Democracy House launches #policy22 campaign calling for youth participation in policy-making

Democracy House Maldives has launched its ‘#policy22’ campaign, highlighting the importance of youth participation in decision-making at the policy level.

The campaign – given its name in relation to the percentage of the Maldivian population classed as youth – seeks to create a platform where the youth’s concerns can be heard and acted upon by decision makers.

The youth-led NGO released a report titled ‘Youth Voices’ on December 25, with members of the youth community presenting the report to MPs outside the Majlis, and taking ‘selfies’ with those in support of the campaign.

Democracy House’s Dhumya Mohamed explained that the booklet contained concerns put forward by the youth through a number of consultations as well as including information from several reports on Maldivian youth.

“Over 40 individuals attended the last consultation. The most pressing issue brought forward by the youth was lack of opportunities to participate in policy level decision making,” said Dhumya.

The report notes that there is currently no culture of consultation with the youth despite making up such a significant proportion of the population. The report requests parliamentarians to get youth opinion during the legislative process and to ensure the freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.

Published last month, the booklet highlights additional problems brought forward during the consultations such as unemployment and the exploitation of youth in politics.

Youth unemployment

In the report, Democracy House expressed concern at the high youth unemployment rate, noting that there is little awareness and no proper enforcement of the Employment Act.

Suggestions to tackle the high rate of unemployment include utilising youth centers for youth leadership and capacity building programmes, and encouraging young entrepreneurs.

While speaking to Minivan News, Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said that the government’s aim is to reduce unemployment to three or four percent in the next five years.

Maleeh pointed out that a youth unemployment register has been created and that there are 13,000 registered individuals within the system.

“We provide the database for organisations who are seeking recruits. However, we have received complaints of individuals not reporting to interviews, work, and also of quitting work within weeks,” said Maleeh.

Maleeh speculated that a significant percentage of youth unemployment is voluntary while stating that the government is running awareness campaigns and career guidance to increase the motivation of young people.

The #policy22 booklet noted a “disconnect” between the current school curriculum and life skills noting that many were “not able to handle adult responsibilities after we leave school.”

Democracy House states youth unemployment to be as high as 43 percent, though the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates the figure to be at 30 percent. The current government has pledged to create 94,000 jobs during its term.

One request mentioned in the #policy22 booklet appears to be being addressed by the government, with President Abdulla Yameen launching the ‘Get Set – Maldives Youth Entrepreneurship Program’ last month. The scheme aims to provide MVR200 million (US$12.9 million) in loans to assist the development of small and medium sized enterprises.

Exploiting youth for political gain

The Democracy House report claimed that there is “misconduct and illegal activities” aimed at youth from the political arena such as “bribing and promises of advancement such as job opportunities, during campaigning”.

The report said that the youth is often used to gain numbers at political rallies and mobilised at political events “basically to make noise rather than do anything substantial”.

A 2012 assessment on gangs operating in Maldives said that many gangs receive income through exchanges with political actors or business people and that the exchange is usually in the form of money or sometimes alcohol.

The study read that gangs were given incentives to participate in political protests, start political riots, destroy property or injure a third party, and that money is often given to gangs to initiate a fight so as to divert media attention from a political issue.

Despite the strong youth platform of President Yameen’s election campaign, youth leaders have previously criticised the government for a failure to consult with youth groups when formulating policy.

Democracy House called for campaign activities to be better monitored, and candidates that go against political party and elections laws and regulations to be penalised.

Founded in 2008 the NGO aims to promote a culture of democratic ideals and values in the Maldives and amongst its people through educational initiatives.

Related to this story

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Youth Minister promises employment to all youth by 2015

President Yameen launches MVR200 million ‘Maldives Youth Entrepreneurship Programme’


“Make them accountable”: young Maldivians talk democracy at documentary launch

Six local students – part of a nine person delegation that earlier this year visited key political institutions in the UK – were today invited to share their experiences and views of challenges facing the Maldives’ parliamentary system when compared to its counterparts around the world.

“In many other countries, if there is a hint of a scandal about an MP they will resign or find themselves pressured out,” said one of the female delegates. “Here, many take the attitude of ‘I don’t care’. We need to make [politicians] accountable.”

It was a response met with genial laughter during a discussion event held in the conference room of the Trader’s Hotel in Male’ this afternoon – a good natured meeting that at times seemed to belie the frank concerns raised by the young delegates.

Accountability was just one of the issues concerning democratic development noted by the six-person panel, who all spoke at the launch of a new documentary of their experiences at the ‘UK Youth Exchange’.

The project – run in conjunction with Democracy House and the British High Commission in Colombo – saw delegates travel to major UK cities to meet senior political figures and NGOs in order to better understand issues of democratic development across the Commonwealth.

