MDP accuses government-aligned parties of corruption and bribery in Majlis election

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has condemned alleged attempts by government-aligned parties to influence voting in the recently held parliamentary elections through coercion and threats.

“The MDP expresses concern and strongly condemns the actions of government-aligned political persons to buy votes, threaten people with losing their jobs, and instruct some voters to make a special marking on ballot papers – thereby compromising the confidentiality of votes cast,” a party statement read.

The party’s allegations are said to be based on what it calls “valid complaints” it has been receiving – actions it beleives constitutes corruption and bribery.

“Furthermore, it is also a breach of law to coerce the revealing of confidential votes, and to act upon such coercion,” the statement continued.

The MDP accused the ruling parties of threatening that individuals would lose their jobs, and requiring these people to specially mark their ballot paper in order for observers and party representatives to see how the vote was cast.

“The recently completed parliamentary elections is one which many citizens claim – and has been proven – to have been tainted by corruption, threats against job security, compromising of the Elections Commissions independence and legal mandate, large amounts of dirty money being used as bribery, and vast cases of vote buying.

The MDP will therefore further investigate these claims and take possible action against them. We further call on the Elections Commission and and other relevant state authorities to look into the matter,” the statement concluded.

The parliamentary elections held on March 22nd were observed by local NGO Transparency Maldives, as well as delegations from the European Union and the Commonwealth.

Following the conclusion of the election, Transparency Maldives stated that while it was well-administered and transparent, “wider issues of money politics threatens to hijack the democratic process”.

As well as previous suggestions of undue influence from the MDP, the Adhaalath Party has also blamed its poor showing on bribery and coercion – accusing both sides of such practices.

“We saw it both from the ruling party and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party but we really did not want to buy votes –  instead we tried to change the way people think,’’ party Spokesperson Ali Zahir told Minivan News last week.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ahmed Nihan and President’s Office Spokersperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali were not responding to calls at the time of press.


EPA advises Majlis campaigners not to litter

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has advised all political parties from littering the streets as campaigning for March’s Majlis elections continues.

Assistant Director of EPA Ahmed Murthala told Sun Online that several complaints had been received, adding that the EPA could not currently monitor violations due to staff shortages. The EPA is discussing ways to tackle breaches with the police, Sun was told.

The streets of the capital Malé were frequently strewn with campaign material during last year’s presidential election.

Last week, the city council revealed plans to introduce 200 dustbins as part of new regulations on waste management.

The waste management regulation came into force on February 5 and imposes an MVR100 (US$6.5) for littering and a fine between MVR10,000 (US$ 648.5) – MVR100,000 (US$6,485) if any authority in charge of public spaces fails to place public dustbins.

The regulations also mandate boat owners to place dustbins on sea vessels and imposes a fine between MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) and MVR500 million (US$32.4 million) on boats that dump waste into the ocean.

Murthala told Sun, however, that certain parts of the regulations – including the transportation of exposed waste on bicycles – will be postponed for two months.


Q&A: MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom – Kelaa constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be speaking with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

Dr. Abdulla Mausoom – who represents the Kelaa Constituency – is a member of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

Besides being a parliamentarian, Dr Mausoom is also currently working as the General Manager of Sun Island Resort.

Mariyath Mohamed: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Abdulla Mausoom: Because I wanted to participate and compete in the democratic transition.

Initially, I thought of forming a new party. But then, when two parties were established, I decided to join one of them instead of creating a new party. I later decided that if the need arises in the changing political arena, I would then form a separate party.

MM: You have previously worked in government positions, notably in the tourism sector. How many years of experience do you have of working with the government?

AM: Many years, between going abroad for studies and working in the government. I spent most of the time in the civil service sector, about nine years. Then, in the executive branch of the government, as a political appointee, I spent about a year.

MM: Based on your attendance and work in this ending term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

AM: I am very pleased with my performance. When it comes to attendance, I believe I will rank as number one through out the 17th parliament.

I also participated in debates in a productive manner. I made research based contributions both to the debate on the parliament floor, as well as the committees.

Generally, I am happy with my personal performance, however the parliament is a collective institution. So it is with the collective input of all members that the parliament can reap results.

MM: What are the main committees you were acting on?

AM: I mostly worked on the public accounts committee and the economic committee. I also worked on the tax related committees, except for the one that was recently compiled.

I also worked on all the budget committees – compiled with a combination of those in the public accounts committee and the economic committee.

I also worked on the government oversight committee, as well as the social affairs committee.

MM: What particular bills did you focus on? Which of these would you describe as having worked most passionately on?

AM: It is not passionately that we view bills – I would not call it passion. However, it is with interest that I work on every bill. Every bill that comes to the committees are bills I work on with utmost interest.

I have higher interest in bills that have to do with the general public or common people.

More than what I would call limiting bills, I support bills that expand people’s rights.

MM: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

AM: What people of my constituency want most is to be able to reach their MP. I am the member who is most easily reachable. It cannot be true if anyone – be it a member of my constituency or any other citizen – claims to be unable to reach me via phone. They can call me. I have been able to give access to myself for all citizens and constituents, and that is something I am pleased about.

When debating on matters that have to do with the common people, I deliberated with local councils, and their input is included in my debates. On other such bills – like the Thalassemia Act – I discussed it with stakeholders from my constituency before speaking on the parliament floor.

The thing with gathering the public’s view is that you get opposing views from different people. So from within that mix, some people may not be happy with the stances I take during debates. Often in debates, I tend to take one side of the argument instead of taking a neutral stance. And so, this might result in being in a way that some constituents may not agree with. But as an MP, the constituents have given me the mandate to do so. However, if it is a very sensitive matter, I try to solicit views of as many people as possible.

The other achievement is that I have been able to fulfill all the pledges I made in my campaign. One of which is the establishment of a Constituency Clubhouse in Malé, where they are able to do the administrative work needed for the area.

The other thing is social help, which albeit not being part of a parliamentarian’s mandate, is something which society expects of a parliament member. So I did provide such help as best as I was capable of. While there might be instances where I was not able to help, I have done so on many occasions.

I am confident that people of my constituency are aware that if Mausoom has something, the people will be able to get it from me.

Another thing I have done is building a community space – a small house – near the beach in Kelaa under my own personal spending. I have prohibited the space from being painted in any party colours as I want it to remain a space where all persons can gather to relax regardless of their political affiliation.

