Farooq Mohamed Hassan*
The out-going President, Al-ustaaz Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, will soon be a 'chapter closed' in our country's long and often times turbulent history. His 30-year rule will be written and re-written for years to come. His 'legacy' – as he loves to call it – will be studied and researched by scholars for generations to come. They will be recorded and preserved in various formats. And most certainly, some of his memorabilia – symbols of extravagance – will find its way to the new national museum which is now being built by the Chinese Government. After all, where else can such subjects of notoriety be displayed as objects of beauty? On a happier note, many of these collections will surely attract more tourists to the capital – Male'. Unfortunately, some like the priceless yacht may go under the hammer.
This reminds me of my visit to Manila/ Philippines to attend the Fourth Global Forum of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council in 1997. One of the places we were taken to was the Malacanang Museum which gave us a glimpse of the excesses of the ousted former president and strongman of Philippines – Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralín Marcos and his family.
Why I have mentioned Marcos is because of the stark similarities that exist between these two dictators. First, they were elected Presidents; Marcos in 1966 and Maumoon in 1978. Second, their respective governments were marred by despotism, nepotism, political repression, human rights violations and massive authoritative government corruption. Third, while Marcos was removed from power by the 'People Power Revolution', Maumoon was removed from power by the MDP led coalition, in a public referendum in which Maumoon contested against the will of the majority, and also against the spirit of the new constitution, which Maumoon himself ratified. Marcos ruled Philippines for 20 years while Maumoon ruled Maldives for 30 years.
Oh yes! Coming back to my topic – inheriting the white elephant, will most certainly raise a few eyebrows among some of the radical DRP sympathizers. And why not? But let's continue.
A literature review of the term 'White Elephant' shows that it is derived from Thailand, where an Albino (white) elephant was given to unfavoured people by the ruler. Because these elephants were sacred and not permitted to work, it was a burden to the owner as it would eat up the owner's entire money until he/she became destitute. Keeping a white elephant therefore, was a very expensive undertaking, since the owner had to provide the elephant with special food and provide access for people who wanted to worship it. It is said that if a Thai King became dissatisfied with a subordinate, he would give him a white elephant. The gift would, in most cases, ruin the recipient. Today, the term 'white elephant' is commonly used in the context of 'a burdensome possession - creating more trouble than it is worth', or 'a possession that is unwanted by its owner', or 'a valuable possession whose upkeep is excessively expensive', or 'a useless and troublesome possession that one cannot easily get rid of'. The usage is infinite.
Now, here's the catch. Following the October 28 election, the winners gave a sigh of relief, hoping that they had got rid of a dictator, who not only cost the public a fortune to maintain, but also ruined the economy of our country. And so, many hoped that in the light of the recently released reports by the Auditor General, not to name the FPID, MSL, ATC and Air Maldives scandals, at least some justice will be done. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that so many raised their eyebrows when the President-elect, Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) proposed to give the out-going President, a reasonable pension and protection. Anni repeated this same request when he met with the Speaker of the Majlis, Honorable Mohamed Shihab.
I am sure no person with a sound mind will deny the merits of reconciliation over retribution. And so, when Anni asked the Speaker of the Majlis to do the needful to introduce a Bill to that effect as soon as possible, I, for one, was quite happy that the speaker answered in the affirmative. However, then came the biggest surprise of all. Within days, Maumoon himself, through his Minister, Aneesa, hurried to submit such a Bill. And what does this bill contain? No one yet knows for sure. However, according to one local newspaper, the Bill Aneesa has submitted to the Majlis, if passed, will require giving Maumoon the same salary as that of the President of the country, which is MRf 75,000.00 a month, a 'reasonable' house to live, an office with minimum staff and funds for research. How much will all this cost to the public?
Unfortunately, only the outcome of the Bill introduced by Maumoon through his Minister, Aneesa, will determine how much of a liability than an asset the Maldivian 'white elephant' would be to the public. And let's hope Anni, like the Thai king, is not giving the very public that elected him to his Office, a 'white elephant'.
[*Faarooq Mohamed Hassan is a former shadow cabinet member of MDP and is also the Deputy Director General of the Environment Research Center.]