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?
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.