Message to the People

During this dangerous situation facing the nation it is my duty to say a few words. I support the peaceful efforts of a large number of Maldivians trying to protect the Maldives constitution and religion. At this time I call upon all the institutions especially law enforcement agencies (the military) to uphold the constitution and the laws of the country. Refrain from obeying unconstitutional and illegal instructions. During this difficult time no chance should be given to anyone trying to hurt the people of our country or damage their property, especially no room should be afforded to those who would damage news agencies and media.  I am saddened that VTV and other places in Male’ have been attacked. I call on those who are involved in this to immediately cease all such activities. As your Vice President I am prepared to do anything possible to overcome this situation.

FREEDOM FROM FEAR: ARE WE ABOUT TO LOSE IT?

I am truly shocked by the trivial manner in which some of our educated people, especially among the youth, are taking the issue of freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. The case of the Criminal Court Judge becomes important  in the first place not because he is a judge nor because he belongs to the criminal court. First and foremost he is a Maldivian citizen like all of us. The most important and most precious dividend from the democracy struggle in Maldives has been freedom from fear. It is the knowledge that no one of us will be dragged out of our beds in the middle of the night and taken to an undisclosed location. The moment we deny this freedom from one person, we deny that freedom for all.

In the aftermath of the World Wars and formation of the United Nations, the international community agreed that freedom of nations depended on the freedom of the individual. Since 1945, there has been a concerted effort by the international community to develop a comprehensive body of international human rights law. The most fundamental human right is the right to personal liberty. and one significant aspect of personal liberty is freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 in its Article 3 states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person. In Article 9 it states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”. Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”

Maldives signed the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol on 16 December 1966. Similarly, we signed the International Covenant for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance on 20 December 2006.

Besides all the international legal obligations, the Government of Maldives is bound by the Maldives Constitution 2008 which prohibits arbitrary arrest and forced disappearance. We have just witnessed the first possible violation since the dawn of democracy in our country. I cannot understand why this is not an issue for everyone in this country.

Those of us who have struggled for freedom in this country for over 30 years, are wondering whether we have wasted our efforts. I have expressed my reservations about the way the Government has allowed the disappearance of a citizen, a Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, for the reasons I mention above. I am ashamed and totally devastated by the fact that this is happening in a government in which I am the elected the Vice President.

Birthday Thoughts

4 January 2012

Bismillah.
Yesterday was my 59th Birthday. I am pleased with the large number of friends who sent me well wishes. I thank them all. A birthday is an appropriate time for us to reflect on our lives and what we have been able to accomplish personally and professionally. It is also a good time to think and take course corrections for the rest of the time remaining, even if we are not sure how much time we have left. What is certain in life is that nothing is completely certain. But when you reach my age there is one thing that you know for sure. I don’t have nearly as much time as I want. This realization makes every moment very precious.

Allah has been very kind to me. I am thankful for all the blessings in my life. Good children and a wonderful family are the biggest blessing of all. I am thankful for generally good health and for a peaceful life. I wish such good blessings on all my family and friends.

One of the things for which I take a great deal of responsibility is this government’s pledge for a Maldives without drugs. We now have the possibility of setting up a whole new regime for the control of drug abuse. I thank the Majlis members for passing the new Drugs Bill and thank President Nasheed for endorsing the same. Many committed individuals helped to design and improve the Bill and I would like to thank them all, but one of them deserve special gratitude. Hon. Mohamed Nasheed, Member of Parliament from Kulhudhuffushi contributed more to the preparation of the new drugs bill than anyone else I know. So thank you Hon. Nasheed.

Now the difficult challenge of implementing the Bill starts. A new drugs court will be set up and a series of treatment programmes will be available for the treatment of drugs victims.

It is important that the new court is set up soon. We will work with the court to strengthen it’s technical capacities in all substantive issues of drug importation, transaction, use, and most importantly on treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration. We have already provisions for this work under the support provided by the European Union through the United Nations.

In the past three years, I have chaired the Narcotics Control Council (NCC) and overseen the work of the drug related agencies, but with mixed results. There have been some success including the preparation of the new Drugs Bill, better coordination among the drug related agencies, setting up of new treatment programmes, more support to NGO’s working in the area of aftercare for recovering addicts etc. There are still many structural and programmatic challenges we have to resolve.

From the beginning, I have always been convinced that a strong central agency is needed to plan, manage and supervise the implementation of drugs programmes. While many actors will be involved, such as NGOs in the provision of the services, there needs to be a central organization that provides technical and professional support to them. This capacity is currently lacking. We have tried for the last three years to work with the existing structures but we have not seen the kind of change we all expected. The implementation of the new legislation requires a new architecture of drug control administration. I have proposed a draft organigram of the National Narcotics Control Agency in the new Bill. This will be discussed and we will come up with a final structure in the next few days.

I know that what we have been able to do so far is not adequate but we hope that we can move forward better with the new Bill in place.

Local Council Elections 2011

The February 5th elections for local councils are the very first such elections in the Maldives. This is one more milestone in the rapid transition to a democratic system in the country. What is quite astounding is the rapid speed of change. Within the last 30 months Maldives has seen more change in its political system than in the past 30 years.

One should wonder seriously whether we could absorb these changes positively. Whether they will cumulatively contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous society for us. My concerns arise from the realization that the greatest impact of these changes have so far been on the national budget. The wage bill has inflated out of control with the addition of thousands of high paying elected or appointed officials in parliament, independent institutions, political appointees and now over 1000 elected officials in the local councils. This is certainly not helping to reduce the national deficit.

