Government proposes abolishing Women’s Development Committees

The government’s proposal for amendments to the Decentralisation Act include abolishing Women’s Development Committees in the islands.

The amendment requires the councils to abolish the committees and to form four new advisory committees – a Women’s Development Advisory Committee, an Economic Committee, a Development Advisory Committee, and an Environment Protection Advisory Committee – that would advise island councils.

According to the amendment, the funds and assets of the existing Women’s Development Committees will be transferred to the council, and will only be permitted for use after consulting with the Women’s Development Advisory Committee.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group leader and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik said that the parliamentary group had not yet reviewed the amendments.

Introduced by former President Nasheed in 2010, the Decentralisation Act created Women’s Development Committees for the purpose of generating income for the development of local women, working to increase religious awareness, and to improve the health, education, and political participation of women.

Following its observation of this month’s Majlis elections, the EU Election Observation Mission noted an “extremely low numbers of female candidates,” with a total of 23 women standing – just 5 of whom were elected.

The report noted that this, along with the low voter turn out for women, was in part down to “prevailing and increasing social and cultural norms which disempower women, confining them to the domestic sphere.”

Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s 2013 gender gap index noted that the Maldives had fallen behind in both economic and political gender equality – ranking 97 out of 136 countries ranked.

In the same amendment bill – given its first reading last week – MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur, who submitted the bill on behalf of the government in December also proposed cutting the monthly salaries for all council members except for the president vice president of the council in the islands – instead, paying an allowance for each meeting attended.

The current act 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 councillors.

The presidents 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.

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.

Since assuming power last November, President Abdulla Yameen’s government has made clear its intention to reduce the size of local government in order to reduce the state’s recurrent expenditure – which accounts for over 70 percent of the budget.

In December, the World Bank warned in a report that the Maldivian economy was at risk due to excessive government spending.

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 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.


President ratifies Decentralisation Act

President Mohamed Nasheed has today ratified the landmark bill on decentralised administration but vetoed the complementary bill on local council elections.

Addressing press today, Nasheed said Attorney General (AG) Husnu Suood advised the president’s office that although the decentralisation bill would not hamper the implementation of government policies, some provisions were “legally questionable.”

“If the bill becomes law, both the attorney general and this office has noted that there could be legal problems in enforcing it without amendments,” he said.

As the constitutional deadline for local council elections elapsed in July last year, he added, a further delay was not advisable.

Although the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) removed the concept of provinces from the government’s bill, Nasheed said the Act does not prohibit the creation of province as it stipulates that new legislation would be needed to form “province councils.”

Opposition MPs argued that grouping atolls into seven provinces was unconstitutional as 21 administrative areas or atolls were clearly specified in the constitution.

Nasheed stressed that it was important to distinguish between political decentralisation, or the formation of local councils, and administrative decentralisation.

The constitution empowers the president to create posts and offices in the atolls to provide services of various government ministries located in Male’, he explained.

“For example, the ministry of economic development registers companies,” he said. “In the past, to register a company you had to come to Male’, fill out the form and get the seal.”

Apart from providing services directly to the region, he continued, the province offices would work together with island and atoll councils on speeding up development projects.

13 points

A statement highlighting 13 legal points raised by Attorney General Husnu Suood regarding the decentralisation bill was issued by the president’s office today.

Suood noted that the bill does not preclude either the creation of provinces or collaboration among constituencies or administrative areas.

Moreover, the law does not prohibit either a government ministry or an independent institution from targeting services to two atolls or undertaking development projects for one or more atolls.

Thirdly, as the bill distinguishes between the central island and the capital island of an atoll, the powers and administrative framework of former atoll offices would be transferred to the atoll council.

It will therefore be left to residents of an atoll to to designate an island for the administrative office of the atoll council.

The AG notes that the composition of city councils specified in the bill was unfair as the city council of Male’, with a population of 125,000, will have 11 members, while the atoll council of Addu, with a population of 29,000, will have 12 members.

Further, the bill does not prohibit island councils from entering into agreements with the government’s utility companies, created for the seven provinces, to provide electricity, water and sanitation.

As the guidelines specified in the bill for island councils and atoll councils to offer municipal services differed significantly, “it is important to streamline the guidelines for providing these services.”

In the case of Fuahmulah, the only island in the Maldives that is also an atoll, the AG points out that its eight island councils with three members each, in addition to a six-member atoll council, was proportionately a high number of representatives compared to other atolls.

While the 9,000 people of Fuahmulah would have 30 elected representatives, the 125,000 people of Male’ would have 11 representatives on its city council.

Moreover, a government minister has to be on the board of the local government authority and is required to answer to parliament, but might not be elected as the chair of the board.

If the minister is not elected to the chair, Suood notes, it is doubtful whether he or she could report to parliament as mandated by article 140 of the constitution.

