Monday, March 29, 2010

Spoken like a true liberal

I am often criticized by liberal Maldivians because I refuse to censor religious groups.

I am criticized because I won’t crack down on the fundamentalists.

But my point is this: the ends do not justify the means.

You cannot arrest and imprison people just because you disagree with their views.

Moreover, the battle between liberalism and fundamentalism is a battle of ideas.

Liberally-minded Maldivians must organize, and reclaim civil society if they want to win this battle of ideas.

People with broader viewpoints must become more active, to create a tolerant society.

A few nights back, 32 young people came to see me.

They were furious about the rise in extremism.

To my mind, these are just the sort of people who need to reclaim civil society, if they want to foster a more open-minded society.

We must defeat the rejectionists, who hanker for a return to authoritarian rule.

We must overcome the vested interests that want to stymie economic progress.

And we must win the battle of ideas against extremists who want to replace democracy with theocracy.

I believe we will not win by going for a crack-down, or a witch-hunt or mass arrests.

To my mind, violence only begets violence.

President Nasheed at Maldives Donor's Conference, March 2010.
Full speech available here. Unlike the self-styled liberals in Maldives, especially in the blogosphere, who calls for the crack-down on extremist (their words, not mine) religious groups, President Nasheed knows what liberty is. Same message goes for those who call for violence and hatred, and those who use religion as a political tool. Oppression and crack-downs are not the way forward. We should move away from authoritarianism & totalitarianism to freedom, peace and tolerance. George Orwell put it best when he said,
"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

Photo - courtesy of dhitoons

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The representative plumber

In any society that is growing and developing, there will be a need for construction of houses and other buildings. For this they would need, out of the many trades, plumbers. Suppose, to address the needs of the society, they envision the following scenario:

The society is divided logically to territories of 5000 inhabitants each. Each unit will be allocated a plumber chosen by a popular vote. This plumber is called a Master Plumber or MP for short. This MP is supposed to cater for all the plumbing needs of his territory. Same goes for the other territories and MPs.

The MPs go to work to a nice big palace called the Citizen's Plumbhouse or CP. The CP was quite expensive so that it had to be donated by some friendly country. They are to be paid comfortably from the public purse, after all how can they work if they are not paid? If a citizen in a certain territory is not happy with his representative MP, he can try to vote him out couple of years later. Until then he has to get his house fixed by his MP whether he likes it or not.

Looking at the scenario above, it is quite obvious that such a system will fail miserably to cater for the plumbing needs of the public. MPs don't draw their earnings from productive service to the public. There is no room for dismissing an MP when he is performing poorly. There is no incentive for MPs to do good service unless its the election year.

But when it comes to the matters of the state, such a system is supposed to work? Yes it would work wonderfully for those who know how to game the system.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Creating value in the design profession

If there is one thing common between architects and engineers, it is their frequent complaint that clients do not value their work. That they always go for the one who quotes lowest for the design work. That those new graduates are flooding and undercutting the established ones. That they are somehow 'industry ge agu vattaalanee'. Or something along that.

This is especially prominent these days where there is less work to go around, and the prices has come down. The question asked is thus, how do we make clients value our work? If you take away the nice choice of words, the question basically comes down to, how do we make clients pay high price for our work?

The reason the prices are bid low is because there is healthy competition in the market. Usually, new upcoming players are the ones who bid low, and they sometimes get frowned upon by the experienced ones. Sure, new ones have less experience and will probably be of low standard than that done by an experience one. But this is not necessarily always the case. Thus, there is lots of talk about regulations in this field. Regulations are usually needed in any industry, but they have to be fair and should not restrict competition. Thus the talks about regulations usually boil down to these:

1. Creating a fee scale for the provision of services, ie price controls.
2. Creating licenses for practitioners.

Of course, these will be put forward as a way to 'create value', improve quality, to provide recognition etc.

Of these, regulations of type 1 are the worst. Suppose for example that a fee scale for design is set to min Rf 3 to max Rf 6 per sqft per floor, then those who's work is valued below Rf 3 rate will not be able to find work. Say a client wants to develop a 1000 sqft plot to 5 floors. At Rf 3 rate, the price is 3 x 5 x 1000 = Rf15,000. That means the minimum price one is legally allowed to offer for that project is Rf15k. If an experienced designer A and a not-so-experienced designer B offer the minimum allowed price, there is no reason why a client will choose B. Since he has to pay Rf15k anyway, why bother go to B? Maybe if B offered something like 12k, he might go. But B is not legally allowed to do that! Thus such a price control will be disastrous for the new comers.

Regulations of type 2 are also designed to prevent new-comers easy access to the market. It will be full of categorisation and rules so that the established players will get the lucrative projects. New ones can keep doing small projects.

But how do we improve quality if we are not paid high? is a regular question. If high price is the requirement for quality work, maybe one should see the quality of environmental impact assessments done in Maldives. Each report is USD4000+. As for the quality, let their clients and EIA evaluators be the judge.