Comment: One captain, one course

These past weeks’ demonstrations, protests, and proclamations continually evoke the principle that constitutional powers must be separated, but conveniently ignore the checks and balances which are meant to be inherent to any functional democracy.

We have had one constitutional crisis after another precisely because our system is broken. The checks don’t work and our system is anything but balanced. The opposition claims the executive is all powerful, while the ruling party claims that both the legislature and the judiciary are trying to hijack the government. The only way forward is through leveling the playing field. I propose we do this in two ways; implementing a real power of veto and meeting our constitutional obligations regarding the judiciary.

At Democracy’s Doorstep

It is self-evident that the democracy we fought for against 30 years of tyranny has not come to pass. In November of 2008, we merely started the next leg of a voyage that pioneers like the President and Vice President started two decades earlier.

In that moment, it was fitting that they embarked on this next leg together. And though much hailed as the fruition of hopes and dreams for democracy, what we failed to grasp is that the journey was not yet complete. The legislature, when controlled by a hostile opposition can bring the state to a standstill, while the judiciary remains with strong political bias and an ethos that should have ended when the middle ages did.

Democracy is meant to function with representation from the people. The people choose a president and a plan for five years, and while the implementation of that plan should be vetted through the legislature and the rule of law safeguarded by the judicature, neither of the two subsidiary bodies are supposed to take the helm of the country. A ship is supposed to have one captain, who is advised and guided, but whose direction and vision guides the course that the ship takes.

The reason why we have a presidential system is because we have the right to choose the vision to guide our nation. We choose our President and Vice President as they are directly elected by us. We choose our path for five years.

But say they both, God forbid, die tomorrow. Our Speaker becomes interim President till elections are held. In parliamentary systems, those who control parliament head government as well, and they do fine – right?

Wrong. If the Speaker led government, we would have a man who represents only 0.2 percent of the voting population (having won his seat with a total of 305 votes). A delightfully clearheaded and capable man though he is, he would not represent the people. We would not have a say in how our country should progress.

In 2008, when we voted, we had our say. Fine, a bunch of people voted against the former President, rather than for this one – but that is one of the growing pains of overcoming dictatorship. We chose this path, so it is time we stopped institutional mechanisms from hindering it.

We stand here at democracy’s doorstep, afraid to cross the threshold because of our authoritarian past. But the point of government is not to constantly bicker and make governing impossible, but rather to provide for those who elected you to power – not through handouts but rather through policy that changes things rather than causes stagnation.

The Point of Majlis

All the Majlis has done for the last three years is to find ways to cause stagnation rather than governance. The opposition believes that every government policy is wrong and that instead of dialogue, the only avenue available is to block policy. It is not about helping the people – it is about making sure the government fails.

That is not the way a government is supposed to function. Apart from the fact that our newly elected Majlis members have no resources, guidance, or staff to assist them – we are also encumbered by a significant institutional failing: the President has no veto.

When the President sends a bill back to Parliament because it is either inconsistent with his vision, or because it may be damaging to the people, it is but a symbolic gesture in our country. In other nations, such an action can only be overturned by a stronger majority (such as two-thirds).

Yet in the Maldives, a simple majority can force a bill through. A simple majority can hijack government and change the course of our ship. This is not the way it was meant to be. Because of the electoral system by which our parliamentarians are chosen, and because of the other factors that influence parliamentary functions, that simple majority can never equal the weight of the office of the President. To change our course and to change the direction which our country follows, we must empower our president with the authority to stand against the tyranny of a minority, and only ever let the will of the majority override the vision we chose.

An Independent Judiciary

Yet a nation cannot function, unless the rule of law is safeguarded. We worked long and hard to ensure that the judiciary would be one that was independent and free from political and social bias. There is but one mechanism to keep the judiciary accountable; the Judicial Services Commission. Alas, this mechanism has failed. It was tasked with thinning the herd, with vetting our judges, and with maintaining some level of dignity on the Maldivian bench. As described by Dr Azra Naseem, we had our moment to hold the judiciary to some standard, and we collectively dropped the ball.

The constitution clearly empowers this commission to take disciplinary action, including dismissal proceedings, against judges for incompetence or gross misconduct. And yet, when they finally get around to finding that Abdulla Mohamed failed to comply with the required standard of conduct, on the 26th of November 2011, the same judge managed to have a court order issued preventing further proceedings. The one body charged with keeping our courts in check has proven itself powerless to fulfill its constitutional mandate.

Here, we have a judge whom most agree is corrupt – or at the very least unfit to sit in so high an office; we have a judge who is blatantly politically biased and admits as much on national television; we have a judge who has released criminals including rapists and drug dealers and who has been seen cavorting with defendants after his rulings; and yet we as a nation and a people are powerless to remove him from the office which he so flagrantly disgraces. Can there be a constitutional failing that is more evident than the one embodied in this man?

A Constitutional Amendment

Our path and our national progression are being hindered by mechanisms that do not function. We have a President determined to follow through on the promises he made when elected; to provide housing, healthcare, transportation, less drug abuse and a better standard of living. Yet even basic policies are refuted, not by the merit of the program, but rather by the party which proposed it. And now there are few avenues that are open to move forward. We need to move beyond stagnation as a policy for politics. We need to change the game. There is but one captain of this ship. For five years, we choose one captain, one direction and one path. In 2013 the path might change, but before that happens – let fix these mechanisms. Let’s become the democracy we were always meant to be.

www.jswaheed.com

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 ed[email protected]

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Comment: Clearly rejected

Among the wheeling and dealings we’ve seen in the Majlis, the issue of Cabinet Ministers has been one of the most convoluted and silly arguments we’ve seen.

Can the Cabinet Ministers be questioned? Can’t they be accepted or rejected together? Are they just nominated or actually appointed? And therefore once chosen by the President, are they Ministers or Ministers-in-waiting? And in what capacity are they beholden to the Majlis?

Within two days the Supreme Court will decide on these questions. In two days, hopefully the drama will end, rather than begin anew.

Why are they going to court?

