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.