“I’m too old to sit around. We genuinely want to improve the way things work”: Dr Waheed

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan recently said he was not completely satisfied with his job and wanted more consultation between the government and the coalition parties when he appeared on VTV’s show Hoonu Gondi (Hot Seat) on 12 April.

At a rally for the Gaumee Itthihaad Party (GIP) last Saturday, Dr Waheed reiterated his concerns of lack of communication within the government and lack of consultation.

Minivan News spoke to Dr Waheed today about his comments, concerns, achievements and what improvements he thinks the government needs to make.

Laura Restrepo Ortega: Why are you airing your issues publicly? Why not speak to President Nasheed directly?

Dr Waheed: We have brought about this change to promote democracy and human rights, and good governance is a very important part of it. Part of the reason why I air these things publicly is because obviously I don’t feel that there are enough opportunities for us to discuss these things. To some extent, it is because of communication, but also these are things people need to know.

We’ve been in government for a year and a half now, and I have said these things in public before. I have tried very hard to work together and I’m still committed in doing so. I also like to be heard. I’m too old to sit around. We genuinely want to improve the way things work here.

Clearly this is still a young government and there is lots that needs to be done to improve. If you listen to what I said, and not what other people are saying, you will see that my comments are constructive comments. They are not meant to criticise. They were suggestions on how things can be improved.

LRO: Has anything changed or improved since your first TV appearance?

Dr Waheed: I don’t see any major difference still. It hasn’t been very long since I appeared on television. I am still hopeful that there will be an opportunity to work out things.

LRO: What is it you want to change?

Dr Waheed: I would like more consultation on major policy issues. I know that the Constitution doesn’t specifically say that I have to be consulted. But the spirit of the Constitution is that the vice president is here for a reason. Not to wake up every morning and find out the president is there so you go back to sleep — for five years.

LRO: So you want more communication within the government?

Dr Waheed: I think there’s no alternative to that. Any alternative to inadequate communication is breakdown.

One of the problems is that we still don’t have a culture of sharing information. Even in government offices decisions are made, and these decisions are not adequately communicated to the rest of the staff and to the people who should receive that information. So that is something that can be done fairly easily, but we have to develop a culture of doing that.

I am used to working in places where, when you make a decision, everybody who is concerned with it are informed. And it’s very easy to do that now with e-mail. We don’t have a culture of using e-mail effectively for work. People use it for personal communication, but not so much for improving office communications.

LRO: Do you think that the opposition will use your comments against the government?

Dr Waheed: It’s a competitive political environment, and different people will use them differently. The most important thing is public impression. In the past, we don’t say anything. I also worked in the previous government. We don’t say anything and we just stay quiet, and we just continue as if everything is perfect. And then it blows up.

I think we are in a different environment now. For us, freedom of expression and human rights are the reason why we are here. And part of it is also respect for each other’s views.

LRO: What do you think of the opposition? Are they being constructive or are they working against the government?

Dr Waheed: You’re talking about the opposition, and the opposition’s interest is in opposing the government. But one of the things I said was there should be a mechanism for dialogue, between the opposition and the government.

LRO: Are there no such mechanisms in place?

Dr Waheed: I don’t see that. There is too much polarisation. There are things, of course, we want from the opposition. We want their support to pass the bills in Parliament, and there may be things they want from the government. And that is also to address some of their own concerns. I believe we should be able to engage with all parties.

LRO: Do you think it’s possible for a coalition government to work in practice?

Dr Waheed: I think it’s possible. We have to be a lot more tolerant and respectful of each other. We cannot pretend that we know everything. That’s why we have to listen to others. It’s healthy to take other people’s views and to be consultative. Of course, you cannot get everything you want when you talk to other people. Sometimes you have to do things differently. But because no one is infallible, the decisions we make together are likely to survive and to succeed more.

The wisdom of consultation, I think, is probably more valid but also it helps to get buy-in and ownership. So to me, in a democratic form, in a democracy, good governance means more teamwork.