The Majlis has rejected seven Cabinet Ministers. MDP does not like this and would like all of their Ministers to keep their portfolios. Was approval necessary? Yes. Can the Majlis reject a Cabinet member without a vote of no confidence? Yes, but only when the President asks for their approval and acceptance of that appointment.

Nowhere is it written in the constitution that there is only one way to remove a Cabinet Minister, as Reeko Moosa suggests.

Article 101 of the Constitution states that a vote of no confidence is possible, but it does not say that a vote of no confidence is the only way to remove a Minister. There are in fact two ways: 1) A vote of no confidence; or 2) A rejection when appointed.

Once appointed, s/he is a Minister

The opposition claims that individuals were nominated rather than appointed. They claim that the President can choose people, and that those people would only become Ministers once they have approval. This is false.

The President does not nominate, he appoints. The moment those individuals take their oath by either the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or his representative, those individuals become Ministers of the Cabinet of the Republic of the Maldives as per Article 131 of the Constitution.

Article 131 states: ‘A member of the cabinet shall assume office upon taking and subscribing, before the Chief Justice or his Designate, the oath of office.’

The only thing that might be left up to debate is whether the Chief Justice could choose to simply not provide himself or his representative to swear the appointees in, and refuse to do so until each individual had parliamentary approval.

But in this case, Abdullah Saeed (Chief Justice at the time) did not do so. If you think back, though, you will remember that the cabinet was re-sworn at the same time that the MNDF had locked up the Supreme/High Courts and taken away the key. Not surprisingly, after Abdullah Saeed had sent his representative to swear in the cabinet he was given back the key to his office.

Nonetheless, once these individuals were sworn in, they were fully fledged Ministers, with every power, right, authority, and responsibility afforded them. All talk claiming they were just acting as ministers is just silliness. But if these people are already Ministers, do they still need approval? Isn’t it just a formality?

Approval or rejection necessary

Article 129C and D of the Constitution state:

C. Except for the Vice President, the President must receive the approval of the People’s Majlis for all appointments to the cabinet.

D. The President shall submit to the People’s Majlis, within seven days of making appointments to the Cabinet, the names of the appointees to the Cabinet for approval to the People’s Majlis.

Article 129C clearly states that the President “must receive approval” of the Majlis. Therefore, if any Cabinet Minister is rejected, then they are no longer Ministers of the cabinet. The only way they can continue is if the President swears them in again, where they will then have seven days before the President is required to send their names to the Majlis for a second time.

I do not believe there is any impediment to repeating this as many times as the President wants. Though I’m sure rejection after rejection by the Majlis would appear a complete farce in the eyes of the public.

Together or one by one

As to the issue of whether the cabinet should be approved together or individually, that is completely up to the preference of the Majlis Members. It is a tiny insignificant point that the constitution makes no reference to.

MDP thought there would be a bigger chance to get everyone approved if they are lumped together, because then DRP could be made to look stubborn and completely against all betterment of the nation if all of the cabinet members were wholly rejected.

One usually expects the entire cabinet to come to approval only once in a presidential term. It was assumed that after the approval of the entire cabinet, if a minister was dismissed, it would be done on a case by case basis.

But alas, that was not how things went down in this scenario. In this case, there is another instance which was particularly odd as well in the issue around whether Minister’s couldn’t be questioned.

Questioning Ministers

So, can a Minister be questioned? Of course, but only about the job at hand.

The opposition wanted to evaluate and judge each Minister before giving their approval. They claimed that a summons for this purpose required Ministers to come.

This is false. Ministers are only required to attend the Majlis for questions regarding their duties and responsibilities – not their qualification. In fact, under Article 98 of the Constitution, they can question any head of any government office if they so chose to. To answer falsely, or withhold information would directly violate the constitution.

The Supreme Court agreed with this evaluation in stating at the article in the Majlis rules of procedure that required their presence to judge their qualifications was outside of the constitution.

The bottom line and 2011 budget

The seven Ministers who were rejected by parliament remain rejected. However, until that rejection was decided by a vote of parliament, they were proper Ministers.

They were therefore required to answer summons that related to their job, but not to summons to simply scrutinize them on their qualifications.

The only way for the President to have Ali Hashim, former Finance Minister, present the budget is to reappoint him and swear him in. I believe Ali Hashim is one of our most capable Ministers, and if not for being caught in the crosshairs of political maneuvering, his position would not be in question.

It is a shame and a travesty that this issue is dominating so much of the public’s time and that these Ministers are losing their livelihoods over it. It is a shame that so many other bills that need passing, like those on drugs, evidence, and the penal code are left on the sidelines while we quibble about Ministerial portfolios.

While I have my own claim and object to GIP (Gaumee Itthihaad Party) not receiving its three cabinet portfolios in Economic Development, Education, and Fisheries as was understood in the MDP Itthihaad Coalition agreement, I still do not condone spending time on this issue when so many more desperate issues are waiting to be addressed.

There are procedures for cabinet appointments that should have been followed. There once was a clear understanding of how to go about all of this. But instead of it being a simple and day long matter, it has led our nation to constitutional crisis. Instead of following procedure we all now look at the constitution from a thousand different angles and wrest every type of meaning we can from every line before proceeding in the way most beneficial to us.

I am not a government apologist trying to hide constitutional violations, nor an opposition sympathizer trying to topple the government. I’m just trying to make sense of a now convoluted issue.

I pray that the Supreme Court protects the constitution and laws it was created to uphold and that their life time tenures ensures justice free of political sway and maneuvering.

I pray that we can move forward from this upcoming Supreme Court decision and find a way to create a whole government dedicated to the MDP Itthihaad manifesto confirmed two years ago.

I pray our conscience prevails and sanity finally reigns.

Note: Article 87 states:

A. Unless otherwise provided in this Constitution; all decisions made by the People’s Majlis shall be decided by a majority of the votes of members present and voting (Approval or rejection of Cabinet Ministers is done this way as it is not mentioned anywhere else.

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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]

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Comment: Pigeons and slaves

Our city is not an easy place in which to live. Generally more expensive than any other capital in the region, Male’ is crowded beyond capacity. A thousand motorcycles line every road, cars without places to park at every turn, and the smog created by both suffocating any who dare to walk. Not only are our sidewalks too small, but our homes too overstuffed. Electricity, water, food; the list goes on and on.

