President Abdulla Yameen has accorded city status to the southern island of Fuvahmulah ahead of the upcoming local council elections.
An executive decree was issued on Thursday declaring that the island meets the criteria for a city in the decentralisation law, which was amended last year to lower the minimum population threshold from 25,000 to 10,000.
As Fuvahmulah is uniquely both an island and its own atoll, it currently has an atoll council and island councils for each of its eight administrative wards, with a total of 30 elected councillors.
However, the island will now have a three-member city council, one each for its three parliamentary constituencies.
Fuvahmulah becomes the Maldives’ third city after the capital Malé and Addu City.
Since President Abdulla Yameen assumed power in November 2013, the government has gradually stripped city councils of their authority and staff. Both the Malé and Addu councils are opposition-dominated.
In late June, Yameen ratified a third amendment to the decentralisation law that authorised the president to determine the public services to be provided by city councils.
Most municipal services were transferred to government ministries, leaving the councils with providing registration services and issuing birth and death certificates.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said at the time the changes were aimed at reducing the city councils to an “administrative desk at the president’s office.”
Elected island, atoll, and city councils were introduced in the Maldives for the first time under the landmark Decentralisation Act of 2010.
The third local council elections are scheduled for January 14, 2017.
The decentralisation law has also been revised to reduce the number of councillors for islands with a population of less than 3,000 from five to three. Additionally, three atoll councillors will be elected for atolls with two parliamentary constituencies, down from two for each constituency.
As a result, the number of city, atoll and island councillors elected next year will fall from more than 1,000 to 628.
The monthly wage bill for atoll and island councillors is consequently expected to decline from more than MVR13.7 million (US$888,400) to about MVR5 million (US$324,200).
Island councillors are paid between MVR15,000 to MVR11,000 (US$972 -713), while atoll councillors are paid between MVR25,000 to MVR20,000 (US$1,621 – US$1,297).
The current decentralisation model – approved in 2010 by the then-opposition majority parliament – was branded “economic sabotage” by the MDP government, as it was expected to add US$220,000 in wages every month. The MDP had proposed limiting the number of councillors to “no more than 220.”
According to the 2014 census, some 38 percent of the Maldives’ 338,000-strong population resides in the congested capital city.
The rest are scattered across more than 180 islands. Only four islands have a population exceeding 5,000 and only 20 islands have more than 2,000 people.