Friday, November 5, 2010

Housing crisis?

As everybody knows, Male' is a highly congested city. Probably the city with the highest population density. Hence, Male' has been described as a city burdened with a housing crisis (in addition to the strains placed on roads, ports, land, waste etc).

But in reality, there is no housing crisis at the fundamental level.The crisis that you see in Male’ region is a manifestation of a crisis in services to outer islands. The reasons people from the islands come to Male' are
  1. Education for children
  2. Health services
  3. Jobs and economic opportunity
Given that government (current, previous and other past governments) has taken the responsibility for providing education and health services, it is apparent that the real crisis is the inability to provide these services to outer islands.

Not only that, Male’ supremacists do not really want the islands to be developed/self sufficient or have any notion of self-determination. This is reflected in the policies that Male' based central government has followed for decades (I am not pointing finger at Gayyoom only, this includes Nasir as well).

The people of the islands have been denied the opportunity to use the resources available to them (which is not much really) to their benefit. This is reflected in agricultural/fisheries/tourism/customs policies.

Just to give some specific examples:

1. The people of GDh. Thinadhoo were quite well off in the early Nasir era. They had couple of their own shipping lines to import stuff. They did not have to go through Male’. But some Male’ supremacist thought otherwise, and forced them to sail their ships through Male’, making things expensive, and inconvenient, and at the mercy of Male’ bosses. Their self determination was ruined. No wonder they revolted against Nasir.

2. The uninhabited islands have been semi-titled to Male’ people (though not always) under the name of ‘varuvaa’ system. This deprived the real farmers in islands of opportunity. Instead what should have happened is the lands from agricultural islands should be titled to the actual farmers in islands under tax free and long term basis.

Even the ones who got islands under varuvaa did not have secure property rights. There was no legal contract and the island was always subject to be taken by government if and when required. This reduced investments from these people because they were not sure of the lease. Only people who actually invested in agriculture were people who had good connections within the governments (who then knew that their varuvaa island will not be taken away).

3. The tourism ‘Master Plan’ is a real plan to cartel-ize the whole tourism sector. It enables only high end tourism to be viable, making only those with lots of money able to compete. Instead, atoll people should have opportunity to do low to medium end tourism. That decision does not have to come from central government in Male’ only now. If more people were given the opportunity, that would have already begun in Maldives.

4. The lucrative business of tuna export has been made an oligopoly. This has caused numerous difficulties for fishermen. I have written about this couple of times here and here.

With all these restrictions and monopoly privileges to selected few, it is no wonder that island people suffered terribly, and they have to depend on Male’ for every single thing. This has created such a high demand for apartments in Male’, and hence the rising rents. The wages have not kept up with rising living costs.

Thus, the housing crisis is not the real crisis. The real crises are the failed policies that have been pursued for so long.