him. Asked ‘Where is the island you gave me? Where is that company you made me? What have you done?’”
“So he had to make up an excuse. Make up some sort of story. So at that point, he said, ‘Let me tell you, the military has established a military government, the military rule the Maldives now.’ He spread this all over the world. Told tourists they must not to go to the Maldives any longer. Nobody should go to the Maldives. There is military rule in the Maldives. He lies, he has no sincerity and now he says he wants to come back to power. Said hold an early election. He says hold an early election. What election can we have?” Waheed said.
The Commonwealth and EU have called for early elections in the Maldives within 2012 to provide legitimacy to those who govern the Maldives. However, Waheed said the earliest date permitted by the constitution for elections was July 2013.
Tension has been rising between the Commonwealth and the Maldivian government after the Commonwealth warned of “stronger measures” against the country if Waheed failed to review the composition and mandate of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) to investigate the transfer of power. MPs supporting Waheed have submitted a bill to Majlis to preemptively withdraw from the Commonwealth.
Engagement with councils
During his tour of Haa Dhaal Atoll, Waheed appealed to local councils to engage with and support his administration.
Waheed said the majority of the public and majority of parliament supported his administration and that he was “saddened by the small number of people who question this government’s legitimacy and who refuse to accept this government.”
Waheed is backed by all the major political parties in the Maldives except the MDP. The coalition includes President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Jumhooree Party (JP), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and the Adhaalath Party.
“I do not believe the Maldivian constitution allows for the existence of state institutions which do not recognize the lawful government. Some councils and councilors have to consider and accept this,” he said.
“Council members play an important role in providing services to the public. We can only provide those services if council members engage with the different institutions and ministries of the government and the president. We want to engage with everyone,” Waheed added.
However, Kulhudhushi councilor Ibrahim Rameez said Waheed’s administration had stopped all development work in the area, including the installation of water and sewerage systems, harbor development, road construction and housing projects. The development of a international port in Kulhudhufushi had also come to a halt, Rameez claimed.
“So how can we support this government?” Rameez said.
In his fiery speech, Waheed pledged to complete Kulhudhufushi road construction by the end of the year, and improve services at the regional hospital on the island.
Earlier in his tour, Waheed had told Nolhivaram and Hanimadhoo islanders that development contracts were under review, and said he would resume projects if the state budget allowed for it. However, he assured financial assistance to the elderly, single mothers and disabled persons would continue under his administration.
“Even though there has been a lot of infrastructure development, that can turn to ashes in a moment. We have seen that happen very recently. That is because good behavioral norms, unity and friendliness have deteriorated amongst us,” Waheed told Nolhivaram residents.
On Hirimaradhoo island Waheed said he would allocate Rf 30 million (US$1.9 million) in the 2013 state budget for development, but that the citizens must decide how to best use the funds.
“I will not lie to you. I will not make promises I cannot fulfill,” Waheed said, and promised not to discriminate based on political party affiliation.
The Addu City Council has also cut off ties with the Waheed administration. At first, the council had released a statement pledging support for Waheed on February 8.
“We hope all development projects in this city, including road development, housing, and water and sewerage, and harbor development projects will continue under your presidency,” the statement read.
However, in the evening on the same day, several police stations and court buildings were set on fire in the city. Four of the six MDP councilors and one MDP MP were arrested. The Mayor Abdulla Sodiq’s arm was broken in an attack. A few weeks later, the council said it would no longer support Waheed. Sodiq has also said all development projects in Addu city have been suspended.
“Traitor”, allege protesters
Waheed’s visits within the Maldives and in Malé have been marred by MDP protests. During his outings, Waheed is often accompanied by a heavy police force.
Video footage of the Kulhudhufushi protest show several hundred protestors carrying yellow MDP flags calling Waheed “baagee” (“traitor”). One woman shouts “Leave this island. We don’t want you here,” while another voice calls for Waheed to be hanged. Protesters also held placards calling for early elections.
Police in riot gear hold the crowd back as Waheed passes through in a Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) truck.
Since taking office, Waheed has visited Addu Atoll, Fuvamulah Atoll, Laamu Atoll, Shaviyani Atoll and Haa Dhaal Atoll.
