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The Maldives: No Such Thing as Paradise

What does our mind picture whenever we hear about the Maldives? I’m sure it’s the beaches, fancy resorts, and waking up to the view of the ocean. This is probably the automatic and most simplistic way people imagine this place to be.

I’ve never been to the Maldives, but I do see a lot of it on social media. I’m sure we’ve all seen pictures of its resorts and beaches being shared on Facebook.

Photo: https://www.instagram.com/impeccablehotels
Photo: https://www.instagram.com/yololetstraveltheworld/?hl=en
Photo: https://www.instagram.com/diogonascimento1985/?hl=en

However, it’s hard for me to accept that there can be a place that is nothing but paradise. I know a country can’t be filled with just islands and pristine beaches. Even more, one where it’s people are completely happy with how the tourism industry changed their country and that they’re happy to serve all the tourists. Also, don’t we think about all the money that comes into this country and what happens to it? I don’t want to say that money will corrupt everybody the same way, but for sure there are people who are easily corrupted.

What’s their government like anyway? I think we all have to admit, even if it sounds really stupid, but we sort of imagined their politicians in beach outfits being fanned with palm leaves while eating fruits and sipping fresh coconut water while looking onto the sunset.

Painting: Eugene Savage, ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ 1940

Okay.. This is actually ancient Polynesian but I think you get my point. It doesn’t have to be that specific but I’m sure you pictured something similar.

Anyway, what prompt me to finally dig deeper and to prove to myself (and now to others) that Maldives isn’t all smiles and sunsets was this article.

The article is centered on the Philippines but included this information from Transparency International on graft and corruption offences in the Asia Pacific region. It says that the,

“Philippines, India, and the Maldives are among the worst regional offenders in this respect.”

Finally! Without actually looking for it, I finally got a clue to the questions that have been lingering on my mind about this ‘paradise’ for the longest time. I immediately went into research and it wasn’t that hard to dig things up. From illegally leasing islands to foreigners, government corruption, torching of television stations, disappearance and killing of journalists, and religious extremists, it’s hard to un-see this image of the Maldives.

So here’s a story of a nation with a population fewer than 400,000.

Male, the capital of Maldives. Photo: Maldives Times

The nation was ruled by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for 30 years, which began at 1978. His rule ended in 2008 when Mohamed Nasheed became the nation’s first democratically elected candidate. However, after accusations of illegally arresting and detaining a judge, Nasheed failed to be reelected in 2013. The country was soon taken over by Abdulla Yameen, Gayoom’s half-brother.

Abdulla Yameen

Ahmed Adeeb, the country’s minister of tourism, who developed a very personal relationship with Yameen, was sworn in as his vice president on July 2015. A major data leak, which was exposed through Adeeb’s iPhone, became the source of the whirlwind that knocked the government over.

Ahmed Adeeb

Asides from multiple selfies that Adeeb took from his phone showing off his watches and fancy lifestyle from all the money he embezzled, this also exposed several text messages with his confidantes.

Messages were found such as Adeeb saying things like, “I am boss of all gangs in Maldives.”

Here are some other conversations of Adeeb with his confidantes:

Ablo Ziyath, the Maldives Marketing Chief in 2014: “Better make it cash or something coz done want anyone to know any details of our deal bro.”

Adeeb: “Ok”

The government also does not take criticism lightly, so they torched a television station, but when that wasn’t enough to silence them, he had other ideas

Adeeb: “blast it again”

Hussain Waheed, Police chief: “no I guess better to control sponsors”

Adeeb: “hehehe. Ok give me the list”

Responding to a threat when the auditor general came out with a report claiming that more than 59 island deals involved stolen money

Adeeb: “u guys need to focus on this auditor general”

Abdulla Didi, Police Special Ops: “no worries”

Adeeb: “maybe we need to light up his office as he is continuously making trouble for us”

I guess these guys have a knack for blowing up places?

This also included messages of Adeeb with his drivers who would personally deliver the money to the doorstep of other politicians involved

Adeeb: “last night gave Ali Hameed 4000 usd?”

Mohamed “Oittey” Hussain (Adeeb’s driver): “Yes”

Adeeb: “ok good”

What was uncovered was that nearly $100M was laundered from fees that were supposed to be paid for the acquisition of islands for resort development. Over 50 islands and submerged coral lagoons were leased out via scam, which ran from 2014–2015. To put this into perspective, only about 100 resorts had been built over the previous four decades.

