Excellency Vice President of the Maldives, Mr Mohamed Waheeduddeen, Excellency Chairman of the Maldives Civil Service Commission, Mr Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, Prof. Pan Suk Kim, President of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, Mr. Rolet Loretan, Director General of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, Prof. Jiang Wu, President of the AGPA and the President of the Chinese Academy of Personnel Sciences,
Honourable Ministers, Members of the Maldives Civil Service Commission, Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is my duty to first welcome all of you, participants of this conference to the Maldives. I am greatly honoured to be invited to officiate this second annual meeting of AGPA, the Asian Group for Public Administration.
I understand the topic for this conference is reform and local governance, with special emphasis on service delivery, transparency and accountability.
It has brought together many distinguished scholars to discuss issues related to local governance.
Here in Maldives, for those of you who have come here for the first time, I would like to inform you that in the last 3 or 4 years there have been great changes in this country. The floodgates of democracy have opened, and the reforms have rushed through at a speed which is very difficult for many of us to cope with.
The Civil Service Commission established in 2007, has very competently managed and built capacity of the civil service. A year later, we got a completely new constitution in 2008. And with this new constitution many new independent institutions were established. The three powers of government were, for the first time, made separate and independent. The people’s rights have been enshrined in the new constitution. A new bill of rights has been incorporated. These changes have made a very drastic change of the political and administrative situation in the country.
Politically, for the first time we had a multi-party election in 2008 for the president and then in 2009 for the parliament. We have something like 13 political parties whereas about 7 of them are still very active.
I know that as a small country you often have to face with very complex issues. Some of you might think on preliminary observations, that a small country, with a small population will have small problems. On the contrary, because we are small there are special issues that come out.
One of them is human resources and capable people to plan, to manage, to implement our development programmes. The Civil Service Commission itself is independent, and it reports to the parliament. The commissioners are appointed by the parliament. And by the way, I would like to congratulate the newest member of the Civil Service Commission Ms Jameela Ali, for having just assumed her responsibilities this week.
I’m sure as professionals in public administration, you are fully aware of the complexities involved in developing a civil service, I won’t go through that. But I will try to reflect on some of the issues that we face as a small, developing country, when we are trying to implement all these reforms simultaneously.
I sometimes think that the political and administrative machineries of Maldives is really like a new machine that has been put together with parts from other machines and still being tested. So there is a lot of troubleshooting we have to do. I am just hoping that our friends will not take the term troubleshooting in its literal meaning.
But this last 3 or 4 years have been particularly difficult. Particularly because we are trying to build the boat as we sail it. In a small society with multiple political parties as many as 13, you can imagine how this creates special issues with regard to cooperation, collaboration, consolidation and so on. The limited human resources that you have are divided among a number of political parties, and depending who is in power, others tend to get excluded.
This last three years we have witnessed this kind of situation. Over the past 40 to 50 years, this country has invested heavily in its human resource development. And because we didn’t have political parties and because we had a rather centralised system, we all were one pool of human resources. I’m not trying to phrase the benefits of an autocratic system. Please do not misunderstand me.
With introduction of political parties and with this limited pool of human resources, taking membership in various, different political entities and being forced to work in a competitive, politically competitive environment; we have really created a situation where suddenly the available pool, the politically correctly available pool of resources becomes drastically limited. And than you are forced to bring in people who don’t necessarily fit your requirements. Within the last 3 years we experienced a similar type of situation.
One of the reforms that have been implemented is decentralisation. Local governments were elected, local councils were elected; at island level and at atoll levels, according to the decentralisation bill, which is required by our new constitution. But when these new councils were elected there were already governmental structures at each of these levels, at the island level and at the atoll level.
They were led by people who had received various amounts of training over the years, and people who’ve had many years of experience, who have also been brought into the newly established civil service system. And then we elected local councils, primarily based on political considerations. We found ourselves with councils, elected councillors, who meet the political criteria, but not necessarily with the skills and competencies that are needed to govern, to promote good governance, as the chairman explained, at the island and atoll levels.
Also for the first time in Maldives the central administration, particularly the government at the central level did not have a direct influence into the local authorities, and therefore it was felt that we had to establish a new body called the National Administrative Authority, Qawmee Idhaaraa.
So this was superimposed on the constitutionally required system of local councils, and for the last 3 years we have been struggling to see how these things work together. Because the local councillors felt they didn’t get any powers, because of the creation of this national authority, in every province and every atoll.
We have recently removed this superstructure at the atoll level. And we have been trying to empower the local councillors. But to make the situation complex, the political affiliations of the councillors is making very difficult for councils to function as a cohesive body.
In some islands depending on the political party the civil service at the island level or at the atoll level may or may not receive the support that they need from these elected councillors. So we have moved ourselves into a situation that is I would say less than perfect at the moment, which requires us to learn from countries that have gone through similar experience and to be, to have the will and the courage to continue to refine the system so that we can overcome some of the teething problems that we are facing in the introduction of decentralised public administration.
I have been talking about the islands, but Male’ greater Male’ has a third of our population. An so the quality of public administration in Maldives is very much reflected in how the public administration functions in the centre, in Male’.
Here, the immediate problems we face here are also link to politics and policies. The civil service has often perceived as been politicised. I’m sure my civil service colleagues will think otherwise. But perceptions are really quite important.
And in a country where civil servants are also members of political parties, and in a very small society that everybody knows each other, I’m not exactly sure if that is the right condition for a non-politicised civil service. I believe this is an area we also need to reflect on, and to see how civil service can really be made impartial and proceed as politically neutral.
Of course this has also other implications. Of first of all, whether the politicised, if the politicised civil service exists, if they would actually serve the different political segments and people who come from different political parties. Or whether the people themselves will feel confident enough to go ask for and receive the services from the public administration.
These set of political issues have to be addressed. And we need to bring about the changes in the civil service law if necessary.
Well as President, I hope you will forgive me for talking mostly about political issues. The history of public sector training is quite old in this country. I remember we setup our first public servant training programmes way back in the 80s. The President’s Office ran everything those days. And I remember that the Office of the President had a very strong team. Because one of the people who was trained, and who started this unit is Mr. Ahmed Didi, one of the commissioners now. And we have others like Dr Latheef who are also specialist in this area, who was involved in the public sector training for a very long time.
So there is a long tradition of public sector training programmes in the country. I’m glad to hear that there is a Civil Service Training Institute now. I would like to see it more active and more developed. Of course, this is quite young, I think.
So I hope you will also, together with the colleagues that we have, very distinguished institutes of public sector training that are present here in this gathering. I hope that the Maldives civil service institute will be able to build its capacity and its training programmes.
I wish you all very best in your deliberations over the next two days. I hope you have a chance to enjoy Maldives. I hope you will appreciate the serene, calm and quite. And I would like to claim stable environment in Maldives.
Thank you for being here and wish you all the best.