President Yameen’s First Five Years in Office: The Good, the Bad, and the Despicable

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President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Qayyom with his half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Qayyoom and coalition partners. Source: The Hindu

On 17th of November 2013, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Qayyoom was sworn in as the 4th elected president of the second republic of the Maldives. With the blessings of his half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Qayyoom (who is now in jail), and coalition partners that included the likes of Qasim Ibrahim, leader of Jumhooree Party (now living in exile in the UK), and religious cleric Sheikh Imran Abdulla, leader of Adhaalath Party (now serving a hefty jail sentence on charges of terrorism), President Yameen managed to clinch the victory by garnering 51.39 per cent of the votes in 2013’s runoff election. We are now coming towards the end of President Yameen’s first term. The Constitution of Maldives allows a sitting President to contest for a second term; two terms being the maximum number allowed for any President stay on in the position.

One of the most prominent features of President Yameen’s presidency would be his contentious relationships with his vice presidents. The first being Dr. Mohamed Jameel, who was his vice presidential candidate, who fled the country amidst the dirty politics that took place to remove him from office. He too is now living in exile in the UK. The second vice president, Mr. Ahmed Adeeb, who came in with all the glamour and pomposity that had been afforded to him through his rise to stardom in President Yameen’s inner circles,  fared even worse. Accused of plotting to assassinate the President, Adeeb is now languishing in prison, looking to serve consecutive jail sentences that would in all probability place him solidly behind bars for the rest of his life. President Yameen’s third vice president Mr. Abdulla Jihad, is the only candidate who seems to have stuck, who has served in previous administrations as the Minister of Finance, the Governor of the Central Bank, and even as a member of the Civil Service Commission.

President Yameen’s coalition campaigned with a manifesto entitled the Yaqeen Manifesto. Special focus was given to areas such as the fisheries sector, promising an income for fishermen even during those periods in which they are unable scrounge up enough of a catch to make a viable income out of it. Empowerment of women was also a notable pillar of this document, promising the female workforce that policies would be made to pave the way for women to work from home. Another pledge was to establish reliable childcare centers subsidized by the government; once again to pave the way for the female workers to play a more contributory role in the labor force. Come today, none of these policies have fully materialized on the ground.

While the public is geared to vote on Sunday (September 23rd 2018), to elect the leadership of this country for the next five years, no one can accuse President Yameen’s administration of having being an uneventful one. Dogged by one scandal after another, which forced the incumbent to tighten his hold and oft times reveal his true colours, President Yameen’s presidency has been one of the most dramatic of reigns, perhaps even within the South Asian region. With his foreign policy strongly China-centric, President Yameen’s regime has sidelined India and other neighbours, and continues to snub the European Union and the US for “meddling with the country’s sovereignty”.

This article is an attempt on my part to take a look at  President Yameen’s policies during his five year term with as much of an objective mindset that I can muster. It takes into consideration the good, the bad, and the despicable about his government. These are based on various news articles that I have read as well as my own beliefs when it comes to his developmental agenda and good governance. Having an avid interest in public policy, I have this drive to try and understand leaders, their policies, the implementation of said policies, and the idiosyncratic factors that defines a leadership, which I believe goes a long way towards establishing key moments of any administration.

The Good:

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Sinamale’ Bridge. Source; Raajje MV

Whatever good that has come out of President Yameen’s first five year term belongs in the “infrastructural development” category. President Yameen’s presidency will be remembered for the infrastructural development that it brought to certain selected areas of the Maldives, garnering him what little support he has been able to muster throughout the country. How these projects were carried out, at what cost; that is not the focus of discussion at the moment. Highlights of some of the key projects are listed below.

