Thulhaadhoo council defies order to withhold pay for suspended councillor

The Thulhaadhoo island council has defied orders from the Local Government Authority (LGA) to withhold the monthly salary of a councillor suspended for attending a mass anti-government protest on May 1.

The council informed the LGA last week 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.

Thulhaadhoo council member Ziyau Rasheed Ibrahim was among several councillors suspended for two months without pay following their arrest from the May Day protest.

The council noted that Ziyau was no longer under arrest and that the constitution guarantees “fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value”.

The LGA’s chair, home minister Umar Naseer, had ordered the council secretariat not to pay Ziyau as he had been arrested from an “unlawful assembly.” Naseer had also asked the anti-corruption watchdog to penalise any councillors who had traveled to the capital on state funds.

According to the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), some 300 of its 450 island and atoll councillors had taken part in the protest.

Ziyau told Minivan News today that he had taken a leave of absence and traveled to Malé with his own money.

“I support the decision made by the council as the LGA has no reason to suspend me,” he said.

Vice president of the Thulhaadhoo council, Ahmed Rasheed, said the council believed the provision the LGA referred to in its letter was irrelevant to Ziyau’s case.

The decision not to enforce the LGA order was approved unanimously.

LGA media officer Mohamed Azmeen said the Thulhaadhoo council’s decision will be addressed at the next board meeting due to take place on June 24 and suggested contacting the home minister for further details.

Naseer was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

However, Rasheed said the LGA has replied to the council’s letter, advising the council to challenge the legality of the order at court.

Ziyau meanwhile revealed that he is facing charges of obstruction of police duty.

“They have sent me a summons today asking me to attend court for a hearing on some charge against me. A second chit said I would be given further details at a meeting,” he said.

Earlier this month, MDP island and atoll councillors in Noonu atoll decided to chip in to pay the salary of suspended Holhudhoo councillor Hussain Habeeb.


LGA board vote to remove Chairperson Nazim

The Local Government Authority has voted to remove Chairperson Colonel (retired) Mohamed Nazim and Vice President Moosa Naseer.

Five of the nine board members supported a no-confidence motion against Nazim, who is also minister of defence and acting health minister.

The five board members took the vote after having refused to leave today’s board meeting following Nazim’s failure to table a no-confidence motion against himself.

“We can conduct the meeting without the board president being there,” explained member Shujau Hassan. “It is allowed for in our rules of procedure.”

Malé City Councillor and LGA board member Shamau Shareef explained that Nazim had insisted the agenda for yesterday’s cancelled meeting be attended to before any other issues were addressed.

Shamau noted that Nazim had prevented the board taking a no-confidence vote against him in December. He had previously explained to Minivan News that a binding resolution to do so had been signed by four members on December 24.

He stated today that five board members, including himself and Hussain Naseer, Hussain Hilmy, Ibrahim Rasheed, and Shujau Hassan refused to adjourn the meeting, requesting LGA officials write to the attorney general for advice.

Shamau expressed concern that Nazim was not working to protect local government in the country while “the government is dismantling the whole system of decentralisation”.

Both Nazim – appointed to the board by President Abdulla Yameen, and Moosa Naseer will continue to hold positions on the LGA board. Nazim referred any media queries to LGA’s media coordinator Mohamed Azmeen.

Azmeen said that today’s meeting had been halted after disagreements between the chair and members over the agenda. He had confirmed that the board was to decide on how to proceed with the issue after the attorney general’s advice, but was not responding to calls following the board’s subsequent dismissal of Nazim this afternoon.

Formed under the 2010 Decentralisation Act, the LGA is tasked with overseeing and coordinating the work of the Maldives’ 199 city, atoll, and island-level councils.

The LGA board is required under the act with ensuring that “the work and activities of the councils created under this Act is functioning in accordance with the Constitution, this Act, and other Laws”.

The original Decentralisation Act assigns a number of services and lands to the councils, though failure to make amendments to relevant legislation – particularly the Land Act and the Finance Act – has led to contradiction in the current laws.

Concerns over the government’s plans for decentralisation prompted councils from the country’s southernmost atolls to sign a pact to defend the system last month.

The Medheaari Declaration – signed by the Gaaf Dhaalu, Gaaf Alifu, and Fuvahmulah atoll councils, and Addu City Council – called upon the government to protect decentralisation, as well as making plans to secure the fiscal autonomy of the signatories.

This article was updated shortly after its original publication to include the board’s decision to pass the no-confidence motion against Chairperson Nazim.

Related to this story

Defence minister Nazim faces no-confidence motion from LGA board

Southern atolls sign pact to defend decentralisation

Can decentralisation take root in the Maldives?


Funds allocated for councils in next year’s budget lower than 2014, says LGA

Local Government Authority (LGA) CEO Dr Ahmed Shukry told parliament’s budget review committee yesterday that funds allocated for city, island, and atoll councils in the 2015 state budget was lower than this year’s budget.

Shukry said the amount allocated for the Malé City Council, six atoll councils and 43 island councils was MVR25 million (US$1.6 million) less than this year.

If the requested amount is not provided, Shukry said many councils would face difficulties paying salaries and utility bills, which was already a recurring issue.

