Comment: Build a party, beware of judges, never give up

First published in Foreign Policy. Republished with permission.

With the swearing-in of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in early June, Egypt has turned full circle. This is just the latest version of a familiar and depressing tale.

After all the hope, optimism, and national pride that followed the revolution and the successful overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s bloody 30-year rule, Egyptians are back to square one: Another military strongman has won another contested election, while his political opponents are either in hiding, in jail, or in their graves.

Events in Egypt are similar to those in my own country, the Maldives. We, too, suffered at the hands of a dictator for three decades. We, too, had our own peaceful revolution that swept away the old regime and ushered in new democracy. In 2012, that democracy was snatched away from us by a coup d’état. Since then, we have seen our freedoms and our electoral process undermined.

The experiences of the Maldives and the Arab Spring countries highlight the difficulty of embedding democracy in Muslim nations that have long been governed by authoritarian regimes. Overthrowing the dictator is hard enough, but for democrats, securing the long-term gains of the revolution is proving more challenging.

Just because you’ve pulled out the weeds doesn’t mean that flowers will grow. Like a garden, democracy must be planted and nurtured – or the weeds will grow back stronger than ever.

From my own experience – as, in turn, a democracy activist, the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, and the victim of a coup – one of the most important things democrats must do early on is to build a political party around a unified cause; this is a task at which the Egyptian liberals fell short.

Democracy needs infrastructure in place to implement it. Political parties are the most important institution in a new democracy; they are the necessary nuts and bolts, the means for delivering democracy. Once established, they force their members to learn the new tools of contesting democratic power: grassroots mobilization, policy formulation, election campaigning, media relations, and so on.

This process embeds democratic principles among large sections of the population, which in turn creates extra pressure for more democratic reform.

When Maldivians decided they’d had enough of their dictatorship, a number of activists, including myself, slipped out of the country and formed the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). In those days, back in 2004, political parties were banned in the Maldives, so operating in exile was our only option.

We could have focused all our energy on fomenting street protests, but we recognized that there was no point overthrowing the regime if we weren’t in a position to win an election or govern properly. When the Maldivian dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, begrudgingly allowed competitive elections in 2008, the MDP was an established political party. We won the presidential election with 54 percent of the vote.

In contrast, Egyptian liberals focused their attention on bringing down Mubarak. They were successful, and we all held our breath at the prospect of a free and democratic Egypt. But once Mubarak fell, the liberals found that they didn’t have a strong, unified political party that could successfully compete in the ensuing elections. The Muslim Brotherhood, which had run an underground political machine for decades, swooped in and clinched victory. So the most important lesson for aspiring democrats, before anything else, is this: Focus on building your political party.

The creation of successful political parties, though, is rarely enough to properly embed democracy. This brings me to my second lesson: Beware of judges. In the Maldives, like Egypt, the former dictator appointed all of the sitting judges. These judges, loyal to the old guard, hell-bent on maintaining their power, and steeped in anti-democratic ideology, actively undermined the new democracy.

Judges blocked revenue-raising measures, protected members of the former regime from corruption probes, and granted themselves ever more power. In the Maldives, a new constitution passed in 2008, granting judges independence, as part of the separation of powers.

But like giving Dracula the keys to the blood bank, this decision gave unfettered power to a judiciary that is rotten to the core. This problem still haunts the Maldives. In last year’s presidential elections, for instance, the Supreme Court constantly meddled in the vote to favor old-guard candidates, annulling and postponing votes, intimidating the Elections Commission, and making up the law as they went along. Ahead of parliamentary elections earlier this year, the court was at it again, sacking the Elections Commission chief and threatening his staff.

Confronting a corrupt, but independent, judiciary is particularly challenging for new rulers. The international community is largely clueless about how to deal with the problem. In the Maldives, for instance, the one organization that should have helped, the United Nations, instead considered judicial independence to be sacrosanct — a misguided approach that treated poorly educated, corrupt, and often criminal judges as if they were U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Kenya may provide a better example of the sort of radical judicial reform needed in post-revolution or, in its case, post-conflict societies. In Kenya, the new government, with international support, overhauled its judiciary and established an independent “Vetting of Judges and Magistrates Board.” Unqualified, incompetent, or corrupt judges were removed from office. Whatever the method, the international community needs a new approach for dealing with inherited judiciaries in fledgling democracies.