I believe that it was a mistake for the parliament to decide that all local council members should be full time paid officials. Just a few days ago we were visited by two state legislators from the State of Oregon in the United States. We were told that both of them had full time jobs, one as a teacher the other as an environmentalist and that their elected post was a part time job. Wonder why we cannot do the same. We Maldivians probably have more elected representatives per capita than any other country in the world. On average every 300 people have an elected representative. In some islands a population of 300 people have 5 elected representatives. Sometimes, one wonders where we get these brilliant ideas.

The ruling MDP (excluding the Coalition) has won Male the capital city and the only other city in the country. But only 20 percent of the Male eligible voters have exercised their constitutional right. Why was it so low. Perhaps people didn’t understand the role of a city council, or perhaps Male citizens are too tired of elections and politics in general. I believe its a combination of both factors.

MDP launched a carefully crafted election campaign and its leader, the President visited over 100 islands to garner support for MDP and yet it lost most of the council seats in the atolls and islands to the opposition parties. This is not a good omen for the MDP and its worse for the people of those communities. The question is wether party politics will get in the way of implementing government’s policies and programmes in those communities. I sincerely hope that it will not be the case.

After two an a half years into the term of this government, finally elections are over and we can focus on development itself. Or can we? Some prospective candidates have already started their campaign for the next Presidential election in 2013.

Is democracy all about elections. I don’t think so. Then what is happening here? Are we on the right track? Perhaps only time will tell.

Visit to South Huvadhoo Atoll (April 2010)

By Dr. Waheed

I visited 5 islands on 16th and 17th to meet the people on those islands and to listen to their concerns. The main official purpose of the visit to Thinadhoo was to officiate at the 42nd Anniversary of the Mohammed Mahir Preschool.

It’s been about 18 months after the change of government, and the people have not started to realize the benefits of this transition. Expectations have been high including, expectations for immediate improvements the basic standard of living. This hasn’t happened largely due to the economic crisis faced by the country. Although the prices of goods have remained stable, there are fears that cost of living will increase due to the rise in fuel prices and the hikes in electricity rates. Fishing is generally slow and many families rely on the support of a family member working in Male or in a resort. Surprisingly, the 2000 Rufia old age pension given by this government to people over 65 years has become a major source of family support for many in these islands.

Those few who have stable government employment on the islands are now afraid that they will lose their jobs. People have heard that civil service will be reduced. There is also some concern that unless one belongs to the main ruling MDP, that person has no chance of getting a new job or remaining in the current job. Therefore, lack of job opportunities and the fear of losing a job are major concerns of the people.

Young men and women who have completed their Grade 10 education are helpless in finding work. Most young women are simply staying at home and continue to be dependent on their aging parents. Unemployment is likely to increase in the short term and add to the already worsening state of poverty in the country.

It was refreshing to see that NGO’s are becoming more active in development programmes. I was happy to inaugurate a youth camp organized by the Hoadedhdhoo development association. They had invited youth from neighboring islands for a workshop on youth development and drugs awareness and education. Support to these types of local NGOs is very important to reach out to the young people, especially in the remote islands.

I was really pleased that I was able to visit Rathafandhoo. When my grandfather was forced to leave Thinadhoo after it was destroyed in 1962, he and his family migrated to this island. I was able to meet some remarkable elderly people, two of them in their nineties, and one who was my grandfather’s first cousin. It looked like literally everyone on that island is related to me.

It’s a beautiful island, but many people have left it in search of education. As a result, the population has dwindled and many houses remain vacant and decaying. Those who have come to Male for education have done very well. The island can be proud of its children many of whom have achieved higher education both in Male’ and abroad.

On the island of Nadalla, I was struck by the number of young people and children. Their biggest concern was understandably education and employment. All by coincidence, I came across a group of young men who are employed in Kooddoo fish factory. They were all worried because they were under the impression that the factory was about to lay them off following a mandatory two weeks leave. They were also concerned because  their fellow employees from Thinadhoo were allowed greater benefits than they were in that they were given leave to visit their families every week while the young men from this island could only visit their island once in two weeks. This is apparently because the MDP MP from Thinadhoo was able to make a special provision for their employees.  I was able to call the manager at the factory and clarify the issues for them. But in spite of my attempt to ease their concerns, I learned that most of the employees who were in Kooddoo went on strike the following day. I lament that such disparities have resulted as a result of political maneuverings.

Madaveli was a real surprise and further accentuated political maneuverings in this region. I was met by a small hostile group calling the government to fulfill the pledges. Most of the placards were against the Provincial officers and the MP. One placard was calling me to leave the government and join the opposition. I spoke to them and explained the status of various development projects planned for the island. This whole event was a reflection of the local politics, all orchestrated for my attention. It was also a surprise in other more pleasant ways. I was able to discover some old friends and make some new ones. Like many other islands they wanted to know what was happening with harbor development and sewerage projects.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive account of my trip. It’s only some reflections and a record of the experience. Clearly, I was especially impressed by the young people and their plight in the rural areas. They need vocational and technical education and jobs. They also need sports and recreational activities desperately. Unfortunately, I don’t see this as a priority in the ongoing development programmes. I hope that we will be able to pay more attention to these in the near future.

April 2010.