Comment: Time to put nation first

The result of the last presidential election proved that we are a divided country. There is no glossing over this fact. But those who wanted to build a new, modern and democratic Maldives just edged out those who wished to remain in an old, stagnant country rooted in autocratic values.

The deposed ruling elite out did not go quietly. Unable to accept the change, they fought back. Perhaps it was a belief that the government, facing tough times due to the economy, could be toppled on the streets.

Opportunity knocks

Now, just over a year on, it is clear that we need a new way of thinking. There is a role for constructive opposition in any democratic system of governance. Some ascribe the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRPs) behaviour to posturing in the lead up to their congress. Now, their congress is over and a new leadership is in place.

DRP Leader Thasmeen Ali and his team no longer need to pander to the bitter activists in his party. He would recognise that in order to mount a successful challenge for the presidency in 2013, he would have to shake of the “activist” label that his party has inherited through their actions of the last year. The party needs to appear to be mature and able to contribute substantially to national development during this presidential term- even if another party is in power.

Similarly, the government would also recognise that even with their new recruits it does not have an absolute majority in Parliament. There needs to be give and take for things to be achieved. President Mohamed Nasheed has already indicated in a recent radio address that his government stood ready to work with other political parties in the interest of the nation. Now is the time to follow through on this promise.

Bipartisan politics

The opening of parliament tomorrow presents a unique opportunity for all parties and factions within the Majlis to enact important and necessary legislation. Indeed, readers will recall that the most commonly heard statement on the campaign trail during the parliamentary elections was that successful candidates would work to implement the government’s manifesto programme.

MDP candidates argued that they should be elected to ensure that the government’s programme was implemented successfully. Opposition candidates said that they should be elected to ensure that the government did not deviate from their pledges. There was a broad recognition and acceptance of the merits of the pledges.

We cannot afford a repeat of the “do nothing parliament” that graced our television screens and blocked the airwaves during the last session. MPs pursued petty and vindictive agendas such as the motion of no confidence against the foreign minister. The public expects much more from their elected representatives. And it is high time that MPs woke up to this reality.

As parliament begins its sitting for this year, it faces two important bills. One needs to be passed because the constitution says so. The other is critical to ensure that the country remains fiscally solvent.

The first is the decentralization bill. It is a constitutionally required piece of legislation and the stipulated deadline has already passed by. Effective local government has always been a big demand in the islands. This is a demand that needs to be met early on in the parliamentary session.

Parliamentarians should not allow a petty debate over semantics (“provinces” or “atolls”) to stand between the people and their ability to take on municipal functions at the island level, and local development programmes through economically viable units at the sub national level.

The other important item on the Majlis agenda is reform of the tax system. One of the governing party’s central pledges was to lower the cost of living. Regressive taxation, through customs duties should be replaced with a proper and efficient taxation system. Furthermore, the steep decline in government revenue last year needs to be reversed.

This is why it is of paramount importance that the business profit tax is introduced as soon as possible and an ad valorem tax for the tourism sector ensures that resorts are taxed per bed night on a percentage basis rather than the flat $8 that is currently the case. This reform is both more equitable and will see the fruits of the country’s largest industry passed onto the people.

No more distractions

Of course politicians need to work together on other issues. Malevolent political agendas outside of parliament also need to be put aside. The distraction of the regulation to allow foreigners to purchase alcohol in city hotels (in addition to resorts as is currently the case), is a case in point, and has cast a shadow over the country.

The hysteria that has been whipped up over an issue that would not really affect Maldivians’ lives, and actually go to improve it through the curb on alcohol by restricting the 800 “bars” in Malé, is nothing more than political posturing by those with a political, rather than religious, agenda. But the government’s position that it would not push ahead with the regulation if people did not wish for it was probably the sensible thing to do given the circumstances.

There is also the distraction of public sector restructuring. The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has been used as a political tool. It has been acting like a labour union and not been fulfilling its constitutional mandate. The Commission needs to be reappointed before August 2010 according to the constitution, and hopefully this will happen sooner rather than later so that the country can put this sorry episode behind it. A genuinely independent CSC needs to be appointed to guide public sector employees through these hard times.

