People in sleepy outer islands of the Maldives, once docile and obsequious, suddenly in 2006 began to seize and besiege island administrative offices, demanding harbors, schools and sewage systems. Few people then or now associated this with decentralization or the lack there of. But listen to the voice of an islander:
"It takes 15 to 20 years to lay a sewage pipe or a sewerage system. Now we run towards what we call democracy. We close down the island office and everything stops. We turn desperate, write numerous letters and make numerous pleas before things get done. This is begging." –a resident of Eydhafushi, Baa Atoll, speaking in a documentary produced by Project Hope.
What the young man says contrasts sharply with conventional wisdom, which said unrest in the islands is the result of democracy. Here he says the unrest is the result of government neglect –in other words lack of good governance. Islanders were driven to unrest by desperation and the realization that seizing island offices was the only way they could get the attention of the government.
Decentralization, Selected Islands Development, Focus Islands, Development Regions, Development Zones: these are the ingredient of the cocktail that the government promised to the islanders for the past 25-30 years, but never even attempted to deliver. While paying lip service to decentralization, the government actually moved in the opposite direction –concentration of more and more power in the Atoll's Ministry.
Ministry of Atoll's Development headed by Abdulla Hameed made full use of developments in communication technology to further spread its influence to the islands. In progressive steps, VHF sets, telephones, fax machines, mobile phones and the internet reduced Atoll Chiefs to innkeepers and Katheebs to telephone operators.
Elections to Atoll Development Committee were dispensed with and it became a committee appointed by the Atoll Chief in consultation with Atoll's Ministry. Lacking popular support, the committees became rubber stamps for the Atolls Ministry.
It is reasonable to assume that lack of credibility of Katheebs and the committees is at least partially responsible for the civil unrest in the islands. Will decentralization solve the problem?