US Senators call for ex-president’s release

The US Senators chairing the Senate Armed Services Committee have urged their government to press for the release of all political prisoners in the Maldives, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The letter by US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed adds to the growing calls for Nasheed’s release, and warns that the Maldives’ decisions are “having serious adverse consequences on its relationships abroad.”

Mc Cain, a Republican, and Reed, a Democrat, have also filed today an amendment to the annual military policy bill, which expresses Congressional support for Nasheed and other political prisoners’ release.

The bill, now on the floor of the Senate, tops US$600billion in costs. Important provisions include authorising and funding lethal arms for Ukrainians against Russian-backed separatist forces.

In their June 2 letter to the Secretary of Defence Ash Carter, and Secretary of State John Kerry, the senators had warned that a deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives “would greatly impact our ability to work with the government of Maldives and to engage on a host of issues, including military to military activities. ”

The president’s office was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

President Abdulla Yameen insists that Nasheed was granted due process, and said he has no constitutional authority to release the former president.

He has now called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties. But there has been no substantial progress yet.

Kerry had previously said there were “troubling signs that democracy is under threat in Maldives, where former President Nasheed has been imprisoned without due process,” and added this “is an injustice that must be addressed soon.”

Strong message

McCain and Reed noted a police crackdown on a historic anti-government protest on May 1, and said: “the political space in the Maldives is quickly closing as democratically-oriented opposition political parties, civil society groups and journalists have come under increased pressure.”

The letter urged the state department to “reemphasise importance of the rule of law in the Maldives, and the damage this is causing to the U.S.-Maldives bilateral relationship.”

The US must “increase high-level engagement with the government of Maldives and send a strong message that the country should abide by its international commitments, especially to the rule of law.”

“In short, while the Maldives may be a small island nation, there are big principles at stake,” the senators said.

The parliament of the European Union in April passed a resolution urging the Maldives to free ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and calling on member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites.

The government dismissed the resolution as “non-binding.”

Nasheed’s international legal team is lobbying for the former president’s release, and is seeking a ruling from the UN working group on arbitrary detention declaring Nasheed’s imprisonment to be illegal.

The lawyers are: Jared Genser, the founder of the renowned campaign group for political prisoners Freedom Now, Ben Emmerson, former UN rights chief on counter-terrorism and human rights, and Amal Clooney, who has advised the UN and is the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney.

The working group’s decision on Nasheed’s detention will affect the international community’s policy towards the Maldives, and would inform decisions on possible sanctions, lawyers have said.

Genser has represented Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi and Liu Xiaobo, while Clooney has counselled political prisoners such as the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy.

Emmerson, meanwhile, is currently the British judge on international tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.


Faris sworn in as Dhiggaru MP

Ahmed Faris Maumoon has been sworn in as the new MP for Meemu atoll Dhiggaru following his victory in Saturday’s by-election for the vacant seat.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed administered the oath of office to Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP at a ceremony held at the People’s Majlis around 4:00pm today

Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, deputy speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, and majority leader Ahmed Nihan attended the ceremony.

Faris won the by-election with 59.4 percent of the vote after competing against main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party candidate Ahmed Razee and two independent candidates.

Faris is the son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and a nephew of President Abdulla Yameen.

The Dhiggaru by-election was triggered by the imprisonment of ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim on corruption charges.

Weeks before the election, the government delivered an x-ray machine to Dhiggaru, promised a harbor in the island, while PPM MPs delivered air-conditioning units to the Dhiggaru and Muli island mosques.

President Abdulla Yameen, meanwhile, promised to provide a 140-kilowatt generator for Dhiggaru and said he will prioritize PPM constituencies for development in the 2016 budget.


Two judges in ex-president’s terrorism trial appointed to high court

Two criminal court judges who sentenced ex-president Mohamed Nasheed to 13 years in jail in a widely criticised trial have been appointed to the High Court today.

Judges Abdulla Didi and Sujau Usman took the oath of office at a surprise ceremony at the Supreme Court this morning.

Two seats on the nine-member bench have been vacant since the high court’s chief judge was demoted to the juvenile court in August, and another judge retired in February this year.

The appointment of new judges was stalled when the high court in October last year said the evaluation criteria was flawed.

