Comment: The NGO sector should protect human rights, not promote its abuse

In present day Maldives, the NGOs are organised in a more professional manner than in the past. Though it is not to say that the NGO sector in the Maldives is weak and requires strengthening, however the question today we all deliberate is what the NGOs can do in the democratising process of the Maldives.

Political pressure on NGOs

It is an indisputable reality that in any political environment, NGOs will be pressured by various political parties to take political positions. Nonetheless, the role of NGOs should be to work in the best interests of the Maldivian citizens. NGOs should be the voice of the people. NGOs should act neutral, be accountable and act as watchdogs. If there are critical issues to be raised against the government or political parties, the NGOs should have the credible evidence to situate their positions.

NGO coalitions

Nowadays, we see the NGOs join hands to work on various issues. NGOs realise the strength in standing together to pressure the government, people and the political parties. We have successful ventures of NGO partnerships such as campaigns like ‘JUST’, ‘I choose to Vote’ and others.

Unfortunately, we also see a trend where the names of NGOs are used to disadvantage or in the name of religion. I don’t believe that religious activities should be allowed to be conducted under the banner of NGOs.

In majority Islamic countries, religious groups conduct religious activities under a religious placard so that the two can be distinct. Hence, religious groups with the intention of grabbing power by targeting vulnerable groups  can be monitored and watched.

NGO coalitions

At present we see the movements of two types of NGO coalitions. One movement is mobilised to work for the cause of humanity and development, while the other interest group is mobilized to conduct religious activities.

The just cause of humanity and development is transparent and identified for a specific purpose. Dissimilar to this, the NGO coalitions mobilised for religious activities are dangerous and leave question marks.

The concern is that these types of coalitions are NOT moved to strengthen the understanding of Islam that we love in our country. But the secrecy in which they empower conservative Islamic scholars, brainwash people to isolate themselves from the normal course of life, lobby for the removal of girls from schools, isolate and intimidate girls and women and prevent vaccinations being given to children and so on in the name of Islam. These conservative coalitions are dangerous and need to be watched and monitored.

Conservative radical NGO coalition

The names of Adhaalath and Salaf come to our minds when we think about conservative movements. Adhaalath is a political party but lobbies for conventional Islamic way of life similar to Salaf. Salaf is an NGO that has hijacked Atoll radio.

We saw how Salaf managed to take control of Atoll Radio. Initially, there were speeches by Salaf scholars; slowly the radio channel management taken over by Salaf. Salaf was devious in promoting its way of life through Atoll Radio. Now, the Salaf group promotes their conservative ways of life and underline points by stating that Salaf scholar says this or that.

Salaf and Adhaalath sponsors conservative Islam through different mediums and strategies. The earliest recruitment came in the form of the NGO coalition movement against the policies on liquor, then the movement to raise funds for Pakistan Relief.

The latest exploitation of this radical movement is to fight against coeducation in education system. Why haven’t they come out strongly or protested an outcry against the abuse of children and abuse of women that is happening almost every day? How can we as Muslims tolerate such inhumane acts towards our children and women? MP Muthalib promotes the Salaf and Adhaalath agenda stating that if a law comes into force that protects violence against women, than it would prevent men having multiple wives? This is the level of their thinking when they talk about Islam, and it demeans our much-loved religion.

If you investigate closely you can see their motives in exploiting the NGO sector by mobilising the majority island based NGOs and counting them as their partners, reaching 172, but actual decision makers on behalf this conservative NGO coalition is the majority Male’ based NGOs Salaf, and political party Adhaalath, and the Teachers’ Association that seems to have lost the cause of founding their NGO in the first place.

The decision-making process in the so-called NGO coalition is undemocratic and controlled by only a few people. Do you really think that within such a large NGO coalition it would be easy to make decisions and mobilise unless the island based NGOs are not controlled?

We do not want what happened to Afghanistan to take place in Maldives. The Taliban controlled and turned Afghanistan to a conservative country in the name of Islam so that Taliban could have total control of Afghan people.

