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The Maldives: Making Decentralizing Process a Dominant Strategy

By Srimal Fernando

Picture: Srimal  Fernando (R at a discussion with Mr Yameen Mohamed, the President of Kaafu Guraidhoo, Vice President Mr  Ibrahim Shaleez and Councilor at the Local; Government Authority Secretariat of the Guraidhoo Council situated in the Male' Atoll  

Ever since the dawn of Independence in the Maldives certain crucial questions about decentralization of administration units have pre occupied Maldivian citizens' thoughts.

Since then the Ministry of Provincial Affairs articulated the national vision for the development of islands in the late 70s, that remained intact till the Island development policy, procedures remained comprehensively revised under the Ministry of Atolls Administration (MOAA) to carry forward the idea.

In 2010 the Indian Ocean Island nation took a different approach by passing the Decentralization Act to set out 189 island councils, 19 atoll councils and two city councils. These patterns of change were particularly noticeable from “Haa Atoll “ in the Northern tip of the Maldives, to “Seenu Atoll” at the Southern end. The ratified Decentralization Act created an institutional basis through the Local Government Authority (LGA) to unwaveringly support the newly created administrative units in the Maldives.

Today the socio-economic achievements of the Maldivian islands are real.   It is no more paper arrangement functioning through the local governance system.  One   could   argue that per capita income rise of Maldivians to US$ $ 8,980 (2017) per annum is tightly linked to the facts surrounding this theme. There are four out comes which are associated for the holistic development of islands and atolls in the South Asian island nation.  Firstly the Maldives   is now   a brand name in the global tourism market. It is a top end market for the European, Chinese and  for  the Indians  .Last year  over 1.5 million  tourist  visited  the  nation .Most of the high end 146  island  resorts are located near  these 189 island administrative units.  The tourist resort islands work closely   with the island councils.  One of the advantageous of tourisms is  that it generates more employment and revenues .     Secondly Fisheries being one of the main livelihoods is   dependent on tourism.   Thirdly for instance small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in   the local islands generate revenue and depend on the flourishing tourism and fisheries industry. Fourthly the   revenue   generated   from tourism sector, fisheries and SMEs create more funding for infrastructure. Quite clearly island politics in the Indian Ocean island nation   are much more regionally oriented than Male or Addu City, politics. It is unfortunate but necessary to note that the political rivalry between certain political groups in some islands might have stalled few development projects.

Picture of Guraidhoo Island

To be sure the author   went to several   islands and Atolls on a useful information-gathering task to determine whether these stories were true.

The author  had a  in-depth discussion  with  the Councilors   at the invitation of Mr Yameen Mohamed ,the President of Kaafu Guraidhoo Council  in the Male’ `Atoll to  assess the tangible  benefits   this  de centralized  process  had brought towards  Guraidhoo   Islanders  .  President of Kaafu Guraidhoo Council said    “As President   of  the Guraidhoo  Council after serving two consecutive terms I got  re elected  for the  third time to  serve Guraidhoo  island “. “I have seen how  the  Island   had developed”  .Today we  have    developed  a  small  fisheries  habour  and there  are many guest  houses  and  we   have regular   ferry  services  from our  island to Male’. We  as  a  local  government  authority  along with the Guraidhoo  Secretariat  provide   fast  and efficient  service to the Islanders” . Adding to this Vice President of the  Kaafu Guraidhoo Council Mr  Ibrahim Shaleez  said “ Our island is open for business and we will provide the  most efficient local government facilities to our islanders and to the visitors”   As a result  these trends  in  various   islands suggest that the Decentralizing Policy has brought about significant concrete changes for the Maldivians

In general infrastructure development   is visible in most of the inhabited islands of the Maldives.  There is a certain parallel here to the development of fisheries habours   seen in several Islands for the renewal of intra island   connectivity and to boost tourism. On the basis of the Maldivian regional development experiences must be interpreted as an indication of increasing   commercial activities, employment opportunities for the islanders .In several Atolls, the decentralization   process along with the economic development activities goes hand in hand   with the   Local Government Authority (LGA) strategies which constitute a political response from the   respective island councilors.  Thus the common   background    of these islanders from North to southern end of Maldives covers a broad spectrum and has deep roots. In essence the decentralization practice in 200 inhabited islands extend preferences in different trading arrangements.   Currently the nation has laid a solid legal foundation for improving economic standards of Islanders through the decentralization process. Through this policy there is a wider geographical scope for the Maldivians to   encourage faster commercial activities within the Atolls.

Srimal Fernando is a Doctoral Fellow at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA), India and a Global editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa. He won the 2018/2019 Best Journalist of the year award in South Africa.




February/March 2020

















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