Though there are signs that the economy will pick up this year, tough times are still not ever. Redundancies and wage cuts will inevitably hurt people. This is an opportunity for all in the political sphere to work together to ensure that the effects are mitigated. Job creation in the productive sectors of the economy is needed. The social protection system needs to work to ensure that no one falls through the net.

In short, it is time for politicians to put nation first- at least until 2013.

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]


22 thoughts on “Comment: Time to put nation first”

  1. Well said Ibrahim. There is great potential for bipartisan progress. However, I believe many of DRP's candidates ran on the platform of keeping the government accountable. I am also pretty sure that DRP only agrees to most of the pledges on principle and not the proposed execution of those pledges.

    However, if the Majlis fails in its mandate to represent the best interests of the people, then DRP will fail right along side of MDP. If DRP hinders the government, then it will be DRP's FAULT. No one elses. MDP has shown that it is willing to compromise, so if there is idealogical differences, instead of only political ones, then DRP should be willing to compromise so that those ideologies are incorporated.

    Compromises are always better than no legislation at all. Don't fail. Majlis Members, please do not fail.

  2. This could and would be a wonderful thing; if it can happen!

    With the 5 year members loosing 1 year and the so called independent members having aces to play-with; can this happen or visit the stables!

  3. Wow.. the time to put the Nations first is from March 1st 2010.. I wonder how this realization came about all of a sudden.. One wonders which was put first previously...

  4. Talking about stagnancy and democratic reforms, we must accept the fact that there is a new tendency susceptible to the nation in the name of religion, while the nation is having this bout. Proponents like Sheikh Ilyas openly campaigned to disregard the laws to veil all the girls of the schools, and Member Muttalib on TV today declared that islam has no democracy and coerce to impose islamic values by means of sword. CORRECT THIS FIRST BY BIPARTISANSHIP.

  5. I can’t help being skeptical of Minivan’s policy of publishing articles by some anonymous Mohamed, Ahmed or Ibrahim Didi. This raises serious questions as to the credibility of Minivan.

    The first article written by this anonymous Didi was entitled “From Anni to H.E.P”. It was as Will Jordan says, “like a chapter from the dreadful ‘A Man for All Islands”.

    Minivan News welcomes comment piece submissions from across the social and political spectrum. We agree that real names are preferable, however we do allow pseudonyms to encourage these submissions as we recognise that some writers have legitimate concerns for their safety and/or professional livelihoods.

    As always, we encourage readers to make up their own minds about these pieces and fully endorse taking the author to task in the comments section.

  6. This article is an example of political rhetoric – and a very one.

    When he says ‘There is a role for constructive opposition in any democratic system’, does he think that the opposition should be reduced to a ‘a role’ of what he himself considers ‘constructive’ as defined politically. If so does he mean that the protest about alcohol is not constructive and not a legitimate ‘constructive’ cause.

    The questioning about the role of the opposition sounds more like blaming democracy itself for all the ills of MDP. How can any party question about the role of what the other part should be..

    The various accusations against the civil service and its independence does not help to convince that the writer has ‘the nations first’ on his mind.

    If we do away with independent institutions, who would MDP rely on the day when it is in opposition.. Or does this writer thinks that would never happen..

    The nation should be put first. That’s a no brainier. This is why we got rid of Maumoon and brought a democratic environment. And MDP (the party which championed democracy) is power to correct things and not to blame the status of the country on El Ninio. Putting nation first is consolidating the democratic institutions like CSC, role of other political parties, not subduing whatever media that is left.

    That is how MDP becomes a real champion.

  7. I strongly oppose any additional taxes to pass into the hands of a government that is hell bent on lying and deceiving the public. If the government wants money it has to show some sign of sincerity to fulfill its election promises such as the promise of a small government. I mean a drastic reduction in political appointees.

