I was strolling down the waterfront with my friend Azeez. It was a cloudy evening and the monsoon winds were cool. We were engaging in the usual chitchat –how soon Ramazan had come and how fast prices were rising. There is an old saying in the Maldives: the fasting month is prosperity. But this year it was anything but that. Everything had become expensive –fish, watermelon, chilly, lemon... Soon the topic changed to politics and reform.
"Hameed, reform is already happening. We got a new constitution on 7 August. Independent commissions are burgeoning. But still the prices keep on rising and I'm not able to pay rent. Do you really believe reform is the answer to our problems?" Azeez asked me. He had a point. So many independent commissions and independent posts had come up during the past few months –Chief Justice, Election Commission, Prosecutor General, just to name a few.
"Give them time," I told Azeez, "they have just been appointed."
"Time for what? To increase their salaries and perks more?" he shot back. "That's the only thing they seem to be doing. And to think these reformists all talk about reducing government costs. How can they pass salaries like 60,000 rufiyaa, when the ordinary man does not get even 3000?"
"They will reduce costs when they come to power," I replied.
"Do you really want me to believe that?" he shot back, "Reformists are already in the Majlis. Why did they vote to increase their own salaries? When they keep on passing astronomical salaries, don't they know the state of our economy?" Azeez appeared to be rather worked up and angry at this point. So I tried changing the topic.
"How are Nasheeda and your daughter Ainth?" I asked.
"Nasheeda is not feeling well. IGMH doctors couldn't diagnose her. So I have requested for Villa assistance to go to Trivandrum. Didn't you know Ainth got a Villa scholarship this year to do an MBA in Malaysia?"
"So that means you are going to vote for Gasim aren't you?" I asked.
"Voting is different. I'm not going to sell my vote for money. I don't mind who is in power, even the current government, as long as I can find a job and earn money to pay my bills. But if I can't buy food and other essential items, then I will be worried. If I can't send my children to school, and if their teachers are on strike, I will be very concerned, even angry." I tried again to steer the conversation to the main topic, independent commissions.
"With the new commissions and Majlis members getting high salaries, they will remain independent and reduce corruption," I said. My friend just laughed.
"Are they really independent? They appear to be the same, or worse. The independence is only in name. Just see how the Election Commission was formed yesterday. It's obvious who will control the Commission. This is a shame. Nothing will change."
"Please don't be so negative. Things are going to improve," I told him. "I have no doubt they will be truly independent. If they aren't there will be watchdogs who will take them to task."
Even as I was reassuring Azeez, I was not very confident myself about the immediate future. But with the Presidential and Majlis elections coming up shortly, there was hope. I then recalled the famous conversation between Gandhi and the British Viceroy in India, who warned Gandhi that if the British left India there will be chaos. "But that will be OUR chaos," Gandhi shot back.