The participants included Mohamed Axam Maumoon, Aishath Loona Moosa, Shahaadha Ahmed, Sharoona Adil, Shinah Saeed and Abdulla Shahid. The trip was also attended by Ibrahim Nawaf, Hassan Qassan and Muhaisina Hassan, who were not present at today’s launch.

The corresponding documentary titled ‘A study tour to London’, which is aimed to be aired and local television as well as across social media platforms at a later date, detailed a ten day visit to the UK cities of Bristol and London to experience UK and Commonwealth democratic institutions.

Participants also took part in workshops with the British Youth council, Young Muslims Advisory Group and the Commonwealth parliamentary association, as well as joining in “parliamentary-style” debates with UK school children.

Having since returned to the Maldives, the delegates raised concerns over the lack of a sense of ownership of the country, the limited educational opportunities outside of Male’, and gender inequality.

Another issue raised concerned civic education in areas such as privatisation, taxation, and public healthcare with the launch of Aasandha scheme earlier this year.

One of the participants highlighted problems with infrastructure development, bemoaning a seeming lack of public ownership among Maldivian people. He believed this had resulted from a lack of discussions and opportunities for the public to have their say in advocating how state developments were being decided.

“The youth here also have no dialogue with authorities,” he said. “No one feels the country belongs to us, be it land or infrastructure. There needs to be greater sense of ownership and responsibility.”

Other delegates raised fears over discrimination, particularly towards women working at the country’s resorts.

“There is a lot of discrimination here. It is seen as unacceptable for women to work at resorts. Why? Why should this be the case? There are lots of opportunities here,” she added.

Another delegate noted the need for reform of the country’s curriculum during the event, especially in order to take into account the changes the country had undergone since its first democratic elections were held back in 2008.

“All Maldivians should know about democracy. We need civic education,” he said.

The delegate queried how the entire country was being educated, criticising a lack of focus on critical thinking in areas such as privatisation, taxation and healthcare.

“Many people still don’t know what taxes are. What benefits there are from tax. What universal healthcare is. I could go on,” he added, to the amusement of the audience made up partly of dignitaries representing both the government and key civil society organisations including the UN and local media.

As part of the UK visit, two other participants talked of their experiences “shadowing” UK parliamentarians, claiming the country appeared to have a much stronger level of youth involvement within local governance.

“Here in the Maldives there is no youth involvement. The youth is seen as representing 18 to 35 year olds,” said one of the delegates.

“In other countries, youth are seen as representing the ages between 12 and 21, but here our parents require us to concentrate only on our studies, they do not see us as being mature enough [for politics],” they added.

The participants also spoke of the custom UK MPs had of visiting their constituencies to meet with the people they represent.

“I highly doubt MPs are visiting their constituencies here,” one of the delegates added.

“Different cultures and religions”

Among the dignitaries at the launch was Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen, a resort owner and philanthropist, who thanked the British High Commission project for allowing the Maldivian delegates to “explore different cultures and religions in the cosmopolitan city of London.”

“You would be great teachers to our politicians,” he claimed in a speech addressing the concerns raised by the six delegates.

“These messages should go to our real politicians. I’m not a real politician. But I wish today that more MPs were here. I’m informed they were invited. It’s important to listen to people. The government are the servants of the people.”

Deen claimed that politicians in the country were failing to listen to the voting public, while he also bemoaned the attitudes in the country that blamed young people and gangs for crime and murder without considering factors leading them to commit such acts.

“The problem with leaders is we try too hard to stay in power, but we often forget about our successors,” he said. “We don’t create leaders for tomorrow.”

The vice president said he aimed to do his utmost to take each of the delegates’ concerns and address them in the cabinet, pointing especially to the need for political sciences, civic education programmes and an understanding of the country’s constitution.

“Otherwise, what are we teaching?” Deen asked, this time without laughter from the gathered audience.


Maldivian NGOs call for “immediate changes” to inquiry commission

Four NGOs working under the banner ‘Thinvana Adu’ (Third Voice) have urged President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to “bring immediate changes to the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) so that it gains public trust and confidence and is able to achieve its objectives.”

Transparency Maldives, Maldivian Democracy Network, Democracy House, and the Maldives NGO Federation, itself representing 59 organisations, joined forces to declare that they are “deeply concerned by the recent political polarisations in the society.”

The CNI came under fire last week from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which released a statement giving the government four weeks to reform the body established to investigate the February 7 change of power lest CMAG consider “further and stronger measures”.

“The group was of the view that the Commission of National Inquiry, established to assess the events leading to the transfer of power on 7 February 2012, is not independent or impartial, and has failed to gain sufficient support in Maldives,” read the CMAG statement.

“What we see in the Maldives today is confrontation instead of political dialogue. Because of this political turmoil is increasing in the country,” said Aiman Rasheed, representing Transparency Maldives.

