Category: Environment

Getting away with Maldives

by Azra Naseem

On 22 July 2015, the Maldives Parliament voted to change the Constitution to allow, for the first time in its history, the sale of Maldivian property to foreigners. The consequences of this monumental decision—taken without any public consultation or even debate within the parliament itself—has been devastating for the people of the Maldives. 

The 1200 islands, the hundreds of beautiful blue lagoons, the underwater coral gardens teeming with thousands of species of marine life that comprises this archipelago, are the people’s only natural resources.  Selling them off to rich foreign owners who then close them off to all Maldivians and create new semi-feudal extra-legal entities within the country where Maldivian laws do not apply, is a calamity on its own. 

The Maldivian people were screwed over a million times more by the corruption of all of its leaders who either pocketed their own cuts from selling off the people’s property for peanuts, or have kept—and are continuing to keep—quiet about who robbed us blind, and are still doing so.

Everybody knows who stole over US$70 million from the state, how they stole it and what they did with it. There is a list of the alleged beneficiaries. There is always a list. 

Well over a year ago, in October 2019, authorities told the public of The List’s existence. But we, who owned the property that was sold without so much as a by your leave, are not allowed to know who it names. Investigators upped the suspense ante (a regular practice by Maldives Police) by withholding the names on the list but giving us a breakdown of what positions some of the people in the list occupy now or occupied when they sold us out. They include 44 former members of parliament; 16 current members of parliament; 30 senior officials of the former government; five former members of independent institutions; five judges; and five law enforcement officers. 

44 Members in a Majlis of 87 accepted bribes.  

16 people who accepted the dirty money are in the current Majlis.

Those people in government, in independent institutions, in the judiciary, in law enforcement—they were all there to act on our behalf.

They all put themselves first.

They betrayed us. 

The authorities have the evidence to prove it. 

Yet, they remain in positions of power, and/or luxuriate in the comforts funded by their ill-gotten gains.

Who did not know the cash that Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb was suddenly so flush with was linked to corruption? Who did not know that hundreds of thousands of US Dollars transported in cash in black leather sports bags by a guy on a moped, compliments of the Tourism Minister, would have to have come from a dodgy source?

Yameen and Adeeb, thick as thieves

Adeeb has admitted clearly that he spent millions of dollars persuading MPs to vote the way he, acting as the president’s proxy, wanted them to vote. So they voted in favour of changing the Constitution to allow Adeeb to be president, and to ban Qasim Ibrahim from becoming president. They voted to narrow our civil and political rights; they voted in favour of harsher police action against peaceful protesters; they changed the law to restrict free speech; and they voted in favour of selling our natural resources for a fraction of their value. They knowingly allowed the openly corrupt Bro Government to do whatever they wanted to our islands, lagoons, reefs, coconut palms, vegetation; hell, the entire fragile ecosystem was theirs to sell, dredge, reclaim, ‘develop’ and destroy as they liked. 

It is infuriating to watch as the consequences and the products of this corruption appear on the Internet as luxury resort islands catering to the world’s super rich while the executive, the parliament, the prosecutorial system and all other political leaders in the Maldives drag their feet over punishing those who sold our beautiful and scarce land from under our feet while purporting to govern on behalf of us, for us. They sold our bath water along with our babies, putting up for sale our lagoons and our reefs too. They also allow the exportation of our sand, the cutting down of our coconut palms, the blasting of our reefs, the reclamation of our seas. Almost everything–bar the 200 or so islands on which Maldivians live–are now for sale; and almost no Maldivian can afford to buy any of it.

Meanwhile, luxury real estate agents advertise the availability of Maldivian islands with airports, seaplane platforms, picnic islands and many other perks included in the multi-million dollar price tags.

Today the MDP—with a super majority in parliament and one of its veteran members, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, as president)—nor its coalition partners have been able to even raise the veil of secrecy over the guilty, let alone prosecute them. Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s attempts have been ineffectual, and with MPs sitting in Majlis who have robbed the people, his bid to woo the public into voting for a transition from democratic to a parliamentary system seems futile and ill-timed. We can change the name of the system, but as long it’s the same people out to game it for their own benefit while screwing the public over, what’s the point?  

