The parliament today approved pay cuts of more than 50 percent for Malé and Addu city councillors. Both municipal councils are dominated by the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)
A recommendation by the parliament’s pro-government-majority public accounts committee to reduce wages was approved with 47 votes in favour, 17 against and three abstentions.
The oversight committee said the cuts are justified by the transfer of the city’s powers and responsibilities to the housing ministry.
The 17 city councillors will now receive a salary nearly equivalent to that of island councillors.
The monthly salary of mayors was reduced from MVR30,000 (US$1,945) to MVR15,000 (US$972) and living allowances were reduced from MVR15,000 (US$972) to MVR3000 (US$195).
The salaries of deputy mayors were reduced from MVR27,000 (US$1,750) to MVR12,000 (US$778) while council members will take home a pay of MVR10,000 (US$649) instead of MVR19,000 (US$1,232).
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 public accounts committee approved the pay cuts unanimously at a meeting last week after reviewing wages in light of the changes to the city council’s mandate. MDP MPs had walked out of the meeting in protest.
Since President Abdulla Yameen assumed power in November 2013, the government had gradually stripped the Malé City Council of its authority and staff. Nine of the 11 Malé City councilors and all six members of the Addu City Council belong to the MDP.
A housing ministry branch has also been established in Addu City to take over the council’s tasks. In August, the government announced that all of Addu City’s public land and parks have been moved under the ministry’s jurisdiction.
MP Ibrahim Didi of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – also a member of the public accounts committee – said today that the government took over the city council’s functions after the opposition councillors “failed” to adequately provide services to the public and solve the capital’s garbage and flooding problems.
The sole responsibility of the city councils now is maintaining birth and death records, he said.
Malé City Council member Shamau Shareef has described the changes to the pay structure as “an attempt to humiliate the city councils and ridicule the decentralization system,” while MDP MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa said the move is “one in the string of activities aimed at destroying the decentralization system.”
“There is no country in the world but Maldives that has city councils that are run by a government ministry,” Ghafoor said.
The current model of more than 1,200 elected councillors 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.”
In late June, President Yameen ratified a third amendment to the decentralisation law that authorised the president to determine the public services to be provided by the Malé and Addu city councils.
The amendments stated that municipal services the president decides not to assign to the council will be transferred to government ministries.
MDP MPs had criticised the proposed changes, contending that it would “destroy” the decentralisation system and reduce the city council to an “administrative desk at the president’s office.”
Meanwhile, in July, PPM MP Ibrahim Khaleel proposed amending the Decentralisation Act to not elect local councils in islands with a population lower than 500 people.
Opposition MPs argued that the proposed change amounted to discrimination against small island communities, whilst pro-government MPs suggested that the old system of island and atoll chiefs directly appointed by the president during the 30-year reign of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was much better suited to the Maldives.
Khaleel also proposed extensive changes to the composition of local councils. The amendments state that a four-member council will be elected in islands with a population between 500 and 5,000 people and a six-member council for islands with a population between 5,000 and 10,000.
Apart from the president and vice president of island, atoll, and city councils, Khaleel proposed making other councillors part-time members who would not be involved in day-to-day activities.
A fifth amendment passed to the Decentralisation Act meanwhile states that by-elections must not be held if an island, atoll, or city councillor resigns one year after the local council elections.
However, by-elections must still be held for vacant seats if a council does not have a quorum to hold meetings or if a councillor resigns within the first year.