And when it all just gets to be too much, we escape to where we can. The Artificial Beach, Jumhooree Maidhan, anywhere to get some space. Yet as I walk along stone pavement to those few clearings we have, I turn my head and look around and I do not see my countrymen. I do not see my people taking respite. As many pigeons as I see in my Republican Square, can I see foreigners crowding my spaces as well. In every direction that I turn, I am alienated in a space that is mine.

In my youth I would want to banish these usurpers. I would want these spaces cordoned off so that a National Identity Card would be required to enter this bare ground, these sanctuaries. Pigeons and foreigners both, I wanted to get rid of them. I wanted my spaces back. We deal with constant societal tension and neglect, and to demand a space for the release of such tension was my right. I ignored the tug at the back of my mind calling these thoughts racist, and refused to accept the dignity of others over the xenophobic tendencies which seem to run through my veins. But now I look back and have to ask: Is it really true? Is such constant and persistent (maybe even mild in some instances, but still ever-present) hatred so deeply rooted within our nation?

I was offended through my national pride that our national places were not ours anymore.

But maybe national pride is supposed to be more than outward patriotism. Maybe it’s working towards getting jobs for the 50 percent of youth who are without them. Maybe it’s addressing the government problems so that there are fewer foreign workers and no illegal aliens. It may even be ensuring those who remain are treated with respect and dignity. Should this not be part of our national pride? Should not all human dignity be part of our patriotism and duty?

Understanding why

But to move beyond our annoyance at them for being here and the illusion that it is a necessary annoyance, we must come to understanding.

Why are there workers in the country?

Why are they treated badly?

Why are there so many illegal aliens?

Why are more workers continually being brought in spite of this?

And how do we fix it?

Social Negligence

These foreign workers are here because there is a demand. Everything a Maldivian can do, a foreigner can do cheaper. Why can they do it cheaper? Not because they are more capable, or that all Maldivians are inherently lazy, but for the very reason they are treated badly.

They are not provided adequate housing, or basic needs such as sustenance. And when the cost going into them is so little, they can afford to offer themselves cheaply as it is their only means to survival. Fundamental human rights and levels of comfort we would demand as a basic need is so far beyond them that it is not their immediate concern. As the defenders and apologists of dictators the world over often say: What starving man thinks of rights?

But in this case we have collectively robbed them of their rights. Of their very human dignity. These men and women are brought here to live in squalid conditions and we allow it because someone has to do the job. So we justify injustice and go about our daily lives.

Why is it that people do not see, that if we just raise their basic standards of living to something that is acceptable to us, we would be able to encourage more Maldivians to enter their workforce as well? Why is it that we refuse to put a minimum wage standard for foreigners when we fought so hard to have it applied to ourselves? Why is it that even the foreign labourers that were employed by the government were only paid $50 USD a month up until recent years when it was increased to a $100 USD?

If we place a reasonable minimum wage, require basic necessities such as housing, bedding, water (to drink and wash), and food to be provided to those labourers brought in, then we even the playing field. Maldivians will be able to be competitive. As someone who owns a share in a construction company, I refuse the excuse that this will bankrupt our companies. I refuse the excuse that it is fiscally unviable. And I refuse any other excuse that would put basic human dignity and rights beyond one’s reach.

Government Negligence

The reason why there are so many illegal aliens is because people in the government (previous and current, legislative and executive) have not cared to address the situation properly. They had other more important matters, vested interests, and always the threat from the entire business community to contend with. Why fix a system that is not really broken? After all, the businesses benefit from cheap labour and a couple illegals here or there only means they will be even cheaper to hire.

While this is the reasoning behind the reality, the practical reason why illegal alien growth persists is mostly due to the quota system.

But let me explain the entire procedure first: If you want to bring a labourer, your business has to be licensed by the Ministry of Economic Development. Then you have to apply to the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Labour, explaining the projects you have and why you need the labour to begin with. This Ministry then issues you a quota of workers you can bring in after making a half-hearted attempt at hiring Maldivians you don’t really want to deal with.

When you want to bring in your labourers, you contact a broker and get the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Labour to issue you your work permits for these people. These work permits are then shown to the Immigration Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs and visas are issued on arrival.

The quota system is slightly ridiculous for two reasons.

Firstly, as former Bangladeshi Ambassador Professor Selina Mohsin mentioned, many quotas are created with inadequate proposals and flimsy justification for the number of people needed. Excess people are then loaned out to other companies.

Secondly, conditions are so bad for workers, that when they run away, the Ministry simply reissues the company who lost them with new work permits so that they can still have their quota of people.

If we ignore the first issue as easily rectifiable with greater vigilance, we’re left with the second problem. If a company loses their employees, they are forced to put out an advertisement showing who they lost. But this still means that they are left without enough labour to complete their project. So the Ministry feels obligated to issue them new work permits without so much as a slap on the wrist, essentially allowing even more people into the country without addressing those already here.  The Immigration Department then has no choice but to offer visas to whomever new work permits are issued to.

No government administration has tried to penalise companies for losing people or for providing such inadequate housing and provision for employees. The government has not been active in trying to guarantee the rights of foreign workers, and there has been no thought of creating requirements of minimum wages, clean bedding, water for washing, and suitable sustenance for foreigners. Parliament and the Ministries have taken very little action.

The illegal hordes

The Labour Ministry’s solution was to document illegal aliens, and when people ran away from hostile work environments, they would make those here illegally take the runaway’s place. The business community revolted and we have seen little implementation of this practice since its inception.

The conditions are so bad that many would choose homelessness and destitution, begging for any work that is available so that they can survive. Many become runners for the local drug dealers and spend their days delivering these products of sin. Those who are lucky find Maldivian wives, who (as one person told me) then “feed them, shelter them, and massage their feet.”

Many who do this work for a while and make enough to return to their families in their places of origin, leaving their Maldivian wives without much recourse. This exploitation of Maldivian women caused the Immigration Department to enact regulations that ensure foreigners could provide for themselves and would not be leeches to their Maldivian partners.