    If United States can do with an average of 1 political appointee for 1.5 million people; United Kingdom has 1 political appointee for an average of 0.7 million people; I don't see any reason why we need 700 political appointees in a country of just 0.3 million people.

    So reduce political appointees for a starter and we can go ahead from there.

  8. The problem in the current environment of Maldives is that people does not have any faith in the government. There is a contrary with what the president says and what his ministers says. It is sad and hurtening when president openly express to revenge and show his ruthlessness to his own people, specially in a small community like Maldives. I am not an MDP member neither a DRP member, however after the election I've accepted the results and considered to cooperate the government by bringing out the national interest.

    In a nation, president should be an epitome of good moral qualities to its people. No chance should be given to opposition to accuse him although opposition tries to do so.

    One of the worst fact that people could not digest is how awful councillors are treating to its people. And this is how MDP appointed members are treating though there are some good appointees.

    President Nasheed needs to revamp his management and appoint more educated people. He need to change his leadership with a kind gesture to every citizen regardless of being any party member. He need to sway his opposition to accept that he has sincerity to what he is doing instead of being rhetoric. If he could nurtured these traits, the people of the Maldives would compel the parliament to pass the bills. The people would salute for the great work that he has done to us.

  9. If there's a panacea for our problems,it's a temporary dictatorship.The opposition needs to be silenced.I simply cannot take their personnel criticism against the president when he is desperately trying to do his best with our limited resouces.Even today's presidential address was used by opposition as a free political platform.VTV,Dhi TV and all other arms of private media abusing freedom of expression be chopped off.They are doing more damage to society than contributing anything in return.

  10. Naimbe

    so true.

    Minivan is becoming more alike a blog with these kind of anonymous articles being published under pseudo names.

    Yes the governments insincerity in the salary matter, how how finance ministry allocated back the reduced salaries to some branches but ignored the other. Not to mention the ultimate political appointee roster. And i fear more are to be added.

  11. Saleem, under your logic on the matter, how many ministries would we need here? USA has ONLY 1 cabinet department for every 20 million people, while we have 1 ministry for every 21 thousand people.

  12. And to add to the "distractions", how about the court deciding to acquit one of the big 6 drug dealers despite all the evidence to implicate him in the crime!

    Serious question marks hang over the judiciary. We cannot rely on them to keep criminals off the street, and to keep us safe.

  13. “legitimate concerns for their safety”? Are you sure you are talking about Maldives – not DPRK? A month ago we were thumping our chests over the unprecedented jump we made in the world press freedom study.

  14. @Fathun , How much evidence had been put forward in the court is what matters, not the evidence people brag about out on the street.
    If we talk about what went wrong in the Maldives, then its surely the constitutional change in a fast track. This made people more politically nuts than being rational.

  15. Naimbe, the tyranny of the prevailing opinion/the majority can be far stronger than that of a government. I support Minivan's policy. Keep up.

  16. Permanent Secretary, sorry I did not explain in more simpler words. What I meant was that United States with a population of over 300,000,000 people have only 208 (2008 stats) political appointees. Almost all other democracies in the world also have several hundred times fewer political appointees than the government of Maldives. So the growing list of political appointees in the Maldives is purely abuse of scarce public funds by Nasheed government.

    It is sad that a large number of MDP supporters have today shed their self respect and are reduced to blindly trying to justifying the ever growing abuse of power by the government.

  17. Saleem - Let me correct you on your misconceptions of the United States.

    Firstly, there has already been 727 political appointments made by the White House. If you look at the Judiciary alone - there are 875 appointed Judges - though only a small portion has been appointed by Obama so far. The point is that they have over 5,000 potential political appointments.

    But if you compare it to the US population, then of course the ratio is exaggerated. But that's the same thing for EVERYTHING. We are a tiny nation, and you have to understand the ramifications of that very simple fact.

    Secondly, MDP's government still has less political appointments than Gayoom's did - even though we are a coalition government consisting of people from a range of six different parties.