This brings me to my third and final lesson: Never give up. Democratic movements need patience, optimism, and determination. People often ask me how I remain optimistic about the future of my island country, with respect to both its democratic trajectory and its survival in the face of rising sea levels (the Maldives is one of the world’s lowest-lying nations).

But when you choose to be a democracy activist in an authoritarian regime, or indeed a proponent of firm action to combat climate change, you have little choice but to remain optimistic. The alternative is too bleak.

This applies to everyone, from Egyptian liberals, to Maldivian human rights defenders, to pro-democracy activists in countries like Burma and Libya: Never give up — and never assume that your cause is lost. Even when you face disappointment, there are usually unexplored avenues through which you can continue the struggle. In September 2013, after my party won the first round of presidential elections, the Maldives Supreme Court annulled the vote and got the Elections Commission to re-run the elections as many times as it took for our party to lose.* (The photo above shows Mohamed Nasheed at a protest to demand a run-off vote in Male.) After all this, some Maldivians told me that they felt despair over the future of their country. I responded: “Don’t presume that this is the end of the book. We’re only in the middle of the story. Don’t be so hasty as to predict how the story will end.”

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the former prime minister of Sri Lanka, once told me: “When the music stops, you must sit [down].” This may be true for political leaders, but not for democracy activists. Authoritarian regimes are more fragile than they appear. With a little push, they often collapse under the weight of their own contradictions. So be tenacious, strategic, and, above all, patient.

The peaceful and legitimate transfer of power is the defining characteristic of functioning democracy; it is how society grows and develops, and it is the overarching goal of any pro-democracy activist. During President Obama’s second inauguration I heard a speech that, coming less than a year after the Maldives’ coup, sent a chill down my spine. Senator Lamar Alexander summed up everything democracy activists should strive for: the regular transfer of power, through peaceful and legitimate means. He said: “There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch.” For democracy activists around the world, huddled in their cafés or counting down the days in their prison cell, it is this moment that makes it all worthwhile.


Comment: Some Conservatives failed over Mandela – others are failing now over climate change

I am a Conservative and an environmentalist – a position, it seems, that is increasingly irreconcilable. Australia’s centre-right administration is busy dismantling a carbon tax. Canada’s Conservative Government has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. And, in the United States, the Tea Party is purging Republicans who agree with the 97 per cent of climate scientists who say that human activity is causing global warming.

As a politician (and former president) of the Maldives – one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations – this places me in a quandary. A believer in free markets, small government and globalisation, I feel a natural kinship with the school of thought that brought us Thatcherism and Reaganomics. But the Maldives lies just 1.5 meters above the rising seas. To deny the dangers of climate change is to ignore my country’s greatest national security threat.

I suspect I am not alone in this predicament. As climate change bites, more and more world leaders are forced to grapple with its consequences: fiercer droughts, wildfires, storms and floods. A denialist, Conservative movement has no solutions to offer these countries and therefore risks irrelevancy.

It also leaves Conservatives on the wrong side of history. Over the past few weeks, as the world commemorates Nelson Mandela, an uncomfortable spotlight has been shone on Conservatives who branded the ANC as terrorists in the 1980s. How will today’s crop of Conservative climate refuseniks explain themselves to future generations, in a world made hotter, nasty and poor by global warming?

Strong action today to curb emissions should prevent catastrophic climate change. But if we ignore the issue for another decade, we face a world of soaring temperatures, ferocious storms and a climate out of control. Future generations will hold Conservatives responsible for wrecking the planet.

My party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), owes much to the Conservative movement. They have provided us with ideological inspiration and practical know-how. Britain’s Conservative Party taught the MDP how to campaign – invaluable support in a young democracy like the Maldives. We are also grateful to conservative-run governments, such as Canada’s, who pressured the Maldives to hold recent elections when the country looked like it might slip back into dictatorship. The actions of politicians such as David Cameron, William Hague and John Baird, in support of democracy in a far off land, demonstrate the very best in enlightened leadership. When our movement is capable of exemplary governance, why do so many Conservatives let us down on climate change?