But the Supreme Court on May 28 overturned the ruling, paving the way for Didi and Usman’s appointment.

The third judge in Nasheed’s terrorism trial was Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf. He was awarded a discounted flat in a newly built luxury apartment complex in Malé.

The former chief judge Ahmed Shareef was suspended in 2013, shortly after the high court suspended court proceedings against Nasheed on charges of arbitrarily detaining a judge during his tenure. The high court was reviewing the composition of the bench overseeing the trial.

The Prosecutor General’s Office in February withdrew the lesser charges of arbitrary detention and filed new terrorism charges against Nasheed at the criminal court.

Evaluation criteria

The high court, in an October 2014 ruling, ruled that the criteria on evaluating a candidate’s educational qualification and experience was flawed and ordered the Judicial Services Commission to amend the criteria.

The 100-point mark sheet awarded 35 points for education, 30 points for experience, 10 points for ethical conduct and 25 points for an interview.

All candidates were to be put to a secret vote in the order of the candidates who received the highest points. The first candidates who received a majority in the vote would be appointed.

In evaluating the educational qualifications, a candidate with a degree in Islamic Shariah or a degree in common law would receive 20 points. But a candidate with a combined degree in Islamic Shariah and common law would receive 25 points.

Candidates with a masters or a doctoral degree would receive an additional five points each.

The criteria appeared to grade candidates on the title of their degrees, the high court said. For example, an individual who had a degree in common law may have done the same number of modules on Islamic Shariah as a candidate who had a combined degree in Islamic Shariah and common law.

The high court noted an individual who had done a degree in common law or Islamic Shariah, and held a masters, would receive 25 points, the same as an individual who had just done a degree in Islamic Shariah and common law.

The evaluation criteria for qualification awarded 30 points for ten years of experience as a judge, meaning it did not differentiate between candidates who had served as a judge for ten years or 20 years.

The appellate court said judges must be awarded points proportionate to the number of years they had served as judges.

The high court also ruled that the JSC cannot hold a secret vote to select candidates arguing the procedure was not transparent.

The Supreme Court, however, dismissed the high court’s ruling

Flawed trial

Foreign governments and international bodies have expressed concern over Nasheed’s 19-day trial, noting he was not given adequate time to prepare defense, barred from calling defense witnesses, and at times, denied legal representation.

The UN special rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul said: “The speed of the proceedings combined with the lack of fairness in the procedures lead me to believe the outcome of the trial may have been pre-determined.”

Amnesty International said Nasheed’s sentencing “after a deeply flawed and politically motivated trial is a travesty of justice.”

The three judges who oversaw Nasheed’s trial also sentenced ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim to 11 years in jail in a weapons smuggling charge.

The retired colonel said the weapons were planted at his home by rogue police officers on the orders of Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Adeeb has denied the allegations.

Despite growing calls for Nasheed and Nazim’s release, President Abdulla Yameen said he has no constitutional authority to release the pair.

Nazim’s appeal at the high court is scheduled to begin on June 21.

Nasheed was unable to file an appeal after the criminal court delayed releasing required case documents within the shortened ten-day appeal period.

The government insists Nasheed can still file an appeal, but his lawyers say the law is silent on late appeals.

They argue that the Supreme Court in January has removed the high court’s discretionary powers to accept late appeals in the ruling that had shortened the 90-day appeal period to ten days.

Photo by Raajje TV


Government to begin talks with the Jumhooree Party

President Abdulla Yameen has pledged today to begin talks with the opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) whose senior officials appear to be in self-imposed exile.

JP leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim has been in Bangkok since late April, ostensibly to repair a boat. Local media report the criminal court has issued an arrest warrant for Gasim on a charge of financing a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

The JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed are accused of inciting violence at the May Day protest, and have been charged with terrorism. If convicted, they face between 10 and 15 years in jail.

Both Ameen and Sobah are out of the country. In a video message, Sobah said he is seeking political asylum.

Speaking to the press today, President Yameen said: “God willing we will sit down with Jumhooree Party for talks. We’ve been waiting for Ameen Ibrahim to return to the Maldives and join the talks, but we will go forward even without him.”

Talks will begin within the next two days, he said.