But still more foreigners flee from their Maldivian masters and become illegal aliens in this country. And because they flee we bring in more and more people. Last month alone, over two thousand foreign labourers were brought into the country. At this rate, the foreign population in the Maldives will rival our own within our life time (sooner if we take into account our declining birthrate).

Dignity

To deny a person basic needs, to make him dependent, but also desperate to get away is to make that man a slave.

That what we have in this country is referred to only as human trafficking not outright slave trade is something the government should be grateful for.

We need to change and be the instruments of that change. We need to pass legislation holding companies accountable. We need to respect foreigners’ basic right to human dignity, and put forward a minimum wage that will level the playing field between Maldivians and foreigners.

When more of us work side by side with them, we will have less hostility to those who are in our spaces. What is more, fewer of them will be there, and we will be content to share something that is ours, because we will not feel overwhelmed and isolated.

National dignity and pride can only be achieved when we uphold the dignity of all of those within our borders. When we recognise our prejudices and expunge our xenophobia as something unworthy and distasteful.

http://jswaheed.com

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Comment: Cancer in our heart

With my own ears, I’ve heard more than one Maldivian long for death’s release. And the chills that ran down my spine the first time I heard it reside in me still, slowly corroding my hope for a better national future.

Recently – amidst the political turmoil that has dominated everyone’s consciousness – there was a spectacular suicide that captured us for the briefest of moments. A wayward youth, giving in to his inner turmoil, flung himself from the air traffic control tower – departing this world, not by meeting the ground below, but rather by meeting a hangman’s noose. His body left dangling, silently screaming his frustration and his surrender.

Did the abuse he endured in life end with his death? Was the respect and dignity he so desired afforded him after he passed from this world? No.

Accused of apostasy, people have called him a showoff for his ever-so-public last testament. A lunatic. Someone unworthy of sympathy. They have taunted him and scarred his memory and even gone to such as extent as to suggest that he should not be given his due burial rights. That he was not God’s creature and that his alleged disbelief in God meant he is somehow less than human.

With this poor soul, we have failed. Failed in offering alternatives to troubled youth. Failed in addressing the intolerance in our society. And we have failed in our duties as human beings.

Social Negligence

As a nation we have developed a culture of neglect. While being among the nosiest of peoples, constantly sticking our noses where they don’t belong, we have not taken the next step: actually caring about those around us and the plight of others.

The social ills we face are greater than I have seen in any other non-war-torn nation. Soaring sexual and drug abuse rates have become the widely accepted bane of our society. And those who are left with significant psychological damage are left without avenues for help. Those who have entered into depression, who feel their very soul being eaten away, and who no longer believe in the value of their lives, have no avenue for help. While physical abuses have only just started to be addressed, mental abuses of all denominations have been forgotten.

This culture of neglect must end. We have to encourage more therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists to come to this country. We have to convince government and private institutions that we cannot heal our nation if the souls of our nation remain in tatters. And we cannot continue to pretend that the local Imam is all knowing and qualified to deal with all manner of mental problems.

Ideologies of Intolerance

We especially have to stop pretending that neo-salafi ideologies based in the Hanbali school of Islamic Jurisprudence are competent enough to deal with this world’s problems and issues. I believe Islamic counseling has a place in our society; that it helps bring people fulfillment and that it is an integral (not primary) part of efforts such as drug counseling. However, the recent global trend towards the propagation of neo-salafi ideologies is something I cannot accept.

Not only is neo-salafism fundamentally against Maldivian culture and heritage, it is also the most intolerant of all the classical Islamic schools of jurisprudence. It does not allow the scholars of this ideology to relate to victims of mental abuse. It does not allow for varying thoughts to exist, which is necessary to help in the process of healing. Instead, this ideology calls for the strict imposition of their beliefs, wiping out whatever was there before – removing all traces of the person who once existed.

Would be Saviors

They see all the world as sinners, and themselves as the would be saviors of our nation. The salafis and all their ilk would save our society from all of our ills. They will bring us to heaven’s gate and lead us hand and foot into the Creator’s embrace, with never a moment’s consideration that such action would leave ours meaningless.

“We can talk about there being no compulsion in religion till we lose our voices, but conservatives will not care, and this will not lessen the number women being abused, or the number of atrocities being committed in our religion’s name,” Tariq Ramadan, Islamic scholar at Oxford University and grandson of the Islamic Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Bana, told me at a conference on Islam and democracy in April.

I do not believe in secularism in the Maldives. But I do not accept neo-salafism as the only answer to it.

The Result of Conservatism

This poor soul, Ismail Mohamed Didi, was pushed to the edge as a result of the conservative ideologies present in our society. Those who knew him well have all attested that he was “a nice guy” who did not impose his atheism in others. The problem was that some who knew of his beliefs were offended by the fact that he had them to begin with, hence the official complaint and investigation. It is pure and simple: blatant intolerance is surpassing our need to have love for our fellow Maldivians.

Maldivians are becoming fanatical in their beliefs and the world has started to notice. We are importing Saudi-based neo-salafi ideologies rooted in the Hanbali School of Islamic jurisprudence. Out of the 1.5 billion Muslims on earth, only 10 percent of the Islamic world agrees with this interpretation. An interpretation, mind you, which refuses to accept the validity of any of the other classical forms of Islamic jurisprudence.

Religion is not something you wear on your sleeve, or with a long beard or Arabian dress. The growing norm in Maldivian culture is a complete eradication of it, because today in Maldives to be a better Muslim, you need to be a better Arab. Forget Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Egypt, because those are apparently not real Muslims. They are not educated enough. And even though many of their scholars have a lifetime of learning behind them, they do not see the truth.

Really?

Our Choice

Social negligence, which has existed for time immemorial, mixed with the newly institutionalised ideologies of intolerance have proven to be in this instance a fatal concoction. And this darkness has spread through our nation.