It was not always like this. Teddy Roosevelt founded America’s national park system. Richard Nixon introduced the Clean Air Act and established the Environmental Protection Agency. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol to limit CFCs. And George H Bush introduced a cap-and-trade system to curb acid rain. But contemporary politicians fail to uphold one of the founding principles of Conservatism: the duty to conserve. There is nothing Conservative about advocating for the destruction of the climate, and thus all we hold dear. This is not a credible Conservative standpoint: it is reckless and extreme.

Our movement’s pro-fossil fuel advocacy also flies in the face of the free market economics we espouse. The oil, gas and coal industries have benefited from a century of subsidies and tax breaks. So why are we continuing to subsidise highly profitable and polluting fossil fuel firms, while choking off support for clean energy?  We are not supposed to be the fossil fuel industry’s trade union.

Capitalism, free trade and globalisation have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and helped countries, such as my own, graduate from developing to middle income status. We owe a lot to neoclassical economics. But as any economist will tell you, markets sometime fail. The modern economy allows companies to dump dangerous greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere at no cost. The responsible, Conservative approach to this problem is to price and/or regulate these emissions.

Fortunately, this position is starting to find acceptance, even in the unlikeliest quarters. ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP and Shell are already planning their future growth on the expectation that governments will impose a price on carbon emissions. If oil companies can accept the inevitability of climate action, why can’t Conservative politicians?

Enough of this antediluvian denialism – it is time for climate conscious Conservatives to speak out. We should ask ourselves what Churchill, Thatcher or Reagan would do. Even in the face of vested interests or powerful opponents, they would not shirk their responsibilities. They would lead the fight to conserve our climate.

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“Maldives cannot afford to be an inward looking, xenophobic country”: former President Nasheed

The following speech was given by former President Mohamed Nasheed at the launch of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s foreign policy. President Mohamed Waheed’s Independence Day address is available here.

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

We live in turbulent times. Times have always been turbulent.

We sit in the Indian Ocean, across a 1000km from North to South, where the bulk of the international trade passes. We are so strategically located that when the big boys fight, we are hemmed and wedged in-between.

The basis of our foreign policy is what my grandmother used to say, find a friend and stick with them, be good and be honest to them.

Our relationships do not depend on our fortunes, but on our ideals.

We are saddened that a number of countries with whom we shared our sentiments didn’t live up to our expectations.

But still our relationships do not depend on our political fortunes.

Down and under or up and above we still stick to our principles and beliefs.

A tolerant Islamic society, friends with everyone, enemies of no one.

The Maldives recently embarked on a remarkable journey towards democracy that sought to allow our people to live free, prosperous and dignified lives.

The adoption of a new constitution that guaranteed fundamental rights and allowed for separation of powers and term limits for the president was a key achievement.

So were the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections that took place in quick succession from late 2008 onwards.

Our party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, had the good fortune to become the first democratically elected government in our country’s history.

It is remarkable that after 30 years of one-man rule, the change took place through the ballot box, and that the transfer of power was peaceful and recognised as legitimate by both Maldivians and the international community.

We were also particularly proud and hopeful to be the first Muslim country in South Asia to have achieved a peaceful transition to democracy.

The people of Maldives placed a great deal of trust in us, and had high expectations that we would be able to deliver on our pledges so that the quality of their lives would be better.

In order to build the kind of society we want, we felt that it was imperative that we engage with the wider world and become responsible global citizens.

The Maldives has always maintained contact with the outside world. Historically we have been seafarers, traders, and explorers. We have never lived in isolation and we must not live in isolation in an interdependent world.

The mainstay of our economy is our hospitality industry. Close to a million tourists visit our shores every year to enjoy our country’s natural beauty and our people’s hospitality. Visitors to the Maldives has always been the norm.

Thus we feel that Maldives cannot afford to be an inward looking, and xenophobic country.

We need to be outward looking and cosmopolitan.

This is the foreign policy that the first MDP government pursued.