  1. Sinamale’ Bridge: First pledged by President Maumoon during the final years of his 30 year dictatorial regime, the credit for realizing this dream would undoubtedly belong to President Yameen. The bridge which measures 2.1 in kilometres, connects the capital Male’ with the Velana International Airport (VIA), as well as the island of Hulhumale’ which is hailed as part of the Greater Male’.
    A total of 200 million US dollars were reportedly spent on the bridge, out of which 116 million of it was given as free aid from the Chinese government, 72 million procured as loans from China, and lastly with the Maldivian government having spent 12 million.
    Inaugurated on the 30th of August 2018, with the largest fireworks display this country has probably ever seen, the Sinamale’ Bridge is definitely the pride and joy of this regime. All squabbles regarding the bridge aside, connectivity is always a good thing, especially for those who travel between Male’, the airport, and Hulhumale’ on a daily basis irrespective of the turbulent weather conditions at times. Connectivity also ushers in prosperity, which is undeniable.
    However, it remains to be seen the tariff the government will impose as toll charges on those who use the bridge. In the meantime, the bridge remains open for use, free of charge, until most likely the elections are over, and the presidency once again secured.
  2. Implementation of water and sanitation systems in multiple islands: According to PSM, when President Yameen was sworn in, only 30 islands out of the 190 inhabited had established sewerage systems, with only four having proper water systems in place. By mid-June of 2016, 10 islands had sewerage systems established, and 10 had proper water systems. At the same time, 53 islands had ongoing sewerage projects in place whereas water projects were ongoing in 40 islands.
    Having traveled to a mere handful of islands for work, I have also come across the lack of proper water and sanitation facilities in islands, a sad state and indignity that people have suffered for so long. These are basic services that should have been established long back, but sadly has not been the case.
  3. Implementation of airports across the country: Being an island nation, one of the biggest challenges to our development remains the scattered nature of our geography, with sparsely populated islands strewn across the country. Traveling by sea has always been the norm, but changing weather patterns and advancements in technology has meant that there is more of a demand by people to be able to travel from one point to the next without the hassle of rough seas and the time incurred. The most contentious of these projects would perhaps be the airport that was inaugurated at HDh. Kulhudhuffushi on 21st September 2018, during which the President stood in the pouring rain and pleaded the people to vote for him at the polls on Sunday.
  4. Repairing the roads of Male’ City: It was incumbent regime that kick-started the ambitious project of repairing and repaving the roads of the congested capital city of Male’. Initial plan was to complete a total of 13 roads, the work on the main road Majeedhee Magu being scheduled from 1st of October 2016 to 4th January 2017. However, through a myriad of delays, the work was completed only towards the end of 2017. The other roads planned, still remain as they are, with parts of the outer road of Bodu Thakurufaanu Magu having undergone a tremendous facelift to facilitate the inauguration of the Sinamale’ Bridge.
  5. The Industrial Village Project: On 13th January 2016, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure signed an agreement with the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to develop an industrial village in the capital, for which land was reclaimed from south of Male’. Towards the end of the presidential term, while a huge chunk of the land remains with sporadic activity to be seen here and there, a lot of work remains to be done. The Housing Minister stated that MVR 159 million would be spent in total from the state budget for this project.
    If this project is realized as envisioned, garages, hardware go downs, and other industrial work premises would be moved to the location, making things easier for those seeking services of such vendors in the long term.
  6. The Harbour Food Court: Initially, a project that was forecasted to be completed within 7 months and 15 days, the agreement for which was signed on January of 2016, the Harbour Food Court was finally inaugurated by the Housing Minister on the 5th of May 2018.
    With many new attractive food vendors in the mix, the Harbour Food Court which previously used to be a hotspot for locals to sample cheap local food has now become a hip hangout point for those living and visiting the city.
  7. Rasrani Bageecha, Rasfannu, and the Pavilion: Amidst much controversy and criticism, all projects implemented attracts droves of people who have nowhere to escape when it comes to the congested living conditions that is the reality of life in Male’ City.
    Rasfannu Beach provides a brief reprieve for many, drowning out the incessant noise pollution that is often part and parcel of city life. Rasfannu Beach is the second artificial beach to be implemented in the capital, the first being the Artificial Beach in the Henveiru ward, inaugurated during President Maumoon’s time.
    Meanwhile, Rasrani Bageecha was inaugurated on the 21st of August 2017 by the first couple, with edutainment and heritage being the main concept theme of the revamped Sultan Park. According to Maldives Independent, “the Sultan Park was opened on the former grounds of the royal palace after the monarchy was abolished in November 1968.”
  8. WAMCO and Waste Management: With congestion, it is inevitable that services such as waste management will become inundated and overloaded. Previously, a service that was handled on an individual basis by households through employment of the expat workforce, a bold and ambitious plan by WAMCO was implemented to streamline waste management.
    Amidst a lot of false starts and much criticism, WAMCO started collecting garbage from households in Male’ effective December 25th 2016. The difficulties that are faced, both by households and the staff of WAMCO in taking over this humongous venture has to be taken into account, as apartments and buildings in the city are not designed for central waste collection mechanisms that facilitates this kind of project. It was also on August of this year that incumbent regime signed an agreement with the Asian Development Bank for a US$ 35 million grant to implement environment-friendly waste management practices in the Greater Male’ region.

For supporters of President Yameen and his developmental policies, there would be many more programs and projects which they would consider to be a success, worthy of a mention.