We all have a choice to make. We either chose to stand in the light, or to recede further into darkness. We each need to take responsibility for our actions and inaction. We each need to take responsibility for our society and the ills we see in it. We need to stand up for what is right; turning away from ignorance, hatred, intolerance and complete societal degradation. It starts with each and every one of us.

http://jswaheed.com

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]

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Comment: Toothless Civil Society

When a people’s liberties are suspended whenever there is an emergency, there is a word for that: dictatorship. There is a line between democracy and dictatorship – and over the course of the last week we came dangerously close to stepping over it.

Not necessarily because of the President’s actions, the incarcerations, or the now common place parliamentary upheaval, but because those who should have spoken out remained silent.

Yes, you in the civil society need to raise your voices. Raise your voices to demand explanations, protest abuses, and safeguard the right to criticise a sitting government.

Instead of raised voices, however, we have only heard silence. And this started from the moment this affair began. The President’s office holds a press conference where the entire cabinet resigns, the President asserts his supreme authority to find justice, and what does the media say? Do they question the legitimacy of the action? Do they ask what this will mean for the peace in this nation? Or even whether the government expects demonstrations in retaliation and how the President (now the only civilian authority over the police and army) will respond?

No. They stay silent. Well, practically silent. The hardest hitting question was “does this mean your government is a failure?”

Really? Good job guys.

But who can blame the fledgling media groups in this nation. Unaccustomed to true democracy, they are not the ones who are directly tasked with protecting and asserting our democratic rights and ensuring this transition from autocracy to democracy actually works out. Who does this benevolent task fall to?

Civil Society

Organisations such as Transparency International, Democracy House, Open Society Association, and the newly renamed Maldivian Democracy Network all claim to safe guard democracy.

To work for its betterment – and yet civil society remained silent. Even Jamiyathul Salaf, who seem to have religious edicts about everything, stayed silent.

We have seen allegations of corruption first leveled by the executive branch against the legislative branch and then visa versa. We have not only seen wire-tapping where private conversations were recorded without warrants and outside of due process, but also seen them leaked to the public, indicating that civilian/partisan individuals had access to them.

We are witnessing a power struggle between executive and legislative branches with neither side realizing that they are both part of one government. And we see a judiciary that is caught in the middle and being accused of being susceptible to political influence.

We see the army working side by side with the police in the capital, outside of their mandate. We see all the things that would be any democracy fighter’s dream. The perfect excuse for a civil society group to put their two cents in, allowing them to claim they are meeting their own mandates. But instead we have silence and even some amount of fear.

The Fray

Civil society seems to be afraid of jumping into the fray. Of being labeled as being inclined towards one political party or another. Instead they give no comment and it is not hard for one to come up with excuses for why they should not comment at all.

Firstly, everyone must realise that this is a highly charged political atmosphere where any statement at all will be seen as aligning with one group or another.

Secondly, no formal charges have been brought against the three Members of Parliament (MPs) who have been detained. Instead, all that we have seen is allegations being flung about – none of which are easy to comment on.

And finally the questions: can’t there be levels to democracy? Where we move gradually towards it? After all, have any laws actually been broken?

The Other Side

The argument could be made however, that one cannot wait to evaluate. That civil society organizations are supposed to have principles and ideals that they adhere to above all others. And unlike political parties who can take time to organize, reflect, and adjust their values – civil society act on the basis of whether their values have been violated or not.

Does the MNDF’s involvement in everything that transpired adhere to their values? Was it okay for the MNDF to send a letter explaining why MPs could not go to Parliament in clear violation of their constitutional rights?

Was there any risk assessment that was done? And is there any level of alertness that we should be on? Do they have any questions about people’s conversations being tapped? Who else is being targeted? How does this feud between the executive and legislative affect the people? And who is responsible for failed policies?

My point is not that the executive branch has acted inappropriately, but rather that they have not been sufficiently grilled by the right people. My point is that civil society is an important part of our democratic transition, and right now they are slacking off.

I’m sure the government could post adequate answers to the questions posed, but my point is that the questions need to be asked in the first place from the right actors.

One Government

And it is also about more than just the executive branch. The civil society is responsible for explaining and helping us to define our government’s role. They are also responsible for reminding us that both legislative and executive branches are part of one government and that the failure of one aspect will make all of it fail.

We are in desperate need of this reminding. I walked out onto my balcony day before yesterday to watch protesters with underwear on their heads, supporting the arrest of our Deputy Speaker of Parliament – Ahmed Nazim.

These are protests that the nation believes is sanctioned by the executive branch. And they had underwear on their heads.

Forget the man for a second, and realize that Nazim is the Deputy Speaker of Parliament. He is third in the line of succession for the Presidency. And while it would be a black mark on our country’s record to have him in this position if he is in fact guilty of all that is accused of him, we cannot assume guilt. We cannot disrespect the office the people of this nation gave him. And we cannot forgo all measures of dignity and justice.

We are one government and should all be held accountable. And you, civil society, need to step up your game and live up to your values. Democracy’s survival is in your hands, and if it fails you will share the blame.

http://www.jswaheed.com

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Comment: I’m not wearing white

Adhaalath and their NGO minions are asking all “those who love Islam” to wear white and meet up at the Artificial Beach today. By all means, go. Women and men, Maldivian citizens – go to this gathering, but do not wear white.

Do not support the degradation of our society, the proposed harm to our economy, and the manipulation of our religion for purely political purpose. Go to the rally, but do not wear white.

The Legislation Will Work

I have now met with over 100 current and recovering addicts in Maldives, and even over the course of this last year it was clear that the costs of alcohol was going through the roof as a result of effective police sweeps. This legislation gives the police the authority and means to ensure that resorts and hotel companies are held accountable for every single drop of alcohol that is brought into this country.

Daily logs, thorough accounting, security cameras and a whole host of other measures are made mandatory by this legislation. The Economic Development Ministry has found an ingenious compromise between progressive development – which will benefit our entire nation – and reinforcing stringent control over alcohol. The very notion that this legislation makes getting alcohol easier, just because it is now on the same island as many of us, is completely ludicrous and neglects every provision stipulated in the legislation.

Alcohol Based Economy

The Maldivian economy cannot be maintained without alcohol. This is the bottom line. Tourism is the largest sector of our economy, accounting for more than 28 per cent of our GDP. Without maintaining the strength of this industry, our nation will fail.

