Comment: Thick as thieves

“Would a Rose by any other name still smell as sweet?” wrote Shakespeare. In the case of the Maldives People’s Majlis, call Rose what you like – she will still stink of corruption.

The ‘cash for votes’ scandal has gripped the nation ever since secret telephone recordings between opposition MPs were published on the Internet yesterday afternoon.

In one recording, the deputy speaker of the Majlis Ahmed Nazim discusses with Abdulla Yameen how Gasim Ibrahim took ‘Rose’ to Paradise Island Resort to finalise a Rf1 million deal.

“So Rose is joining Jumhooree [Gasim’s political party] now?” Yameen asks.

“No it’s not that….it is just for these matters,” assures Nazim, before explaining that ‘Maniku’ will complete the deal with Rose for a further Rf2 million. Nazim goes onto say that Gasim “has said everything will be OK… 100 percent and not to worry.”

In another recording, MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed says to Gasim, “I need some cash.”

“Yeah, OK,” replies Gasim before the two MPs discuss how the transaction will be completed.

In the third recording ‘Kutti’ Nasheed explains to Yameen and Nazim how he will “prevent the government from trying to do what it is doing” by moving motions of no-confidence against Finance minister Ali Hashim and Economic Affairs minister Maumood Razee. He reads out a plan to stop “all work on the tax bills submitted by the government to the Majlis.”

Rumours of corruption in the Majlis are nothing new, but never before have the sordid details of MP’s shenanigans been aired in such excruciating detail.

Last week, President Nasheed was being pilloried in sections of the media for being ‘dictatorial,’ following the arrest of Yameen and Gasim for alleged corruption and bribery. Now, significant sections of the community seem keen to lock them up and throw away the key.

“Petty, cheap, revolting, nauseating” – “Have nothing to say except that…I am ashamed. How cheap are our parlimentarians?” – “Thick as thieves. Guilty as sin. Let them hang from the nearest coconut tree!” – a few readers’ comments from Minivan News’ coverage of the scandal.

While many Majlis watchers will not be surprised to hear the tapes involving Yameen, Nazim and Gasim, many people have been shocked to hear that ‘Kutti’ Nasheed is also implicated.

Kutti likes to present himself as an independent MP par excellence, a symbol of integrity who rises above the grubby day-to-day deals of the Majlis. No longer. He has been treating Gasim as his personal ATM. In return, he appears to be chief architect of plans to subvert the government’s tax and privatization initiatives, measures that could damage Gasim’s and Yameen’s extensive business interests.

In his personal blog, Kutti says he simply borrows money from Gasim from time to time and it has no influence on his voting in parliament. Few, if anyone, will believe his excuse.

So far, the corruption allegations appear concentrated on Yameen’s Peoples’ Alliance party, Gasim’s Jumhooree party, and their ‘independent’ supporters in the Majlis. Indeed, President Nasheed said yesterday that the speaker of the Majlis, DRP MP Abdulla Shahid, is “an honourable man.”

How far this scandal spreads is anyone’s guess, but it is likely to lead to both political and cultural change in the Maldives, as people recognise the real damage that corruption can bring to their institutions.

For centuries, Maldivians have pledged their loyalty to rich men, bodun, whose political power and status was measured by the number of their followers. These loyalties often spanned generations, and the practice of honouring the rich and seeking their ‘benevolence’ was deeply entrenched in the Maldivian psyche. The dictatorship and crony capitalism of the previous Gayoom government welded easily with this old cultural tradition. The democratic revolution of President Nasheed’s administration, and the President’s open condemnation of corruption, is demanding new loyalties to the rule of law, honest administration and institutions, and personal integrity.

It’s a painful process for the old cliques who profited so much and enjoyed high social standing, but a welcome change for the young Maldivian population who see an opportunity to compete and prosper without selling their loyalty and bowing to the bodun.

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