Human rights were an important part of our domestic policy platform. It was only natural that we took the promotion of these values to the wider world.

Our membership of the Human Rights Council was an important achievement. Indeed, we secured the highest number of votes in that election, and we used our platform to press for stronger global human rights protection mechanisms.

We aimed to increase foreign investment in the Maldives, through our pivot towards commercial diplomacy.

As we graduated from a Least Developed Country to a middle-income country, we knew that economic opportunities had to be expanded.

Trade not aid, became our new mantra. And the results were remarkable.

Statistics maintained by our Ministry of Economic Development show that out of the 1.5 billion dollars that flowed in through non-tourism foreign direct investment since 1980, over 50 percent was secured during our three years in government.

At US$500 million, the contract with GMR–Malaysia Airports consortium to develop the international airport in Male’ was the single largest investment in the country’s history.

A loan from the Export-Import Bank of China facilitated the development of 1,500 housing units in Hulhumale’ through a Chinese contractor.

By selling shares in Dhiraagu to the British company Cable and Wireless, we were able to begin work on a submarine cable project in partnership with the Japanese Hitachi Corporation that will provide high-speed internet connectivity throughout the length and breadth of the Maldives.

Climate change is a real existential threat to our country. Under the MDP government, Maldives moved away from being a victim of climate change to a leading voice in the debate. The role we played at the COP 15 Summit in Copenhagen attempted to bridge countries on different sides of the argument. We were pleased that the Copenhagen Accord pledged much needed funding for climate change adaptation for us and other countries vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We spoke on behalf of the Small Island States on the same platform as the world’s largest economies.

Maldives’ took a ‘can-do’ approach on climate change. We made a bold decision to become a carbon neutral country by 2020 and we were in the process of submitting our renewable energy investment plan to the World Bank in February 2012.

There were many other instances where our relationships with the outside world have proved fruitful to our people.

We have had important cultural exchanges, for instance through the Hay literary festival.

We set up an International Volunteer Corp, so that volunteers could travel to our beautiful country and help us with important social services.

We increased scholarships for our youth to study abroad.

These are just some examples of our interactions with our international partners and the benefits that our citizens gained through our foreign policy.

But of course, as you know, this story did not have a happy ending.

Fledgling democracies are fragile.

The success of a democracy does not rest upon the ability to give people a vote and to hold an election every few years. It requires a massive shift in power from a stronghold “deep state” to the masses.
On the 7th of February last year, I was forced out of the office that I was elected to just three years before. I set out the details of the coup in great detail in my testimony to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI). So I will not belabour the point here.

Some chose not to recognise the events that forced the country’s first democratically elected government out of office as a coup.

But what was clear to all even then, was that this was not how a democratically elected government in any country should be changed.

And what has become increasingly clear over time, is that the coup has reversed many political and developmental gains that the country had made during our three years of democracy.

We had taken one step forward, but were quickly forced to move two steps back.

The security forces continue to act with impunity and use excessive force against peaceful protesters.

Politically motivated prosecutions have become the norm. There are currently cases pending against all levels of the opposition, from the MDP’s presidential candidate to several hundred grassroots party activists.

Mismanagement of the economy has led to the government budget already being exhausted mid-way through the year, and many essential services are neglected.

Infrastructure projects in many islands initiated by the MDP government have come to a sudden halt.

The universal health insurance scheme established by our government has been scaled down.

The transport network we set up to connect our islands and bring goods and services closer to the people has become dormant in many parts of the country.

Local fishermen earn less for their catch after the competitive market has once again been monopolised.

While 115 schools were converted to single session by the end of 2011, no progress has been made on the program since then.

The airport’s roof still leaks when it rains and we have to rely on an archipelago of buckets to keep travelers dry.

Most recently, we saw how the thalassemia centre has been mismanaged to the extent that lives were put at risk.

One of our greatest achievements in our three years, I believe, were the gains in media freedom. With the ousting of the democratically elected government, Maldives’ press freedom fell 30 points back to pre 2008 levels.

Since the February 7th, 2012 coup, the country has not just seen the backsliding of democracy and greater affronts being committed against human rights. The state of our economy is deeply worrying. It has also seen decline in the country’s foreign relations.