I also want to note some things I have done for the constituency through the parliament. There are certain necessary development projects, basic infrastructure needed for islands in my constituency.

After having included it in the budget every time, finally work has been commenced on building a jetty and seawall in the island of Vashafaru. Establishment of a sewerage system in Kelaa has also been contracted out now. Additionally, the building of a jetty and a sewerage system in Filladhoo have also been included in the budget.

I believe that inclusion of these projects in the budget is an achievement as an MP. It is then the executive branch of the state which must deliver these.

Furthermore, I have incorporated into the budget requests that come from schools in my constituency.

MM: What would you say is the biggest blunder or worst decision you have made in your political career? Why?

AM: I do not see any political blunders of my own. However, I am concerned with how the public perception of the parliament has changed.

While the parliament is an institution that must have the respect of the people, we were not able to completely obtain that respect. Like I said before, the parliament is a collective institution.

As a whole, the 17th parliament has achieved a lot. It has held more meetings than ever before in history, or than in any other country of the world. It has passed a record number of bills, and accomplished a lot of work.

And yet, citizens do not consider parliamentarians as noble persons. That is a concern I have.

MM: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR20,000? Why or why not?

AM: Yes. Even when the committee allowance first came into public scrutiny, I have maintained that the committee allowance is something I spend on my constituency. It is something I give to the people of my constituency, under plans I have made with a group of youth from each island in the area on how to disperse this money. Nevertheless, I spend even more than what I get as committee allowance in this manner. Even the Clubhouse in Malé needs about MVR25,000 to be spent on it as cost every month.

No one in my constituency harbours any displeasure about my taking the committee allowance. They are aware that Mausoom spends on clubs and organisations more money than he earns as committee allowance. Others understand that I have the capability to earn more money if I were to take up another alternative profession, and therefore that I am not in the parliament for the purpose of making money.

I think what citizens want is to have a connection with the MP. Therefore, I have never received any complaints from the Kelaa constituency about my salary or allowances.

MM: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

AM: I personally have no issues with declaring my financial assets, and am doing so as per current regulations. I also have no reservations about showing it to any individual who requests it of me.

However, as an MP, I do not support making it mandatory to declare an MP’s financial assets. One reason for this is that there is a need to bring in rich ideas into the parliament; which means businessmen and intellectuals should be among parliamentarians.

My child said to me one day that people consider me to be a millionaire, but actually I’m broke. Now, if financial assets are publicised, people will know I am broke. The question is, will people vote for someone who is broke? So viewing it from a materialistic view, some people will view it as a disadvantage.

The other thing is, even someone who has a lot of money will be faced with social spending and such pressures.

I did some research on this matter, and most people are of the view that we shouldn’t place such restrictions if we want the parliament to have high calibre people in it. And to introduce other dimensions through which a member’s acts can be vetted for corruption.

For example, have them lodge any increments to wealth gained after they are elected to parliament. This is the kind of approach I support.

MM: Are you re-contesting in the next elections? Why or why not?

AM: It is very unlikely that I will re-contest.

I have told you the reason; that is, that being a parliamentarian is not savvy anymore. So there are other ways to get more decent jobs and serve the nation in other ways.

I am not moving away from politics. But, I don’t think I will contest this time unless there is a need from a particular political affiliation.

Personally I have no interest in re-contesting, but if there is a desire for me to contest from a particular political institution – even if it is some political party – then I may consider it. At the moment, I don’t fancy being a parliamentarian.

For the time being, I don’t think it is a very savvy job. It is, I think, people look upon an MP as someone who is not very clean. Maybe when times change and people begin to believe that being a parliamentarian is a respectable job, I think that will then be a good time to contest for a position there.

But I will remain in touch with the people, and people can be in touch with me in the meantime.

MM: You have recently revealed that you have taken on the job of General Manager at a resort. What made you make this decision?

AM: Yes, I am now the General Manager of Sun Island.

MM: As the resort is owned by leader of Jumhooree Party Gasim Ibrahim, your acceptance of the post of GM there has led to public speculation. Would you say it is a political decision on your part?

AM: Some people are asking me that, but I am not affiliated to Jumhooree Party. It is a professional decision.
The question was whether I should take up the job after the parliament term ends or before that. Then I thought, why not start even now? So I did. Because when I took up the post, very few meetings were scheduled and parliament was not being held properly.

Even after starting work as GM, I am the only MP who has attended all the meetings. January and February was supposed to be parliament recess, but now that we are having special meetings – I am attending them.

Next will be March, when the parliamentary elections will also be held. I don’t think there will be many meetings then.

April and May will be the two remaining months and I will do my parliamentarian job to its best until the term ends.

Many people expect me to run, and I get requests from various constituencies. All of them have seen my contributions to parliamentary debates. I am happy that they accept me as being among the few who make meaningful contributions. However, I will not run this time.

MM: What improvements do you feel the 18th Majlis will need to make to improve as an institution?

AM: I believe it is political parties who can do this, and not individual members. Because the parliament is multi-party and the government itself is not really in the party system. It is not really because of the party affiliation that we have the current president, the government is through a Jumhooree, PPM, Adhaalath, and other parties’ coalition.

In this system of government, when we have a party system parliament, the functioning of the institution is very much dependent on the psyche of the parties. So if the parties take away their personal agendas and focus on development ideas and democratic reforms, I think the next Majlis will be more productive.

The 18th Majlis will be less challenging. I say this because the 17th Majlis was given the huge task of forming institutions and law that were required due to the changes to the Constitution of the Maldives. That is almost done now, and only a few things remain for the 18th Majlis to do in this regard.

Nevertheless, I think the behaviour of the 18th Majlis members will depend on how people vote this time. If the behaviour of members of the 17th majlis was accepted and endorsed by public as good behaviour which merits re-election, then – I think, as per human nature – the same behaviour will be repeated in the 18th majlis. So I believe the electorate has a major responsible decision to make.

MM: What are your thoughts on party switching – do you think it undermines the party system?

AM: I think so, yes.

But then again, here it is not so. This is because parties are not identifiable by ideologies or what they stand for. If you listen to what they say, they are all singing the same song. There might be minor changes in tempo or beats, but it is the same song ultimately.

Therefore when people change to parties, it does not really change the direction the parliament is going to. But I think the electorate gets disappointed as they vote for the party.

When I say party, I don’t mean an ideology but the party – let’s even put it into inverted commas – or an individual that party represents. Right now when we say MDP, we mean Mohamed Nasheed, with PPM it is Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and with JP it is Gasim Ibrahim.