The JP was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

The president called for separate talks with the JP, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

The overture came after months of continuous protests over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges and a US$90.4 million claim on Gasim’s Villa Group

The JP immediately agreed to sit down with the government without conditions. In addition to Ameen, the party has proposed MPs Ilham Ahmed, Abdulla Riyaz, and Hussain Mohamed to represent it at the talks.

President Yameen has ruled out negotiations over Nasheed’s release. His agenda focuses on political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary and political party participation in socio-economic development.

The MDP has proposed Nasheed, chairperson Ali Waheed and MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as representatives. The Adhaalath Party proposed its president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who is currently in police custody. He is also charged with terrorism over the May Day protest.

The government has rejected Nasheed and Imran as representatives.

“Adhaalath Party and MDP have not shown me a way of proceeding with this. They have stated they will not talk with the government without certain people. I don’t believe that a party which considers the interest of the whole party or the interest of the public would put forward a person in detention or serving a sentence to discussions with the government,” the president said today.

The government “is obliged to continue applying the law indiscriminately to all,” Yameen said and added: “It will be hard for the people to accept it if we take different actions against different people in different situations.”

The president said he will listen to what the opposition has to say and meet their demands if “it does not compromise the law.”

The government had previously rejected the opposition’s calls for talks because their terms were unacceptable, he continued.

“The political parties had asked me to negotiate with them before. But I rejected them because I could not accept the terms they set. But in my own time, within my reasons, I am looking forward to talk with the parties. It is for the benefit of the people, to establish a peaceful environment for all.”

The government had decided to call for talks in the interest of the public and because the international community “believes there are many issues that needs discussions and need to be solved,” he said.

“Now is the time to build the country. We have lost five years. That’s the truth. This is the chance to start projects to develop all areas of the country. This is the time to provide the youth with employment. My appeal to the people of Maldives is to grab this chance,” he said.

“I want the support of everybody. If I did something wrong I will come before the media and apologise to the people and will try to go forward again.”

President Yameen said corruption and injustice in the Maldives resulted from the discriminate enforcement of the law.

“Critics of my government claim there is corruption within the government. It is not a problem at all. I will not make an exception to anyone in my government. If anyone is involved [in corruption] or if anyone is convicted of a crime, he has to face the law,” he said.


Police bust prostitution ring, arrest eight suspects

Three foreign women, four foreign men, and one Maldivian man were arrested last night after the police raided a brothel in Malé.

The police raided the Woodpecker house in the Maafanu ward of the capital around 9:00pm based on intelligence information. The suspects were engaged in prostitution when officers entered the residence, the police said in a statement.

The three foreign women were arrested on charges of prostitution and the two foreign men on suspicion of being their agents.

The two foreign men and the Maldivian man were reportedly customers.

Police officers searched the four rooms of the house and found large amounts of cash in both foreign and local currency as well as pills and other items used for sexual activities.

The police said the serious and organised crime department is investigating the case.

In August 2013, the criminal court sentenced a 64-year-old Maldivian man to four years in prison after finding him guilty of running a brothel and forcing three Thai women into prostitution.

Two Maldivian women and a man were also arrested in April last year on charges of prostitution.

The police said that the two female suspects were aged 29 and 30 and the man was 26-years-old.

The suspects were taken into custody after police raided the Beauty house in Maafannu.

Police officers searched the house and discovered five packets containing illegal narcotics.


Environmentalists converge for ‘1 Nation Coral Revival’ festival

Environmental organisations, state agencies, and marine enthusiasts gathered in the Vilimalé beach this weekend for a unique environment festival aimed at educating and informing the public about conserving coral reef ecosystems.

The ‘1 National Coral Revival’ festival – the first of its kind – was organised by Vilimalé-based NGO Save the Beach as part of an awareness campaign about its reef rehabilitation and monitoring programme.

Amid a backdrop of live music by local artists, the event featured coral planting, information sessions and talks at an “awareness tent,” food stalls, diving lessons, free water sports, and guided snorkelling.

The festival was planned to coincide with World Environment Day on Friday, but kicked off a day late due to stormy weather. Environment minister Thoriq Ibrahim and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb attended the opening ceremony on Saturday.

Students, teachers, and parents with their children visited the festival and participated in interactive activities.