For a country that purports to be a democracy, the amount of secrecy and cover-ups within successive ‘democratic’ governments has been incredible. Evidence given to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) has been deemed too dangerous for the public to know; people involved in high profile murders have been protected “for the public good”; defence and military agreements made with egoistic right-wing populists like Trump and Modi have been classified, also for the public good; and the people who have sold our islands and the rest of our environment from under us—these are all secrets the leaders who we elect, appoint and pay to represent us, hide from us.

The people in power had no right to take the decision on our behalf to turn our country into a playground for the world’s filthy rich and their unchecked neoliberal agendas that have made almost the entire Maldivian population wage-slaves to international hoteliers, waiting with their hands out for the ‘trickle down effect’ to reach them, the only portion of the billion-dollar industry to which they are allowed to feel entitled to. 

Thirty-three-year old Adeeb at the helm of the Tourism Ministry was a sickening spectacle to behold. He revelled in the Gangstar image, posing endlessly for selfies on one of his three gold iPhones with carefully gelled and slicked back hair, a beard trimmed with military precision in the fashion of the US rap artists he is so enamoured with, fingers and neck dripping with bling, there he was, wallowing in corruption, his body ballooning as if in tune with his vastly inflated ego. The ex-footballer-turned-gangster politician took pride in being known as The ATM, or the bank machine, of Maldivian politics. Anyone who took money from him—be it the Supreme Court Judge Hameed who accepted cash and funds for his children’s education abroad or the member of parliament who agreed to sell his vote in favour of whatever legal change Adeeb was paying them to affect, or the Salafi Jihadist who took his money to get him to Syria or Iraq—all of them knew Adeeb’s money was dirty. They all took it.

The benefit of the corruption for Bro and his lackeys and minions was on display for everyone to see, their egos too big for discretion. By that I mean the sycophants we all know: the Nihans who were flashing their Rolexes and gifting their progeny with designer sports cars; the Muizzes who opened the door even wider to unsustainable and corrupt mega development projects at the cost of our fragile natural environment; the First Lady only too thrilled to have been singled out for a gift of a BMW sports car from Adeeb; or the Gayooms who benefited from Yameen’s rule until they didn’t.

It was not just the people we know to have betrayed us again and again in the last forty years or so that allowed the sale of our natural resources and pocketed the proceeds. 

It was also the people who spoke the democracy speak; those who wooed the public to get into parliament with the promises of a government for the people; those who promised Another Maldives that would bring equality to the tourism industry, those who pledged to put tourism dollars into Maldivian pockets instead of foreign bank accounts. Their promises to fight for the rights of the people, too, were only as strong as the lock on Adeeb’s black leather sports bags stuffed with millions of US dollars in cash. 

The MMPRC scandal involved major crimes against the public. No political party, state institution, government body or any other entity has the right to keep the names of the perpetrators secret.

It is not your secret to keep. Publish the list, punish the guilty.

First they came for Faafu IV:

Himithi

by Azra Naseem

4.Saved by the bullshit?

Saudi King Salman has postponed his trip to the Maldives indefinitely.

Three resorts cancelled their bookings to accommodate the King and his entourage; the Republic Square in Male’ was whitewashed and made ready for the King’s landing in a helicopter; the jetty was spruced up; his special yacht sailed into Maldivian waters in advance, along with a navy ship to look after his security; and Maldivian parents risked their children’s lives by sending them to practice a welcome dance for the King during a deadly flu outbreak; and President Yameen combed his feathers and puffed out his chest an extra foot.

In the end none of it mattered, the King decided he is not coming. Not yet; maybe never.

What changed the royal mind? The International Spokesperson for the President explained it was the H1N1 flu that kept the King away. As explanations go, it’s pretty lame, given the wide availability of flu vaccines and the fact that King Salman is travelling with not just medical staff but an entire hospital. No, what seems more plausible is that it’s the Maldivian motor mouths that have put this King off his planned paradise getaway.

First to open his mouth was the President himself who told the starry eyed people of Faafu Atoll Magoodhoo that ‘the Saudi government, or members of the Saudi elite’ had fallen absolutely madly deeply loved their atoll. They were going to show their love by opening their wallets and giving Faafu the kind of makeover that would make it unrecognisable as an atoll in an island archipelago.

But, he cautioned, shush, shush, shush.

