Fear, intimidation aimed at stalling development, says Nasheed

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has expressed concern over a regression in democratic gains, and claimed government’s attempts at intimidation and fear is intended to stall development.

Speaking at an August 12 commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Maldives’ first mass pro-democracy protests, Nasheed said August 12, 13 of 2004 was a “day Maldivians stood up against torture and called for what is rightfully theirs.”

“On that day, Maldivians gathered to realise their hopes. That day, Maldivians called for what they continue to call for today. Housing, education, healthcare, income generation, a dignified life,” he said.

In what would later be referred to as ‘Black Friday’, security forces teargassed and brutalised protestors and cut off all mediums of communication including messaging services and internet. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom announced a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. Hundreds of protesters were detained for months.

The Maldives is once again seeing a return to its authoritarian past with the recent increase in death threats against opposition politicians, Nasheed said.

“Inciting fear is aimed at stalling development,” he said, alleging the death threats was a government attempt to stop the opposition from criticising and uncovering the truth behind its “cloud castle” policies.

“Torture in jails, killing Evan Naseem, or putting me in stocks is not aimed at torturing Galholhu Kenereege Mohamed Nasheed, or killing Evan Naseem, but to incite fear among the public. To let it be known criticising the powers that be is dangerous,” he said.

Criticising the dissolution of the ruling progressive coalition and President Abdulla Yameen’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) bill, Nasheed said Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had backtracked on campaign pledges after assuming power.

The PPM at the time had portrayed Maldives as a holy land, pledged to end foreign interference and uphold sovereignty. But the SEZs, Nasheed suggested, will allow foreign companies to plunder Maldivian resources without any oversight.

“In the special economic zones, there will be no duty, no immigration, no customs, no Maldivian laws,” he said.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party in a statement on Tuesday also said: “on the tenth anniversary of August 12, 13, we note, with great concern, we have slid back to the conditions of pre-2008.”

It listed Nasheed’s controversial ouster in 2012, police brutality of February 7 and 8 in 2012, the Supreme Court and police interference in the 2013 presidential polls, increased incidences of arbitrary arrest, government’s violations of freedom of expression and association, filing trumped up charges and murder attempts against opposition supporters and threats to freedom of the press as signs of regression.

Nasheed in his speech also criticised attempts at limiting the powers of councils, and what he claimed was the return of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s narrative that the Maldives is a resource poor nation.

The mantra allows the government to slow down development, at the pace of one harbour a year and harbors for the 196 inhabited islands in 196 years, he said.

The MDP has exposed the narrative as a falsehood as it increased government revenue, without a dramatic increase in national gross domestic product, by establishing a modern tax system, Nasheed said

He went on to claim the protesters gathered at the Republic Square in August 2004 could have overthrown Gayoom and replaced him with Gayoom’s brother in law Ilyas Ibrahim.

Ibrahim contested against Gayoom in 1993 for the People’s Majlis vote for the presidential candidacy, but narrowly failed and was subsequently jailed and banished for a number of years.

Nasheed also claimed senior military officers had told him Gayoom could be ousted in 2007 through a military coup d’état, but the MDP resisted.

“We do not want to overthrow the government through a coup. We want a system that facilitates development,” he said.


President Waheed obstructing decentralisation, failing to deliver pledged concessions: LGA

Local Government Authority (LGA) Vice President Sujau Hussain has claimed that President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s government has failed to extend any of the concessions previously pledged and is obstructing decentralisation, reports local media.

Waheed promised atoll and city councils 50 percent of the leases from atoll stores as well as 50 percent of the leases given under ‘varuvaa’ (islands given to individuals for caretaking) to increase the income of councils.

“While Waheed claims he wants to implement decentralisation, the only thing he does is to further obstruct those activities which the councils are already in a position to carry out,” Hussain said during a conference held to mark two years of decentralisation.

Waheed noted in February that the government had used a “major amount of income from the public accounts”, so he would arrange for next year’s government budget to address the issue and recover the funds, according to local media.


President Waheed pledges sewerage system, new health centre for Hoarafushi

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has pledged to the people of Hoarafushi in Haa Alif Atoll today that funds would be included in next year’s budget for a sewerage system and new health centre for the island.

Newspaper Haveeru reported today that Waheed gave the assurances to the people of Hoarafushi during a visit to observe damage caused by severe flooding.

The President was accompanied on the trip by independent MP for Dhaalu Meedhoo, Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam.

Shiyam also accompanied Waheed during a recently concluded tour of Dhaalu Atoll, during which the former vice president pledged a number of infrastructure projects for several islands in the atoll.


Comment: On the ‘Vaudhuge Dhathuru’ campaign trail

I spent the past two weeks traveling with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on its Vaudhuge Dhathuru (‘Journey of Pledges’) campaign, all the way from Kolamaafushi Island in Gaaf Alif Atoll to Addu City. We visited more than 20 islands, including Addu City.

I was born and raised in the capital city of Male’. I am 19 years-old, but except for brief vacations with my family I have not traveled very much in the Maldives. Hence, I have not been able to experience “island life” and by this I do not mean the white sandy beaches or crystal clear waters of the Maldivian islands, but the daily lives of the residents who spend their whole lives on these isolated islands.

The trip was an absolute adventure; one that made me realise my own privilege in growing up in Male’, and the huge discrepancies between the urban centers and the rural islands. I have lived all my life in a bubble created by my parents. Can you believe I’ve never had to make my own bed? To live in a kanneli dhoni for 12 days was a huge challenge for me.