The UNDP offered a “nature walk” while the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme gave presentations about the largest fish in the sea. NGOs such as the Olive Ridley Project, marine consultancy company Seamarc, and marine biologists from several resorts shared information about environmental initiatives.

Fathmath Thanzeela from Save the Beach said participatory activities such as coral planting were intended to give “a sense of ownership” and encourage engagement.

“What we hoped to achieve is a demonstration project so that we can share knowledge and build capacity of other NGOs,” she said.

A core message from the festival is the importance and vulnerability of the reef ecosystem in Vilimalé.

A coral reef is “very delicate and takes thousands of years to grow,” Thanzeela said, and coral planting is not a viable solution for rebuilding a devastated reef.

Coral planting is intended to “beautify and boost biodiversity,” she said.

Save the Beach started a coral nursery in Vilimalé last year with coral colonies rescued from a reclamation site in Hulhumalé.

Photo from Save the Beach
Photo from Save the Beach

As Malé does not have a natural beach, Thanzeela noted that the Vilimalé beach is used by the one-third of the Maldivian population that resides in the capital.

“We owe it to the next generation to preserve this beach,” she said.

Thanzeela said the public response to the festival was positive and expressed gratitude to business partners who “wholeheartedly contributed to the cause”.

“There were about 70 people ‘try diving,’ close to 200 people who planted corals in the shallow, and lots of people did water sports,” she said.

The public support suggested that “people’s minds are opening up,” she said, and a conservation ethic would follow when “people become friendlier with the sea.”

Coco Island resort marine biologist, Nathaniel Stephenson, said the festival brought together “organisations with the same moral core conservation ethic” in one place to network and share ideas.

“But most importantly, to educate the local people, the local community, and I think it’s really done that well, mixing music with awareness, making it fun and accessible as well,” he said.

Photo from Save the Beach
Photo from Save the Beach

The festival 

The Project Damage Control stall challenged visitors to sort garbage under general waste, organic trash, paper, or recyclables.

Visitors were also asked to guess the time it takes for plastic bottles, glass, and aluminium cans to decay.

“We want to spread awareness through a challenge. When you throw out trash, there are recyclable items and there are separate bins for that,” said Ihusan Abdul Muhsin.

Most visitors guessed right but stumbled on the biodegradation timelines, expressing surprise with the one million years it takes for glass to decompose.

The message: “When you throw a plastic bottle to the sea, it takes 450 years to degrade and it destroys corals,” said Ihusan.

In its stall, Manta Trust, a UK-based charity, showcased its work in identifying manta rays with photos of the unique pattern of spots on its underside.

Ibrahim Lirar said Marine Trust has more a catalogue of than 3,000 “photo IDs” of individual manta rays.

“We need more events like this, more platforms, so we can talk about the conservation of our environment. The current situation is very dire. The skipjack tuna catch is dropping. 2007 was the peak. We’re now catching the same number of tuna we caught in 1999 with today’s technology and fishing power,” Lirar said.

Dr Shamha Abdulla Hameed, dean of the faculty of marine studies at Villa College, suggested that the festival should be held at least once a year.

“You get to do a lot of networking. And everybody sees that there are a lot of people involved in this area of work,” she said.

Some parents are unaware of the job opportunities for marine science graduates, she observed, noting that most resorts have dive masters, water sports assistants, and a marine conservation centre with interns earning US$400 a month.

The UNDP meanwhile offered a nature walk with a guide explaining the environmental benefits of than 40 species of plants in Vilimalé. Some trees act as wind barriers and help to prevent coastal erosion.

“Usually we just give information in stalls about projects, which is not very interactive. So we came up with something that might involve them and make them passionate about the environment,” said Abdulla Adam, who took visitors on a tour across the island.

Mohamed Shimal from the Marine Research Centre said its stall emphasised the economic value of coral reefs to the Maldives – which are essential for the sustainability of the fisheries and tourism industries – and explained the damage that humans could cause to the fragile ecosystems.

The centre offered drawings of fish and corals to children for colouring with environmental messages on the back.

“For example, don’t harm corals when you swim because it grows very slowly. And don’t throw plastic bags in the sea because it suffocates corals and turtles also die after eating it,” Shimal said.