The Bad:

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Ex-Auditor General Niyaz, who was ousted through amendments to the Audit Act. He was ousted for investigating the MMPRC scandal. Source; The Edition

Most of what is listed under this category has to do with governance, transparency, and accountability of elected officials and independent institutions that are the guardians of the democratic system. President Yameen’s five years in office has ensured that corruption become endemic, institutionalized, and the accepted norm owing to various rhetoric used by government officials to justify this atrocity. Statements like, “there is development even if there is corruption”, or “corruption is a bi-product of development”, or “we spent double the amount it would have incurred to speed up the implementation” – these are all designed to make norm of a practice that rips off a country’s wealth and destroy its future.

  1. Lack of confidence in long term viability and sustainability of developmental projects: in the era of sustainable development which refers to development that does not put into peril the future of generations to come; these five years have seen a lot of tussle between the government, institutions, and the citizens owing to harmful developmental practices, often bogged down in bureaucracy and the state’s refusal to divulge actual details of projects being undertaken.
    Mahaa Jarraaf
    , the dredger that was purchased by MTCC to reclaim land to pave the way for infrastructural development, is destroying many a reef along with habitats and entire ecosystems, while lining the pockets of the movers and shakers of the country with cash.
    President Yameen who exhibits characteristics similar to that of President Donald Trump as a climate change skeptic, during the presidential “debate” held by the Maldives National University (MNU), stated that he was actually doing the citizens a favour by reclaiming land from areas which had been dump grounds of waste for many years.
    Foregoing the advice of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), projects have proceeded in the fashion that is one hundred percent reminiscent of this government. Furthermore, many of the projects that had been implemented, have been riddled with a host of problems owing to use of poor quality construction materials and lack of proper management, leading to an increasing loss in public confidence in government projects.
  2. Lack of Transparency: Projects, finances, and under the table deals; all of this and more remains under a shroud of secrecy when it comes to incumbent regime. Expenditures incurred for mega projects revealed by the government are hardly trustworthy given the contradicting statements often quoted from different key figures within the President’s inner sanctum.
    Mandates of different agencies often crisscross; it is normal for us to see the Fisheries Minister Dr. Mohamed Shainee handling matters related to the foreign policy of the country, taking a leading role where in reality the Minister of Foreign Affairs should. This leads to a lack of public trust in officials, both elected and otherwise who are touting the government’s message, leading to further issues when it comes to understanding the integrity of the government and its officials.
  3. Derailment of Decentralized Governance: From the very early days of this government, the Decentralization Act and the powers that it bestows upon the people has often being met with scorn and ridicule from officials associated with the regime. Cited often as a failed policy, little is however said of the various policies of the incumbent regime that forced Decentralization Act to lose its prominence and power. This has rendered the councils to flounder and become ineffective, without proper budget and the central government’s support to take their plans forward.
    Recently at the MNU debate, President Yameen professed to be a non-believer of decentralization governance in the current context of the country. He mentioned that with the levels of awareness of the public and officials as they are, it is mighty difficult to work alongside with the councils who give into partisan politics and make things extremely challenging in terms of implementation of projects.
    While I believe this to be true regardless of which political party is in power, this toxic environment is further helped along by the divisive attitude of the incumbent regime at large.
    The Local Government Authority (LGA) in the meantime, headed by the Home Minister Azleen, is quick to penalize councilors and place them on suspension whenever they dare something that displeases the regime. The Decentralization Act was amended on 12th April 2017 to pave the way for the President to have full control of the board of LGA, which is tantamount to the President being in full control of the councils themselves.
  4. Lack of Accountability: President Yameen’s second VP Ahmed Adeeb, who has many charges against him for embezzlement of state funds, became the scapegoat for a lot of scandals surrounding the government, especially in terms of the massive corruption implicating key figures of the regime.
    Often at various podiums, the President deflects blame for what has taken place. This sentiment was echoed at the MNU debate once again, where the President shed light on how it was the “system” that had enabled the rise of someone corrupt like Adeeb through the ranks to become the VP, and at the same time steal so much money from the state funds.
    Investigations carried out by the “independent” organizations are more often than not, based on political affiliation. The minute you switch your political allegiance to what is favoured by the regime, away goes that pesky little problem, or some coffee just happens to accidentally spill on the case file.
    Anyone who dares rise against the tide is quickly snuffed out by levying hefty jail terms to silence other whistle-blowers who might come forward, making an example of people such as Gasim Abdul Kareem, who was arrested in February of 2016 for leaking detailed bank statements of SOF Pvt. Ltd., that is at the centre of one of the biggest cases of grand corruption that has taken place in the country.
    For the people, there are no avenues left to turn to for justice. The entire country is left in a limbo, and the people are helpless in the face of the many grave atrocities that are being committed without shame and paraded in front of citizens, daring a response from anyone who is brave enough to weather the storm.
  5. Erosion of Democratic Norms, Values, and Institutions: I have always held the belief that President Yameen is a page right out of President Maumoon’s handbook. President Yameen has taken the ideals of the dictatorial regime that he himself served in many capacities, and almost perfected them to a sense to ward off any means that can hold him accountable.
    Fear mongering is an age old tactic as such, used by his half-brother to keep people in line. By dangling the security of their jobs in front of them, President Yameen uses at times a more sophisticated and bull-headed approach to do the same.
    Changing laws to suit circumstance, Auditor General Niyaz was “fired” from his position through an amendment to the Audit Act which was ratified on 30th of October 2014.
    Similar tactics have been used to keep other institutions in line, paving the way for erosion of all norms and values that is essential for the functioning of a healthy and vibrant democracy.
  6. Politicization of Law Enforcement and Public Media: This is not a characteristic unique to just President Yameen’s government alone. Regimes that have come and gone have in one way or the other, influenced the functions of the law enforcement and public media to suit their needs.
    President Yameen being part of the “accepted norm” therefore, should be of no surprise to citizens. However, as with everything else that is this government, the politicization has reached new heights, whereby it is now impossible to understand the structure under which officers of Maldives Police Service often operate.
    In the months leading up to the elections set to take place on Sunday, police officers were “trained” to confront the people who might come out to the streets demanding for their “rights”.
    Meanwhile, public media shamelessly continues to propagate campaign messages of the President, acting as the mouthpiece of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), whereby it is often impossible to draw the line between the functions of Channel 13 (a pro government, privately owned channel) with that of the state TV channels PSM and Television Maldives.