The Saudis do not want agitation, they do not want chaos. The deal had been in the making for months and months, and would have been signed aeons ago if not for the uncouth behaviour of Maldivians who, unlike their Saudi brothers and sisters, would not shut up and follow whatever rules their leaders decide for them. Calm down for development, he said.

The President’s bragging did not create the docile citizens he hoped for. It set tongues wagging instead. Pretty soon everyone was talking about the Saudis and Faafu – what does Yameen mean by investment? Is he selling Faafu? How much is it being sold for? Is it legal? What will I get?

The ruling party was caught between its desire to boast and its promise to the Saudis to keep the whole thing secret. So they got paid hacks in on the job, and got them to write ‘colour pieces’ which in reality were long odes to the sanctity of the Saudi Royal Family, and their undying love for the Maldives.

Strategic decisions, that no doubt looked cerebral from the perspective of the ‘top brass’ that were making them, were arrived at to ‘emphasis the Islamic angle’ – it’s okay to sell to the Saudis because they are 100% Muslim, ‘just like us’. The same hacks wrote more column inches glorifying unchecked capitalism—oh, imagine the beauty of a Burj Khalifa arising from the Maldivian sea; we will be Dubai! we will be Singapore! Ah, blessed development, Islamic capitalism. Glory be.

And then there were the teams of foreign journalists flown in, all expenses paid, to write articles that would, hopefully, make the deal more palatable to the international community. Perhaps it was also meant to attract more foreign ‘investment’. Anyway, the motive doesn’t really matter, because what all the coverage ended up doing was seriously piss the desert royals off.

Pretty soon the Saudi Embassy in Male’—run from an annex in the President’s Office—broke the silence by putting out a statement denying that the Saudi government had any interest or plans to buy Faafu or make an investment in the Maldives.

The statement created even more confusion—it denied any involvement of the Saudi government, but not of the Saudi royal family, which is what Yameen had been ‘hinting’ at so very subtly. More tongues wagged in the Maldives, while over to the east in Indonesia,  Bali suddenly appeared so much more attractive to King Salman that he decided to extend his stay there. His scheduled arrival in the Maldives was suddenly delayed by a good week or so.

Despite the palpable royal displeasure, preparations continued in Male’ for the King’s arrival: opposition HQs were raided several times, rolls of fabric [that could have ended as a protest banner] were confiscated; and activists were dragged to the police station and their phones taken away. Through it all the general brainwashing continued with substantial success [see following comment by member of public on Saudi deal].

I don’t have any concerns about the Faafu Atoll project because whatever happens those who are coming here are from a 100 percent Muslim country. In my view he (Saudi King) is the leader of the world’s Muslims. So, given that we are a 100 percent Muslim nation, there is great trust in my heart that, because they are Muslims, they will not do anything to hurt us citizens in anyway.

So what was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, so to speak? What persuaded King Salman that it is far better to stay away from the Maldives than it is to spend a week swimming in its beautiful seas, snorkelling with the fish, and forgetting the pressures of being a royal?

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan, I would wager.

An audio emerged last night of the MP, and asslicker supreme, speaking to an unidentified group of men in what he referred to as a ‘brain feeding’ session. His talking points are enlightening to say the least. The recording goes on for half an hour. I will summarise here Nihan’s descriptions of, and references to the Saudi Royal Family.

This is basically something starting in 2012.

That Man was in One and Only and took a trip to get an aerial view of the Maldives. On this trip he saw an island that no Maldivian was likely to go to. […]

There are 54 kilometres between that island and any other inhabited one. Beyond that is the wide Indian Ocean. No Maldivian would be ‘encircling that’ even as part of a journey. That island is Faafu Atoll Himithi.

[…]

It was a geographic location That Man [the King] found. Actually his brain works well, he was thinking of ways that would cause the least inconvenience to Maldivians. So he wanted to develop that island.

But then he did not want the island to be taken back in 99 years, as it is said in that constitution, after he makes that fine investment. He knows that he cannot last that long. A normal human being’s mortality rate, if for example, is 70, he himself cannot stay on that island till the end of those 99 years. So, he requested for the ownership that will allow him to leave it to his next of kin, heirs.