MDP protesters mob President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s car in Kulhudhufushi on Saturday:
The Elections Commission (EC) has announced by-elections to replace vacant council seats in Alif Alif Himandhoo and Gnaviyani Fuvahmulah for November 19 and invited potential candidates to apply before October 16.
Councillors of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Hassan Saeed from Fuvahmulah and Abdulla Jameel from Himandhoo, lost their seats after the Supreme Court ruled last week on cases contesting their eligibility to compete in the February council elections.
The Supreme Court ruled that Hassan Saeed had a decreed debt that he was not paying back in accordance with a lower court verdict while Abdulla Jameel had been convicted of theft. Both were disqualified under article 12(c) of the Local Council Elections Act.
The government has hit out at opposition parliamentarians it alleges have actively sought to sabotage its attempts to reduce the state budget by voting for amendments that will double the number of city councillors currently serving in the country.
The criticisms were made after amendments to the country’s Decentralisation Act were passed yesterday in the Majlis, doubling the number of people elected to each city council. The amendments have served to create eleven additional seats on Male’ City Council, which will increase to 22 representatives, while Addu City Council will have 12 elected councillors as a result.
Opposition politicians claim that the amendments have been made to try and bring more equity to the representation of city council members when compared to their island and atoll counterparts also appointed during the country’s first local council elections in February.
According to Haveeru, the amendments forwarded by South Hithadhoo MP Hassan Latheef were passed by 36 votes in favour, while 33 votes went against the bill – reportedly mainly from Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members loyal to the government.
Back in February’s local council elections, where one councillor was appointed to each city constituency, results showed that the MDP had taken the majority of city seats despite losing out on an overall seat majority to the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) who claimed significantly more island and atoll councils.
Considering this vote, Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News today that aside from capitalising on the availability of the additional city council seats in the country, he believed opposition parties favoured the bill in order to sabotage cost cutting measures.
“From the outset [of the decentralisation process], the government has been of the position that the total number of councillors should be kept down as much as possible,” he said. “We at the beginning suggested that the total number of councillors should be no more than 220, yet opposition parties like the DRP wanted more.”
According to Zuhair, as part of its pledge to limit numbers, the government established seven national offices in an attempt to coordinate national developments within a decentralised Maldives and support the efforts of those elected to oversee projects in their constituencies.
Although Zuhair did not object to the councillors themselves, he claimed continued increases in their numbers represented a significant budgetary issue, particularly after parliament had agreed upon the final number of representatives before February’s elections.
“The government is actively working to reduce civil service wages as it is being constantly asked by groups such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We have offered to pay people to leave their jobs, yet all this is being undone,” Zuhair claimed. “The DRP hopes to capitilise on the formation of eleven more seats from city councils, where it is not really represented [after losing the city seats in the local council election].”
DRP Spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef rejected Zuhair’s allegations, claiming opposition support for the amendments to the number of city councillors was to make “a fairer and more equitable system” in comparison to the number of elected members on island councils. Shareef added that the vote did not necessarily represent an attempt to set back budgetary reform.
“The addition of these councilors will not be a strain on the [state] budget. The president has himself clearly stated that he has no intention to reduce the civil service bill, rather he will try to generate income through taxes,” he said. “The possible expansion of the state budget is a concern. But we do not believe the government has sufficient plans to reduce it.”
The formation of seven national offices to oversee government projects at regional and local level is not a response to ongoing disputes with some councils following decentralisation, the President’s Office has today said.
The administrative structures of the seven national offices were formed by members of the cabinet yesterday to oversee developments within seven regions across the country to try and coordinate national developments within newly decentralised councils. The councils were themselves established after last month’s local elections.
Administering these local councils has already led to problems in some areas, with police being called in to try and work through disputes concerning the government and newly elected local councils over whether they have the right to relocate their offices.
Some opposition parliamentarians today moved to criticise the formation of the administrative offices as a contradiction to the purpose of decentralizing power to allow councils to meet specific needs of their constituents.