The Despicable:

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The most despicable aspect to the regime is its disregard to the sanctity and dignity of human life. Photo shows journalist Rilwan’s family members holding posters related to the #FindMoyameehaa movement. Source; Maldives Independent

President Yameen’s regime has definitely left its mark on the people in the five year period that he has been president. His MPs have zero shame, following in their leader’s footsteps, taunting citizens with just how untouchable they believe themselves to be. Sexual molestation cases submitted to law enforcement agencies have often being halted because of an affiliation the accused has with a key member from PPM. Similarly, when it comes to the sanctity and dignity of the human life, this is where the government’s actions are unconscionable and most despicable. According to Mv Murders, a total of 27 murders have taken place in the Maldives between 2014 to-date, most of which bear strong evidence of being gang related. However, the President continues to deny the existence gangs, and goes as far as to tell us that they are contributing members of society. Here I list some of the most despicable aspects of this five year regime. I am sure I must have missed out on many, because there are just too many to pick and choose from.

  1. Massive Corruption & Embezzlement of State Funds: No scandal has rocked this regime’s boat more than it did with the MMPRC scandal. Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim was “dismissed” owing to the investigations carried out to unearth what had taken place.
    Having embezzled MVR 1.2 billion from state funds, the actual amount which Niyaz believes would be higher, the public has yet to see transparent investigations into the matter by relevant authorities. The police concluded a hastily conducted investigation which implicated VP Adeeb, and institutions like the Anti-Corruption Commission have been unable to come up with proper investigative reports that are credible on the matter.
    It is evident that the government is hiding many facts surrounding the debacle, and Al-Jazeera’s investigations into the case with its documentary “Stealing Paradise” just drives home the point further.

    What is more harrowing is the way this government continues to justify their actions, the President talking about the “demand” for speedier implementation of projects everywhere in the country.
  2. Deterioration of Justice, Law and order: Justice in this country has more or less always been the right of the affluent few. It is often said that justice in the Maldives is for the highest bidder.
    Our courts remain trapped inside a vicious cycle of corrupt practices, and our law enforcement remains under the control of politicians who dictate what investigations should be carried out, when they should be carried out, and where those investigations should lead them.
    Listed are some of the most prominent cases that have come and gone in the five year period, which have left its ugly mark on the country as a whole.

