President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Thursday pledged to allocate five percent of government income to local councils and introduce a quota to reserve one third of seats for women.
The president announced the proposed changes to the Decentralisation Act at the opening ceremony of a conference with councillors of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party at the Huravee school in the capital’s suburb Hulhumalé.
In line with campaign pledges, 40 percent of income from leasing plots of land, lagoons and reefs would also be provided to councils, Solih said, along with the entirety of rent collected from land that falls under the jurisdiction of island councils.
With greater financial autonomy, councils would be able to create companies and cooperative societies, he added.
The decentralisation law would also be amended to reserve a third of council seats for female candidates, he announced.
Solih said a draft of the government-sponsored amendments would be finalised based on discussions at the two-day conference.
The proposed changes are necessary to achieve the ‘Jazeera Raajje’ (Island Nation) promised in the MDP-led ruling coalition’s manifesto, he said, recalling the MDP’s boycott of the vote to pass the landmark law in 2010.
The MDP was in power at the time but lacked a parliamentary majority.
“When the Decentralisation Act was passed in 2010, the things MDP asked to include in the law was changed a lot. It didn’t pass the way MDP wanted,” Solih noted.
“We’ve had varying experiences of this system in the past eight years. I believe some councils function very well, while there is a lot of things to improve in other councils. I feel that in general we are moving forward. This is a work in progress. The congestion and the many social issues faced by the Malé region can be solved by developing the outer islands, creating jobs and by making the islands financially self-sufficient.”
Decentralisation was a key theme of the ruling party’s campaign for both the presidential and parliamentary elections. But critics have argued that commitment to devolving decision-making powers has not been reflected in the new government’s policies, such as plans to expand the Greater Malé area with a bridge.
At the end of the conference with MDP councillors on Friday, MP Hassan Latheef told the press that the amendments to the decentralisation law would be passed before the end of the year.
The next municipal elections are due to take place in 2020.