Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP for Villimalé Ahmed Nihan has criticised the Maldives Police Services decision to dismantle huts built by young people on public land.
Speaking to Minivan News, Nihan said Villimalé’s youth population had used the huts as social spaces for over 20 years. Destroying the huts – which the youth call home – without showing them alternatives will only cause more social problems, claimed the MP.
The police dismantled the structures on the suburban island on May 18, claiming the huts were built illegally and encouraged gang activity though no unlawful substance or tools were discovered during the operation.
Nihan’s criticism of adequate youth facilities has been echoed by the Maldivian Democratic Party.
“Young people often do not have space in their houses to bring friends over as their houses are congested, that’s why they use these huts to meet up with their friends,’’ said Nihan.
“They believe that the places belong to them and gives the place some identity.’’
Encroaching on public land is an offense, acknowledged the MP, although he took issue with the police’s approach to dismantling huts.
“My concern is that the police did not discuss the issue with any of the youth before destroying the huts and have not even tried to advise them or try to make them understand that what they were doing was wrong and illegal,’’ he said.
“Destroying the huts is not the solution – there are many other things that have to be sorted out if the government wants the youth to be more productive and to stop them from getting involved in illegal activities.’’
For one thing, a youth center with modern facilities was needed to stop young people from encroaching on public space or engaging in illegal activities, he said.
“The youth center here is not functional at all because the staff handling the youth centre are not permanent, and does not have much interest in his work. The centre is not opened regularly and there is no space for modern sports or entertainment.”
“I have MVR181,000 (US$11,715) worth of music instruments with me but I don’t have a place where the youth can access them. I don’t want to bring them into the PPM office here because not all the youth are PPM supporters – they will shout ‘Golhaabo’ [an offensive term used to refer to Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] and run away,’’ he said.
Nihan also said that he had tried to take up this issue with Youth Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal but that the minister was too busy building stadiums for the ongoing Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge cup.
He called on the government to provide more job opportunities for the youth and to direct them to useful work.
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Youth Wing Leader Mohamed Azmeel has also condemned the police’s actions saying: “I don’t think it is always drug dealers and gang members that hangs out in these spots. Besides, there are no other places to hangout.”
He noted that the new government had banned opening shops after 11pm to decrease crimes but that the crime rate has not dropped.
“We noticed that when police dismantled the huts, they targeted mostly places where MDP supporters hangout,” he said.
Youths construct structures on public spaces because there was no job opportunities for them and they have nothing to do, he added.
‘’If they don’t have anything to do they will gather to places like that to hangout,’’ he said. “The government pledged that 94,000 job opportunities will be created but they have not started implementing it,’’ he said.
While police claim the operation was carried out “after discussion with the city council”, Malé City Council – under whose jurisdiction the land currently is – has denied authorising the move, or being officially informed of it.
Despite recent assurances that the government’s youth policy was addressing the concerns of young people, youth leaders from all sides of the political divide have suggested a lack of youth participation in the administration’s planning.