    • Rilwan’s disappearance and government’s reaction, gross mishandling, and miscarriage of justice that followed is one of the most prominent under this category. The callous disregard of elected officials aligned with the government towards the family seeking answers, the mockery and insults that have been hurled towards them and Rilwan’s friends, all lead one to circle back to the point that Rilwan’s abduction was state endorsed.
      Four years since Rilwan was last seen at the Hulhumale’ Ferry Terminal, there have been many instances for the public to mistrust the government and its actions surrounding the case, ranging from the President’s dismissive attitude when questioned about it, to the verdict from the Criminal Court recently on the case, where the judge criticized the prosecutors for doing a half-assed job of making a conviction.
    • Blogger Yameen Rasheed’s murder and the fallout is another case worthy of mention. A prominent blogger and critic of the government, Yameen was one of the closest friends of Rilwan and one of the most active figures in holding accountable the concerned authorities of the government.
      Murdered just as he reached home during the wee hours of the night, his murder has scarred many, put fear in the hearts of the most vocal in society, and done the job where corrupt practices fail when it comes to those with integrity.
      The Maldives Police concluded their investigations and blamed religious elements for being responsible for his murder, an easy cop-out if ever there was one.
      Come today, Yameen’s family members stand in solidarity with Rilwan’s and vice versa, knowing that justice is nothing but an oases on the scorching desert that is Maldives.
    • Politically charged trials and use of terrorism charges to put political opponents behind bars became the norm since 2013. Starting with the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed which saw him sentenced to jail for 13 years on charges of terrorism on 13th March of 2015, this was rapidly followed in succession with the speedy trials of many high profile politicians, who have been given hefty prison sentences.
      The most recent debacles saw former President Maumoon’s son Faris Maumoon, the MP for Dhiggaru constituency, held under imprisonment arbitrarily for months, followed soon with the incarceration of the Maumoon himself, on charges related to a “judicial coup” that had allegedly attempted to usurp President Yameen.
      The international community at large have raised concerns which have gone unheeded, as President Yameen’s foreign policy of forging stronger ties with China has taken precedence, which helps Maldives turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to international condemnation.
    • Gang violence and preventing key policies from being implemented to curb and address the phenomenon; it was once again at the debate that was held recently by MNU that President Yameen stated that he does not believe that violent gangs operate in the Maldives. Going as far as to admonish the use of such a word that paints groups of youth in such a negative light, President Yameen makes light of the many investigations centred around the existence of such groups in society, the many murders that have been committed during this five year term, and even the disappearance of Rilwan himself that is connected to gang elements.
      Furthermore, there is reason to believe that these gangs are infiltrated by those preaching religious extremism in a setting where the violent hate filled minds find a calling.
      It was also President Yameen’s ex-Home Minister Umar Naseer, a hardliner when it comes to gang activity and drugs, who saw his powers reduced by the President during his term in office, which meant that he was prevented from issuing direct orders to police officers in any sort of operation that was being carried out.
      This change in mandate was allegedly owing to Naseer’s investigations into then Tourism Minister Adeeb for his alleged unlawful activities, a man who was suspected of having ties to gangs himself.
  3. Criminalisation of Defamation: 11th of August 2016 saw President Yameen sign into law, a draconian bill that sets hefty fines and jail terms on journalists, if found guilty of slander. Following this, RajjeTV has borne the brunt of the heftiest of fines, followed by Villa TV owned by Qasim Ibrahim. This has created an environment of fear, where hesitancy to write about what matters is quickly becoming the norm.
  4. Constitutional amendments that became everyday business: President Yameen always boasts of how his government does everything within the boundaries of the laws in place. Easily said, when the said laws are changed to suit circumstance and need of the regime, at the President’s whim.
    In line with this, constitutional amendments, which requires two-third majority of the sitting Majlis became an “everyday” phenomenon. At first, it was to pave the way for then Tourism Minister Adeeb to become the next VP, the amendments at the time which also saw new age limits being set for presidential candidates. Furthermore, constitutional amendments also paved the way for sale of Maldivian land to foreign investors, a move that saw the split between President Yameen & his half-brother become prominent.

With all that has happened, there remains the fear that more amendments along these lines will come in the course of the next few years, if President Yameen manages to secure his second term in office.

Critics say that we would most likely see the removal of the term limit for the presidency, alongside with amendments to the requirement of the two-third majority of the sitting Majlis needed for Constitutional amendments.

Furthermore, we have also seen President Yameen’s regime use the military to control the Parliament and storm the Supreme Court premises, which saw the arrest of two Supreme Justices for being party to a plan set to reverse the tide of strong arm tactics being used by a presidency riddled with legitimacy issues, dodging one scandal after another. I believe that the fate which awaits us would be much worse, if the next five years are handed to him on silver platter.

My compilation is paltry in the face all that has happened during the last five years. But it is a starting point for anyone who wants to know more, in order to perhaps make an informed decision, before heading to the polls on Sunday.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

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#HaamaKurey & its Contentious Politics

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Mahibadhoo Council’s Vice President campaigning for #HaamaKurey – Source:Twitter

On a good day, Maldivian politics and its politicians deserve a passing glance or a laugh or two at best. However, days that require mirth to fill in the ugly patches are far and few in between, especially with the introduction of democracy to a people who were barely ready for the characteristics that it exhibits; good governance, transparency and accountability from public officials to name a few.

Where the thread of corruption runs deep in the veins of the public, one of the prime examples that attests to this fact being the resignation of the first democratically elected President, who failed to hold office and complete his term amidst a police and military backed coup d’état. Those that knew the value of what was lost that day, the resounding blow that landed on the country and its fragile hold on people’s power, wept tears of grief. Those that didn’t know any better, well, they celebrated.