What exactly did they do that made it illegal?

These deals were done without public bidding. The tourism law required that the islands, which were considered public property before they were sold, could only be leased after open public bids. The government skipped this whole step and sold it directly to developers.

And how would they keep this money?

Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC)

The MMPRC was set up in 2009 as an entity to promote the country’s tourism abroad. This was headed by Abdulla Ziyath, who held the title of managing director. To successfully embezzle the money, the MMPRC took over the job of the ministry of tourism and hand out the island leases themselves. Soon after, Ziyath changed the rules to allow the checks from the developers to be diverted into other bank accounts, as long as it had a stamp and his signature on the back. Some of the accounts include the Millenium Capital Management (MCM), which was owned by Adeeb’s relative, and a second company owned by Adeeb’s family, the Montillion Pvt Ltd.

Also, remember the auditor general whose office Adeeb wanted to blow up because he came out with a report? He was removed from his post and replaced by Hassan Ziyath, Abdulla Ziyath’s brother.

However, the relationship between Yameen and Adeeb quickly turned sour. On September 28, 2015, there was an explosion on Yameen’s yacht while he was on it. He immediately blamed Adeeb for planting the bomb.

Yameen’s speedboat after the explosion. Credits: The Maldives Independent

From this point, it all kept spiralling down for Adeeb, who was accussed for attempted assassination and eventually sentenced for theft from state coffers. Abdulla Ziyath and Hamid Ismail were convicted as well.

If Yameen and Adeeb were supposed to be close, why did Yameen blame him?

Adeeb had connections with the opposition government. He led negotiations wherein an amendment to the law would allow foreigners to buy land in Maldives, while the former president Nasheed would be freed from jail. The amendment was approved but the other half of the deal was not honored and Nasheed wasn’t released. There were rumors that Adeeb was angry at Yameen and was plotting a coup. Then the boat incident happened..

If you also want to the timeline of these events, Adeeb was sworn in as VP on July 22, 2015 and the bombing happened on Sept. 28, 2015. It seems like these guys were a little too eager to get rich.

For a country with less than 400,000 inhabitants, you could only imagine what all that money could have done for everybody. Indeed, it is a beautiful place and you wish that the people who had the power to change things saw the same and they would do all they can to protect it.

Now we need to see that Maldives is not an isolated place we could all run away to when we want to escape all the bullshit each of us are going through in our own worlds. It’s not isolated from things we see on the news almost every day.

What else is happening in the Maldives?????

Freedom of Speech violations

Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a journalist for The Maldives Independent, was abducted in 2014.

His friend, Yameen Rasheed, a liberal blogger who wrote critically of the government and the spread of Muslim extremism, died in 2017 after being stabbed in the stairway of his apartment building. Here’s his website, in case you wanted to see what kind of writer he was.

Religious Extremism

In 2015, an international security firm said that the number of Maldivians who joined ISIS was 200. With a population of less than 400,000, Maldives has the world’s highest per-capita number of foreign fighters who travelled to Iraq and Syria.

Maldives was historically moderate but when the country transitioned to democracy in 2008, this paved the way for greater religious expression. A sect of Islam called Salafism, which came from Saudi, became popular in the country. Saudi also started sending its leaders to visit the Maldives and scholarships were offered to Maldivian students to study at Saudi Arabia.

Drug Epidemic

In 2014, the UNDP estimated that 40% of Maldivian youth were using drugs. This is a huge chunk of the population because 44% is below 14-years-old, while 62% of the population is under 25. Scary to think of what the next generation will contribute to the country.

I’m not angry towards the Maldives in any way which made me write this article. I just hope that it’s one of the best examples I could give that will show people not to use Instagram or Facebook to create a picture of the world they live in. I know it’s sad, and some people will say, it’s better to just focus on the good. If all of this information will ruin our image of the Maldives, then let it be. If that’s the world we live in, I think it’s best for everyone that we accept it. I believe this because I think that when we focus on the good and turn a blind eye on the bad, the bad will only grow until we run out of good in the future.

Remember, every place has garbage to throw.

Maldives ‘Rubbish Island’. Photo: desdemonadespair.net

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Source URL: Medium

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