My party DRP, and Adhaalath Party, we don’t have any major individual figures, and so we are no longer key parties.

People elect you because you support a person they also support. And then when you change parties, you are going to someone who they don’t necessarily support, so the people may harbour negative hard feelings against you. But I don’t think it makes an impact on the nation as a whole, because political ideologies of the parties are not distinguishable.

MM: Any final thoughts you would like to add?

AM: I hope that the political dimension will bring in peaceful parameters, instead of moving into violent parameters.

We saw some violence in the 2008 and 2009 elections, but I am happy to see that the recent local council elections as well as the presidential elections went by peacefully without violence. And I hope the upcoming parliamentary elections proceed in the same manner.

Any attacks – against a politician or the general public – due to a political motive is unacceptable. My wish is that the political arena becomes a safe zone for everyone, along with freedom of expression and the freedom to engage in politics without any fear.


Government coalition reveals Majlis election plan – Adhaalath excluded

The government’s coalition announced on Sunday that it had finished dividing seats for the upcoming parliamentary elections between the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), and the Jumhooree Party (JP).

According to the coalition, the PPM will be contesting in 49 areas, the JP in 28, and the MDA in 8.

PPM Deputy Leader Abdul Raheem stated that the division had gone according to the initial agreements made within the coalition during the presidential election.

He acknowledged that the parties had failed to get some of the seats that they requested, but affirmed that all seats had been allocated after much deliberation between party leaders.

He stated that special attention had been given to parties with incumbent parliamentarians in order that they could hold on to those constituencies.

“The areas have been decided upon as per the agreement of all three parties. To be honest, there wasn’t much debate. Everyone took care to make decisions in a manner that had least negative affect on the coalition, and would assist in getting us the most number of seats,” he is quoted as saying in local media.

Raheem had his phone switched off at the time of press.

Parties free to give seats to Adhaalath: PPM

The ruling party stated that, while religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) was excluded from the coalition’s Majlis plan, the parties are free to give the AP seats from those allocated to them.

Abdul Raheem informed local media that coalition parties will discuss the matter in the near future.

“In reality, Adhaalath is not an official part of this Progressive Coalition. So the parties’ idea is to give them what we can from the seats which have been allocated to us,” he stated.

He further stated that Adhaalath had made some requests of the coalition, adding that all of them cannot be fulfilled. He declined from providing details of the request.

“As far as I am aware, JP is considering giving some seats to the AP. The number of seats, or from where, has not been decided yet,” JP Secretary General Hassan Shah told Minivan News today.

JP acting secretary general Dr Mohamed Saud said that he was unable to talk at the time of press.

Adhaalath hopeful of inclusion

The Adhaalath Party, which has previously raised concerns of being excluded from the coalition’s plans, remained hopeful of inclusion – even if via separate parties in the coalition.

“We are still in the hope that the coalition will give us some seats. Now, it is true that we are not an official partner that joined the coalition under share agreements like the JP did. So it cannot be termed as contesting via a separate coalition party even if it is not the full coalition that is giving us seats,” AP Spokesperson Ali Zahir said.

“Of course, there is a limit to what we will accept. If it is way below expectations, then we will not accept it and will proceed to contest separately. I am hopeful that a reasonable solution can be found. We will only know this once the discussions are set into motion,” he explained.

The AP has previously announced that it has members possessing masters or doctorate level qualifications interested in running in 32 different constituencies.


Q&A: MP Ahmed Easa – Kendhikulhudhoo constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be conducting interviews with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

As part of the series, Minivan News interviewed MP Ahmed Easa.

MP Easa represents the Kendhikulhudhoo constituency of Noonu Atoll and is from opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.

Mariyath Mohamed: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Ahmed Easa: My maternal family has always been a political family. My maternal uncle Tholhendhoo Hassan Gasim even spent time in detention as a political prisoner during Maumoon’s [former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] regime and was tortured then. Hassan Gasim was my guardian after my mother passed away. So from a young age I was exposed to political discussions. Hassan Gasim also served as island chief for about 40 years, and even as Atoll Chief for Noonu Atoll. He even received an Award of Honour from the state for his practice of traditional medicine. He was quite popular in the North, and this led to many high level political discussions happening in my house at the time.

From a young age I was exposed to the truth of the torture and injustice that was a norm in Gayoom’s regime, and so from a young age I disliked Maumoon’s leadership.

I grew up and joined the tourist resort industry. I had the good fortune to get many opportunities to work abroad within the luxury hotel industry, which resulted in my getting to meet numerous famous personalities, including politicians, leaders of various nations. I also became aware of the levels to which citizens of other countries had their human rights protected and civilian rights respected. While I have not been able to acquire academic credentials in the field of politics, various experiences led to my knowledge of the area being quite strengthened.

And then after I came back to work in the Maldives, the Employee Act was formed, and tourist sector employees were completely removed from having these rights. With our background knowledge of labour rights in other parts of the world, we could not at all tolerate this injustice. So, along with other long term colleagues, we set out to obtain the rights we were entitled to. Our belief was that if we were not able to find a solution to this matter ahead of the 2008 presidential elections, it would later prove doubly hard to accomplish our goals. This is because, as you know, it is easiest to get the attention of politicians at times when there is an election looming closely ahead.

So we exerted a lot of pressure to amend the law. We met with all the parliamentarians, the cabinet and other government authorities. We submitted the largest local petition to date, with signatures of over 10,000 tourism sector employees. And even then we were not able to get a good enough response, and so we called for the country’s first industrial strike. We called for employees to halt work in all resorts of the Maldives, and received immense support. When work in resorts began to come to a halt, Gayoom asked then Minister of Legal Reform Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed to submit amendments to the parliament. I believe that was a huge accomplishment gathered with my leadership and the hard work of many others. I take pride in the fact that the association we formed is now stronger, and operating as an internationally recognized trade union under affiliation with international trade unions. While I am not on its leadership anymore, there are some very young capable persons leading it today.

The first purely political activity I engaged in was during the referendum on whether there should be a presidential or parliamentary system here. I actively led the campaign in Kendhikulhudhoo to elect a parliamentary system. I took leave from my work at the resort and even freelanced as a reporter for the publication known as Minivan News at the time. The regulation’s Article 21 said that the votes cast in any island must be counted at the island itself before the ballot box is shipped back to the capital. In many islands, things happened in contradiction to this act, with ballot boxes being sealed and sent out without being counted. I protested. I said that things have to be done as per the regulations. After some chaos and huge problems around the matter, the Elections Commission finally ordered the regulations to be followed in all islands.