NGOs should work according to their mandates

All the registered formal NGO institutions should only work for the people of the Maldivians and closely try to fulfill and achieve their mandates and objectives. It’s vital to NGO sector to be responsible and accountable to people with their mandates, money they get and also create a peaceful environment during the political transition. The NGO sector should learn to be neutral, non-partisan and be watch dogs for human rights violations in the Maldives.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

Comment: Can the Maldives institute a vibrant NGO sector?

In the Maldives, the NGO sector is lumped together as a whole by the developmental partners, government and other stakeholders. For convenience in the Maldives, the NGO sector seems to represent the civil society.

Whenever the civil society representation is called, you will see NGO sector members.

A weak civil society?

In a democratising country like Maldives, the civil society and the NGO sector should play a crucial role. Civil society is one of the pillars of democracy. Without a vibrant and strong civil society, democracy cannot be attained.

In the Maldives – unlike Bhutan – legislation allowed the formation of NGOs for centuries, apart from NGOs targeting human rights until a few years ago. Today, the Maldives has more than 1100 clubs and NGOs registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs under the clubs, associations and NGOs law.

It is problematic to categorise the NGOs that work for the development of the country. It also means that for the population of 300,000, we have an NGO for every 200 Maldivians. Out of the registered NGOs in the Maldives, only a few have office space with paid staff.

The oldest developmental national NGOs that are existence in Maldives are SHE and the Care Society.

Presently, the work of developmental NGOs visible in the Maldives are the Care Society, SHE, Maldives Democracy Network, Journey, Democracy House, Transparency Maldives, SWAD, JCI, Maldives NGO Federation.

There are other NGOs that are noticeable at periodic intervals like Madulu, Strength of Society and others.

The NGOs in the Maldives have informal and formal networks and work closely together, pooling resources on projects of common interest, producing policy papers and position papers. Some of the examples are the JUST campaign and the Domestic Violence Bill, to name a few recent combined team works by the NGO sector.

Expectations from NGO sector

There are high expectations from the developmental partners, government and other stakeholders, including the general public, for the NGO sector to play a central role in the democratisation process. For example for the upcoming local council elections, there is greater need for the NGO sector to prove and show neutrality, put the best interests of people first, monitor corruptions and act as watch dogs.

What’s thwarting this is again lack of resources. There is a greater need to educate the general public via media. The media agencies commit to return investments and only allocate a dose of space to corporate social responsibility. So this avenue is closed to NGOs. For every work NGOs does, [media] is paid.


The major constraint for NGO development in the Maldives are funding limitations. There are no established mechanisms to secure funding or plan long term sustainability of NGOs.

The biggest national NGOs in the Maldives face similar constraints. These NGOs have office space borrowed from their family residences, and most NGOs are fortunate if they have a well-wisher who supports administrative costs and recurrent costs including office space. Other NGOs founders or staff have self-interest, so they work for minimal pay, most times as a volunteer.

The developmental partners always claim that NGOs in the Maldives lack capacity and do not have the skills to organise or implement projects. As a person who has worked in the NGO more than 20 years I think this is misleading as resource mobilisation can create a strong NGO sector.

How many NGOs in the Maldives have bought a laptop out of the project? Before suggesting this is ineffective planning, it is important to note that NGOs do not have means to buy a computer or even a laptop. Laptops are required to communicate with the outside world and for documentation purposes.

Or why do staff costs have to be incorporated into projects? Because it is essential to the survival of NGOs and sustain their work. Why are the travel costs included higher than other countries? Because that is the reality of high costs of living in the Maldives.

Why is that the consultancy fees for local consultants are unacceptable while large sums are paid to foreign consultants, including travel and lodging only to produce a plain report or technical input? Why is it that local consultants do not apply or are available? It is because of these discriminatory attitudes practiced by donors.

Most international donors scrutinise the sustainability of projects. If this is the case, why don’t they consider the requirement of the NGO sector through gigantic lenses for sustainability?

Maldives NGO law does not prohibit conducting business activities, however, several NGOs experienced difficulties in this aspect as the law is not enforced or institutionalised in various ministries. Several NGOs could not register vehicles in NGOs names or take loans. There are several NGOs moving towards the Social Corporation model though this is new thinking.

