Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Decentralization? Decentralization? And more Decentralization?

This is the new fad in the Maldivian politics and no doubt it’s a wonderful topic for a would be PhD graduate yeah? Having heard of this word a thousand times from our President and his “political graduates”, I thought of having a deeper look at it and its potential in our country.

Obviously it all sounds good. It’s the perfect recipe for a country that’s vying for political freedom. It surely is good news that finally our country is talking about the future and a fine system!

I don’t want to indulge in writing a thesis here nor give you a literature review of what decentralization is. But to give a small yet simple enough meaning, its all about trimming down the layers of a traditional hierarchy and giving the power (empowering) to people at the lower levels to make their own decisions in the best interest of their units. My question then becomes … is this possible? And if so, how can we ensure the smooth functioning of a decentralized system?

Ofcourse it is possible. It is possible for us to break down our administrative arms to small pieces and give these units the required resources and authority to make decisions. But I must admit that for such a system to function effectively (ultimately serving its main purpose), some conditions or pre-conditions needs to be looked at first.

To operate in such a system, its not only the heads of these units that must be educated and disciplined enough to function properly, but also the people at the lowest levels. Given masses of poverty, often controlled by the very rich, one thing that is inevitable is the creation of “black markets of centralization”. These would become the invisible systems that defy the very meaning of decentralization. As a result, what was once the objective will soon follow the inevitable. And the inevitable will become a costly yet a daunting task for our government.

Equal to the levels of education comes the current climax of events that are experienced by the citizens of a country. For such a massive system to be in place, we no doubt have to be prepared to introduce it in the most appropriate of times. The question is are the current events or foreseeable events consistent with the implementation or introduction of such a costly system? Well, my answer to this question becomes NO! Given our consideration must be placed in minimizing costs in a tough economic market, it is of no doubt that the introduction of decentralized arms or systems would escalate the costs that will be incurred by our governments. Firstly there are costs of actually introducing the system, then there are costs of inefficiencies that we have to bear (knowing that very costly decisions will be made from the bottom), and last but not least the opportunity costs!

I did tell you it is topic to write a book or a thesis. But my intention is to highlight a major area of concern here. Two that I have pointed out are both related to costs of actually implementing and running this system. I do understand that we have to tolerate mistakes to move forward. But what I do not understand is whether we are rich enough to absorb the costs of these mistakes. In other words, can we afford these mistakes?

At times of uncerstainities and chaos, it will always be the centralized models that will save any system from absolute failure. We all have heard a million times that our country is bankrupt and in the verge of being sold out to India. Being bankrupt obviously should mean we cannot afford to play games with the current system or a would-be system. We cannot give less than educated people the money and the power to make decisions, we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of trial and error approaches, nor can we approach such issues with speed and learn-as-you-go attitudes.

I don’t know about you, but I do welcome the idea of decentralization. I do welcome such a fine system to become the dominant system in our country. No matter who is behind such ideas, I do not believe that Maldives is ready “right now” to embrace such a model. But hey Mr. President, I believe that the time has come to start educating people of such a model change that might take place three years from now! Hey, its just my opinion!


  1. Good point. In the trend of change the most essential yet the most lacking part is the educating of people towards what's going on. We need to make people a lot more aware than now.

  2. Naseer,
    Do you think that the present government should apply the 'brakes' for the time being on all these decentralization, as the global economic condition is in a very bad shape?
    And do you think that the government will do so?

  3. i guess the government is trying to dismantle a system that has been built in the last 30 years. and it'll take a lot of time, effort and money to do so. we are unfortunate in a sense that now is a time, the whole world is economically in a recession. question is, how much of the work are we ready to postpone?