LRO: Will your party (GIP) survive?

Dr Waheed: I believe it will. But the political landscape of Maldives is not fixed, because it is in the very early stages of democracy. It’s not like a mature, old democracy. I’m sure in the future there will be many changes. Whether our party will survive will depend on how active our members are and how determined they are to build it. So we’ll see.

LRO: Should political parties be dissolved all together?

Dr Waheed: Political parties are very new in the country, they’re also struggling to develop and be at capacity. At the moment there is vicious competition among parties to grab members. And in so doing, maybe inadvertently, people are making direct or indirect threats about their job security, their benefits, about their businesses and privileges and so on. It’s not good for the country.

LRO: Do you think there are elements in the government that are detrimental to the country’s progress?

Dr Waheed: There are always people trying to influence the government’s efficiency and so on. There are also individual interests in that, but this is precisely why we have checks and balances. Within the government also there are mechanisms for getting things through, as long as we don’t short-circuit them. And we have the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) and other watch-dog institutions. I believe those checks will be there. I’m optimistic that there will be those checks, if you compare now to the past.

But all of these institutions are still at an infant stage. And this is why we have to raise some of these issues. My comments certainly are not meant to be detrimental. I am trying to say things that I believe are good for the country. I have nothing to personally gain from this. But I don’t want to be sitting around, not being as useful as I can. I believe I am part of the senior leadership of this government, but there are people who don’t agree with that.

LRO: What do you think of statements made by members of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) calling for the resignation of anyone in government who doesn’t adhere to the MDP manifesto?

Dr Waheed: This is very short-sighted and narrow thinking. This is not coming from everybody at the MDP, it’s coming from some people. I have a lot of affinity to MDP, as well. I helped found that party, as well. I was there at the initial stages when we built the party, and a lot of my relatives are still there.

So it’s not that I’m against MDP, we are sister parties. And I believe we should have a mechanism for working together, instead of the big fish trying to swallow the little one. That’s why I think my party’s people are resisting. They may not have a choice because it’s a much smaller party. We have a number of people from our party in the government.

The level of tolerance of this government will be judged very soon by how many of our colleagues will be forced to join MDP if they want to retain their post.

LRO: Do you think that will happen?

Dr Waheed: My colleagues in government are under pressure to leave my party (GIP) and join MDP.

LRO: What did you mean when you said the country is becoming ‘colour coded’?

Dr Waheed: If you talk to people, you don’t have to just talk to me, talk to people in government, do a survey. You will find that there is a lot of concern about this. People are having difficulty, the way they were also having in the last government. I thought we wanted to get away from these pressures.

LRO: What pressures?

Dr Waheed: If you don’t join the government, if you don’t join the political alliances, you don’t get jobs, you are threatened, you might lose your job, these kinds of things.

LRO: Is this happening within the government or to members of the general public?

Dr Waheed: This is happening everywhere. And every day we are getting complaints about this. Just yesterday, a civil servant has been transferred from one department to the other because that person signed up for my party.

These things are happening all the time. And I don’t think we should do this, because what happens next? You have another government, when a new government comes, they kick out everybody who was hired during our government. And it’s not healthy for the country. So we have to be a lot more tolerant and value people for their merit, their experience, not their political affiliations.

LRO: What would you say are your biggest achievements as Vice President?

Dr Waheed: I had been assigned the responsibility for guiding the National Narcotics Council. And I believe that there has been a very marked reduction in the availability of drugs in the country. I also believe that we have a good plan for prevention of narcotics in the country. We had a very successful stake-holder meeting and the findings have been reflected in the National Strategic Action Plan.

Implementation of it is slow. If I had sufficient powers I would have set up a stronger department for drugs and rehabilitation and treatment. It’s not working very well at the moment. I have proposed that it should be much more empowered. And once that happens I’m sure it will move faster. We have successfully revised the narcotics bill, it is now in the Parliament. And once it is approved by the Parliament, we will be able to move faster. So this is one area.