If we look into the industry itself, the three leading nationalities of tourists (Italians, Britons, and Germans) are all groups with traditionally high alcohol consumption rates. But if we go beyond that to look at marketing strategies, every single tour operator emphasizes the idyllic image of lying on a beach with a tropical alcoholic drink by one’s side. This is not unique to the Maldives, but inherent to every single tropical island paradise.

There is no difference between an island resort and a city hotel. The average resort will have around 150 staff members at any given time. 150 people are enough to call an island inhabited, and therefore if alcohol is banned because of Maldivians’ reside on the island, then they should be banned in resorts as well. But while we run around calling for bans on alcohol, we are simultaneously calling for more Maldivians to be employed by the tourism industry – instead of Bangladeshis, Indians, and Nepalis. We have soaring unemployment rates, and if we were to ban Maldivians from the largest economic provider in the country, how will we progress as a nation? How will we progress as a people, while destined to be eternally impoverished?

The answer to these problems is not greater exclusion, but rather inclusion of the Maldivian people in our largest and fastest growing industry. The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade is taking the first steps to ensure that all Maldivians can benefit from tourism. Imagine entire islands whose local economies are vibrant and sustained by a perpetual inflow of tourists. Imagine a nation where 40% poverty rates were a thing of the past and everyone has equal access to education and adequate healthcare. The answer is not more separatism, but rather integration.

Disunity in Government

The best way to develop is through promoting tourism and integrating it with our communities, and this piece of legislation is the first step. However, it has led to great disunity in the government. We have Adhaalath breaking away and GIP (Gaumee Itthihaad Party) being hung out to dry.

In the past few months, Mohamed Rasheed – Minister for Economic Development (and a GIP member) – has come under significant pressure to put forward this legislation. Unlike myself, the GIP general membership’s will is firmly against legalizing these restricted alcohol sales in inhabited islands. However, because GIP has an active policy of supporting the government and being a “good coalition member,” Rasheed was determined on working within the current development framework for the overall betterment of this nation.

If the President’s Office decides to do a turn around, and hang him out to dry – the Government’s most steadfast coalition supporter will be slighted. Though the party has only 4,000 people in its membership – GIP has remained unwavering in its support of the government, even while its center left policy was neglected and its Island and Atoll councilors were sacked for supporting two GIP candidates during the Majlis election. At every step GIP has defended government policy and will continue to do so till the 2013 election.

Adhaalath, on the other hand, is already maneuvering for the Presidential election in 2013. That is what this demonstration is about. It is not about religion, it is not about alcohol. It is only about political gain. While State Minister of Islamic Affairs – Shaheem has said he will not call for anyone’s resignation, Adhaalath has said explicitly that any government that allows for economic growth through alcohol on inhabited islands needs to be removed. As State Minister, Shaheem is actively organizing dissent and a fully fledged demonstration against the government he is supposed to represent.

In spite of the government reaching out to Adhaalath, giving them autonomy, allowing them to lead in all Islamic affairs, and placating conservative trends, Adhaalath is not satisfied. They are not willing to meet the government half way, and are now actively working to destabilize it and flex their political power. This gathering is about both flexing that power and measuring it. It is a traitorous action, and against the developmental framework of this government.

New Islamic Leadership

They have drawn the battle lines, taken action against their coalition partner, and now Adhaalath needs to be expelled from this government. We need new Islamic leadership in the country. One that is moderate, willing to promote dialogue and not repress anyone (yes, even the conservatives). We need to promote balanced view points.

All of our new media regulations require fair and balanced coverage. This principle needs to extend to religion as well so that it is not only the radical conservatives who gain the airwaves.

What do I mean by moderate? Well, someone like President Gayoom. Now, I believe Gayoom’s administration to be responsible for the arrest and torture of eight of my thirteen uncles (as well as countless others), but there is no denying that his version of Islam is far more moderate than the conservatives we have running around.

It is time we stop skirting around the issue of religion. Stop living in fear of speaking our minds. We need to revolutionize the Ministry for Islamic Affairs with moderate sheikhs who will promote greater religious understanding, instead of only Salafi based conservative dogmatism.

As the result of a policy of appeasement during the First and Second World Wars, action came too late for many and millions died. For us, it’s not too late. We need to protect the security and economic prosperity of our nation. We need to save its soul from losing that which makes us inherently Maldivian.

Defiance of Tyranny

It is time to expel them from this government as one would poison from fatal wound. They have shown themselves to be uncompromising, unyielding, and unwilling to work with this government. Adhaalath is using these events and Islamic preaching to try and gain momentum that will bring them a 2013 Presidential victory, or at the very least, a Parliamentary one.

As they strut today, to and fro, albino peacocks on the stage of public Islamic opinion, remember their political motive. Go witness the spectacle, and do not wear white. If you must have white in your clothing, wear another color as well. Wear blue or turquoise. Pink or magenta. Wear green for Islam (though green and white is GIP’s colors). Wear yellow for our government. Black for the death of freedom and justice. Just do not wear white alone.

www.jswaheed.com

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Comment: We think violence is okay

This government clearly has every kind of trouble imaginable when it comes to the religious front. We have extremists, conservatives, suspected missionaries, Taliban freedom fighters, Afghan parliamentarians, jihadists, and zealots of every denomination. So what is the government doing about it?

This government is led by some of the most liberal minds in the country. But that is to their detriment. They cannot make liberal policies because they will be attacked for it. They are constantly threatened, warned, and then shunned by the conservative community. The only reason Adhaalath tolerates MDP is because MDP has fundamentalists like Fareed, and Adhaalath is getting their own ministry as a result of that tolerance.

But that does not seem to be enough. So now, the only way to get these people (meaning conservatives and not just Adhaalath) on our side seems to be to ensure that there is no doubt as to the fact that we will not unduly prosecute them – even if justice demands it.

Appeasement

When the Himandhoo residents attacked the police with knives, batons, and rocks they crossed the line. They chose violence. We cannot tolerate violence in any form. If they had blocked entry and sat in front of the mosque in non-violent protest, then this would be a different story. But that was not the case.