    Thirdly, MDP has it right. No one is blindly doing anything. They have faith in their party and their party-led government because they have a say in its development. They can vote in MDP's primary elections. There were runoffs even for their candidates for the Majlis. Elections are a good thing. Now, the United States is NOT the best democracy in my opinion (it is a long explanation, so I wont go into the reasons now) - However, if you want to use them as an example - with their school districts and municipalities, they have over 58,000 elections each cycle!

    We have an Auditor General. We have transparency and openness. There is far less abuse of power now, than at any other time in our history. We need to follow in the spirit of this article and move forwards.

  18. yapity yapity yaaa.


    Ps. I'm so tired of these freakkin politicians lying all the time.

  19. The problem in this country is not the government or anonymity of those who say their feelings!

    The problem over reactions to criticism on this blog or some other blog could be the outcome of the fear those and dependents of those who have plundered and raped this nation (over and over again, term after term of election, and for the past 30 years), being punished for the atrocities they have to the peoples of this nation and nothing else!

    This could be hard to swallow or digest!

    Me, a one anonymous Mohamed, find it very amusing some Imbes and NJs are "non anonymous"!

    MINIVAN thanks!

  20. I accept Saleem's sincerity but am surprised by his conclusion, particularly with regard to the civil service.

    There was no such thing in the Maldives until 2007. Before then we had government service. Everyone's job was given by the President from Executive Directors down to the clerks.

    Promotion was also given by the President. So, essentially, all the Executive Directors, Directors-General, Deputy Directors-General (the top civil servants) all came up through that system.

    Even though Gayoom administration had fewer deputy ministers, there were several people in senior management who were his appointees.

    I am not saying that they are conspiring against the government, but they wouldn't have the same degree fo interest in promoting the new government's agenda as they did in the past. So it is reasonable to have enough people in the top management to make sure the policies are implemented.

    Otherwise you would just have one cabinet minister and one deputy minister swimming against the tide and not getting anything done.

  21. Salim Waheed you say 'United States is NOT the best democracy ' as compared to Maldives?

    Of-course 'democracy is the worst form of government except for all other' as Churchill said. The framers of the US constitution or the founding fathers carefully studied the history and corruption of the European systems before the designed their own.

    Salim Waheed may be a very expert in many things but I doubt that he can identify a system better than the US that is robust and self correcting as the US.

    US if far from perfect but it is still the beacon of hope and democracy for the world. I wonder who provided Salim Waheed's tuition fee..

  22. Saleem, it was not so unclear to be so condescending.

    I just don't see an automatic defence for arguing against the number of political appointees by making a correlation with the population of a country…or by the size of a country. I mean, for instance, we have 1 MP for about every 40,000 people, while the US has about 1 House of Representative for about every 700,000 people! Does this automatically mean we must reduce MPs?

    It's just pseudo-correlation and utter monistic thinking, if you don't take into account other values such as qualified human capacity, loyalty, political survivability, level of cooperation by a largely unprofessional 'civil' force (even our case groomed by an autocratic regime), geography, local governance, political-administrative divisions, and other features of a polity, and so on.

    The spin you wish to make does not work even in numbers. Did you ever care to define what a 'political appointee' is?

    The truth is the approx. 700 ‘political’ appointees also include the 200 employees of the President's Office; 150 under Mulee-aage too. It’s equally worth to note that the 220 or so councillors are to go with the local elections. This will reduce executive appointees to around 150, hopefully by the end of this year.

    Again, the spin you make by bringing examples such as the US doesn’t work. If my information is correct there are thousands of ‘political appointees’ or non-merit staff even beyond the federal executive branch in states. Is a Maldivian ‘political appointee’ the same thing as a ‘political appointee’ in the US?

    Of course, I wish President Nasheed did not make several appointments that he did such as Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed and many of the island councillors.

    But politics is also the art of the possible, and it is a realm where you often experience not only the clash of good with evil, but unfortunately the clash of good with good too. And you are forced to make sacrifices.

    So, I think the equally right place to start downsizing the bloated government is where we have civil servants to type a letter a day. What is so ‘un-political’ about our civil servants?


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