Minister: Not gov policy to penalize councils

Local Government Minister Adam Shareef Umar speaks to the press on December 19, 2023. (Photo/Infinite Moments/Mohamed Maavee)

Local Government Minister Adam Shareef Umar says it is not government policy to penalize councils in response to decisions it makes.

Noonu Kendhikulhudhoo Council had issued a statement in February, in which it accused President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu of misusing state resources to campaign for the parliamentary elections during his current tour of the atolls.

The Local Government Authority (LGA) responded by sending a letter to the council, telling it to retract the statement.

The move sparked criticism against the LGA.

And last week, Attorney General Ahmed Usham said he does not believe the LGA has the legal authority to force councils to retract statements.

In a press briefing on Sunday, Adam Shareef said the LGA operates as an independent institution.

Clarifying the government’s stand, he said he does not believe the LGA will hereafter penalize councils in response to decisions or statements.

“Even if there’s a ministry, the Local Government Authority is operating within its mandate declared on the Decentralization Act,” he said.

He added that any legal violations by the LGA will be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office, while any possible constitutional or legal violations by councils will be investigated by the LGA.

President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu (R) and Local Government Minister Adam Shareef Umar attend the Kangathi Awards on December 20, 2023. (Photo/President's Office)

“The government’s stand is clear in this. I therefore do not believe [the LGA] will take action in response to such statements,” he said.

However, Dr. Mariyam Zulfa, the CEO of LGA, defended the authority’s decision.

She said that if the Attorney General’s Office is unhappy with a decision by the LGA, then the law dictates that the LGA run an inquiry.

She said that she decided against conducting an inquiry due to the “sensitivity” of the issue, and because it would ultimately prove pointless.

“After we open an inquiry, it would already be redundant,” she said.

Zulfa said she accepts the Attorney General’s opinion as “sound legal counsel”, but that she ordered the Kendhikulhudhoo Council to retract its statement because its defamatory.

She said that another reason for the move is because policy dictates that councils pass statements and decisions in a general meeting.

She said that the council did not follow this policy before issuing the statement.

“I sent that letter to counsel them as the head of this institution, because I found that the statement, rather than an inquiry, required counsel and an instructive measure,” she said.

President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu (R) presents Dr. Mariyam Zulfa (L) with her letter of appointment as the CEO of Local Government Authority on December 26, 2023. (Photo/President's Office)

Zulfa added that the LGA has previously also taken such measures in response to decisions and statements by councils.

Kendhikulhudhoo Council, in its statement, accused President Muizzu of appealing for votes for the ruling PPM-PNC, in an event organized by the council.

The council said the president did so without its permission.

It also refused to follow LGA’s orders to retract the statement.

The main opposition MDP reacted to the situation by accusing the government of intimidating councils, and attempting to constrict its powers.