There has been a nasty tide against many of our international partners, be it the Commonwealth, the EU, or indeed, India.

The coup government unceremoniously terminated the airport contract with GMR, amid some very unsavoury anti-Indian rhetoric. We now face a 1.5 billion dollar claim by GMR in international courts. This is a relationship that we cannot afford to turn sour, and a compensation bill that we cannot afford to pay.

In contrast, when the MDP took office in 2008 we made the decision to honour all financial commitments of the previous government. We believed in the importance of upholding contracts. It was the responsible thing to do. And it is a great tragedy that our example was not followed.

The bad relations with the international community means that there is little by way of assistance as our country’s democratic institutions and social and economic infrastructure crumbles.

It has meant that crucial visa arrangements have been jeopardized, making it harder for Maldivians to travel abroad.

And yet the coup government turns deeper inwards and shuns the wider world.

We were a beacon of hope.

We are no longer a leading voice in the climate change debate.

We are less concerned about widespread human rights abuse in Syria and Egypt.

We have once again become just another member state.

It is high time that this insular mentality is dropped, and that we reapply for our old job of being a responsible international citizen.

We pledge to repair our damaged relations with the wider world.

We pledge to work with our international partners to uphold human rights and establish a justice system that our citizens can have confidence in.

We pledge to carry on the increase in inward investment and outward trade to bring greater prosperity to our people.

We pledge to, once again, become a responsible member of the global community of nations.

An MDP government will reset important bilateral relations including those with our neighbours. South Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. But it needs strong partnerships and strong leadership.

We will not seek to play one country against the other, but rather, maintain a balanced network of bilateral ties.

We were proud to host the SAARC Summit in 2011 and proposed the establishment of a regional transport link. But we greatly regret the fact that the coup meant that Maldives was not able to take advantage of its position as chair of SAARC to make our proposals a reality.

We will continue our advocacy of a two-state solution to the Middle-East crisis.

We will strive hard to push forward our human rights agenda. We successfully completed the Universal Periodic Review process between November 2010 and March 2011 and accepted over 100 recommendations. But of course, as the tragic events since the coup have shown, much more needs to be done to embed these values in our society.

The next MDP government will redouble our efforts to implement our international human rights commitments and to end the culture of impunity that is now so prevalent in the Maldives.

We will work with our international partners to reform crucial institutions such as the police, the military and the judiciary.

The actions of the Waheed regime have frightened away foreign investors. We will slowly, but surely, regain their confidence by strengthening our rule of law and respecting commercial contracts.

Our diplomatic missions will be encouraged to seek commercial opportunities from a diverse range of partners. This will be crucial to support our policy of economic diversification in areas such as mid-range tourism through guesthouses, as well as mariculture and agriculture projects.

Part of this effort will be to integrate Maldives and its people into the global village by promoting visa agreements, educational opportunities abroad and cultural exchanges.

An MDP government will work hard to solve global problems through multilateral institutions. We are proud of the role we played in reforming the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, to make it more proactive in holding perpetrators accountable.

It is no secret that we were extremely disappointed by the outcome of CoNI. But we will continue to engage with CMAG to ensure events that took place in the Maldives are not repeated elsewhere.

MDP will return climate change to the centre of Maldives foreign policy. It will return to its pragmatic approach of leading by example – by getting our carbon neutrality back on track. Maldives will once again lead at the UNFCCC, and will redouble its domestic efforts on building a more climate resilient and sustainable Maldives.

We thought democracy and human rights were here to stay simply because we had free elections and a new constitution. We were wrong. No country in the world has a perfect democracy. It takes constant effort. For that, we need strong institutions, an independent judiciary, good laws, and an active and vigilant civil society.

And we need the assistance of our partners to build these essential blocks of our country.

The flame of liberty and hope that once burned brightly has quickly dimmed to nothing more than a few embers. On the 7th of September we once again have the opportunity to rekindle this flame by having an elected government with a legitimate mandate from the people.