However, the President’s Office has said that the formation of these administrative centres were constitutionally required and not a response to developments this week that saw confrontations with police at the islands of Thulusdhoo and Funadhoo.
Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the seven offices were established as stipulated under Article 71 of the Decentralisation Act as a means to oversee government development programmes and ensure budgets were being met by councils.
As a result of the formation of these offices, the President’s Office said that the cabinet had decided that all activities of the city, island and atoll councils formed during last month’s local elections were conducted through the offices.
While all these councils at “ground level” were able to meet and deliberate on local matters that affected their constituents, Zuhair said that they “technically remained” part of the national executive when it came to overseeing national developments set out by the government.
“There are budgeted programmes for each island that the government has decided to extend nationally,” he said.
Zuhair added that these seven regional offices would therefore work to oversee the administrative functions of decentralized government and any national developments undertake locally.
According to the President’s Office, the session saw the cabinet appoint individual personnel to oversee each regional office. These positions included:
• Mohamed Hunaif as Minister of State for the Upper North Province and head of the National Office for the Upper North Region
• Ali Niyaz as Deputy Minister of State for the North Province and head of the National Office for the North Region
• Hussain Irfan Zaki as Minister of State for the North Central Province and head of the National Office for the North Central Province
• Ibrahim Mohamed as Deputy Minister of State for Central Province and head of the National Office for the Central Region
• Ahmed Mujuthaba as Minister of State for the South Central Province and head of the National Office for the South Central Region
• Mohamed Shareef as Deputy Minister of State for the Upper South Province and head of the National Office for the Upper South Region
• Ahmed Adhham as Deputy Minister of State for the South Province and head of the National Office for the South Region
Although not directly related to disputes this week between the government and local councils, the president’s press secretary claimed that the offices were a means of overseeing councils were accountable nationally.
According to Zuhair, decentralisation resulting from local elections held on 5 February did not equate to granting individual councils the power to act as independent federal states.
“What we are saying is, that it is for the president to decide which state owned buildings shall be used for council offices as stipulated under the constitution,” he added.
However, the formation of the national offices was met with criticism by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf who said that opposition parliamentarians would oppose the cabinet on the issue through the courts if necessary.
“It can’t be done,” Mahlouf said in regards to the formation of the seven offices. “We went through the [local council] elections to give power to the people. No government authority can stop or control work [of the councils].”
With the majority of councils under control of the DRP and other opposition parties outside of the major residential municipal regions of Male’ and Addu Atoll, Mahlouf claimed that he believed opposition parties would oppose the national offices.
“[The decision] may go to the courts. It is something we would support. There is no need to send the police,” he said, pointing to this week’s disputes over council offices.
Oath-taking ceremonies for newly elected councilors were held on Saturday, except for those areas where complaints have been filed in the High Court.
The High Court on Thursday ordered that 14 areas were to suspend their oath-taking ceremonies until the High Court conclude cases filed regarding the elections.
Ceremonies scheduled to be held for H.Dh Nolhivaranfaru island council, H.Dh Nolhivaram area Atoll council, N. Miladhoo island council, R. Maduvvari island council, R. Maduvvari Area Atoll council, G. DH Faresmathoda island council, G.Dh Faresmathoda Area Atoll Council, A.Dh Dhangethi island council, A.A Mathiveri island council, A.A Atoll council, L. Atoll council, G.A Vilingili island council,G.A Atoll council and L. Dhambidhoo island council were delayed by order of the High Court.
The Court said if successful candidates in these areas took the oath while a case was pending in court, it violated the rights of those who filed the cases.
In all the other areas, successful candidates took the oath of office in their respective councils on Saturday.
Ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has recently said that “thousands” of complaints were received by the party regarding the elections, and also accused the Elections Commission of being partial and unfair, filing such cases in the High Court.
MDP contends that some complaints could potentially change the results of some areas.
President Mohamed Nasheed has meanwhile said that the oath of office for local councillors was “a historic step towards consolidating decentralisation.”
Speaking during his weekly radio address, Nasheed said that councilors were officially part of the country’s executive branch, and urged them “to work closely with the government to achieve the policy targets set out by the government.”