In addition to the LGA, a number of independent institutions, the National University of Maldives, and the judiciary have told the budget committee that the finance ministry has not allocated the requested amount of funds in the record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget for 2015.


Kodey councillors sworn in seven months after election

Three councillors-elect for the island council of Gaaf Alif Kodey took their oaths of office on Thursday (August 21) seven months after the local council elections in January, reports local media.

Independent members Murthala Saleem and Ahmed Ibrahim along with Adhaalath Party member Siyam Mohamed were sworn in by Gaaf Alif Villigili Magistrate Azeem Hassan at a ceremony at the Kodey school.

A fourth councillor-elect, Shan Mohamed, meanwhile informed the Local Government Authority (LGA) that he no longer wished to serve on the council.

Shan told Sun Online that he has moved to Malé since January’s polls and begun practicing law in the capital.

Elections Commission (EC) Director Ahmed Abubakur, however, insisted that Shan must first take the oath of office and then resign if he did not want the seat.

He added that the EC would make a decision once the LGA informs the commission of Shan’s letter.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court overturned the High Court’s annulment of the Kodey island council election.

In February, the High Court ordered a revote for the five-member island council. The decision was, however, appealed at the Supreme Court by the EC.

In its verdict (Dhivehi) – delivered more than four months after the appeal was filed – the apex court ordered a revote to be held among the two fifth-placed candidates and the sixth-placed candidate.

The fifth-placed candidates received 88 votes while the candidate in sixth place received 87 votes.

As the margin between the candidates for the last seat was just one vote, the High Court had invalidated the election after it emerged that an elderly Kodey man residing in Dhaandhoo had cast his ballot in the wrong box.


LGA recommends making councillors part-time

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has recommended making councillors part-time with the exception of council presidents and vice presidents.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim – who chairs the institution tasked with monitoring councils and coordinating with the government – said the LGA has proposed amending the Decentralisation Act to pay part-time councillors an allowance for attending council meetings.

“For example, a teacher or a headmaster level person or someone with higher educational qualifications, they will have the opportunity to contest [council elections]; or for example if it’s a skilled person, a boat builder, they will only have to come for meetings and they’re done after giving their advice and opinion,” Nazim explained.

“The president and vice president will operate the council. Instead, now they have to leave their profession – the teacher, headmaster or boat builder has to give up his job.”

As a consequence, Nazim contended, the councillors’ time was not put to productive use.

“The benefit of [the changes] is that the councillor has to work a very short amount of time and be free to work productively for the island’s development,” he added.

Wage bill

The president of island councils currently receive a monthly salary and allowance of MVR15,000 (US$973) while council members receive MVR11,000 (US$713). The mayor of Malé is paid MVR45,000 (US$2,918) a month.

The president and vice president of councils are elected from among the members by secret ballot.

A total of MVR717 million (US$46 million) was allocated in the 2011 national budget to pay salaries and allowances for local councils, which accounted for 17 percent of the annual wage bill.

Under article 25 of the Decentralisation Act, a five-member council is elected in islands with a population of less than 3,000, a seven-member council for islands with a population between 3,000 and 10,000, and a nine-member council for islands with a population of more than 10,000.

City councils comprise of “an elected member from every electoral constituency of the city” and atoll councils comprises of “elected members from the electoral constituencies within the administrative division.”

The current model of more than 1,000 elected councillors approved in 2010 by the then-opposition majority parliament was branded “economic sabotage” by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government, which had proposed limiting the number of councillors to “no more than 220.”

The new layer of government introduced with the first local council elections in February 2011 cost the state US$12 million a year with a wage bill of US$220,000 a month.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told parliament’s Budget Review Committee last year that President Abdulla Yameen favoured revising the local government framework to reduce the number of island and atoll councillors.

In November 2013, the incoming administration proposed merging island and atoll councils, with the latter to be composed of a representative from each island of the atoll.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said at the time that “the president’s thinking is not to cut down on the number of councillors. But to elect councilors based on the population of the islands. This is a move to curb state expenditure.”

However, parliament did not move to amend the Decentralisation Act ahead of the local council elections on January 18, which saw 1,100 councillors elected for  three-year terms.

Three-year terms

Nazim meanwhile told the press yesterday that the LGA’s recommendations have been shared with the government and the legislature.

While the proposals were intended to reduce the state’s recurrent expenditure – which accounts for over 70 percent of the budget – Nazim said the LGA does not support changing the council’s term from three to five years.

Contending that the legal responsibility of local councils was implementing the government’s policies, Nazim said voters should have the opportunity to change their elected representatives during an ongoing five-year presidential term.

“Citizens get an opportunity to see what kind of results the council produced and the extent to which they upheld the government’s policies,” he said.

Nazim said that LGA Deputy Chair Ahmed Faisal’s public remarks concerning combining the local council and parliamentary elections represented his personal opinion.

The defence minister noted that the Elections Commission has yet to announce official results of the local council elections – held eleven days ago – and that conducting the polls simultaneously would create present difficulties for the commission.

In December, the World Bank warned in a report that the Maldivian economy was at risk due to excessive government spending, with an already excessive wage bill ballooned by 55 percent in 2013.