Saving decentralisation from the decentralists

Irrespective of any administration, the Maldives has more or less maintained a highly centralized government with local island councils struggling to play a meaningful role in the political sphere.



In October 2021 the team at MFR covered the theme of decentralization, through articles such as Why decentralization is failing and Decentralizing education. MFR chronicled the journey towards the goal from an academic and socio-political perspective. We also sat down with Fathimath Afshan Latheef, CEO of the Local Government Authority (LGA), publishing the article The decentralisation dream.

Almost a year on, the dialogue surrounding decentralization, and debate of #RiseRT vs #MM has become louder and more prominent. Decentralization has come under heavy spotlight, yet again.

What has reinvigorated the debate?

The announcement by Ministry of National Planning, Housing & Infrastructure on 26th of June 2022 regarding the new housing scheme is what has sparked this heated dialogue. As MFR penned in the June 2022 article, under this scheme, 3,000 land plots and 4,000 flats from the Greater Male' Regions (GMR) are open for application. 

A Historical Lens on the issue


Prior to 2008, the government administration of Maldives was highly centralized. The President appointed Island and Atoll Chiefs for each populated island and atoll. The Island Chiefs reported to the Atoll Chief who reported to the President. All Islands had an Island Development Committee (IDC).

Communities would make requests to central government through their Chiefs. The IDCs reported to the Island Chief who is also a member of the IDC. The Atoll Development Committee report to the Atoll Chief who reported to the Ministry of Atolls Administration. In addition, islands were supposed to have an Island Women’s Development Committee (IWDC), although these were not active on all islands.

With the slow, but steady vocalization of the distain towards the Presidency, changes were initiated by President Gayyoom. One such key change was decentralization being at the root of the constitutional reform process that started in the 1990’s. Consequently, in 1999 President Gayoom outlined the Maldives Vision 2020 in his Independence Day speech. According to the research paper, ‘Decentralized-Administration in The Maldives’, decentralized development was the cornerstone of the 1998 Constitution. However, the National Development Plan of 1998 declared that “the spatial distribution of the population” was the major challenge in providing social services costing the state 4 to 5 times more than in other island states and continental developing countries.

Therefore, the policy-initiative was to create urban centers so as to disperse the pressure on the capital city of Male’. However, instead of developing urban centers, Gayyoom embarked on the development of Hulhumale’. This reclaimed island was developed to address the land shortages in Male’.

Inadvertently, with the first residents moving to the island in 2004, it further escalated the decades long migration chain with thousands of families moving from the atolls. This clearly went against what was initially planned.


It is during President’s Nasheed’s term concrete decentralization work actually started materializing. Soon after his election, under the discretion accorded to the President in the Article 116 of the Constitution, President Nasheed established provincial offices in 7 regions, with the objective of incorporating the administration of the atolls into the new administrative framework of the government.

According to a 2013 UNICEF study on the decentralization process of Maldives, this move by the President was a significant aspect of the decentralization process. The report further applauded the decision to establish health corporations, 7 utility corporations and 7 regional education authorities, though acknowledging that there were issues with their establishments at community level.

A major milestone in the decentralization process was the ratification of the Decentralization Act on 17th May 2010. This Act specified the administrative offices, posts, atoll and island councils, responsibilities of the councils, and other guidelines.

As published by the President’s Office, these changes were being brought to empower citizens through strengthening local democracy and public accountability, improving the socio-economic and cultural development of the people, and most importantly to enhance delivery of public services by bringing services closer to the people.

Consequently, in February 2011, 188 Island Councils, 19 Atoll Councils and 2 City Councils were established, and representatives elected. The Act paved way for the establishment of the Local Government Authority (LGA) in late 2010 as well.   


As the 2013 UNICEF reports, the change in political power in early 2012 brought an end to the provincialization process. Subsequently, all the health corporations were dissolved, the utility corporations were centralized, and changes were brought to the education authorities.

Essentially any authority that was transferred away from the center has been re-centralized. As per Ms. Zulfa, author of the decentralization research paper, this recentralization drive of 2012 to 2018 is deemed unconstitutional prima facie due to the explicit nature of the provisions of Chapter VIII and the enabling legislation, the Decentralisation Act.

Centralization continued under President Yameen’s term. First, development of Hulhumale’ Island Project (Phase II) started with a loan of USD 80 million from the Saudi Fund. Then came the Hiyaa Flat Project, prompting more people from the atolls to migrate, eerily similar to President Maumoon’s time.

This project saw the development of 16 towers with 7,000 flats in the reclaimed suburb, Hulhumale's second phase. The project, awarded to China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), was undertaken with a USD 437 million loan from the EXIM bank of China along with a sovereign guarantee from the government, at an interest cost of 6%.

Another link in the chain of centralization was the Sinamalé Bridge, which cost approximately US$ 210 million. This brings a total of the 3 projects to USD 727 million. One can only infer the outcomes, had the projects of this magnitude were to run in an atoll. Surely, the development and opportunities would have promoted people to move away from this ever-congested region.


The promise of a return to decentralized administration - under the banner ‘Jazeera Raajje’ was the foundation of President Solih’s presidential campaign. As MFR stated in the May 2021 article, ‘the promise of “laamarukazee” rode on the hopes of alleviating the pooling of developmental opportunities towards the GMR and redirect them back to the islands’.

Since taking oath, there has been some promising developments in the quest for decentralisation. For example, President Solih ratified 9th Amendment to Decentralization Act on 23rd December 2020. Among other changes, the amendment most crucially stipulates the statutes under which Councils may create and implement policies and regulations while administering constituents.

Yet, there are projects underway which blatantly opposes the decentralization narrative. The biggest of which is the Greater Male’ Connectivity Project (GMCP) Thilamale’ bridge, a mammoth of a project which will connect Male’, Villimale’, Thilafushi, and Gulhifalhu. This project is funded by a USD400 million line of credit from Indian Exim Bank and a USD100 million grant from the Indian government.

With the ongoing Gedhoruverin housing Scheme  and this bridge, there seems to be more push from the government to flock residents from islands to the Greater Male’ Region. Imagine, if USD500 million was spent to fully develop a region in the south and/or north of the country. With the infrastructure and resources invested  in a region like that, creation of  jobs and other opportunities, is going to help alleviate the crowding in the Male’ region, and in fact, help with decentralization.


Irrespective of any administration, the Maldives has more or less maintained a highly centralized government with local island councils struggling to play a meaningful role in the political sphere.

Yet, there are glimmers of hope. Speaking during the opening ceremony of the third Viavathi Rajje conference held in Gan Island of Laamu Atoll this September, President Solih addressed the issue of decentralization. The Maldives Transport Link (RTL) initiative, role of Councils and the Women's Development Committee (WDC)s, and other infrastructure development projects were described to facilitate the decentralization process. However, the question still looms on how effective these investments are with the heavy housing projects still underway in the Greater Male’ Region.

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