Even at that point, I am a man who sticks to my principles. I enter anything after much consideration and thought. I only take up what I believe to be something that I must do. Once I do come out, I will work on the front lines. My belief is that once we set out to do something, there are only two possible results. One is to succeed, and the other is to fail. There are things we must accept both in our successes and failures.

For example, the recent presidential elections. I don’t accept how the matters around the election proceeded. I don’t believe it was a free and fair election. It can only be a free and fair election if the Elections Commission is able to practically have all the powers and authority granted to it by law in the conduct of an election. What I saw was that the past election was held by the Supreme Court, and not the Elections Commission. There are no laws that allow the Supreme Court to conduct an election, and so I don’t accept the way the elections were conducted.

However, although we did not win the polls, there are certain things that we did succeed in. One is that we were able to bring the Maldives out of the state of coup, and install an elected leader voted in by the people, regardless of how the elections were conducted. So we have accepted this. Our party believes it is a huge success that there is a government which came to power as a result of citizens being able to exercise their right to vote.

Even today I believe, the country is better suited to be run under a parliamentary system. I don’t think that the overlap between the three powers of state and the issues that arise as a result will still be present if we can better understand the governing system. I believe the political leaders must think about this today. One must not try to change the system once there is an election overhead, that will only lead to chaos. It must be well thought out and done in more peaceful times.

MM: Referring back to the association you have mentioned, what is your role in the formation of TEAM (Tourism Employees Association of Maldives) and do you still assist in its management at present?

AE: Like I said, we started working as a group to ascertain that we are entitled to our rights. It was not an easy job to get employees in over 90 resorts to sign the petition without us personally travelling to those islands. However, even the petition did not bring about the desired result. So we believed, after the advice of experienced persons, that it is through forming a trade union that we can advocate for our rights effectively. However, as it was not clear if we authorised to form such a union under then existing laws, we registered as an organisation. However, today it has changed into a trade union.

Today, my role is only advisory. And that too, I only provide advice if I am requested for it, and the association is not mandated to follow my advice. The trade union has a strong leadership today. As there may arise a matter of conflict of interest, they advised me to resign and stop attending board meetings from the point I got elected as an MP of then ruling party MDP.

MM: Based on your attendance and work in this ending term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

AE: As I see it, the parliament is a hectic place, and one that carries serious responsibilities. I attempted to perform at my maximum capacity. I don’t think my attendance records will be too bad. Unless I am away on an official trip, or more recently out of Malé for a medical trip, I have rarely failed to attend any sessions. There have been instances where I have flown back on my own expenses from official trips in Europe just to participate in important votes in parliament. So as I see it, I paid a lot of attention to attending well. I have never missed any important votes taken in parliament.

I believe strongly in multi-party democracy and have always worked to uphold party values. I believe the work I conducted was rather good.

My attendance to committees is also very good. As the MDP member who simultaneously served on the most number of committees, there are some I might have missed due to overlapping meetings.

MM: What are the main committees you worked on? What particular bills did you focus on?

AE: I submitted numerous amendments to the Employees Act. I also submitted a bill regarding state expenditure, targeted to holding the state accountable. That bill has been passed and ratified now. That bill brings down the threat of the state going into debt regardless of which government comes to power in future. There are procedures under which state funds can be spent and loans can be taken included in this act and I believe it is a crucial piece of legislature in times as politically volatile as now.

Also other legislature like the Pre-school Act passed while I was the Chair of the National Development Committee. I did a lot of work as chair of that committee. If you do some research into it you will see that until I became chair of that committee, it had never before succeeded in completing draft of any bill and submitting it to the parliament floor.

I was in the National Development Committee, the Government Oversight Committee, the Disciplinary Committee and a temporary committee.

After the February 7 transfer of power, I focused strongly on the Government Oversight Committee as I believed it was one of the most important committees in session at the time. It is something deeply connected to citizens.

MM: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

AE: In Noonu Atoll, one very sad truth is that we never see our elected MP except when elections near. Especially when Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom served as the MP for the constituency, people only see him during election time. I, for one, never saw Yameen except during election time. Before I myself got elected to parliament, the last time I had seen Yameen was just before the previous parliamentary election. We see him every five years.

One thing that citizens often said to me when I first contested is that they won’t see me either from the point I get elected. That I won’t be where I can hear their concerns again. I pledged then that I would change that norm.

Today, I can proudly say that of the six islands in my constituency, there isn’t a single one I haven’t visited at least twenty to twenty five times. I have walked down all main streets, talked to the people, and dropped by several houses during these visits.

The other thing is how much I have assisted people in various things. Besides my parliamentary work, the only thing I have spent time on is assisting people in my constituency in various things.

However it is the citizens who will decide if I have served them well enough, that is not for me to say. They will make that decision in the upcoming election. If I do not get re-elected, it means I haven’t visited those islands frequently enough. That the citizens want to see their parliamentarian more. If, however, I do get re-elected, I have room to believe that the people are satisfied with the work I have done. That I must strive to do even better in my next five years.

MM: What would you say is the biggest mistake or worst step you have taken in your political career? Why?

AE: Letting a vote in favour of Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb slip through my hands in the recent parliament vote to endorse Yameen’s cabinet. That is the biggest mistake of my political career, what I politically suffered for most.

MM: As what you have referred to was a cause for much public criticism, would you like to explain how you came about to commit what you have termed your biggest mistake?

AE: As I see it, it is something I cannot really give much explanation for. It is 100 percent my fault. The parliament is always a loud and chaotic place, especially during important votes such as this one. Once the members start shouting, it is hard to hear what the speaker is saying or anyone else is saying, even if they speak over the microphone. That is not any justification for having let that vote slip by. If I had been able to concentrate as much as I should have, then that vote would not have slipped through my hands.

This is a kind of mistake that should not have been made by someone of my political calibre. But it happened because it was so loud there and I misheard the name that was announced.

I myself wouldn’t believe it if someone else told me what I am today. Someone of my status should not have committed such a silly mistake, and yet is done. I am facing many political challenges due to it. I am also being criticised by the grassroot level of my party because of this. I respectfully accept it all, I do understand how they feel. I believe that I deserve a penalisation for my mistake. As an organisation, the party must penalise me for this mistake. MDP is the most democratic and strongest political party. To remain so, it must take action against those in responsible positions whose acts negatively affect the party, regardless of whether the act was unintentional or deliberate.

