‘Peace talks’ held yesterday between the government and the ‘youth movement’ the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has claimed were responsible for organising last week’s protests have reportedly ended poorly.
Spokesperson for the opposition’s youth movement, Mohamed Ahusan, told Minivan News that their demands had been “dismissed” by the government representatives, who included Shauna Aminath from the President’s Office and State Finance Minister Ahmed Naseer.
Ahusan said the group’s demands included “reinstating the dollar rate, eliminating the dollar blackmarket, reduce political appointees and cutting at least some of their allowances, terminating foreign consultants, reducing water and electricity bills by reducing the fuel surcharge, and reducing the cost of living to the same level as 2010.”
However he said the government was not supportive of their requests, and accused Shauna of “making it political.”
‘’She said there were two solutions: one was an economic solution, and the second was a political solution,” Ahusan claimed. “She said the political solution was to arrest [former President] Gayoom.”
DRP MP and the party’s youth-wing leader Ahmed Mahlouf, who did not attend the meeting but requested police arrange the meeting with the government, described the meeting as “very upsetting.”
“Shauna, the Maldivian Democratic Party’s newly-elected youth-wing leader, represented the President’s Office and said the only solution would be to arrest former President Gayoom and his political leadership,
if there were any more protests,” he claimed.
“The President promised to bring the cost of living down in 2008 and to reduce electricity bills, and he has not delivered,” Mahlouf said, alleging that the government had “increased expenditure by 40 percent.”
Shauna would not comment on whether she had suggested Gayoom be arrested, and said the government was unable to officially respond to the group’s demands as they had no formal recognition as an NGO, committee or other such body.
“We met with four people who claimed to represent youth,” she said. “They presented a piece of paper they said was a youth proposal, but there was almost no discussion of what was on it.
“They talked a little about youth unemployment, and the rising price of milk, cooking oil and petrol. They said that young people did not have enough money to pay for coffees or petrol for their motorbikes.”
The group of four had “repeated the same messages being aired by [opposition] political parties: that the government had sold the airport to GMR, Dhiraggu to [Cable and Wireless], and that six people had control of the entire economy.
“Then they said they understood that the government’s [managed float of the rufiya] was necessary, but were concerned the government had not spoken about it beforehand.”
Minivan News understands that the proposal presented by the group included closing the national offices, ensuring government offices were not open after working hours, sacking foreign consultants, closing utility companies running at a loss, and reviewing expenditure on foreign diplomatic missions.
“The State Minister for Finance tried to explain the economic situation but it was not clear if they understood,” Shauna said.
“He explained that three billion rufiya had been printed, leaving the country with an artificial balance, and that the situation today was a result of economic policies of the past.”
“We explained that it would be very easy for us to keep printing money,” Shauna said, adding that the government had instead introduced new taxes such as the corporate tax and tourism goods and services tax (TGST) to bring long-term stability to the economy, despite knowing that it would be very difficult and unpopular.
Mahlouf said the protesters had not yet decided whether to continue the protests next Friday, “and would be working with parliamentarians this week to decide if we should go ahead.”