I’ve written about the human rights which must be afforded prisoners and today I want to remind everyone that these rights apply to our police officers as well. We all know members of the armed services, and we know them to be diligent, caring and disciplined citizens. And though there are institutional problems, they deserve to have the support of the people for working towards the lawful protection of the nation. When the Himandhoo residents attacked them, they crossed the line.

Mr President, I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for you, but this is not something that members of the liberal community can find acceptable. Even though we understand the reasons for it, there needs to be more due process, if for no other reason than to honor the policemen who were forced to go up against them.

How can the Himandhoo residents just be released again? These are residents from an island which has been heavily influenced by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the largest terrorist group in our region. They constantly violate human rights, create a repressive environment, and allow child abuse in the form of underage marriage. They actually picked up arms against the government in defense of a radical and conservative ideology. Will a simple workshop convince them of the error of their ways? No.

Violence is okay

Instead we will send a message to the conservative community that their actions were okay. That it was understandable. I mean, they were only defending a mosque right? Only defending their holy place. So it is okay right? No. It is not okay. They blocked entry and threatened other Muslims. The police could have easily taken off their shoes and entered the premises in a respectful manner, but instead the Himandhoo residents chose violent confrontation.

Many specific mosques are becoming places that are forbidden to many of us now. Even in Male’ – many mosques are hostile to certain people praying in them and all forbid women from the main spaces. One of the first moves the Islamic Ministry made was to shut down all women’s mosques. And where was the backlash?

Those of us who do nothing are sending the message that this kind of action is okay. And this message is being spearheaded by government policy. Recently we released nine Maldivians who were arrested on the Waziristan-Afghanistan border.

When the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was questioned about this, Shaheed said that “if we release anybody, it is because our laws require them to be released.” So then why were these people repatriated in the first place without any accompanying documentation of charges? If they have not been tried or convicted, then why are they not formally charged before being released? Why did Shaheed allow them to be brought to the Maldives without any investigation in their actions or collaboration with the Pakistani government? Why did he not seek information about the three Maldivians who died in Pakistani custody? And finally, why did he pass the buck to the Maldivian Police Service saying that the Maldives Police Service had determined that “the best thing to do was to release them to their families and put them under surveillance”, while their activities abroad were investigated?

So do the Police now have an international investigative unit? Do they have the money and capacity to pull off this kind of investigation? No. These people are the rest of our problem now. That we are repatriating our would-be jihadists is apparently of no concern. That Lashkar-e-Taiba is active in Himandhoo (and anywhere else in Maldives) is also apparently no big deal.

Against extremism

Though appeasement does seem to be rampant, at least we have been making some headway against fundamentalism. The rapidly formalised defense agreement with India was aimed at protecting our boarders from terrorism. The Maldives was a focus because Lashkar-e-Tabia, who was responsible for the Mumbai Terrorist attacks, as well as being linked to the Sultan Park Bombing and Himandhoo, is obviously active in our country. We have also objected, very mildly, to having Afghans come for official negotiations without informing the government beforehand.

All in all, we release violent jihadists and the Himandhoo residents. With Shaheem, from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, on the delegation who visited them, it’s quite obvious that this is a religious issue and not just a matter of the previous government “treating them unfairly.” It is an active policy of appeasement towards the conservative religious community. But toward what end? Maybe it is because there are so many of them that we can no longer stand against them. Maybe we are finally giving in to the threats and warnings. Maybe it is just so we have a little bit of support and cooperation. Or maybe it is so they don’t blow up the Holiday Inn once it finally gets issued its liquor license.

www.jswaheed.com

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Comment: A New Era of Maldivian Politics

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, for good or ill, will probably be remembered as one of the most dominant figures of our modern history. With his withdrawal from active political involvement, he has given rise to new fractions, new political players, and a completely new dynamic. Yesterday we entered a new era of Maldivian Politics.

Nation and parties divided

Whether it happens in days or months, President Gayoom rescinding his candidature for DRP leadership will exacerbate the latent divisions within the party. Over time we have seen these divisions take form.

Mohamed “Kutti” Nasheed’s conflict with elements of DRP showed us our first glimpse of their division. After DRP lost the 2008 election Presidential election, Kutti Nasheed called for Gayoom to resign from politics. Because of this he was ostracised, excluded, and eventually driven away from the party. President Gayoom, even today, has a group of supporters who would give their last breath for the will of the man they see as having developed our country, and who they see as being the father of a modern Maldives. In those couple of weeks, this division was clear.

Since then we have seen Abdullah Yameen return to DRP as the leader of the People’s Alliance with a strong, well financed and capable group of people supporting him. Yameen along with Abdullah Shahid and Ahmed Thasmeen Ali are among the most active, respected and credible people within the older generation of DRP leaders. They are both the stronghold and the powerhouse of the party today, though with clear divisions between Yameen and the other two.

There is also the new, more dynamic, group of young leaders who are emerging within the party. While careful not to make the same mistake Kutti Nasheed made in alienating the hardcore Gayoomists, they have been rising in popularity and influence, and have shown a clear desire to break away from the previous era of political policy.

A clear example of this could be seen in Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef’s comments on Gayoom’s role in the ruling party’s philosophies. He stated that the only reason MDP is able to hold support is because of them vilifying President Gayoom. This emphasis on how Gayoom’s continued involvement in DRP may be detrimental to the party’s appeal, growth, and support was – in retrospect – clearly easing the idea of Gayoom withdrawing from politics into the consciousness of his most adamant supporters.

While the young and old group of DRP leaders are likely to work together for the good of the party, if Thasmeen wins the party’s leadership – as he is expected to – PA may withdraw from the coalition and become the deciding middle party. Though while division may be rife, Mundhu’s comments are based in a very real problem for the MDP leadership.

The wicked witch is dead

At least when it comes to politics, Gayoom is no longer the driving force of the opposition DRP. The one issue upon which the ruling coalition was built no longer exists. And while the coalition may no longer be important, this one philosophy has always been one of the driving forces behind MDP’s policies and youth appeal.