I believe I must be penalised. It is the party that will decide what the penalty will be.

I began my political career with MDP and will not work with any other political ideology. I believe the MDP leadership includes those most faithful to the country right now. I believe President Mohamed Nasheed is the most sincere political leader. I remain steadfast in my decision to stand behind him.

I have heard through social media that MDP is considering retracting parliamentary tickets from those that voted to endorse those cabinet ministers. If they do so, I will wholeheartedly accept their decision. By saying ‘accept’, I mean that if MDP does cancel my primary ticket, if I try there might be opportunities where I can contest through another party or even as an independent candidate. However, if the party does take that action against me, I assure you that I will neither defect to another party nor will I contest as an independent candidate. Additionally, I will back whichever candidate gets the ticket and will do what I can to assist him in his campaign.

What I mean to say is that I began my political career with MDP, and that I will end it with MDP.

MM: You have just said that a vote to endorse the Tourism Minister slipped through your hands. Does this mean that this is the only cabinet minister you voted in favour of that day?

AE: Yes. I have never voted against party lines in the past five years. Even in more important votes, votes which our political opposition tried far harder to succeed in, I have steadfastly voted in alignment with party lines.

I have never broken a party whip line, deliberately or mistakenly, except for this time. And even in this instance, it was only the Adheeb vote – I voted along party lines for everyone else.

MM: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR20,000? Why or why not?

AE: I never really supported it even when it was first spoken of. If I remember right, I did not even participate in the first vote that was taken regarding committee allowance. I don’t remember too well how I voted in the later vote on the matter.

As I remember, I voted in line with the majority of votes that day in parliament. This is something I often do. If the party gives us a free whip, I vote as the majority of the full parliament feels is best. I think this is one of the best policies of democracy, aligning with majority. Perhaps, by doing so, I might have acted in a way that led some citizens to be displeased. What I am saying is it is possible that 77 of us do something that may displease the 200,000 or 300,000 citizens of this country.

I cannot say for certain whether I voted for or against it, but I definitely would have voted in the way the majority did that day.

The committee allowance issue led to a lot of discord. I have often spoken in parliament of compiling a solid financial structure under which those in state positions get paid. I have always advocated that the same principles be applied when giving incentives and privileges to those serving in the three separate branches of the state.

For example, about MVR100,000 is being spent on a Supreme Court judge every month, which is a huge amount. With all our allowances, an MP is also paid about MVR 82,500 or 62,500 a month, which, yes, is a hefty amount. So what I am saying is, talking only about the incentives that an MP gets and ignoring judges and others in state positions will not bring the system into order. All of it needs to be addressed.

We cannot adapt a system where we have to spend more than what the state earns.

MM: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

AE: When the Disciplinary Committee discussed about financial statements, MDP members advocated for it to be made public. But the DRP, PPM, and JP stopped it through a vote then. As I see it, citizens must be able to see the financial assets of politicians. It must be available publicly even on the parliament website.

That day, opposition members said to me that while I may not have any concerns about making financial statements public as I don’t engage in other businesses, they have family businesses which they don’t want out in the public eye. I accept that they might have family businesses, but I am not referring to those. I am saying that the person who must be accountable to the public must reveal his personal financial statement.

MM: Are you re-contesting in the next elections? Why? What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected for a new term?

AE: Yes, so far I have got the parliamentary ticket without a primary as no one else contested for the Kendhikulhudhoo constituency from MDP. If, like I said before, MDP does not retract my candidacy due to my mistake in the cabinet vote I will contest. But I will remain in serving the people through MDP.

Why am I re-contesting for Kendhikulhudhoo constituency? I have always said I will contest in two terms. I have always believed that it is for very good reason that many countries say that a president can serve for ten consecutive years maximum. While the constitution does not have any limitations on how many times a person can apply for reconstestation, I believe that after two terms we must allow younger new candidates to come out and face up to the challenge. This is what I intend to do.

MM: What improvements do you feel the 18th Majlis will need to make to improve as an institution?

AE: There are some administrative challenges that the parliament faces in running effectively. This year’s budget includes funds to complete the new parliament building, which I think is absolutely necessary.

There are also some bills that need to be completed for the Constitution to be fully in effect, and so far we have not been able to finish this work.

However, as someone who worked in parliament in five years, I must say that although the performance of many members on the parliament floor may not seem satisfactory to the general public, they do a lot of work in the committees, which is where the majority of our work is conducted anyway. It is a huge challenge to effectively do this work that we do not have sufficient space to conduct meetings in.

MM: What are your thoughts on party switching? Do you think it undermines the party system?

AE: As I see it, we cannot force anyone to remain in a party. The question that then arises is if we should narrow this habit of defection through a law. However, there is a Supreme Court verdict which clearly states that this cannot be done.

What is left to be considered is honesty and sincerity. A party is an ideology. I believe that it is people who do not have a strong political belief or ideology that switches parties. The only cure for this is for parties to focus on ensuring that it is people with strong political beliefs that they raise to positions.

I for one am saying clearly that I believe in the MDP ideology very strongly. I have no doubts about my political beliefs and will not change it. As long as MDP remains steadfast in upholding its current political principles, I will remain with it.


Q&A: MP Ahmed Nihan – Villi Maafannu Constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be conducting interviews with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

As part of the series, Minivan News interviewed MP Ahmed Nihan.

MP Ahmed Nihan represents the Villi Maafannu constituency and is from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Mariyath Mohamed: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Ahmed Nihan: To be honest, I didn’t enter this field to achieve any major political goals. However, there are certain things that circumstances brought about. Namely, the political chaos of 2003.

We were used to a very normal, peaceful way of life. The society we grew up in was not one where political dialogue in public places were common. It is not even important. If there was a cause for disheartenment, most people kept it to themselves. However, even then there were some people who would talk about such issues both in public places and through media. It was not even done after considering what sort of penalties may be levied against them for doing so. We were, however, aware that those who were being jailed for participating in political activity were being placed in that situation due to the involvement of other factors besides political expression.

For example, the bombing of 1990. Those allegedly involved in the bombing later became major political figures. While they may have their reasons for committing such an act, it is never acceptable for violence, arson or terrorism to be used as a solution for anything. In 2003, I closely saw the situation deteriorate in Malé. As a bystander, I saw three or four places being set ablaze.