The AG recommends amending the law to require the chair of the board to report to a minister designated by the president.

Meanwhile, a provision that would allow councils to plan and organize services provided by government ministries was “unconstitutional” as it would strip the ministry of its authority and ministers could not answer to either parliament or the president.

Granting powers to local councils to invalidate contracts and agreements made in the constituency after the ratification of the new constitution “did not make legal sense” and was “unfair” as it could leave third parties without any avenues for redress.

On the twelfth point, the AG recommends designating council members apart from the president and vice-president “non-executive” members with lower pay.

As there was going to be around 1,200 council members in the country, between Rf400 million to Rf500 million would be needed annually for salaries and allowances.

Since the Decentralisation Act stipulates that elections must take place within 150 days of ratification, Suood notes that the local council elections bill must be ratified before June 15.

Local council elections bill

Although the president vetoed the bill on local council elections today, he conceded that he would sign it into law If parliament passes it again without an amendment to allow remote voting.

Fuad Thaufeeq, president of the Elections Commission (EC), told Minivan News earlier this month that the two bills had to be ratified within 28 days of each other to comply with the periods specified in both pieces of legislation.

At the press conference, President Nasheed denied claims by opposition parties that the government was stalling the elections to prolong the tenure of appointed island and atoll councilors.

Nasheed said the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) proposed at the Special Majlis that the parliamentary and local council elections should have preceded the presidential elections.

The number of island chiefs and deputies appointed in the past was above 800, he said, while the number of councilors would not exceed one to each island.


President inaugurates MWSC Production Centre in Maafushi

President Mohamed Nasheed inaugurated the MWSC’s (Malé Water and Sewerage Company) Production Centre in Maafushi on Saturday, which will provide desalinated water to the residents of the island.

President Nasheed noted the government recognised basic utilities like water and sewerage were essential for the development and prosperity of the people.

He said the government was aiming to provide these services in a sustainable manner, but needed support from the private sector which is why the government is pursuing a policy of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to carry out developmental activities.

President Nasheed also said the government’s wish to create seven provinces was “not for political gain but for the benefit of all citizens.”

He said the government “does not desire to do anything through arguing and fighting in the People’s Majlis,” but is trying to do what is best for the citizens of the country.

He noted if anyone could explain why creating the provinces would obstruct the development of the country, “we are ready to concede.”


“Hell will come” to parliament over provinces section: MP Mohamed Nasheed

Parliament’s decentralisation committee has removed the concept of ‘provinces’ from the contentious Decentralisation Bill, claiming that dividing the country into seven provinces and not keeping it divided into its current  21 administrative regions is unconstitutional.

During the decentralisation bill’s third innings at Parliament, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)-led committee in charge of reviewing the bill voted in favour of removing the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) proposal of provincial division.

In protest against the removal of the ‘provinces’ from the bill, four MDP MPs walked out of the committee meeting last week leaving the remaining seven members to take a vote on whether the provincial divisions should remain or be removed.

According to Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed, this “sticking issue” has been causing disagreements in Parliament and within the committee since the Bill was first introduced. The reasons behind the argument were “partly legal, partly political,” he explained.

According to the Constitution, the country should be divided into 21 administrative districts. Nasheed points out that the Constitution does not mention provinces; nor does it say whether the country can or cannot be divided into provinces.

Nasheed said the DRP is against the move because they claim it is unconstitutional, while the MDP counters that because provincial governance is in the party’s manifesto and people voted for MDP, it should be allowed.

Nasheed said the government began constructing new province offices and appointing ministers while the bill was still being disputed, and has spent Rf125 million (US$9.6 million) on administrative costs already.

“The government did not consult with the main opposition [before going ahead],” he said.

In an effort to avoid the protests and disruption that occurred during the last vote in parliament over the bill, Nasheed suggested a compromise whereby the president has the right to group regions together for administrative reasons, similar to the way it is done in the health and education sectors.

“It does not need to be crystallised in law,” he explained.

He noted that creating provincial councils would only complicate things as it would mean four layers of government in the country: island council, atoll council, province council and national government.

However Nasheed said he believes that “no one will give up” on the issue, as “the government has climbed the ladder so high, it would be a major political defeat if they back down. Right now, it’s MDP against everyone else,” he said.

Nasheed said he expects “a lot of friction” in Parliament this coming week, suggesting that “hell will come” when the issue is sent back to the Majlis.

MDP response

MDP MP for Henveiru South Hamid Abdul Gafoor said the bill “should have been enacted into law on 1 July 2009… it has to be done within the transitional two years [since the change of government]. There are only three months left.”

Gafoor said because the population of individual atolls are so small, sometimes under 10,000 people, it is not enough people to make administrative costs economically viable.

