The Local Governance Authority’s (LGA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mariyam Zulfa faced a barrage of questions from members of the Parliament Decentralisation Committee on Monday regarding the agency’s directive to retract a statement issued by the Kendhikulhudhoo Council, which characterised President Mohamed Muizzu’s actions during his recent visit to Noonu (N) Atoll as an abuse of state resources. 

LGA officials were summoned after the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kendhikulhudhoo, Ahmed Easa, submitted a motion to the Decentralisation committee, stating that the LGA’s demand for a retraction was illegal and unduly restrictive of the powers of the councils.

Committee members from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) grilled Zulfa, repeatedly questioning the legality of her decision to issue such an order without the consent of the LGA board. They also inquired whether the agency believes the president is exempt from adhering to laws concerning such matters.

At the committee hearing, Zulfa defended her decision, saying that the directive was issued to prevent irreparable damage that the statement might cause, especially considering the time required to obtain approval for such an action from the LGA board. The CEO has the authority to take such administrative action without the board’s approval, she said.

When asked whether LGA officials are in agreement with or contesting Attorney General (AG) Ahmed Usham’s advice concerning the directive, the CEO said they had not made any statements challenging the Attorney General’s advice and dismissed any suggestions to the contrary as a mischaracterisation of the authority’s position in the matter.

Kendhikulhudhoo MP Ahmed Easa further pressed the CEO asking if the LGA is willing to issue an apology to the council concerning the whole affair if it accepts the AG’s advice.

In response, LGA member Abdulla clarified that the agency received the AG’s advice after the issuance of the directive, and therefore, a policy decision on the matter would be taken after discussion among board members.

The Kendhikulhudhoo Council said it issued the statement after the president asked residents to vote for administration-aligned candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections during an event organised by the council as part of his official visit to the island on 29 February.

The LGA, following the statement, sought to reprimand the council and asked them to retract the statement in a letter signed by the authority’s CEO Zulfa. However, members of the opposition-aligned council decided not to do so, stating that the LGA failed to provide a legal basis for why such an action was required — a position upheld by Attorney General Usham in his eventual advice to the authority, with the president himself also advocating for the autonomy of councils by saying that he would not support LGA interference.

Additional reporting by Ibrahim H. Shihab