I thought then that the peaceful atmosphere of Male’ was coming to an end. While I don’t mean that everything was happening right then, I felt that anti-social elements would then seep in and damage the general social norms of the Malé society. Whatever good or bad reasons behind it, I was aware that anti-social elements would come in.

A cause for widespread political discussions in the country was the announcement made by then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on 9 June 2004, where he said the people were free to discuss political matters publicly. I will not judge whether the intentions behind the announcement were good or bad, but that is the reason for increased politicisation within the society.

Friends and I then started having long discussions about this matter over coffee meet-ups, where intellectuals from across the political divide frequently joined. It so happened that one other friend and I took the side of the then incumbent government. It was purely from my own views, as I had no other connection to the government. Neither me nor any of my relatives were serving in Gayoom’s administration, none of us had any businesses we needed to protect, there was no child we need to send abroad to study, at the very least we did not even possess a vehicle in our names. Despite all of this, I was among the few who accepted Gayoom’s policies as being right.

In March 2005, following the parliament’s approval of multi party democracy, we faced a lot of political challenges. Everyone was identified as a political person. Even then, I had no intention of joining any particular party. However, from my childhood, I have always been a fan of Gayoom’s. I especially liked his policies on nationalism.

On May 29, 2005, I learned while I was at a coffee with friends that Gayoom was going to form a party. I decided to go for two reasons. One is that it is a common rumour here that Gayoom operated via nepotism and cronyism and would not allow a commoner into their inner circle. I wanted to see if this is true. I did not enter politics on anyone’s intention, at 34 years of age I just knocked at the door of the meeting place uninvited.

At the meeting, I saw that it was filled with elite persons and children of high level officials, and I couldn’t accept that although the meeting was for a youth audience, there was enough representation of general youth there.

I was outspoken and questioned Gayoom, asking if he believed there is enough youth representation there. I asked if he was aware of the criticism against him in the public. I then volunteered in preparation of the first two party meetings but there was absolutely no chance of going to the frontline at that point.

At the third public meeting held on June 13 – Gayoom’s party still had elites in it, while MDP was at its peak already – at this point, then government spokesperson Dr Ahmed Shaheed called me and asked me to speak in that night’s meeting. This was not due to any connections, but probably because I had been so outspoken at this first meeting.

He was the first person to plant the idea of comparing MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed to Adolf Hitler, by asking me to make the comparison in my first political speech. He asked me to point out that nothing good may come to a party through a politician leading groups on to the street and to point out the likeness between how Nasheed operated and how the Nazi party had operated in the past.

No one in the higher tiers had thus far dared to criticise the MDP. This speech of mine was very well-received and people accepted me. I then became a member of DRP’s council. I was the only ordinary member on it. This is how I entered the field.

MM: Based on your attendance and work in this ending term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

AN: For me, especially being an MP who lives out of Malé, I will say I performed well over average. I’m the only member who starts his day on a ferry. Despite the political situation I walk through the public and travel on a ferry with them every day, that is my way of life.

Except for a few days where I had to be involved with other issues, I have not missed any Majlis sessions. Later on, I have met with some VilliMale’ constituents during Majlis hours to listen to their concerns, but even then I do come to Majlis in time for voting on bills. Even this was possible after the starting quorum was changed to an open quorum and things became more convenient.

I have also missed some of the latter committee meetings as I had to involved in the [presidential election] campaigns.

MM: What are the main committees you were acting on? What particular bills did you focus on?

AN: I was in many fundamental committees. This is because due to the political situation, there was a lot of space for waste arguments. For example, matters around the judiciary.

One of the committees I was on for the longest and contributed most to is the Social Affairs committee. This is the committee that compiled some of the most important bills. For example, the Act on Special Measures Against Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse.

I was also on the Economic Affairs Committee, with the intention of learning something new. I figured the best way to learn about the matter once budgetary issues arose would be through the Economic Affairs committee.

The Public Accounts Committee is what parliamentarians often saw as the most privileged committee, due to the many opportunities for trips abroad that rose out of it. However, I did not push to be on it. The other committee most in demand by parliamentarians is the 241 Committee on national security.

I gave the most importance to the Petition Committee, Economic Affairs Committee and the Social Affairs Committee. After February 7, on request of the government, I joined the Executive Oversight Committee to defend the government through my concrete arguments.

The bills I played the most major role in completing include the Act on Special Measures Against Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse, the Drug Act, Banking Acts and the Right to Information Act.

One of the saddest things I came across is that the Water Bill that was submitted by the government was thrown out of parliament without even allowing it to go to committee stage. I individually spoke to several MPs about the importance of having litigation on water standards here, but no one listened, and MDP members voted it out just by yelling “baaghee” [traitor] at government-affiliated members.

However, the most major bill that I must carry responsibility for is the Act on Privileges for Former Presidents. This is something that had to be done, Article 128 of the Constitution mandates that such a law be formed. Yes, it was designed for Gayoom, but it later applied to former Presidents Nasheed and Waheed, so it can no longer be said that I made it for Gayoom alone.

MM: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

AN: I was in a challenging position as an opposition member in a Malé area seat. I was steadfast in not changing my position, despite large offers being placed in front of me in exchange for switching. The 17th parliament was corrupted not by parliamentarians alone, but with the involvement of political leaders. It was done deliberately. For example, Ali Waheed and I worked six or seven months working closely together and I know his financial level. It is not acceptable for me that he and Alhan Fahmy all of a sudden reached a level of financial comfortability where they were able to purchase land from capital city, Malé. That is against the oath we took assuming public office. The reason behind why I remain homeless to date is the loyalty I have towards the Maldivian people. MDP sent numerous multi-million offers asking me to defect, but I do not believe it is the right thing to do.

So, what I did for my consituency is a huge question. In reality, there is nothing I am mandated to do for the constituency. I am not elected to represent a constituency so that I can take material things there. I have not been able to do that, and will not do so in future either. On the other hand, I am the conveyer of the constituency’s concerns. There is no other MP who has done as much as I have on this front. There never goes much time between my appearance in some media or other.

An MP’s mandate is not to build mosques, or construct roads or football grounds. That is not our mandate. I have conducted about 90 percent or more of what is in my mandate. I have not sold a vote or misvoted by mistake or done any other such actions.

MM: What would you say is the biggest mistake or worst step you have taken in your career? Why?

