In many a fairytale, the hero starts in humble beginnings and ends in riches… and of course a palace. But even the legendary narrator Hans Anderson will find it difficult to match the real life story of Gasim Ibrahim. The meteoric rise of the Maamigili boy from the job of a farm-help in an uninhabited island to the dizzy heights of his current position as the chairman of Villa Group will be a story that will continue to inspire generations of island boys.
If fortune changes men, then Gasim remains an illustrious exception to this rule. Despite his legendary wealth Gasim leads a fairly simple life and is arguably the most approachable tycoon in the Maldives. His humble days appear to be etched indelibly into his psyche.
"Those who say I have a selfish motive to become president are right: I want to deliver the things that people demand. I want the job to solve the difficulties people face today," Gasim told supporters during the official launching of his election campaign. Such a statement would normally be discarded as political hyperbole. But coming from Gasim Ibrahim, one must give it at least the benefit of doubt. After all, it has always been Gasim's lifelong mission to help people. Who has not heard of Villa scholarships and Villa welfare?
Gasim says his early days of suffering in Male implanted in him a strong desire to help people and improve their conditions. Here again one must give the benefit of doubt to Gasim that he may be telling the truth, because after all, the man has actually spent millions to help improve people's lives.
Some of Gasim's election promises appear to be extensions of the philanthropic work that he has been personally pursuing: the university and the hospitals. Along with this he also promised another welfare scheme –building 1000 flats a year in Hulhumale. This of course is a logistically impossible target, and it will be interesting to watch how Gasim deals with this promise if he gets elected.
Gasim's economic policies include a Mrf 1.5 billion fund to provide low interest loans, introduction of new taxes, establishing four economic zones, and oil exploration. While enhanced taxation will be crucial to implement Gasim's social programs, his ability to raise the level of taxation will remain questionable, given the composition of his core team, which includes some businessmen with doubtful reputations.
Only time will tell whether Gasim achieves his motive. With the election barely a month away, he is racing against time to establish sufficient party presence in the islands to put up a credible campaign. One thing is certain though. Anyone who knows Gasim will testify that the last thing on Gasim's mind is to occupy Theemuge and live like an Arab Sheikh.