By Rifat Afeef**
The current policy of the government to handover basic national infrastructure (health services, sea and air transport etc.) on 'commercial basis' to foreign companies is a grave threat to the future security of the country. I am not saying that 'commercial basis' per se is wrong. After all, the progress (in tourism and fisheries) we see today is the result of private enterprise on commercial basis. All I am saying is that if we hand over our basic infrastructure to foreign companies in the name of privatization we are likely to face its bitter consequences in the not too distant future. These consequences will escalate over the years, finally resulting in the loss of our independence.
In analyzing why this will happen and why we will lose our independence, we must realize that in organizing and implementing any project there are two types of results. The first type includes result(s) one expects and plans for in the project. The second includes the unintended results of the project. This second type of result is called an 'externality' in economics. With few exceptions externalities are harmful. Thus 'externality' generality means the unintended harm from a project or an economic activity –something not accounted for in the project costing.
There are two main types of externalities. The first type includes physical effects that one could feel. The other includes intangible effects such as socio-political changes. Because socio-political externalities are difficult to perceive, we don't even realize their existence. It is this type of imperceptible externality, I am saying, would inevitably result from handing over basic national infrastructure to foreign companies in the name of privatization, affecting the nation's future. Today we can only speculate on things that could –over the years –have negative consequences. In my opinion, the easiest way to undertake such speculation is to take a look at the history of countries, which had experienced such pitfalls, either on their own or under external pressure. So let me take some examples of both types.
The case of Palestine:
Even though many people don't know it, the Palestine issue, which plagues the Muslim world today, is a consequence of mistakes made by Palestinians themselves. Lack of foresight on the part of Palestinians allowed Jews to displace them from their own land, though I must admit that the Jews also had laid a treacherous trap. But Palestinians fell into this trap on their own, voluntarily. Had the Palestinians themselves not sold their land for greed allowing Jews to settle there, there would have been no chance for western support for a Jewish state (in the form of Balfour Declaration) and no chance for Jews to take up arms and expel the natives. (It's wise to realize that citizens themselves bear a large part of the responsibility in destroying any nation.)
The Case of Hawaii:
The history of the fiftieth state of the United States in the nineteenth century is also a tragic saga of reaping the results of own mistakes. Kamehameha who united Hawaii allowed United States companies to acquire land for pineapple and sugarcane farming. The companies increased their influence and finally during the time of Queen Liliuokalani, the third ruler after Kamehameha, American forces entered the Hawaiian capital, house arrested the Queen and annexed Hawaii in 1887. It became the 50th state of the US in 1959. (Since history is written by the victors the details of this may not be found in western references.) Today native Hawaiians make up less than 1% of the population. More than 99% are the descendents of Chinese, Japanese and Pilipino immigrants brought by American companies to work in their farms (just like Africans brought to the southern states of the US) and Caucasians who colonized the islands. The native Hawaiians (a very small minority) are at the bottom rung of the socio- economic ladder in terms of income as well as imprisonment rates, for reasons related to the security of the state. (It must be admitted here that when Maldives was under British rule, it suffered less external threats than earlier.)
Attempts at Advocacy:
It has been ten years since I have been trying to bring to the attention of the elected rulers of Maldives the fallacies of some government policies. I made several attempts between 1999 and 2007 to bring to the attention of former President Maumoon some aspects related to development that may not be commonly realized. But the result was no better than drawing lines on the sea. When Uz. Maumoon ignored my pleas, in April 2005 I brought to the attention of individual members of the People's Majlis the dangers of some of the government policies and their possible consequences on national independence. But the result was zero. In 2007, approximately one and half years before the presidential election, I presented to MDP leader Mohammed Nasheed some of my writings on development policy. When I met him accidentally two weeks later he even said they were good. However since his election as president my attempts to get an appointment with him have been in vain.
Consequently the purpose of this article is to bring directly to the attention of the people, my 10-year long plea on the dangers facing the nation, a plea which has been ignored by elected leaders and representatives. I am doing it now because I feel that if the government goes ahead with its plans to hand over basic infrastructure to foreign companies in the name of privatization, it would jeopardize our independence. I want to convey to the people the consequences of what has happened till now and what is planned ahead, because things would go from bad to worse, leaving the nation in a bottomless pit.
The theme of this article is that development policy is broad and interrelated. This article gives only a very brief glimpse of this. More details are given elsewhere in my writings, the most comprehensive of which is a letter I wrote to members of the People's Majlis on 1st April 2005. These writings may be obtained by visiting my website: www.rifatafeef.com.
*Original Dhivehi article uses the term 'viyafaari usoolu' here.
**Translated from original article by Rifat Afeef, well-known development consultant.
~Side headings inserted by translator.