“We need [about] 40,000 people [in each region] to make it economically feasible,” he said, noting that this would mean cutting civil servants “as the extra layer simplifies the system.”

Gafoor said there would still be atoll councillors, but there wouldn’t be a need for representatives of the central government in each atoll, therefore reducing costs.

“We will cut down on red tape, on bureaucracy,” he said.

Gafoor added that if this section of the bill is passed, the subsequent elections for provincial ministers and representatives would be “a landmark election” for the country.

DRP response

Chairperson of the Decentralisation Committee and DRP MP Mohamed Mujthaz said there will only be another vote if an MP proposes amendments. Otherwise, he said, “tomorrow, the committee will finish [reviewing the bill].”

DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said the DRP has been “refusing to add” this concept of provincial division from the beginning.

He said DRP has never been against decentralisation, as it clearly stated in the Constitution the country should be run by a decentralised government. But he added “it is unconstitutional” to make the division into seven provinces and not the stipulated 21 regions.

Nihan said this new division would only complicate things more, adding “the public is now confused” as to where to go: the island office, atoll office, or province office: “The service is getting far away from the people.”

Nihan said MDP can ask for an amendment in Parliament, but said he thought “the public is not in the mood to let this happen.”

Government response

Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, said “the president’s view has been publicly stated. Just having atoll councillors does not prove good economics; it is too small a population.”

Zuhair said although the Constitution stipulates the country be divided into twenty-one atolls, “it does not prohibit” dividing it by provinces.

He said grouping the atolls into provinces was “necessary” and noted that “aid agencies have [also] grouped them. This is not a new idea.”

Zuhair said MDP MPs are boycotting the committee and said “there will still be intervention,” assuring “there will be a vote” in Parliament to resolve this.

He added that the president could, “by decree” include the provinces into the bill, “but it’s not the ideal situation. The president is still trying to garner support.”


President submits decentralisation bill

President Mohamed Nasheed has submitted the revised Decentralisation Bill to the People’s Majlis.

The bill states that each of the administrative divisions stated in Schedule 2 of the Constitution—except Malé—will be administered by an atoll council elected in accordance with the Constitution.

It also provides representation to both men and women in the elected island and city councils.

The bill gives the president the authority to establish province offices to provide the services of ministries and coordinate government projects in different regions.

The president also proposed the 2nd amendment bill to Act 2/99 (Tourism Act), to make the industry more sustainable and increase the government’s revenue from tourism.


Some functions to be transfered to provinces

The cabinet has announced today that they would transfer some functions of line ministries to province offices.

According to the presidents office this would be done under management contracts between ministries and the seven province offices.

On 13 October 2009, the cabinet appointed a committee to review decentralisation and make recommendations.

Under the committee’s supervision, a team has identified the functions that can now be transfered to province management.


Government withdraws decentralisation bill

The government has withdrawn the bill on decentralised administration after parliament reached an impasse on the controversial model of provinces in the proposed legislation.

At today’s sitting of parliament, Speaker Abdullah Shahid said the president’s office sent a letter informing him of the decision.

“Since it has become difficult to continue Majlis sittings due to disagreements among MPs on the bill on decentralised administration and as the public and political parties have requested that it be withdrawn, the president’s office said the bill was withdrawn to be submitted again in the first Majlis session of 2010 after making amendments following consultations with the public and political parties,” he said.


Four sittings have been cancelled over the past three days after the opposition-dominated committee selected to review the legislation presented its report with an amendment to scrap provinces.

The third and final reading of the bill where MPs propose and vote on amendments could not be continued after heated rows, points of order and unsuccessful negotiations forced the speaker to call off sittings.

Over 700 amendments were tabled, the majority from MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to reverse the changes made by the committee.

While MDP MPs argued the opposition was infringing on the government’s prerogative of implementing its agenda, MPs of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) maintained that dividing the 21 administrative areas to seven provinces was unconstitutional.

Under the government’s bill, they argued, an atoll council would be elected from a province that includes three or four atolls, leading to unequal representation.

Islanders from the less populous atolls would have to travel to the province capital for essential services, they said.

Moreover, the legislation would give provincial state ministers undue authority and influence over elected councils, including the power to dissolve the bodies.

Chapter eight of the constitution stipulates that “the administrative divisions of the Maldives shall be administered decentrally”, while giving the president powers “as provided in law, to create constituencies, posts, island councils, atoll councils and city councils”.

Article 230(c) states “the jurisdiction and characteristics of constituencies, posts and councils created to provide for decentralised administration shall be specified in law”.

Economies of scale

Speaking at the inauguration of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Male’ Area last night, President Mohamed Nasheed defended the government’s decentralisation policy.

Concentration of power and development in Male’ has led to congestion and neglect of the atolls, said Nasheed, adding devolving decision-making powers were necessary for the equitable distribution of wealth and prosperity.