When he made the request, we didn’t have the ability to create ‘99 plus one day’. We couldn’t even give him those [extra] 24 hours. That’s why we had to come to this point, why we had to change the Constitution. We wanted to give it to him to own. […]

But the public won’t understand. They will know only on the day they know who he is.

[‘After everything has happened?’, asks a member of the audience]

Yes, on the day they know for sure that it is the Saudi Crown Prince…on that day they will realise [clicks finger]: Aah! That’s the trap they set!

Mohamed had paid for acquisition of the island then. The island was under some sort of a group…some Dhivehi group…Anni had given it to them on some pipe laying pretext or other. He had given it to not just one party, but three!

Adeeb was Tourism Minister, Dr Waheed was President. Dr Waheed wanted to do this really badly. In a rush these great men gave him the island.

After they gave him the island he said the 99 years was not enough, so he was going to stop the deal. That meant the government had to give him back the payment he had made. So talks were held with people internally involved. He didn’t let go of his interest though.

Again, in 2013 he came back to One and Only. While he was there, in just a few days after President Yameen assumed office, the lad came with the current King, his father. He hadn’t become King yet, he was the Crown Prince.

As luck would have it then Crown Prince became King. King Abdullah passed away, he became King immediately, and as soon as that happened, all the power was now in the hands of his family, as it would be. Until This Man dies, that is. Then it will be Mohamed’s turn. He is the most likely man.

Anyway, without that assurance, they hadn’t begun the investment. We looked to see if we could penetrate this into the SEZ, if we could make it happen through the SEZ. But even the SEZ could not cross the Constitution – unless and until we changed it. It could only come out of an open window from that. That is why we created that window.

It was very designed, very proper, very planned so that we will not suffer any harm—even from a religious perspective—that is the kind of investor this is. That much can be said.

It is the belief that this investor is for sure not China, for sure not India, for sure not the UK, for sure not America, for sure not Russia. They are jumping around because they think we are facilitating Chinese ownership of land.

[…]

“This guy [King Salman] is gonna dump sixteen billion US dollars”. […]

There are other places in the world with more fish, more beautiful fish, than there are in the Maldives, fishes that are much more vigorous, more colourful – why would they come to the Maldives first to see these things? Why not go there? Why are they dumping here? His interest is also aroused “because we are Islam.” He believes that because we are Muslims he will be tolerated here.

So those Saudi princes can come here in their jets, waste away a weekend, and by the time they leave, all the waiters and everyone would have got a year’s wages—they will not have to work again that year. This is being said because of how these people behave. “We know what they are spending on”. T

here are so many countries with their hands out in anticipation of a Saudi Prince coming to their country – what does the Maldives have to show? What is this reef [Faafu] here for anyway? No one would go there to even pick up a shell. That reef has been sitting there like that, [serving no purpose] for three thousand, four thousand years.

[…]

There are a lot of parties [potential investors]. But we are not able to allow them. “A Russian billionaire might want it immediately”. They would have the money. They would have much worse, dirtier money [than the Saudis], but of course we won’t give it to those people. “Though even this is created”. The fear is what will happen if our government ends? What will those who come after do?

[…]

These people, this family that we are in negotiations with, they do not want their name to be associated with this [sale of Faafu] suddenly. If not, we would have written it down [in the Constitution] that this is for a specific person. […]

If that had been said, these issues [of what would happen when PPM government ends] would not arise. But even he [King Salman] would not have wanted to do such a ridiculous thing. This is the Constitution of a country we are talking about!

So what do you think? Was it the H1N1–or Maldivians who could not keep their mouths shut–that has made the King stay away? Has the government bullshit rescued Faafu from merciless ‘development’?


Photo: Himithi and Minimasmagili, Faafu Atoll, by 

First they came for Faafu III

First they came for Faafu II

First they came for Faafu I

First they came for Faafu III

by Azra Naseem

3. Muizzing Maldives

Yesterday, from The Guardian, Dhivehin finally learned what the government has in store for the Maldives. The publication ended weeks of speculation as to what Dear Leader Yameen has been planning for us ever since he got up close and personal with the unscrupulous and filthy rich Saudi royal family.

Oh, he dropped many hints: what is coming will change the very map of Maldives; it will be larger than your [little raffushu] imaginations; it will be development like no one has ever seen; it will make Maldives the envy of the world.