President Gayoom’s administration’s abuses and mistakes have provided the ruling party with momentum and a drive which has kept them united and very public. It galvanised a traditionally apathetic people into action and is a fundamental basis for the legitimacy of this government. Because MDP made the issue about President Gayoom, DRP made the issue about President Nasheed. Our politics has been based on the dynamics between these two personalities and as a result we rarely care about issues which affect our daily lives. Yesterday, the nation took the first step towards shifting this dynamic.

A moderate party overnight

This dynamic, which we are going to watch emerge, will be decided by the direction DRP takes.

But even without concrete policy shifts, it seems as though DRP has overnight gone from being a radical and confrontational party to one that is almost moderate.

Speculation is abound that Thasmeen will take leadership of the party. With both the explicit support of President Gayoom and Abdullah Shahid, as well as the majority of DRP’s members of parliament, it looks likely that the older generation will be the first to guide policy in the post-Gayoom era. Unlike the younger group who are confrontational and quick to providing harsh words against the ruling party, Thasmeen is seen as a calm and tempered businessman who gained influence within the party through consistent and ready support. Some of the older members would even say that he has deserved his turn to attempt leadership.

Shahid, while also mild mannered, is one of the most capable, organised and conciliatory leaders within the opposition. With these two at the helm, one can only hope that a more moderate stance will be taken towards implementing polices that will actually provide fruits for the Maldivian people – instead of the constant stonewalling which has been so prevalent.

Moving forward

Though I am a member of GIP (Gaumee Ihthihaad Party), I fully acknowledge that we are operating in a two party system. Losing President Gayoom’s direct influence will not change that (at least not overnight). With over a year under our belts, the government has not been able to produce the kind of results needed to bring our nation out of its current economic recession. And government does not mean just MDP – it is DRP as well.
DRP holds the majority in the Majlis (parliament), and as a result the Majlis’ failures are DRP’s as well.

In ancient Greece, the Titans fought for control of the heavens, nearly to the point of utter destruction. Without compromise between these two Titans, the people of our nation will continue to suffer. Our nation will continue to become more illiberal, and democracy’s very existence may come into question. We have entered a new era of Maldivian politics. Whether it will see the prosperity of our people or our social, economic and political degradation is yet to be decided. You Titans – decide well.

www.jswaheed.com

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Comment: We are criminals

The Maldives has the 10th highest prison population rate in the world and our society is set up to perpetuate this rate.

The victory in 2008 ushering in democracy has barely lessened the number of people incarcerated. It has not changed how we treat people who have gone to jail, nor the causes for which so many of our people lose their freedom. It has not made us reflect on the effect this is having on our society. And as a nation we will suffer for this together.

Culture promoting criminality

Before we won the election, politicians on my side of the divide could have claimed that many of the prisoners in jail were the result of political repression.

But the problem goes beyond politics. The problem is societal and the responsibility now falls on each and every one of us to change the direction we’ve been heading in.

The vast majority of those arrested have been sentenced on drug related charges. We have 30% of our youth falling into drugs like heroin, and we are surprised that crime is soaring. We are surprised when gang related violence escalates, and we are surprised that Male’ and islands around the country are no longer safe.

Male’ is now split up by the gangs controlling strictly monitored lines. They hijack each other’s cars and motorcycles and go after one another with whatever weapon they can get their hands on.

For all of us who have nothing to do with these gangs, we just ignore it. We turn a blind eye because that’s what we’ve been taught to do for 30 years.

But political commentary aside, we each let this happen. We live in a small community where everyone knows everything about everyone else. We know when our neighbor is arrested. We know why the boy down the street was taken to jail and why the police kicked down his friend’s door the week before.

But instead of helping them recover and reintegrate, we shun them. We ostracize them and say they are not worth our time. Instead of offering a helping hand, we kick them to the curb as the wasted undesirable elements of our society. But with the prison population so high, it is a large part of our society.

Our prison population rate is the 10th largest in the world, and this is without all the people who have not yet been sentenced. We need to help these people join the working ranks and support our nation to grow. We need to stop abusing them with our indifference, and we have to make it clear to our government institutions and those who work for them, that we will not tolerate abuse against inmates and promote true rehabilitation instead.

Rehabilitation

We as a society have to help with rehabilitation. I don’t mean drug rehabilitation. I mean we have to teach inmates how to function in society and how to be productive members of it. But the truth is that rehabilitation was never a part of our penitentiary services. In the past, the entire prison institution was based around repression, fear, and control of the unruly elements of our society. The new government is trying to change that and I’ve seen more change in the DPRS (Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services) than in many of the other institutions, though even the DPRS has been subject to politically based manipulation by jailers, and not just by government sympathizers. However, what about all those people who have not yet been convicted?

These people are kept in police detention facilities. The same kind of facilities which have been responsible for custodial abuse reported recently. In addition to the kinds of abuse described by the inmates on DhiTV, there is a culture of brutality amongst the armed forces which needs to be addressed. Prisoners are constantly manhandled by their guards, whether they behave or not.

Further methods are used to ensure compliance and deal with unruly behavior. Amongst these methods are handcuffing inmates in difficult positions and leaving them for hours at a time under the hot sun, or if it is raining, leaving them out in the cold.

These are people who have not even been sentenced yet! Guilt has not been established. Due process has not been executed. And even if these people had been sentenced, they are still human beings and thereby extended inalienable rights; especially from torture. We suffered these kinds of abuses under the previous administration; it cannot be allowed to continue.

Reform

The attitudes within both the Police Service as well as the general populous need to be reformed. The Maldivian Police Service has made phenomenal improvement in how the deal with the citizenry, so there should be no reason why this cannot extend towards those members of society who are placed in their care.

We as society need to care about what happens to inmates. Without reform and true rehabilitation, we will never be able to progress as a nation.

We may have had a democratic election, but we still do not have a free society. The democracy monitoring international NGO, Freedom House, still ranks us as only partly free because of our apathy towards the prison population. We are such a small community.

We are all brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, and friends. We have no excuse to allow things to continue as they are. The shackles of tyranny still bind us. It’s time we start chipping away at these bindings, so that one day we will enjoy a free and stable society.

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

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