AN: Not something I did out of my own capacity, but I’d say it was the compiling of the judge’s bench by the parliament’s bench during our initial days. It is definitely something that we as members didn’t look into enough that we were not used as much as we should have been when our leaders made the decisions regarding the judiciary and it’s compilation.

Not to defend myself, but I am a person who doesn’t personally know these judges. And today, being 42 years of age I have never had to stand in front of a judge. And the most controversial judge Abdulla Ghazi (Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed). I even saw him for the first time way after he was released from detention, at a National Day event held during the Waheed administration. So it was difficult for me as I couldn’t identify them.

But I do regret some of the problems that have risen as a result of those decisions.

The second thing is the Priviliges Act. I regret that I was unable to succeed despite always having stood up against the parlimentary privileges bill. I do not believe this is required in a place like the Maldives. Even today, it saddens me that there are still members who advocate for additional privileges.

These are not my personal decisions, but as a member, collectively I too have some responsibility in these.

MM: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR 20,000? Why or why not?

AN: I have never considered either taking or not taking that allowance. I did want to initially check if it proved to be an incentive for members to better attend committees. But it doesn’t work that way. There are no members that better attend committees just because this allowance is paid. So it is 100 percent evident that this need not be paid now.

And there is nothing I have gained from getting the committee allowance. There are many months where I have not received it, due to my not signing the attendance sheets. It is of my own mistake. I never considered it so important to sign the attendance sheets.

It is only paid in relation to the number of committees we attended. I think I only received it six months. Even if I receive it, it is never there by the end of the month. I would have given it away for some thing.

MM: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

AN: I support that, because there is nothing I need to hide. But there are some MPs whose shares in certain businesses that citizens need to know about. About how their financial assets suddenly increase. Like I said before, when a member who enters parliament without a penny in their name suddenly rises to the point where they can purchase a 10 storey skyscraper, the people have right to know whether this was indeed purchased by money earned from selling arecanuts, teaching Quran lessons or money sent by a father who works as a sailor. The reasons are very correct and people have much right to demand to know these details. Not only parliamentarians, but everyone in senior posts. This can be included in an amendment in the Right to Information Act that has recently been passed. It must have a radius though, where the other person’s privary is not breached.

MM: Are you recontesting in the next elections?

AN: My consituency no longer exists, but I will recontest for the same district. That is to say, using a football metaphor, I must play another half, another term, representing VilliMale’. To ensure that everything that can be done for them through their government is achieved.

MM: What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected for a new term?

AN: One thing is to ensure that someone from the district itself gets elected in the local council elections. The government has also assured me that through their development policies, unmatched developmental changes will be brought to VilliMale’ in these five years. Through my work I have also ensured that the PPM policies include providing housing for those who have the most housing difficulty in this country, including housing for those on the Malé municipality register.

MM: What improvements do you feel the 18th parliament will need to make to improve as an institution?

AN: A lot of major changes must be brought.

One thing is to make members aware that every bill that comes there way is not something that they must view through a political lens and reject or approve just based on political reasons.

The general public must also be aware that despite the excitement around politics, important issues must be focused on beyond politic rhetoric. The political atmosphere must come down to room temperature, where people with different political ideologies must be able to sit down and discuss matters in a civil manner. I believe, this will take approximately 25 years for us to achieve this.

MM: What are your thoughts on party switching – do you think it undermines the party system?

AN: There is an issue where even parliamentarians do not really understand the system. And there is a lack of information or of negligence among those who impart knowledge of these matters to the general public. It must be considered whether a member is defecting to gain some personal benefits, for the party’s benefit or for the nation’s benefit. If one has already done so for their own benefit, then it is wrong. It is wrong as it causes people to lose hope in the system itself.

If they don’t have a thorn in their tongues, they might say whatever they want, but I see no dignity in such a person coming out to recontest and saying they are doing so for the good of the nation.

If it is an independent MP, I have no comments about them being among the movers and shakers. It is not a problem for them to go around changing parties. But someone who was elected for having run via a party must not defect mid-term.

It is not for national benefit or love for the people that members like them defect or sell votes. It is because their pockets are being filled. On the day of cabinet endorsement, we too fished out many votes in this way. They will now say that it is out of love for the people, but no, it was in interest of filling their own deep pockets.

MM: As a politician who has been outspoken about matters regarding the judiciary, alternatively positively and negatively, what is your view about the current judiciary and if you believe there are steps that can be taken to improve it?

AN: Numerous major changes need to come it. These are not things that can be sorted just through litigation or changing laws. It needs to majorly improved as an institution.

I need to know judges better, their histories and capacities and all. We must all know them better. We need to better the review the problems arising about judges today and review the existing litigation. We must find out what amendments we can bring to the existing litigation, and whether more effective new laws can be drafted for the issue. Everyone from all parties need to agree on how we must act on this matter.

In June 2010, we suddenly appointed judges. So for the lack of effectiveness in the judiciary, we cannot blame the judges alone. Instead, all us politicians must shoulder responsibility for it.

Now the thing is due to one or two judges within the judiciary, the whole sector has lost trust. This is something I have often said. Don’ t blame the whole institution for the acts of a few individuals.

For example, Judge Ali Hameed who is allegedly involved in a sex scandal. I have never met him. We should not defend him for his negligence. I would have preferred it if he had resigned from his post before it comes to the level where even the parliament will need to get involved. If he had, half the country would not have lost trust in the institution.

I believe that both MDP and PPM should work to further train and make the judiciary more responsible, however this does not mean that we should continue yelling out that the judiciary is bad. We must do constructive work.


Q&A: Hamid Abdul Ghafoor MP – Henveiru South constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be conducting a series of interviews with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

As part of the series, Minivan News interviewed Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, MP for the Henveiru South constituency.

Ahmed Rilwan: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Hamid Abdul Ghafoor: In my case it was more about what I could do for the party. When I joined the MDP the first question I asked was what can I do for you. So I have been doing what the party – as collective – felt was the best thing I could do for the party. They recognize what I could do collectively.

I was studying in New Zealand when MDP was formed. I kept in touch through the internet, because I shared the same ideology.  In 2005 I returned to Maldives and when President Mohamed Nasheed started registration for the party at ‘Dhunfini Haruge,’ [MDP office] I signed on the first day.

AR: Based on your attendance and work in this ending term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

HG: The biggest and most important privilege I had during my term was to introduce the Decentralisation Bill on the party’s behalf and to push and get it through. Because of that we came to have local councils, and that changed this country.