Come today, the Maldivian people has seen a lot happen in the span of a few years. How incumbent President Abdulla Yameen literally twisted the arm of the Supreme Court and related institutions until he got the result that he wanted from the presidential elections held in 2013. How the Parliamentary elections unfolded in 2014, where accusations of corruption and bribery were hurled towards government aligned parties from Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the main opposition party in the country.

2014 also saw the first publication of the special audit report on Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC), where President Yameen’s most revered cabinet member, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb was implicated in a US$ 6 million corruption scandal. On the very same day the report was published, the Parliament passed an amendment to the Audit Act that later saw the removal of then Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim from office.

The people also witnessed the landmark constitutional amendments that saw incumbent Vice President Dr. Mohamed Jameel removed from office, the whispers of the dirty deals that exchanged hands between the ruling coalition and the opposition that saw the influential Mr. Adeeb  assume the Vice Presidency position, with 70 votes in favour!

The people also saw the way the elected officials failed the country by voting in favour of an amendment to her Constitution that saw Maldives open up its doors for foreigners to own land. The fact that the main instigator of all this change, Mr. Ahmed Adeeb, is now languishing in prison after one of the shortest stints in office any vice president in Maldives has seen to date, is one that didn’t escape the people’s notice either. All of which pointed towards one fact. The corruption that ran deep in the institutions of the country that should safeguard its interests.

With his Vice President in prison, President Yameen, hard pressed to come up with reasons to send him away to jail for a long, long time came up with another special audit report on MMPRC, this time concluding that MVR 1.2 billion has been lost to the public as a result of the corrupting activities carried out with Mr. Adeeb at helm.

Since then, the President, the ruling party and its counterparts have been making one blunder after the other. The President has confessed on public podiums that his party MPs had indeed received cash from Mr. Adeeb for party activities, and no, he had not asked nor being aware of where the money had been coming from.

Just yesterday, all of this took a more “humiliating” turn. Parliament Member for Hoarafushi, Mr. Mohamed Ismail of the governing party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) admitted on the parliament floor, on live TV, that he had carried around the sack of money that every MP is guilty of benefiting from.

More evidence failure of the government and the system needed? I think not.

Extent of Corruption & Lack of Confidence in Key Institutions

One of the surveys carried out by Transparency International in 2012 saw that out of the 1,001 people in Maldives that were surveyed to capture public perception on extent of corruption in the country, an overwhelming 90% of people saw the parliament to be the “most corrupt” institution in the country.

2013, another survey conducted saw that once again, the parliament was perceived to be the most corrupt institution, which was followed closely by political parties and the judiciary – which isn’t surprising, at all.

In 2015, Transparency Maldives conducted another survey, this time to gauge public views on the future for democracy in the Maldives. Lack of confidence in key institutions which once again included the Parliament, the courts and political parties were echoed across its vividly coloured charts and graphs. The survey hinted at a cynical and disillusioned people that believed readily that politicians would lie easily to get elected.

Need there be said more? I think not.

Asset Declaration as a Constitutional Requirement

In a bid to create a semblance of transparency in the chaotic and insanely corrupt political waters that are churning in the country, an initiative that came to life just recently and has gained momentum has been the #HaamaKurey campaign, which actually calls for asset declaration of key public figures as required by the Constitution and respective laws.

According to the Auditor General’s Office website, “The Constitution of Maldives and Laws regarding JSC, ACC, EC and Prosecutor General requires the President of Maldives, Vice- President of Maldives, Cabinet Ministers, and Members of Judicial Service Commission, Members of Anti-Corruption Commission, Members of Election Commission and the Prosecutor General to declare their assets to the Auditor General.” The Auditor General’s Office has also devised an ‘Asset Declaration Form’ which is available for download on their website.

#HaamaKurey and the ugly side of party politics

“Transparency maybe the most disruptive and far-reaching innovation to come out of social media.” – The New Influencers by Paul Gillin

The #HaamaKurey campaign which has been targeting parliament members up till now, has drawn a lot of criticism from the main opposition party, MDP. Things got interesting and quite revealing when parliament members of MDP engaged and challenged those that were calling out for public asset declarations.

MP of B. Kendhoo, Mr. Ali Hussain was the first to publicly publish his financial statement, which put other members of the Parliament in a pickle, especially the ones that hail from the party that echoes the rhetoric that calls upon the public for engagement and always talks of the rights of the people over its government and elected officials.