International funding for social development in partnership with NGOs

Underthe previous government, the majority of national strategic plans, including the UN country plans, identified partnerships with NGOs. It would be interesting to analyse the outcome of these partnerships over the last 10 years.

To give credit, there have been efforts by previous Government to strengthen the civil society but it has not shown any results. Similarly, the current government has also identified partnership with civil society which needs to be spelt out clearly and implemented.

The majority of funding in the past for the NGO sector has been secured through international sources, though some NGOs have secured one-time undersised funding locally. As there is no tax system or cooperate social responsibility policy, the NGO sector is struggling for survival.

Some NGOs are active, while others ended in death row, and a few stagnated for years.  As a developing and economically well-established country compared with other South Asian countries, and a smaller population, the NGO sector could not compete with other NGOs in the region. This is the reality of the 20th century as well.

Reinforce the NGO sector

The government, UN and other developmental partners should consider the NGO sector as developmental partners.

The NGO sector requires institutionalisation of good governance, capacity building, project implementation and financial support. It is unrealistic for the NGO sector to expect to conduct business, there has to be a mechanism established for the survival of NGOs.

Can the government, UN and other developmental partners trust the NGO sector to implement the projects? Can the US Embassy and other embassies, rather than implementing the projects, recruit the NGO sector to conduct programmes and projects by allocating a budget for implementation?

Can the Human Rights Commission, government and UN assign projects like training projects/components to the NGO sector?

The NGOs have networks and it would assist the capacity-building of island NGOs as well the national NGOs if this type of work is capitalised on them. The NGO sector has the capacity and ability if funding is allocated to conduct training in the areas of human rights, governance, decentralisation, child rights, women rights, people with disabilities, NGO training, and other such training. The government, UN and Human Rights Commission can play the monitoring role.

The NGO sector is requested to conduct programmes and projects at low cost and for free which barely covers the recurrent costs, administrative staff costs and project management costs. In the context that is contested above, can the NGO sector in the Maldives survive without an enabling environment?

The NGO sector requires adopting good governance models and being active watch dogs.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Corruption must not taint PK relief funds

I was responsible for looking after one of the largest disaster programmes in the Maldives following the tsunami.

I was one of the members in the decision making body of Action Aid International of a 30 million pound Tsunami Rehabilitation and Reconstruction multi-country programme in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, Indonesia and Somaliland.

Immediately after tsunami, I went with UNDP teams, Oxfam, Red Cross and other disaster teams to conduct initial disaster assessments. It was a time consuming, trying process to assess the damage done by the tsunami and identify the needs of people.

No group of people, community or country wanted the same things. It was hectic, tiring and required extensive development to help the survivors.

I wonder why the PK Relief fund is deliberating and has announced it will be sending a there member team to Pakistan. They were careful to announce that they will not spend money from the PK Relief funds for the visit, but in same breath they said that they will raise funds for the visit to Pakistan.

This sounds same thing to me – they will be using the name of the PK Relief fund to raise funds, which is akin to spending PK Relief money. I think this is a waste of resources and energy as the money should be donated to the Government of Pakistan.

Providing disaster relief is a technical and difficult task, and requires experts to conduct a disaster assessment. The processes require conducting an assessment of the damage, identifying the needs of the people as well as the infrastructure.

It’s futile to think that a team who has no knowledge and understanding of the country, the extent of damage, the culture and the people can decided on what or where to donate.

The best experts will be the Government of Pakistan or the international parties who are already on the ground in Pakistan evaluating the situation of the floods, such as the UN, Pakistan Red Crescent, Pakistan Action Aid or others. Another possibility is through the Maldivian High Commission based in Pakistan – all these agencies are based in Pakistan and would have firsthand knowledge.

Maldives do not require a team from PK Relief Fund to go to Pakistan.

What PK Fund should plan is how to keep track of how the fund is being spent. Monitor and request whether the funding has reached to the neediest. PK fund can make the Government of Pakistan accountable through good governance and monitoring mechanisms.

Publish the information received from Government of Pakistan and international stakeholders, making it accessible to the citizens of the Maldives at regular intervals, after donating the funds.

