#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

Dhivehin – Always Maldivian, Forever Independent

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Official logo used in marking the Golden Jubilee of Independence of Maldives. Source: Twitter

President Abdulla Yameen’s speeches since he assumed office in 2013 has always been about issuing thinly veiled threats targeted at the public. The dissenting voices of the public of course. The public that keeps fighting against the rising tide, the insurmountable odds being stacked against them with every day that has come and gone since then. The official function and banquet to celebrate the Golden Jubilee since the independence of Maldives from the British was held just tonight. President Yameen spoke at length, delivered a speech more or less of the same caliber and tone. This time around though, there was a slight difference. The public weren’t the only ones that were targeted.

The public indeed did get an earful on the differences of opinion that has divided society so much. According to the President, all the woes that exists in society today, the social problems that seem to grow worse by the day, all of this is due to the rising voices within us for freedom, democracy, good governance, accountability & transparency. In other words, the fight for freedom has left a huge gaping hole in our society that needs to be plugged – and fast. In a nutshell, the President seems to be talking about the multi-party system of governance that Maldives saw come to light with the Maldivian Democratic Party coming into being in 2005.

If there is one thing that the current regime knows how to do, and they do it very well, it is to operate under the guise of law and do whatever it is they need to do to stifle the movement of the people, to shut down the voices of the people; the people who see through the thin veil of legitimacy that their actions are shrouded in and are not happy about it. What I believe that the President was hinting at tonight was the ultimate move to abolish the political parties that operate in the country. The new anti-terrorism bill that has been submitted to the Parliament recently hints at the ultimate weapon that would be utilized in destroying the last vestiges of the democratic movement that exists within us.

New anti-terrorism laws while needed to curb and take action against the rising extremist elements within societies are being used by despotic governments across the globe to stifle the opposing political movements within their countries. Malaysia was one country that passed such a bill recently, all under the guise of taking action against those with extremist ideologies within their country.

A closer look at the bill drafted in the Maldives, as per an article on The Diplomat reveals that certain offenses listed in the newly submitted anti-terrorism bill contains offenses that can be attributed to political activists. Offenses such as murder, causing bodily harm, damaging property, causing suspension of public services, for instance, if carried out under the guise of (1) “unduly” influencing the government, (2) creating fear, or (3) promoting “unlawful” political and religious ideologies, can be charged under terrorism and thus pose a highly worrisome threat to our already ailing democracy, if one can even call it that now.

With the parliament having become an organization that just basically rubber stamps what the government requires of them, I have no hopes of anything in contrary happening. The government will push this bill through, most likely citing the statistics that they’ve been refusing to reveal up till now, the numbers of the droves of people from our country who have fled to Syria to fight in the “global jihad” that is being waged. Once the bill goes through & becomes law, which I believe would happen before this year is through, will signal the death & destruction of every political party & ideology that exists in Maldives. Either conform to the governing party’s mentality or be ignored or perhaps worse.

Moving back to tonight’s speech, while the people got off a tad “easily” this time around, since the last time I watched the President deliver a speech it nearly burnt my ears off, President Yameen’s criticism tonight was also targeted at the international community. That’s right. The meddling international community that wants to judge whether our installed government is actually constitutional. Whether our trials are being conducted fairly, whether due process is being followed and so on and so forth. The President’s hardline stance tonight suggests that leaving the Commonwealth is a foregone conclusion, the Parliament having debated on the issue on just the 20th of this month. The President with his speech is issuing a threat at the international community at large, that he’d play hardball with any and every organization, country or agency that is willing to make this country conform to the accepted norms of democratic governance in the world. Civil societies & organizations such as Transparency Maldives that work towards educating the masses on their rights, on making their governments accountable to them? Well lets bid sayonara to them.

That brings me to the newly drafted law on freedom of expression that is yet to darken the doorways of the Parliament, which is set to criminalize four types of “expressions contrary to national interest” as per a report published on Maldives Independent. According to the article, “free expression can be restricted on the grounds of national security only if the following circumstances arise: if there is a need to protect the nation or its territory, if Maldivians or foreigners threaten national security with the use of force, and if the government’s ability to defend the nation is endangered.” The President’s whole speech tonight was more or less targeted towards just the above. Protecting our nation, territory and national security. Rhetoric that governments like ours are famous for using to thwart all forms of dissent.

While the above said laws would definitely curtail our freedom & civil liberties, it would also move towards rendering the Article 4 of the Constitution utterly and irrevocably useless. That all the powers of the State of Maldives are derived from, and remain with, the citizens. The government is smart enough not to do too much at once. Rather, they plan & strategize carefully, this “war” being waged on our freedom & liberties that are guaranteed on the piece of paper that we call our Constitution. I say a piece of paper because it becomes just that, an easily perishable piece of paper if the governing forces that be aren’t willing to protect the basic principles and tenets of the document.

So, on this day where which we are supposed to be celebrating with glee the Golden Jubilee of Independence of Maldives, where the government has spent an excess of MVR 150 million (a figure equivalent to or greater than US$ 9 million), I really wonder at what we are celebrating. As per the 2006 census, 1/3rd of the country’s population lives in the crowded capital of the country Male’. The numbers much have shot up exponentially since then, exacerbated by the expatriate employee population that resides within as well. With zero opportunities available in own islands & atolls apart from working in the tourism sector, most are forced to leave their homes and live in crowded apartments and rooms costing their entire salaries for rent. Yet, we call ourselves independent, clapping with glee when millions of MVR of taxpayers money go up in flames at every single fireworks festival that has sort of become the norm since this government took over.

So whose independence are we really celebrating? Corruption runs rampant, organizations are held hostage by those with zero integrity and our police and military lie dormant, content with a couple of badges & promotions that alleviate their difficult standards of living, albeit be it even briefly. The judiciary has become a place where injustice is dolled out at will, and the parliament, well the parliament is the place that passes every bill that is sent by the government, without so much as a thought to the consequences on the freedom, sovereignty & rights of the generations to come.

I think we would be forced to bid farewell to the freedom that we’ve enjoyed for a brief period of time. It was good while it lasted, though it might not have been perfect. Shortly will emerge the campaign by the government to make us submit or be of those that perish in the government’s greed and ambition to squeeze every bit of revenue they can from this land of ours until there’s nothing left. Let us never forget. Hitler did what he did under the guise of laws passed in his country. So will we learn the bitterness of it all, in the years to come.

Dhivehin, always Maldivian. Forever independent. Or so it goes.