With a democratically elected government coming to power, one would have expected islanders to stop detaining government officials and blockading island offices –a false expectation apparently. If one goes by the recent spate of blockades, climaxing with the detaining of Constructing Minister Aslam, things are getting worse, if anything.
The only redeeming feature in this gloomy scenario is that the current spike could be a passing phenomenon related to the ongoing budget debates in the Majlis. Many of the incidents do indicate a close linkage with the budget, as exemplified by the incident involving Minister Aslam, which was apparently in protest against not including money for the island harbor in the budget.
It may be interesting to find out why islanders continue blockading offices. The widespread use of this method of protest appears to suggest that a significant number of Maldivians believe it to be an effective method. Let us examine some factors that may have led to this belief.
- Often the government is seen to give in to the demands of the protestors. This was particularly so during the last few years of the previous regime. It’s too early yet to judge how the current government will respond to the situation.
- While the Penal Code of Maldives prescribes harsh punishment for kidnapping and obstructing the work of government offices and officials, in practice action is rarely taken against the perpetrators.
- With a history of non-elected officials and nominated committee members controlling island administrations, government officials at island level do not enjoy the confidence of the people.
- There appears to be no alternative method of brining to government attention the issues at island level, since island Katheebs are apparently incapable of doing it.
- For the average islander, the offices provide very few services. Most islanders have rarely visited an island office, except for a few once-in-a-life-time tasks such as applying for a plot of land or dividing a plot. Thus even if an office is closed it causes few problems to an islander.