I would advise the PK Relief not send a team to Pakistan and hand over the money to the Ambassador of Pakistan. I would also request a public outcry against this proposed action by the PK relief fund Committee, for contemplating such disastrous action on behalf of the Maldivians who donated the funds without expert knowledge of the issue.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Letter on monitoring Pakistan aid

Dear Ambassador, High Commission of Pakistan, Maldives

I am a Maldivian citizen who is exalted that the Maldivian people joined as a nation to raise funds for your country, the people of Pakistan who are affected by floods.

I am a concerned citizen about how the money is collected in the name of Pakistan citizens as there are no transparent systems in the Maldives to monitor the money being raised.

I wish that the Government of Pakistan would take this opportunity, at this time of need to help the Pakistan people, to establish transparent and accountable systems so that the international community’s confidence is built.

Establishing monitoring mechanisms is one way to raise further support and guarantee the voice of the affected communities.

I would aspire that you would establish monitoring systems at all levels so that corruption can be rooted out as much as possible.

The monitoring systems are required based on previous experiences with disasters in the developing countries (including the tsunami in the South Asian countries).

By maintaining a monitoring mechanism, the government of Pakistan and SAARC countries can play an effective role.

I wish the citizens of affected people of Pakistan a fast recovery. I commend the Government of Pakistan’s efforts in relief work to help people of Pakistan.

Yours sincerely

Fathimath Afiya

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Comment: Political parties will not resolve current conflicts

The killer headlines these days are about the standstill to Maldives political party peace talks.

The UN has spent more than US$40,000 to recruit a peace negotiator, and the resources allocated towards this are justifiable. There have to be efforts made to resolve the bickering and barking of the political parties.

In my graduate studies in human rights and peace studies, I was asked in one course to research a paper on how to connect human rights and peace. It was challenging as these were two varied disciplines and the advocates of both notions have different discourses.

Oftentimes during conflicts, the human rights advocators desire to settle scores with the human rights violators and bring justice. If the human rights violators are the past regime or the government, the government will reject all peace talks.

At the same time, peace keepers may show some indifference to human rights violators as their main aim is to resolve disputes and conflicts so that peace processes and peace talks can resume. When you study the history of peace negotiations in conflicting countries, each country has undergone dissimilar transformations.

We can consider the examples of good peace negotiations and try to adapt a workable methodology that may be appropriate to Maldives.

No external expert can resolve the case without internal and domestic willingness to resolve the political differences to accord peace to the citizens of the Maldives.

Maldivian context

The international community has been adamant that the Maldivian politicians would be able to settle their differences for the sake of the Maldivian people. I was skeptical and shared my views with the international diplomatic missions, statesmen or whoever came during the past few months to influence the Maldives politicians to resolve our domestic political affairs.

At the beginning there were reservations by Maldivians and politicians that the good name of the peace talks could be stolen by external experts and foreign countries. When Assistant Secretary of US State Robert Blakes met us in July, I was critical and open.

I shook my head negatively at his hypothesis that political parties will resolve the conflict.

There was a series of successive visits by foreign diplomats before his visit and afterwards. Another visit was a mission from UN Department of Political Affairs who met stakeholders but kept nodding off through nearly all the meetings.

I predicted at the time that the peace talks will be boycotted sequentially. I predicted that the sudden quick agreements will stall if there are no international negotiation facilitations. I suggested having an international negotiation facilitation team of 2-3 members with local consultants.

It will be a costly affair but I felt it has to be done.

Psychological warfare

Do you know what happens when two kids starts fighting over a toy? Each kid will tug at the toy, trying to gain control and power. The stronger kid will always win.

A smart kid knows how to cajole, and sweet talk will win over the other kid. Nice is manipulative and always wins. We need this kind of approach in the resolution of politics in the Maldives.

Nobody wins at all rounds, some lose and some win. We have to learn to accept defeat sometimes.

Immature political games

The deadlock in parliament’s deliberations has been challenged several times, at a cost in public spending of Rf400,000 a day. When the deadlocks are at climax, the pressure rises from the public. The general public starts calling for the resignation of MPs through radio and television channels, which are their only outlet.