The reasons put forth by senior members of the party varied from pointing out the loopholes in the current system which would serve no purpose to calling out for implementation of the income tax which would be more revealing to the public, to expressing concerns on the culture of intimidation and imprisonment of elected officials of the opposition party by the incumbent government if MPs were to declare their financial statements so publicly, all in order to create a vacuum that they can take advantage of.

Valid concerns of course, which doesn’t detract from the reason why this came to being. Why it was necessary that the people be shown a way forward out of this gigantic mess, which just seems to grow more massive by the day. It was a way for a disengaged public to demand their elected officials to show to them they have been walking on the straight and narrow, that they have been true to the terms of the oath they all took when they assumed office. It was also the way to address the areas of concern that had been identified in not one, but three surveys carried out to assess public perception on government institutions which had seen a shameful view of the People’s Majlis emerge out of it.

The Ridiculous Side of Politics

The sentiment expressed by some, that this was a way to divert attention of the public from the more grievous scandal that is the MMPRC, the extent of this thread of corruption going deeper than one would imagine, was one that is utterly ridiculous to me. I am pretty certain that I would not be the only person to hold this view. The ex-auditor general Niyaz Ibrahim disclosed that a figure close to MVR 3.5 billion has been lost to the people because of the failure of the government and its institutions, independent and otherwise that had neglected to execute their duties to the people. Admissions by the President himself, that the parliamentarians occupying the house today were on the receiving end of the money that was siphoned off, is the glaring reason why the focus on MPs is a very valid, reasonable and much wanted one.

What is worrying to me are the actions of many of those who support the sentiments of democracy actually making fun and light of an initiative that has at least given back a semblance of “power” to the people. A campaign that actually allowed the people to exercise their constitutional rights as the Constitution affords them to. A first step that was taken in the right direction after years of “enslavement” by those in office.

What I fear is that these ripples of barbed references and jokes at undermining those that are driving this campaign would gain popularity amongst the members of the public that mostly exercise the “follow the herd” mentality. That it would get its job done and make the public once again question the need for this piece of paper, which has been published after much campaigning on the part of the “twitter politicians”.

This undermining campaign of sorts, might see the public ease off the current members of the crop that makes up the Parliament, but it would make it doubly tough for MDP to follow this path once again, if it were ever to have the fortune of leading this country forward. Because while a campaign that calls for transparency from public officials that are as corrupt as ours is difficult to get across, it would be quite easy to bring down the fragile beginnings of an initiative that has just barely taken its very first steps.

What MDP should do in all honesty is to help carry the campaign forward. Use this to drive the point forward in making the government and its institutions accountable, a tough a job as it is, given that governing party holds the majority at the Parliament. What MDP’s sentiments should be is to welcome this move by making elected officials accountable, especially from their own party and lead by example, to root out corruption, to make public at large aware of their rights on elected officials as citizens, and perhaps in the long run, make this campaign one that’d reach even the highest figure of authority in public office. MDP has the numbers and the means to work with interested parties to come out with something that would address the loopholes in the current system, to push the agenda forward, to give it their best shot, which is all that we, the voting public ask from them.

Loopholes would always exist for exploitation, in any system, no matter how perfect it is deemed. There is no doubt about that. A thief would think up of a thousand ways to get his or her share from the state coffers that most public officials believe they have a right to. But what we, as a country and as the public have is the right to demand that these loopholes be addressed, that better laws and regulations be put forth which can actually do some good than bickering about the fact that this is not the most perfect way to start making public officials accountable.

Because when have we, as a country, ever put our best foot forward?

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” – Dalai Lama

The Problem with Conflict of Interest

mmprc

MMPRC; the face of state enabled corruption involving billions of MVR – Source: Haveeru Daily

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”

In the current political environment of the country, it is interesting to note just how many people who can actually make a difference, sit back & watch all because, yes, all because of ‘conflict of interest’.

While these groups of people are busy protecting whatever interests that they see fit, the government of the day is protecting their interests as well. The interests that brings in tons of money – all illegal of course, that would fatten up their coffers, leaving us hanging dry.

The aspect that scares me the most is the lawlessness that prevails and finds its footing in a society that refuses to see it for what it is. The educated and the intellects sitting back to watch the dirt unfold all because they refuse to get their hands contaminated by wading into the muck is one of the many reasons why Maldives has taken such a dangerous turn today.

The recent murder in Hithadhoo is one that should be fresh on our minds. But I wonder whether it is. Becoming desensitized enough to say, ‘oh, murder!’ and move on is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. At the time of writing this article, police has arrested a suspect in connection to this heinous murder of a father, a beloved man in a community where men are scarce and few, having to abandon their homes, families, wives and children to go seek employment elsewhere in the luxury resorts that are scattered all across the country.