I was on Reyva Dhoni, known as ‘Media Odi’, along with 52 others. Everyone else wanted to be on Reyva Dhoani. We had all the photographers, media and the young and energetic ‘Yellow Force’ on board, so you can imagine how much fun it was. And really, you could actually see how prepared MDP was for this trip. They had thought of everything; there was a kitchen boat that came along with us, and a small launch, in case we may had a need for it.

Meals were prepared and we’d enjoy them in the middle of the ocean. There would always be someone singing a classic bodu beru song, or at times, a couple of guys getting together for Lava Baazee. It was never silent, it was so happening, and it would always turn out to be something exciting. As for the toilet arrangements, there was one toilet and usually 52 people on board, so you do the math. It was so small, you wouldn’t believe. Someone would always be knocking on the door, and as you can guess, it was always an emergency.

I would very much like to tell you about the first 24 hours of the trip. We left Male’ at around 5:00PM and it soon got dark. And all of a sudden, without warning, out of nowhere the boat started to wobble and it suddenly hit me, I’m going to have to stay put for 22 hours or perhaps even longer.

I started to miss my family and my bed… and mostly the toilet. I thought to myself, ‘I couldn’t survive in this place, why the hell did I even come…’ I was on the rooftop all night, inside my sleeping bag, because it was so cold, trying so hard not to puke (you don’t want to be the one who pukes, believe me!). I was not able to lift my head, because I didn’t want to pop like a puke-filled balloon.

After 22 hours we arrived at our first stop, Kolamaafushi Island in Gaaf Alif Atoll. I got myself together and took a shower, changed my clothes and set foot on the harbour, and the first thing I saw was the beautiful monument that was built for fishermen’s day.

On top there was a banner stating: ‘Welcome to the first democratically-elected President, Mohamed Nasheed’.

After become acquainted with the friendly, welcoming people of Kolamaafushi, MDP Youth Wing Leader Aminath Shauna and I went to the island’s MDP office, and we arranged our policy workshop. A handful of people joined us for the workshop, mostly people who’ve previously worked in the island’s health post or utilities company, people who’ve lost their jobs due to political reasons.

I was really glad to see a couple of elders and single mothers in this small crowd, it was what you would call ‘A little bit of everything.’ Shauna explained to them what the MDP had achieved in government during the past three years, and how many lives have been changed over the few years we were able to serve in government. For instance, in Kolamaafushi alone 889 people were covered by some sort of social protection program, and Shauna explained that Nasheed’s administration had spent about 4.2 million rufiya (US$272,000) for that.

That was just Kolamaafushi. We discussed housing projects, infrastructure and education, we were told by someone from the group that the pass percentage had increased to 62 percent in 2011, which I thought was remarkable. And it elated me to see how fired up they were and how determined they were to increase the pass percentage to even higher in the coming years.

When Shauna concluded her presentation, the islanders began to express their thoughts. They told us they haven’t seen a single laari of the ‘Disability & Single Parent’ benefit for the past three months. They said they had not been able to purchase medicine from the local pharmacy. The island’s Women’s Development Committee had set up the pharmacy, but the health corporation acquired the place and had decided to stop services.

They expressed anger at having to travel to a neighboring island for shopping and for medicine. I thought to myself, why are they complaining about that? The neighboring island isn’t that far, and then there’s the nation-wide state transport system, introduced by the MDP during President Nasheed’s administration. But then I got a ‘slap in the face’ from the locals: apparently the state transport service has not been consistent at all. What really made me upset was seeing so many young people without a job or education. I thought to myself, the ‘Skill [Hunaru] program’ could have changed the lives of a few of these youngsters, maybe a whole bunch in five years.

That day I realised it is not that these kids want to live off their parents. They want to earn a honest living. They just want opportunity, for someone to believe in them and to give them the chance, to change their lives. Someone to take an interest in them, someone or even a program to drive them to where they need to be.

After hearing all that, it suddenly didn’t matter that I had to shower in a small cube, or that I had to sleep on a mat most nights. It was a small price to pay to see what I saw in person, and of course the islands were so beautiful. It is true what Anni said, even if you’ve lived your whole life here, you can’t fail to be impressed by the beauty of these islands.

The trip made me realise that there’s so much we could do to change the lives of the hopeful people of this country, from the youngster who has just finished his A-levels to the diabetic single mother with three kids who needs constant medication.

Waheed and the government coalition boast about making tough decisions, but never took them. They seem to lack the confidence and guts to take risks. I personally believe we were on the right track.

It was so comforting to learn that the things that mattered the most for the people of these islands were health care, transport, social security, and anything that would help their daily lives. I believe that these were the kind of real, concrete, lasting changes President Mohamed Nasheed and MDP government brought, and I am convinced that they are the kind of radical changes that Kolamaafushi and the rest of the country desperately needs.

We must link the great divides in this country – and where better to start than the gap between the islands and the capital?

I have learned a lot. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I’m so glad that I went.

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Details of funds pledged at Donor Conference will only be available with donor’s consent

World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Naoko Ishii, said details of the pledges made at the Donor Conference would only be released with consent from the donors.

Speaking at a press conference after the closing session of the conference yesterday, Ishii said some countries did not want to publicly announce the exact figures of their pledges.

She added that many of them had internal procedures which prevented them from announcing the figures at this time, and they needed to discuss and approve the pledges in their home countries before announcements were made.

Senior government officials said many countries’ fiscal years did not begin in January, like Australia and Japan, for example, which meant their pledges would not come into force until the beginning of their new fiscal year.

President Mohamed Nasheed said this year’s pledges surmounted the amounts of previous years because the international donor community did not have faith in the previous government.

He added that donors are confident of the democratic system of the Maldives and the support from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), making this year the most successful Donor Conference to date.