Local television polls have shown that the public believes the MPs are not doing their jobs, although the political parties do not take these polls seriously are claim this is work of the opposition or government.

Again, are there any laws where the public, ultimately the highest authority in the Maldives, can make the MPs accountable?

Unfortunately, there seems to be no such laws and the MPs seem to be above law. They have failed many times to pass the required laws as per the Constitution. The public has witnessed the MPs name-calling on the parliament floor, accusing everybody of corruption without citing credible sources, accusing each other of fraud, vulgarity and theft.

Many times we have seen the MPs committing criminal offenses in parliament by hitting each other, but none of these cases have been put to trial.

Each MP – not to be outdone – presents that he talks on behalf of the public. This is an old story we are sick of hearing.

How many MPs can truly say that they have talked and understood the voices of the public? The general public elected the MPs with high expectations and hopes for a better democracy.

Way forward

Dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue.  We understand the Maldivian context, we are going through a democratising process and there will be many political hurdles, but not at the cost of public spending, our public life, and political peace.

The MPs are paid large amounts of public money for their salaries and they have to fulfill their obligations. How can, the ruling Government, the opposition or the independent candidates say that they are not ready for dialogue or peace talks?

The only way forward to any political solution in the Maldives is to keep up the dialogue. Ask any Maldivian citizen and you will hear same thing: we need the politicians to talk and bring solutions to the political conflicts.

Also, the peace expert should climb down from his chair and talk to the average citizens to hear our grievances. To the politicians, if you are not ready to dialogue, please resign from the political scenario and give peace to average citizens.

We have bigger issues in trying to make ends meet and earn a living, what with the high rents, spike in food prices and living costs. In addition to this, we have to deal with drug and gang warlords, fear, and sadly a society disintegrating moral values.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Discrimination against women in the Maldives

The Ministry of Gender and Family, the Maldives Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences 2007 suggest that one in every three women undergo some kind of abuse through their life, be it physical, psychological or sexual abuse.

For this reason, as a woman working to empower women, I felt a ray of hope on November 25, 2009, when the parliamentarians endorsed their commitment to the campaign to stop Violence against Women in the Maldives.

Unfortunately, the recent discussions held at the last meeting of the People’s Majlis (Parliament), before they went into recess, were shocking to some of us. Some of the parliamentarian’s crude remarks denote discrimination against women that is unacceptable for the lawmakers of the Maldives.

This is not the first time that such discriminatory, undermining and sexual language has been used toward women on the parliament floor.

The Maldives Constitution ratified in 2008. Chapter 2, article 17 states that everyone is entitled to rights and freedoms without discrimination of any kind including race, national origin, color, sex, age, mental or physical disability, political or other opinion, property, birth or other status, or native island.

In this respect, the United Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Maldives ratified in 1993, specifically stipulates equal rights to women, to stop discrimination against women and places an obligation on the state to provide and protect the rights of women.

It is interesting to note that the parliamentarians did not question the sex of the candidates at the time when the names were sent to the Majlis by President of the Maldives, and when they reviewed and approved the names for the five membership positions of Human Rights Commission (HRCM).

The discussion heated up when it became apparent the President [Mohamed Nasheed] had sent female nominations for the President and Vice-President of HRCM, which are high positions.

Why is it that the thought processes of the parliamentarians then turned upside down? The parliamentarians did not debate over why women were not nominated for bench of Supreme Court, nor why there is only one woman elected for both the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and no woman sitting in Elections Commission.

The majority of the public and private sector do not provide equal opportunities for women when it comes to decision-making positions. These high positions and are not barred by Islam, and neither by the Maldivian Constitution.

The media lacks awareness about women’s rights and the importance of promoting gender equality. The misconception spread about gender equality is that women and men are equal. This is incorrect – the correct account is that men and women are biologically different because of their sex but gender is socially constructed.

This means that there are positions or jobs that the society believes that either men or women can do. This is the interpretation that the parliamentarians had when they had the discussions on the last day before recess.

If women’s names had been approved by parliamentarians according to their first deliberations, the approval should be based on their competency. The deliberations on the Majlis floor indicate lack of knowledge about women’s issues and women’s problems.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]