Our institutions that should safeguard the people remain indebted to those in power. Bound by the laws of corruption which most are guilty of. The fact that the public at large actually believe that everyone is corrupt to an extent, that it is an accepted norm in society scares the perhaps idealistic soul in me. The 2015 survey that was conducted by Transparency Maldives on the matter of public perception of government institutions speaks volumes.

Why can’t we see wrong for wrong and condemn it? Why can’t we denounce the politicians who see it fit to benefit off of the tons of money that comes into the country year in and year out and question whatever scraps they throw our way, perhaps an air conditioning unit or two or a  paved road that would not see the light of maintenance for years to come, or the money that changes hands from the First Lady to that of a public who are struggling to make ends meet?

Look at countries like Mexico, the crime hub of Central America or North as some put it, a country famous for its lawlessness, mob infused life, drug cartels reigning over entire territories. Do you really think that Maldives can afford to walk along the same lines? Because believe it or not, we are traveling in that very direction and are already seeing the emergence of elements that attests to this fact. The indomitable United States of America is faced with the fact that their borders haven’t prevented the escalating levels of crime from spilling over onto their side.

Disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan is such a case that indicates the dangerous path the country is traversing upon. 575 days it has been, filled with negligence from the authorities, the parliament turning away from the matter altogether, and law enforcement agencies blatantly confronting the family and friends who have been seeking answers since then.

Mexico didn’t happen overnight. It took years of negligence, looking the other way, deep rooted corruption & not to mention, the intellects refusing to stand up for fear of meddling with affairs of ‘conflict of interest’ that led them to where they are today. From the public that is caught in the middle, those who can afford to leave, flee. The rest, they have no choice but to deal with the hand that they have been dealt with, adjust to the life of crime or join the foray into which they have been born into.

Not everyone is cut out for activism. No. Neither will everyone be equally passionate about putting the country to rights. Most just live for the day. As long as their lives are on track, as long as they can watch the English Premier League on weekends in the comfort of their homes & watch their family thrive in a cocoon filled with a false sense of security, that is all that matters.

But a scandal like the one that Maldives is currently facing, a money laundering scheme on top of large sums of state funds being siphoned off by higher ups in the government; these are the instances that defines a nation’s future. These are the big game changers, effects of which will last for generations. Refusing or unwilling to stand up and do your bit today to put things to right is ensuring that the regime of the day wins in whatever plans they have in store for themselves. And mark my words. They are NOT looking out for the interests of the people they’ve been ‘elected’ to govern. Never have they been.

The scandal that the national tourism office of Maldives, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) is involved in, corruption amounting in the billions; the fact that the entire judiciary has been hijacked, the bitter truth that the parliament belongs to the regime and the undeniable reality that free media is barely thriving under the stifling control that the regime is slowly exerting on it speaks volumes of the future Maldivians are going to be living in. It is more than high time that the educated intellectuals and the colorless of the society thought about these things and acted upon them. Time that the color prejudices be left behind. Yellow, pink, red or green – all this eventually falls back on us. Because this is the moment that is irrevocably defining our collective future.

worstilliterate

Source: Pinterest.com

The educated might think that they can always migrate and move elsewhere. That the education they have will always take them places. One question I have for them is whether they really think that with the current refugee and migration crisis that has come to the forefront in the world is going to make it easy for countries to accept more foreigners onto their soil? With the anti-immigrant rhetoric that is echoing loudly across the world, the entire face of the global world is changing – and changing fast. It is up to us to make our home a habitable one, a bearable one, one that future generations; our children can live in without falling into the pitfall in the making today.

A prime example of what I am talking about unfolded recently in the United States itself; the toxic water disaster and scandal that befell on the Michigan city of Flint, having led President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency over the crisis. Many saw what was happening. Few spoke up. End result has been lead poisoning that could cause debilitating health conditions, stunted growth in children and eventually untimely deaths – all which could have been avoided had the people been more proactive.

Today, those who can leave have upped and left to other parts of the country. Those who cannot afford to do so, have been left behind to make do with whatever it is they are left with. The institution of public trust over the state government has been lost. A couple of millions of dollars in compensation doesn’t help in the longer scheme of things.

So, do your bit. Help out. Even in the littlest things. It can make a huge difference along the way. None of this is going to be easy. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Be proactive. Try. Speak of the truth – it would make a difference. If you are in a “sensitive” position in terms of the government, enlist help of people who can get the truth out there. Don’t become a tool that parrots the lies and half truths of a government that is beyond all rational hope.

As Muslims, fearing anyone else more than Allah Almighty, whom you’d be answerable to on the Day of Judgement is foolhardy at best. That is exactly where we go wrong. That is exactly what needs to change if we want to transform our nation and make a good difference in anything in this godforsaken country of ours.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King Jr.