Qasim & Afeef, two of the richest men in the Maldives.
Question is, do they believe they will benefit from a democratic government?
Are they ready to get rid of the Maldives Dictator?
DOLLARS AND SINNERS:
The criminal nexus between resort owners and Dictator Gayyoom
Dhivehi Observer, 5 November 2007
"All dictatorships are cruel and wasteful. They deprive the populace of basic rights while enriching a small minority at the expense of rational development." These opening lines of the introduction to a research article from Stanford Graduate School of Business could very well be referring to Maldives Dictator Gayyoom. Actually, the article was referring to Alberto Fujimori of Peru who was deposed following one of the most notorious corruption scams in history.
This uncanny resemblance exists because while dictators may differ, their methods are identical. Like Fujimori, Gayyoom also maintains his stranglehold on power through a bribery scheme, which in his case is bankrolled by Maldivian tourist resort owners, who are the real beneficiaries of Gayyoom's kleptocracy. Through patronage and favors, the scheme ensures the loyalty of atoll and island officials.
Studies have shown that such loyal groups act as life insurance policies for dictators. Typically, many dictatorships survive with the support of a significant swath of the populace. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, rulers such as Kenya's former President Daniel Arap Moi maintain power by exploiting ethnic and regional differences via a policy of selective economic rewards and privileges. In the absence of ethnic minorities in the Maldives, Gayyoom has improvised this technique by pitting atolls and islands against each other.
In certain ways, Gayyoom is a far more accomplished dictator than Fujimori ever was. Unlike the latter, Gayyoom made generous use of the most potent weapon at the disposal of dictators: terror and the naked use of force applied by huge standing armies and police forces. In Gayyoom's case, the terror was originally applied by the National Security Services (NSS) personally led by the dictator himself for the first 25 years of his rule. Later, the Golhaa Force led by Loan Star Adam Zahir took on the mantle.
The critical role played by tourist industry bigwigs in propping up the aging dictator was clearly visible during rigging of the August 2007 referendum, when well-heeled ministers in the cabinet like Deen, Rafeeg and Hilmy were asked to travel to the atolls with bags of money to bribe officials. Others like Gasim, Champaa and the Koli Clan were asked to contribute to a slush fund used for the same purpose. The resort owners are not complaining however. Most of them will complete year 2007 with their real estate holdings more than doubled.
Many academic studies have focused on the reasons why businessmen seem to favor dictators. While the dictators are not terribly popular, given the corrupt and repressive nature of their regimes, businessmen fear that an unfamiliar new leader would be much worse for them. The fear of falling under an equally inefficient and venal ruler that favors another group is enough to discipline them. In other words, most businessmen take a "bird in hand is worth two in the bush" type of approach. This approach has paid rich dividends to Maldivian resort owners. Industry insiders say that nearly all islands in the Maldives with resort potential have already been pocketed by these few families and their proxies.
Thus the moribund government of Dictator Gayyoom is propped up by an unholy triumvirate comprising resort owners, Golhaa force and bribed officials. This scheme of things is a virtual replica of Fujimori's corrupt regime in Peru, as described by the following quotation from the Stamford research article:
"In September 2000, the government of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori collapsed amidst a bribery scandal of breathtaking proportions. Legislators, Supreme Court justices, media barons, and others were on the receiving end of a seemingly unending stream of dirty money dispensed by Vladimiro Montesinos, head of the feared secret police. What they found was a stunningly bold and effective effort to circumvent three institutions key to maintaining democracy in Peru: the judiciary, the legislature, and the media. Montesinos and Fujimori maintained the façade of democracy—the citizens voted, judges decided, the media reported—but they drained its substance. "
Dictators not only deprive their subjects of human rights, they loot their countries so openly that they have become known as "kleptocracies." A large part of this loot is used to give certain privileges to members of the dictator's group, often in the form of patronage or public works projects. This is one reason why the Maldives continues to labor under the weight of a bloated public payroll and why so many development projects never succeed.
Gayyoom's kleptocracy is taking a heavy toll on the country. Despite claims that Maldives has the higher GDP per capita in the region, more than 40% of the Maldivian live in absolute poverty, on one US dollar a day or less. Chronic under employment is stalking the country. Drug abuse is rampant and is destroying a whole generation. An environmental meltdown is looming. The last 10 years has been the most destructive in the history of the country's environment. The world famous tropical paradise is not dying; resort owners and the dictator are slowly killing it by over exploiting fragile natural resources. The vicious circle of violence, poverty and environmental destruction that is integral to the failed regime is the ultimate threat to the future of Maldives.
Thousands of Maldivians go to bed hungry in overcrowded rooms not because there is a shortage of food or resources but because the resources are in the hands of the super rich favored by the dictator. Gayyoom's chosen cronies have become richer and more powerful after the recent wave of resort allocations. This has meant that concentration of wealth and capital has reached an unprecedented level. These well-heeled families effectively prevent the percolation of the fruits of development to the ordinary citizens. Take the example of MTDC, which was supposedly created to open opportunities for the common man. Long before the company's first resort is open the super rich directors of the company have already made millions through corrupt building contracts. The islands given at concessional rates to the company have been distributed among the cronies of those who control the company. Ordinary shareholders will have to wait many long years before they will even get their pitiful dividends.
For the moment, the nexus between the dictator, Golhaa Force and resort owners appears invincible. But the collapse of the Fujimori regime has shown how a single TV station managed to expose the regime's corruption and ensured electoral defeat for the dictator. The trick is to expose the truth to the vast majority of the population. Once the message reaches a critical mass of the population they will act to vote the dictator out of power in the coming elections. As for the resort owners, the sooner they realize the folly of putting all their eggs in one basket, the better it will be for them. How long can Gayyoom guarantee their assets? Aging dictators are fleeting; but justice lasts forever.
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© Dhivehi Observer 2004