But, he added, it was the government’s responsibility to pursue decentralisation in a manner agreed upon by all parties.

While he respected the DRP’s main proposal, the government believed electoral constituencies should be grouped together for administrative purposes.

The president said 54 per cent of the people endorsed the MDP manifesto and its policy of dividing the country into seven regions or provinces.

“It was impossible for a single island or atoll to develop in the manner in which a province could develop exploiting 40 per cent of its income and natural resources,” he said. “Decentralised governance through regionalisation will not be a win for any specific political party. In reality it will be a victory for the Maldives.”

Economies of scale would only be possible through the creation of provinces, he argued, and the government’s legislation proposed granting authority of 40 per cent of a province’s income to the councils.

Economies of scale refer to the benefits of large scale operations when more units of a good or service can be produced while decreasing the average cost of production.

Public interest

When parliament resumed at 2.30pm yesterday, MDP MPs as well as the Republican Party and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MPs urged the government to withdraw the legislation.

Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim, the sole representative of the Republican Party, said the bill should be withdrawn in the interests of social harmony and allowing parliament to proceed with other legislation.

Supporters of the two main parties gathered outside parliament to protest yesterday, leading to the arrest of activists from both sides. However, all who were taken into custody have since been released.

Gasim urged the president to exercise article 115(p) of the constitution and hold a public referendum on the issue of provinces.

The article authorises the president to hold referendums “on issues of national importance”.

Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed of the DQP reiterated the MDP criticism of the committee, invoking parliamentary rules of procedure that state committees could not make amendments that conflict with or negate the purpose of a bill.

“Therefore, considering the public interest and the rivalry of the two political parties, I would say the best thing would be for the government to take this bill back,” he said.

MDP parliamentary group leader “Reeko” Moosa Manik said the amended bill presented by the committee did not resemble the one proposed by the government at all.

Moosa called upon the government to withdraw the bill as it would not be able to pursue its policies or deliver on its promises with the committee’s version of the legislation.

At today’s sitting DRP MPs blamed the government and the MDP parliamentary group for the failure to pass the decentralisation bill as the constitutional deadline for local elections had elapsed in July.


MDP will fight for provinces, says president

President Mohamed Nasheed has said the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will not stand by while the opposition scuttles legislation intended to devolve decision-making powers to the people.

Addressing supporters last night at the MDP haruge (headquarters), Nasheed said the MDP did not contest the presidential election out of “greed for power” but to empower the people.

“We can only have good governance in this country when we devolve real powers of governance to the atolls,” he said. “We cannot achieve the development we want any other way. We cannot make the change we hoped for.”

MDP’s hopes for good governance rests upon its policy of creating “seven Males symbolised by the seven provinces”, he said, adding the government’s development projects were planned within the framework of the province model.

While the government began offering services available in the capital at the province offices, he continued, it has not been very efficient due to the lack of enabling legislation.

The president said he “knew very well” the efforts of a certain group to make sure that the powers of government remain concentrated in Male’.

“In my view, it would not be wise for our party to stand by while powers and benefits that are owed to the people are obstructed,” he said.

Since the legislation was formulated to hand over 40 per cent of an atoll’s resources to its people, he said, that was what the DRP was actually opposing.

Speaking at the rally, Attorney General Husnu Suood said DRP should not be allowed to adulterate or block an agenda the people had endorsed when they voted for the MDP and its manifesto.


Parliament remains deadlocked on the government’s bill on decentralised administration, with MDP MPs arguing the opposition dominated committee had amended the legislation so that it no longer resembles the original bill.

A total of 765 amendments have been tabled to reverse the changes made by the committee, most notably to scrap provinces.

Economies of scale would not be possible without grouping three or four atolls into provinces, MDP MPs have said, since an atoll was too small a unit to be decentralised.

The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) maintains dividing 21 administrative areas into seven provinces was unconstitutional, as the constitution requires devolving power to the existing 21 areas.

DRP also argued that the bill would have given undue powers to provincial state ministers and the local government authority (LGA) over elected councils, including powers to dismiss and dissolve island and atoll councils.

The 11-member ad hoc committee chosen to review the legislation voted 6 to 5 to remove provinces from the bill.

Parliament sittings have been cancelled over two consecutive days after MPs clashed and the third and final reading of the bill could not be continued.

MDP MPs accused the committee of violating Majlis rules of procedure in its review and negating the purpose of the legislation, calling on the speaker to send the amended bill back to committee.

Following last night’s cancellation, MDP supporters protested outside parliament as well as the residence of Speaker Abdullah Shahid.

After originally being pushed back to 4pm, today’s sitting has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning.

Negotiations are currently ongoing between the two main parties to reach a compromise on the issue.