That the MDP tasked me with the lobbying of such an important bill shows its confidence in me. We got about 70 percent of the bill through, but we still have thirty percent more to go. For instance there is no fiscal decentralisation, it is a problem that I am very concerned about. Decentralisation is key to democracy and economic development.

We stood up against the coup, risking ourselves, even in terms of reputation. I believe even in future there is a role for activism, we are not beyond that. Some people find it difficult to understand MPs as activists, but I define myself as an activist even though I am an MP.

As an MP I stood up for members’ privileges. I’m not a supporter of material privileges, but the protecting the votes of citizens is more important for me. I see the vote I cast as a vote from my constituents. I was standing up for the legal protection of the members against their attempts to minimize the influence of MDP after the coup. They had charges against one third of our parliamentary group at different stages – with police, prosecutor general and in the courts. I stood up against that. I stayed 27 days in parliament, 10 days in house arrest and 2 days in jail

A great achievement of the MDP, myself included, is taking a parliament that was in an undemocratic culture into a democratic one. We contributed to establish a democratic culture with a democratic outlook.

This People’s Majlis passed more bills than any other in the parliamentary history of Maldives. This was a historic People’s Majlis. People became more aware of the role of MPs in national development, and I suspect it could be because of this that the opposition tried to damage the reputation of the Majlis and targeted its members. If there is an undemocratic culture they will target MPs, and standing up against this was an important achievement for me.

I worked in the Committee on Independent Institutions and the Social Affairs Committee, I was the Secretary General of the MDP Parliamentary Goup – to which I was elected each year for the past five years, I was the Chair of Media subcommittee in the Committee on Independent Institutions and the Social Affairs Committee, and the MDP disciplinary committee chair.

Within the party, in addition to being the former secretary general, I was a member of the Foreign Policy Committee and the party’s international spokesperson. I am the vice chair of the MDP Policy Committee, and currently chair of the  Disciplinary Committee.

All these is an indication of the amount of trust the party has in me. I believe that the party is bigger than the individual. I am one of many people who define this party. Changes can be brought not by myself individually, but collectively through working with others. I am a hundred percent party person.

AR: What are the main committees you were in? Which bills did you focus on?

HG: I am in two committees; one is the  Committee on Independent Institutions where I have lobbied for more funding for independent commissions because democracy will not kick in without empowerment of independent commissions. We need a democratic culture in the Maldives, and independent commissions play an important role in creating this. Their mandates were very narrow because the parliament came from an undemocratic culture.

MDP initially did not have a majority in this committee, but when the judicial transition went wrong – especially by making their qualifications a symbolic issue – the independent institutions committee was equally divided between MDP and the opposition, with independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed as chair. But considering the circumstances, the committee was reasonably successful.

The other one is the Social Affairs Committee. It was an opposition dominated committee, and I am critical of that committee. It was slow and dull, we couldn’t perform well within that committee. But we were able to dilute issues, and that is our achievement. We stopped many unacceptable actions.

After the coup, for instance in the health sector is the Thalassemia Bill. It was passed by this committee to dismantle the decentralised system. It was hard for us to promote liberal thinking with regards to labor rights within that committee because of the conservative attitude within the committee.

The decentralisation bill was the main bill I focused on. I was involved in lobbying for other bills such as the tax bills and social protection bill. These bills brings about major policy changing laws. I was very vocal in lobbying for social protection.

We had to work against a tide of centralisation and money politics of big businesses. We fought very hard against this. We promoted ethical and democratic values to the Majlis.

AR: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

HG: For my constituency, the biggest contribution was to get them more representation through decentralisation bill and further democratisation and empowerment of the constituents. Another thing is housing, a lot of my constituents got flats. This was a relief for many who were living in highly congested houses. But because of the coup many of the flats that could have been theirs were taken away.

Annually, nearly MVR5 million (US$324,254) worth of assistance is provided for my constituents under social protection programs. The recipients include elderly, orphans, persons with disabilities and single parents. Education and training opportunities were also provided for constituents under MDP policies.

AR: What would you say is the biggest blunder/mistake/worst step you have taken in your political career, why?

HG: There is no big blunder that I know of, I think it is for others to say. My biggest regret, however, is not getting the chance to make significant contributions towards the development of the People’s Majlis, mainly because I was focused on other issues.

AR: Some people see your actions following the Hondaidhoo case, especially taking refuge in the parliament as bad decision, what do you say to this?

HG: It was done against the judiciary, in defense of the right of the people to be represented in the parliament. It was not a bad decision, I am happy about it.

AR: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR20,000? Why or why not?

HG: I don’t take it, and I voted against it. However I believe they should be well paid in order to reduce the chances for corruption, especially to counter money politics. I voted against it because under that government it wasn’t necessary. But after that government they were trying to harm members of the parliament. With the coup I changed my mind about that.

AR: What is your view about MPs and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

HG: I believe we have in our parliament, people who cant distinguish their personal property with state property. People who have an incestual economic relationship with the state. Assets should be declared. I support that.

AR: Are you re-contesting in the next elections? What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected for a new term?

HG: Yes, I am. First thing I would target is judicial reform, then significant economic reform and then social reform. These are the major hurdles we face. Without judicial reform we cannot do anything, there is no hope without it.

AR: What improvements do you feel the 18th Majlis will need to make as an institution?

HG: If I get re-elected I will work for a total overhaul of the parliament. The Majlis budget is relatively small for one of the three powers of the state. Manpower and buildings are needed for the parliament. We need a lot of qualified people in there. We need to increase the institution’s technical capacity too.

AR: What are your thoughts on party switching – do you think it undermines the party system?

HG: It is a very common practice in an emerging democracies. It is connected to the social fabric of the place, to the absence of good governance and to money politics. It is an obstacle for the parliament and the whole system. We do not hear of this so often in advanced democracies. This can be dealt with through legislation and a culture of good governance. We have a two thousand years of written history, we did not have a democratic system or a culture. But considering the scale at which it (party switching) is happening, we should confront it and consistently fight against it.

It will continue to happen here, but I think it will settle in a near future. Because people of Maldives learn really fast. Considering the changes within the past eight years, I am very optimistic.

AR: Anything else you want to add about what you want to see in the coming years as an MP if you are elected, or as a member of MDP?

HG: My urge is to sustain our democratic gains and to improve upon it, without losing any. Democratic gains include taxation, economic reform, decentralisation, separation of powers, setting up of independent institutions. We are not moving back, we are moving forward.