The Transport Authority of the Maldives (TAM) has said it has received complaints from police officers who have been refused service from some taxis following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.
Transport Authority Registrar Ibrahim Nazim told local media that the authority had even recently received a complaint from an officer who had been refused service from a taxi “because he was in uniform.”
TAM confirmed to local media that it was currently working with the police to find the offending vehicle and its driver. Nazim further said the authority had received complaints about incidents where political ideologies had contributed to creating problems in service provision. He said taxi drivers cannot refuse to serve police or MNDF officers, regardless of their personal sentiments.
“Some taxi drivers have demanded police officers get out of their taxis. They say the car belongs to them. Although the taxi car might be their property, the licence to work as a taxi is granted by the state after all. We will revoke the licence of the taxi we are currently looking for, and we will take against him the strictest measures possible under the law,” Nazim said.
The issue has divided opinion among taxi centres and drivers. While some said it was the right of the state to revoke licences based on incidents of discrimination, others held it was the drivers’ right to serve whom they will.
“It’s not just police officers who we may at times refuse to be hired by. Sometimes we say no to passengers depending on the destination they might want to go to. We even refuse passengers who are carrying too many food items, as we’d be the ones left to clean out the smell when they leave and it’s just not worth the trouble for MVR 20 a trip,” said Ali Naseer, who has been in the profession for over 12 years.
“I think it’s unreasonable for our licences to be revoked just based on an incidence where one of these passengers we refused turns out to be a policeman. The police and government are just being paranoid because of the little support they enjoy lately.”
Another taxi driver, on condition of anonymity, said: “If we are not comfortable to be closed in a car with a certain person, we won’t let them into our cabs. We see what police are doing to citizens on the streets. Why would we want to be in a closed space with them? Would you feel safe locked up with one of those officers? It is very unfair for the government to cancel our licences just because some of us don’t want to serve officers.”
Meanwhile, others say that as taxiing is a service, they will serve any customer regardless of party affiliation or personality.
“I personally will serve anyone who requests for service, as long as they pay me as is due. This is how we make a living, it’s wrong for the state to even consider cancelling licences just like this,” said Ibrahim Rasheed, a taxi driver who has been in the field for three years.
Another driver said: “Who knows how evil or corrupt some of my customers may be. But that is not my problem. I will just serve all alike, as this is the work I do to earn enough to take care of my family.”
Some drivers feel that the authority is justified to revoke licenses based on incidences where taxis refuse service to certain customers.
“I have seen some of my fellow drivers sometimes refusing to allow even foreigners into their taxis. That is nothing but discrimination. The same can be said when drivers refuse to carry passengers who work for MNDF or police. It is our obligation to serve all people, foreign or local, who live on our soil. I believe the Transport Authority is taking necessary action by cancelling licences of drivers who behave in such unprofessional manner,” said a driver in his 30s, who works for one of the longest-serving taxi centres in the capital.
Many taxi centres confirmed they had so far not received any official communication regarding the matter from a relevant authority.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7 following a police mutiny, in an alleged coup d’etat. Although a Commonwealth-backed commission of inquiry established under presidential decree by current President Mohamed Waheed declared the transfer of power ‘constitutional’, the Maldives has since been in political turmoil, with the population divided by dissenting political views and ensuing political demonstrations.
Many of the demonstrations have been against police brutality, following a police crackdown on February 8, 2012. Police and army officials are often targeted in these protests as orchestrators of the coup d’etat and are referred to as “baaghee” [traitor] by demonstrators.
Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim, who is also overseeing the Ministry of Transport and Communications currently, was unable to speak to Minivan News at the time of press.
Police Media Official Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef was also not responding to calls.