The Local Government Authority (LGA), chaired by Home Minister Umar Naseer, has suspended all five councillors from the island of Thulhaadhoo in Baa atoll for defying orders from the oversight body for local councils.
The five island councillors have been suspended for a month without pay for refusing to withhold the monthly salary of two councillors suspended earlier this year over a social media post and for attending a mass anti-government protest on May 1.
“As five members of the council have been suspended till 14 December 2015 from 15 November 2015 for disobeying orders from this authority, it is to be noted that councillors must not be allowed to participate in the council meetings and that no meetings held by the council members will be valid,” reads a letter sent from Naseer today to the senior civil servant at the council.
Thulhaadhoo councillor Ziyau Rasheed Ibrahim was among several councillors that the LGA suspended for two months without pay following their arrest from the May Day protest. Councillor Ahmed Abdul Raheem was meanwhile suspended in June over a social media post.
The opposition-dominated Thulhaadhoo council had refused to enforce both decisions, saying the orders were “unconstitutional” and contrary to the relevant regulations and laws.
Speaking to The Maldives Independent, Raheem, president of the island council, described today’s LGA decision as a warning to all elected councillors to refrain from being critical of the government.
“The Thulhaadhoo council had decided unanimously in both cases that the LGA’s decision was arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional,” he said.
The council will hold a meeting soon to decide how to proceed, Raheem said.
The home minister has also asked the finance ministry not to release funds to pay the salary and allowances of the Thulhaadhoo councillors for a month.
The Baa atoll council has been ordered to temporarily take over the Thulhaadhoo council in order to ensure that public services are not interrupted.
The LGA is tasked with monitoring councils, ensuring standards, improving technical capacity, and coordinating with the central government.
The LGA board consists of a cabinet minister appointed by the president, four atoll councillors elected from among members of atoll councils, a representative from civil society appointed by parliament, a member of the general public appointed by parliament, and members elected from the Addu and Malé city councils.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called today’s LGA decision the latest in a series of moves intended to “destroy” the decentralisation system introduced in February 2011.
According to the MDP, some 300 of its 450 island and atoll councillors had traveled to the capital to take part in the May Day mass rally.
Since President Abdulla Yameen assumed power in November 2013, the government has gradually stripped the opposition-dominated Malé and Addu city councils of their authority and staff.
The pro-government majority in parliament has also brought several amendments to the landmark 2010 Decentralisation Act. One revision states that by-elections must not be held if an island, atoll, or city councillor resigns one year after the local council elections.
In July, a ruling party MP proposed amending the law to not elect councils in islands with a population lower than 500 people.
The parliament is also considering amendments on making councillors apart from the president and vice president of councils part-time members who would not be involved in day-to-day activities.