We need your assistance to ensure that these elections are free and fair, and that there will be a peaceful transfer of power once again to whomever emerges successful at the polls.
We urge you to be vigilant and welcome your engagement during this crucial time, as we in the Maldives, once again, find ourselves at the cross roads of history.

Five years ago we pledged to take our citizens to Another Maldives where they would enjoy freedom, prosperity and dignity. That journey was brutally cut short, but not before we delivered on important reforms domestically, and established ourselves as a responsible and globally connected nation.

We have been tortured. We have been beaten up. We have been threatened.
Yet, we continue to seek strength from one another.

Our strength has always been the people of the Maldives.

Our hope lies with the people.

Today, as we renew that promise, I am confident that brighter days are once again around the corner.

It has given me great pleasure to spend this time with you here today and share with you the foreign policy priorities of a re-elected MDP government.

Thank you very much.


Comment: The guesthouse enterprise

The following is a translation of an article by former President Mohamed Nasheed, written ahead of a public forum on Maafushi in South Male’ Atoll, to discuss the future of mid-market guesthouse tourism in the Maldives. It first appeared on Buzzmaldives.

What the average Maldivian wants is basic. We want a way to increase our income. We want to broaden our narrow financial horizons through development.

It is not that we lack this capacity to develop. We have plentiful natural resources. If we settle for the current economic status quo, believing that what we have now is the limit to what we are entitled to, it would mean that our true wealth potential remains untapped.

What the Maldivian Democratic Party and I have always pointed out is this basic fact: we want to develop. To upgrade beyond the current status quo. The ordinary Maldivian’s complaint is that of poverty, of financial anxiety. We want a wallet with the wads; we want to realise that financial progress is possible.

The political office is a place that should offer solutions to these complaints. This is its responsibility and obligation.

The most profitable industry in the Maldives is tourism. The country has ample natural resources that favour this. Maldivians have long since demonstrated the capacity, the insight and aptitude to manage this industry. In the last 40 years, Maldivian tourism has ballooned into a billion-dollar industry.

In those four decades, we have sold two types of tourism-related services: resort facilities and live-aboard facilities. According to industry experts, these two particular trades rake up [annual] invoices of up to three billion US dollars.

What we advocate through the MDP is that Maldivians deserve far more than this three billion. We could incorporate another facet in the tourist industry, one that would benefit a larger proportion of Maldivians: the venture towards guesthouses.

‘Guesthouses’, in this context means providing vacation facilities to tourists in the Maldivian inhabited islands. The main factors that entice tourists to our isles are its climate and its natural exquisiteness. And it is not just the desert islands that possess these qualities. The entire country is blessed with the same beauty and climate. Providing guesthouse services to tourists from inhabited islands would be no less profitable than resort islands, because the capital costs are lower for the former. While it costs about US$300,000 to create a bed in a resort, we claim it would not cost even US$10,000 per bed in a guesthouse business.

Until the MDP government came to power in 2008, Maldivians weren’t permitted to operate guesthouses on inhabited islands. It was mentioned in the amendments that were brought to the Tourism Act in January that year, but, without the regulations for the actual implementation under the Act in place, the avenues for implementing these businesses remained closed. Under MDP advocation, attempts were made to provide this choice for guesthouse businesses.

During the 16th People’s Majilis, in July 2008, the member for Male’, MP Mohamed Shihab, submitted a resolution to allow guesthouse services in inhabited islands. The resolution was passed with a Majilis majority. Again, due to there being no regulations, the avenues still remained shut.

During the rule of ‘the beloved leader’ Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), it was not the government alone who vocalised against guesthouses in inhabited islands. It was the resort owners as well. The sentiment behind this insinuated that such a trade would be detrimental to the culture, lifestyle and the religious values of Maldivians. The religious Adhaalath Party’s founding further cemented this line of reasoning.

To this day, PPM, Adhaalath, and resort-owner Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhoree Party continue their palaver against guesthouse businesses along the same lines.

Maldivians wish for progress. They do not wish to be bogged down in antiquity. If our lifestyles and traditions can only be vivified by keeping the country in this century-old mold, the development that we yearn for would be impossible.