And the other is I was trusted by the president to lead the international donor conference. I believe that we had a successful one. I’m very proud of it. Now we have the pledges and commitments, we have to now still do a lot of work to access the resources. And we are in the process of doing that. I’m not the key person responsible for that now, different departments do their work, but I’m hoping that I will have a lead role in monitoring and supporting that. At the moment, my role, in fact, is a little bit vague.

LRO: Will you be running for presidency in 2013?

Dr Waheed: I have no idea where this is coming from. There are lots of political pundits in Maldives, there’s no shortage of them now. It must be coming from them. No, I have not made that decision. I think it’s a little early. But if that’s how the political formulations work in the country, and if that’s the best way I can serve, then why not?

LRO: So there is a chance you will run?

Dr Waheed: As I said, the circumstances will determine.


Vice President voices concerns about government at GIP rally

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed once again spoke out publicly against the government at a Gaumee Itthihaad Party (GIP) rally on Saturday, where he reiterated his opinion that the government’s coalition platform, which won them the 2008 presidential elections, is not being put into practice.

Dr Waheed appeared on the new VTV programme Hoonu Gondi (Hot Seat) earlier this month, where he voiced his concerns that the government was not employing the multi-party system they based their 2008 campaign on. He also said President Mohamed Nasheed did not consult with him enough, and he did not want to be a Vice President who “slept for five years.”

The vice president told Minivan News at the time he was “not completely satisfied” with his job and felt it was time for him to speak out without being afraid. “It’s my responsibility to express my feelings,” he said.

At Saturday’s GIP rally, the vice president once again spoke out against Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members who were acting as though MDP was the only party in the government, and said the Maldives would soon be “colour coded.”

According to reports, toward the end of the rally more than half the audience walked out in protest when Deputy Minister for Economic Development and GIP member, Ahmed Inaz, spoke of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, reiterated Dr Waheed was speaking as the head of a political party and not as the vice president at Saturday’s rally.

“I believe he has identified a need to strengthen his own party. New political party regulations require a party to have 3000 members, otherwise the party will be dissolved,” he said.

Zuhair added “another factor may be the local government elections in June, and he feels he needs to be seen as active. All this has nothing to do with the government.”

He noted the president and vice president “get on well at the office” and everything is running normally.

Zuhair said Dr Waheed’s comments on “colour coding” were taken out of context by the media. “I don’t believe this is correct,” he said. “The government does not favour any one party, which I believe is a compliment to the government.”

He said “the vice president accepted the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) manifesto. He is raising these problems with the government but he is part of it, so perhaps he should be more proactive in solving them.”

Zuhair added the opposition would surely try to use this to drive a wedge into the government, saying “it’s already happening.”

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Spokesperson Ibrahim Shareef said he believes there have been “some misunderstandings between the president and vice president.”

He said he doesn’t see anything wrong with the vice president making his comments public, as he “wasn’t criticising the government.”

Shareef said many people, both in the government and general population, were “blowing it out of proportion” making many people think there is disunity in the government.

He added Dr Waheed was asked difficult questions, and “I believe the vice president has answered correctly. Everybody knows it to be the truth.”

He said the government’s problem was they were “trying to change things for the sake of change” and had “so far failed to deliver anything concrete.”

Shareef said “people’s lives are becoming very difficult”, especially for those in the civil service, and noted that even if the government could not deliver on anything concrete, people were still expecting it from them.

“It’s only been a year and a half,” he said, “but some decisions are very hasty and not thought out properly.”

Spokesperson for MDP Ahmed Haleem said he thought the vice president “wants to get more sheets for the local elections [to be held in June]” and “wants to show he is still alive.”

“Seventy-five percent of the people reject this vice president,” Haleem said, adding the Vice President’s recent comments were not injuring the image of the government or the MDP, but were injuring Dr Waheed himself.

Haleem said there is “no more coalition” in the government, since most parties withdrew from the coalition. But noted the GIP was “very supportive of us” and are supportive of democracy, too.

