Two men walk into a Western Union.
The girl at the counter greets them, and then almost immediately the whole thing goes south.
The men, both clearly Maldivian, speak in pidgin dhivehi – used by tens of thousands of South Asian labourers in the country. They want to send money ‘home’ (presumably Bangladesh, not Maafannu). She instructs them to fill a form, and asks how much they want to send. It’s 500 dollars.
She tells them that a 3% remittance tax is applicable on the amount.
Mi vahttharu kon time feshigen hunnanee? [Since when has this been the case?], asks the man in what he hopes is convincing enough “bangaalhi” pidgin.
She responds with a stilted narration of all the applicable dates and legal statutes.
“I didn’t know that. I have to ask my boss for a salary increment”, says the Maldivian playing the hapless immigrant.
The girl is outraged – even if her expression doesn’t reveal much. “No no! Remittance tax is paid by the employee! Not the employer!” says MIRA’s English subtitles with an appropriate number of exclamation points. (God forbid the employer has to spend another penny on these half humans)
One of the men finally relents.
Mahssala nethee. Aharen dhenee, he says, dramatically shaking his head. He’ll pay.
Scene ends. An overlay with pleasant music appears. ‘Introducing Remittance Tax. October 1 2016’
Maldives Inland Revenue Authority. Hotline 1415.
I felt like calling the hotline immediately and asking “What the fuck, MIRA?”
The number of things in that video that were wrong is astounding. But let’s focus on sensitivity here.
Imagine there was an ad targeted at Maldivians in neighbouring India. Picture two obvious Indians, dressed in what they think is appropriate Maldivian attire (let’s say ill-fitting jeans and sandals for men, and mismatched rags for women – just for stereotype accuracy), and mouthing noises that they think Maldivians sound like.
“No no!”, exclaims the Indian lady behind the counter “You pay 3% extra for the nasi goreng and the MRI! Not your employer!”, even as the fake-Maldivians sigh and relent.
Would that have been appropriate?
Yet, somebody in MIRA clearly thinks that the best way to communicate with, say, black people is to air a video starring locals in black face.
Check the calendar, MIRA. It is 2016. Surely, there’s better way?
How hard exactly could it have been to prepare information leaflets, and translate them into Bengali, Tamil, Sinhalese and Nepali?
We have literally tens of thousands of people in Malé who could have helped MIRA in the endeavour.
It is bad enough that foreign labourers are exploited and mistreated in Maldives; this ‘remittance tax’ on their meagre incomes being just another example.
This shameful, out-of-touch, mockery of a video being aired by a state revenue authority on top of that is entirely uncalled for.