Having tourists on inhabited islands is not going to result in the community facing any additional detrimental effects that do not already exist. On the contrary, having tourists will empower the islanders to overcome whatever objectionable issues that they may face. Maldivians will have to open their eyes to outside cultures, and allow for the increase in opportunities for development. In addition to direct employment and income generated by guesthouses, it will also boost other existing island businesses.

The demand for agriculture and fishing will increase as will the demand for island cafes and restaurants. It will pave the way for laundry services, and bakeries. The transport system will improve. Carpentry and woodwork services will progress. There will be an impetus for the general businesses on the islands.

For a larger proportion of Maldivians to benefit from the tourist industry, a set-up must be established that involves as many Maldivians in the tourist industry as possible. Building a resort is a costly affair. To obtain the hefty capital to develop a resort is a task that is next to impossible for those of us who are not big businessmen. Up to today, there are only about 50 people who directly profit from Maldivian resorts.

According to guesthouse operators, the cost for setting one up is less than what is needed for building a large dhoni. It only takes about two to three million rufiya to construct a four to five bedroom house. A great number of businessmen in inhabited islands are capable of providing this level of investment.

This much is evident from the boats, and the large mansions they have built. Along with them, there are so many people, in Male’ itself, who are capable of investing two to four million rufiya in small businesses.

Permission to operate guesthouses in inhabited islands for the Maldives was only granted as 2009 was ending. In 2010, there were 479 beds in 23 guesthouses. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, guesthouses increased at the rate of two to three guesthouses every month. Currently, there are 1117 beds in 76 guesthouses. The amount of Maldives operating guesthouses is increasing at a fairly rapid rate. Already the proportion of guesthouse operators is catching up to that of resort owners. In three years, there can be more than two thousand guesthouses in the Maldives increasing the amount of tourists coming into the Maldives twofold.

The tourists who come to guesthouses in the Maldives are slightly lower-end travellers, those whose daily budgets hover around the US$100 mark. The guesthouses in the Maldives are priced in similar manner, their rates usually not exceeding US$100. According to related research, there is a large market for this particular range of tourists, around the region in India, as well as in Europe and China.

Consider Maafushi in Male’ Atoll. There are currently 118 beds in 16 guesthouses. According to guesthouse owners, the occupancy rate at these guesthouses have maintained itself at over 70 percent.

Consider Maafushee Dhon Manik. A man I’ve known since childhood (since deceased) leaving behind five children. One of his children opened his first guesthouse in 2010. Since then, he has opened one every year. It has to be said now, that one of Maafushee Dhon Manik’s children is a DRP councilor, which warrants pointing out to refute the claim that these opportunities are available to only MDP members.

A large part of my deceased friend’s life was spent working at resorts, working as a foreman before he got sick. Dhon Manik and his children all understand the business of tourism. Now they are guesthouse owners. There are so many Dhon Maniks in the Maldives. And so many of his sons.

MDP’s forecast is to increase, twofold, the amount of tourists coming to the Maldives, by offering loans and training opportunities for potential business operators, combined with government aided marketing of this particular kind of tourism.

There are currently 22,889 tourist beds in operation in the Maldives. Considering the high costs for resort capital, to increase the amount of beds by 25,000 will take a lot of time. Even now there are more than 100 islands leased for resort development. It is difficult to estimate how long it will take for them to begin operating services. At the most, tourist resorts increase at only at the rate of two or three resorts annually.

To increase guesthouse beds to 25,000 will cost a maximum of US$250 million. If we are to spread this over five years, this is an amount the government could certainly guarantee. In order to develop the guesthouse industry, the basic facilities in inhabited islands should also be improved, such as water, sewerage and electricity. Likewise, health and waste disposal facilities. Roads and transport facilities. Airports, harbours and ferry terminals. Especially, developing skills and education.

The 2009 National development plan was compiled in a manner that paves the way for the guesthouse industry. God willing, in 2013, during my new term in office, the amount of tourist beds in the Maldives will increase twofold. Productivity will increase, along with the income for the citizen and the state. Financial horizons will broaden. The Maldivian island will develop. We will reach the destination of ‘the other Maldives’.

Mohamed Nasheed is the former President of the Maldives and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate in the 2013 elections.

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