According to GIP’s website, the party joined the MDP to “create a platform for those individuals who wish to present new ideas, who value honest leadership that cares about the Maldivian people.”

The GIP promises to “bring new ideas on health care, education, housing and other development to better improve our country and give our citizens something we’ve never had – a truly representational government.”

As of last week, the GIP has 3,508 members according to the Elections Commission.


Government is still “one man show”, says Vice President Dr Waheed

When Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed appeared as the first-ever guest on VTV’s new show Hoonu Gondi (Hot Seat) on 12 April, he took the opportunity to say he was “not completely satisfied” with his job.

The aftermath of the Vice President’s interview has brought his comments to television shows, newspapers and blogs, with headlines exploiting his words as criticisms directed to President Mohamed Nasheed and his leadership.

Speaking to Minivan News, Dr Waheed said although he usually does not do interviews, but in a small community like Malé “people know when someone is not happy” and he felt he needed to speak out.

“I made a fairly measured response [to the question], careful not to be too critical of the government,” Dr Waheed said. “It is time to get rid of that fear of speaking out.”

He said people had been waiting for him to say something about his role as the country’s first elected vice president, and felt he needed to express “what is good, and what is not working” in the current government.

“This is also my government. Clearly there are ways it could be stronger,” he said.

Dr Waheed said he felt the government should be “shaped in the spirit of democracy and good governance,” adding that “we still have a lot to learn.”

He said he held the responsibility to tell the people who elected him how he felt about the government, their over-all performance and his role in it. “It’s my responsibility to express my feelings,” he said, “I think people in power should express themselves.”

Dr Waheed’s feelings were that the “way we function in [this] government is not too different to what it used to be. It’s still one man running the show,” he said, but assured he was “not picking issues” with the government, but “talking about democratic process.”

One of the main reasons for his dissatisfaction was that he doesn’t feel he is sufficiently involved in the decision-making process. “I don’t feel I am able to contribute, that consultation is not there.”

He said that while it was the president’s privilege not to consult him on everything, he thought the core of a democratic government should be “more inclusive and participative.”

“The people of the Maldives didn’t elect me to sleep for five years. I believe I am part of the leadership of this country and it is necessary for me to be involved,” Dr Waheed said. He added “the government will be stronger if the president consults with us.”

He also expressed concern over the fact that the current government won the 2008 elections on a coalition-party platform, but is now being run by a single party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

However Dr Waheed said this was “nothing that can’t be fixed”, as the government “is going through a learning process.”

He also believes the government is doing a good job in delivering their promises to the people.

“For any government, the first few months have to go into planning,” Dr Waheed said. “There has been a lot of work laying those foundations and results will be seen shortly.”

As the Maldives has not yet celebrated its second year under a democratic government, the vice president is sure these issues can still be resolved.

He said the government must be “much more consultative. We need to be more clear on what is being assigned and how that can be achieved.”

Dr Waheed defended his statements on ‘Hot Seat’ by reiterating that “I don’t see why we should be hiding our feelings now. We did not bring about this change to work in despair.”

He noted that despite the headlines today, “everything is OK” between him and the president.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said the vice president’s interview “was not in an official capacity [as vice president], but as a party leader.”

“If he was going in official capacity we would get a notice, but this time it did not happen,” Zuhair said.

Dr Mohamed Jameel, president of the Dhivehi Qaumy Party (DQP), one of the parties that joined the MDP-led coalition that elected President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration in the 2008 elections, said he “agrees with Vice President Waheed completely.”

“I think [lack of consultation] is the very reason why many politicians from the coalition went away,” he said, adding “this is the final blow in the coffin.”

He said the problem was the government’s attitude: “Ever since they were elected, they have been saying it was a win for the MDP only.”

Dr Jameel said he thought the MDP had been “hijacked at gun point by their activists” and now the government was “conveniently giving into their demands.”

President of the Adhaalath party Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed, another coalition partner, said all the coalition parties had been having problems for a while “due mainly to political competition.”