“Thinava Adu believes the citizens must know what happened. Citizens must know the truth. Maldives will find it difficult to take steps forward unless we know the answers. If the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) remains the same as it is today, we believe the inquiry cannot proceed in a way that citizens can trust or accept,” he continued.

Thinvada Adu said that they had previously written to the President on February 29 regarding the CNI as well as meeting with him on March 7. In both instances, the concerns of the group were expressed to the President. These concerns were said to have been “well received” without anything being “translated into action.”

In a press conference this morning, Ahmed Nizam of the Maldivian NGO Federation said, “Political opinion has become divided into two main thoughts since the change of power on February 7 and consequent events. Hence, we believe a third voice is very important in coming to a resolution.”

Reaction to CMAG criticism

Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, leader of the coalition government’s Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), responded to the CMAG report by saying that the group had based their report on incomplete information.

President’s Office spokesman Abbas Adil Riza last week said that the government did not understand CMAG’s criticisms and was requesting clarification over the required changes.

In response, the NGOs amended their CNI recommendations to include the following:

  • Members of the CNI must be persons of integrity and should be nominated from groups such as the Human Rights Commissions (MHRC), the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the Election Commission (EC), under the guidance of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
  • The mandate and scope of the CNI must be decided by agreement across the political divide.
  • The CNI must pool technical assistance for the international community to both expedite and give credence to the process.
  • There must be opportunity for observation of the process by international actors.
  • The CNI’s finding must be shared with the Parliament and independent state institutions as well as to the public.
  • The state and its institutions must cooperate and make sufficient resources available to the CNI.

All-Party talks

Thinvana Adu also focused on the importance of continued dialogue between political parties “without preconditions”. It was argued that, in order to resolve the current crisis, all parties must be permitted to join the discussions which must be attended by key decision makers.

The India-brokered all party talks have failed to build up momentum due to squabbles over the group’s composition and agenda. The MDP boycotted the first meeting on February 20, complaining that some of the parties represented had no democratic mandate, referring to representatives of former President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) who at the time of the first meeting had no official representation in the Majlis.

Any MP having switched allegiance to the PPM after its formation in October 2011 was technically classed as an ‘independent’ according to parliamentary regulations. The PPM has since won its first official seat in the Majlis with Ahmed Shareef, formerly Secretary General of the Elections Commission, winning the Thimarafushi by-election on April 14.

The MDP was present at the second round of talks, at which a tentative agenda was defined without specific prioritisation, before the PPM and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) walked away from the meetings following the MDPs refusal to allow the Majlis’s opening session to commence on March 1.

After the eventual opening of the Majlis on March 19, the talks did resume but the latest round, again, made no progress, this time the MDP calling for the inclusion of all registered parties. Today’s Thinvada Adu statement appears to be taking a similar line.

The group of NGOs also criticised the availability of the talk’s convener Ahmed Mujthaba whose absence from the country has delayed the talks on more than one occasion. Explaining his absence after the last session, Mujthaba told local paper Haveeru, “I did not plan my life with the knowledge of the events of February 7”.

Mujthaba had not responded at time of press.

The group also stated that decisions on early elections should be decided through “participatory, transparent, political processes, via discussions amongst political parties.” Aiman Rasheed of Transparency Maldives added that this entailed any decision between parties that did not contravene the existing legal or constitutional framework.

Regarding the long term recommendations of the group, it urged legislation to enable independent commissions of inquiry to function effectively. It urged state institutions to show greater leadership and commitment to responding to the current crisis.

The group also repeated calls for the support of the international actors in the “process of democratic consolidation”.

“It is a concern that in the absence of such guidance it will be a challenge to the national institutions to nurture the infant democracy of the Maldives,” the group said.


Police special operation nets 22 gang suspects

In a highly-publicised special operation intended to reduce gang crime in the capital Male’, police arrested 22 men suspected of being key players in gang violence.

Police sub inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the men were arrested in different areas of Male’ are were notable “gangsters” involved in gang violence.

Shiyam also said police had collected chairs, sofas and weapons from places where gangs lived, to stop gang members congregating, storing them in the police tow yard.

He said the special operation to protect Male’ from gang violence would not to be stopped until the city became a peaceful place.

Meanwhile, a group of NGOs including the Maldivian Detainee Network, Transparency Maldives, Rights for All, Strength of Society, Maldives Aid, Madulu, Democracy house and NGO Federation released a statement condemning the recent rise in gang violence in Male’.

The NGO’s reported that police statistics show that during last year there were 12 murder cases reported to police and 11 of them were sent to Prosecutor General’s office.

The NGOs called on the president and parliament to pass the necessary bills as soon as possible to avoid gang violence.

They furthermore called on the government institutions concerned with gang crime to fulfill their responsibilities.