But he stopped just short of telling people what exactly it is. Because people’s reaction may endanger the deal. Maldivians cannot be trusted with the great plans he has for the Maldives.

But yesterday, through The Guardian, Yameen’s cabal finally chose to reveal details of what is to happen: residents are to be relocated to larger atolls, ‘leaving smaller islands ripe for development.’

Thousands of years old island way of life, sustainable development, living with the fragile environment, looking after the astounding natural beauty of the country for future generations—fuck all that. That’s airy-fairy arty-farty New Age hippie bullshit. Solar power, carbon neutrality? Pfft. Who has that kind of time to waste?

“We want to bring better living conditions to the whole country over a small period of time,” housing minister Mohamed Muizzu tells The Guardian.

This is the same Minister, whose unplanned haste to ‘bring development’ to Male’ has led to so many disastrous undertakings that people now say ‘That’s Muizzed” to describe projects–often work that don’t need doing, to fix something that isn’t broken–that become ever messier with each vain attempt to get it right at an ever increasing cost.

So here they are, these members of the kakistocracy ruling Maldives who– knowing so much what the people should want for themselves regardless of what they actually do–are ready to usher in what they call super development: geo-engineered artificial islands built as super-resorts, six-star hotels, high-end housing, high-tech centres, economic free-zones and foreign universities…all for ‘the global elite’, of course.

Meanwhile, the people of Maldives—the very people who have been excluded from the billions earned from 20 years of high-end tourism—will be relocated from their too-small-to-live-on-islands onto the so-called Greater Male’ Area where acres and acres of land is being reclaimed from the sea for this very purpose.

There they will live happily ever after in purpose built high-rises with running water, garbage bins, and plumbed toilets to shit in. Hip-hip-hurrah!

They will, of course, go to the same schools bursting at the seams as now, will be taught by the same barely qualified teachers, will work in the same dead-end jobs in the vast behemoth that is the civil service, or will clean hotel rooms and be bare-chested butlers in sarongs bowing deeply to provide the super-rich with ‘the authentic Maldivian experience’ as they sip their US$100 cocktails.

But, never mind. There will be plumbing at home.

Dhivehin shouldn’t expect much more. Their numbers are just too small for their existence to make any economic sense. What would be really economically viable would be to annihilate them, but then even the super-rich may balk at investing in real estate straight after a genocide. They’d wait at least one or two years; and time is money.

Once the plan is realised, number of visitors to the Maldives will increase from 1.3 million (over three times the population) to more than seven million within ten years (over 18 times the population). The Marine Research Centre—yes, the Marine Research Centre, which you’d think is looking out for the country’s natural resources—thinks this is a marvellous idea. In fact, according to Director Shiham Adam, it could be what saves the Maldives.

“People are investing huge amounts of money. They are not idiots,” says this very brainy scientist. “You can build an island in four weeks with suction dredgers”.

It would be absolute idiocy to think that this causes any damage to the environment; that it will kill the marine life, lead to erosion, destroy beaches, and shrink the entire land mass of the Maldives drastically. According to Shiham, all the existing resorts are just lovely little ‘mini marine reserves’, and there’s no reason (except science, which you don’t really need to consider when time is of the essence) to think the reclaimed super resorts would be any different.

What about sea-level rise that could put 75% of the Maldives underwater by 2100?

‘That’s not going to happen next year,’ says the director of marine research.

What does not happen before Yameen’s election in 2018, and 2023—or in his lifetime—should not concern us. That’s for the future. “We have immediate needs.’ And fulfil them these geniuses will. To hell with future generations, it’s not like they even exist.

This is what is ‘good for the people’, says Muizzu. He knows. That should be enough.

Let us all courtesy collectively to King Salman when he arrives, and pray that his rule over us would be as kind as it is over the people of Saudi Arabia, that he will consider our children with as much love as he does the children of Yemen. Let us all raise our hands in supplication to Yameen, our Saviour, for his Great Economic Vision. Let us all say thank you to all the super-rich billionaires and multinationals who are coming to save us from our inconsequential little lives in the shitty little ‘Indian ocean backwater’ called Maldives that so many people have mistakenly viewed as paradise on earth for so many centuries.


 

First they came for Faafu I : Of Kings and Pawns

First they came for Faafu II : Of Myths and Monsters