Photo from Save the Beach
Photo from Save the Beach

President Yameen vows to send 142 pilgrims to Hajj

President Abdulla Yameen vowed last night to send 142 pilgrims to Hajj this year on government expenses.

Speaking at a function with senior citizens, President Yameen said Saudi Arabia had increased the Hajj quota for the Maldives to 2,000 this year. The government is working to sponsor more Maldivians to perform the pilgrimage, he said.

In January, the president inaugurated state-owned Maldives Hajj Corporation with a budget of MVR110 million (US$7.1 million), with the aim of reducing the cost of performing the yearly pilgrimage.

However, part of the quota reserved for the Hajj Corporation has been filled up until 2017.

In his remarks last night, President Yameen said senior citizens were a high priority for his administration. The government has increased the old age pension from MVR2,500 to MVR5,000 and expanded the ‘Aasandha’ health insurance scheme to include cancer treatment and kidney transplants.

Referring to former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment on terrorism charges in March, Yameen said Maldivians prefer peace over violence.

“We included abducting people as part of terrorism because Maldivians believe in peace,” he said.

“There is no other way to get rid of such tyranny in the Maldives.”

Nasheed is serving 13 years in jail over the military’s detention of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The 19-day terrorism trial was widely criticised and described as a “travesty of justice” by Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim are also facing terrorism charges for “encouraging violence towards President Yameen and other senior government officials” in their speeches at a 20,000-strong protest march on May 1.

Yameen meanwhile stressed the importance of protecting the Maldives’ sovereignty, independence, and Islamic identity, claiming that previous administrations involved other nations in making decisions on domestic affairs.

The European Union refused to extend duty-free status to Maldivian fish exports over the country’s stance on freedom of religion, Yameen claimed.

“A lot of foreign ambassadors have met with me recently. But my final word to them is that our democracy is run according to written laws alongside the justice system. So we will not go to gain permission from any state if we have to take actions against anyone who breaks the rules and regulations,” he said to loud cheers.


In neglected Dhiggaru, people are content

Additional reporting by Ismail Humam Hamid

Abdul Sattar Hussain, an 80-year-old retired fisherman on Meemu Atoll Dhiggaru Island, has seen six presidencies in the Maldives. For him, the worst rule was that of the first president Mohamed Ameen Didi, and the best was that of the second president Ibrahim Nasir.

“Ameen made us all hungry,” he said, recalling the famine of World War Two. “We were hungry all the time. But Nasir, he is the best president this country ever saw. He got us out of eating cereal and millet.”

Lounging on a woven rope joali in the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) haruge, Sattar took off his dark glasses, rubbed it with his checkered sarong and declared: “After Nasir saved us it hasn’t been all that bad. It’s not that bad now either.”

Sattar is content. He does not expect much from the central government.

The people of Dhiggaru are proud fisherpeople. Their wives dry tuna, and make rihaakuru, a tuna paste famous throughout the Maldives. Their young men take up fishing or go work at luxury resorts nearby. Most invest their earnings into building single-storied brick homes on family plots.

Life, on this small and quiet island, has remained unchanged for decades.

On Saturday, Dhiggaru was at the centre of Maldivian politics. A parliamentary by-election, triggered by the surprise imprisonment of MP Ahmed Nazim, took place.

The PPM candidate and son of a former president, Ahmed Faris Maumoon, won against the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Ahmed Raazee with 59.4 percent of the vote.

For the besieged central government, the by-election victory was a demonstration of support in a politically charged time. The PPM’s coalition partners had allied with the MDP in March and had launched daily protests in Malé over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

But here on Dhiggaru, the politics of Malé is far removed.

Successive governments have neglected Dhiggaru. The people lay the pipes for a rudimentary sewerage system by hand and built half of the sea wall encircling the island. The men prefer to work hard during the day and sleep with their wives at night. Political party rivalry exists, but is muted. The economy, unlike that of most small islands, is self-sufficient.

Political party membership is divided according to neighbourhoods. The north supports the MDP, while the south, where the majority live, support the PPM.

Sattar lives in the southern ward. “I go with whatever they pick. That’s not for me as an individual to decide,” he said.

“I don’t know much about that”

Some 1,300 people are registered as Dhiggaru residents, but only 944 live on the island. The majority is middle-aged. Here, everyone knows everyone. Most are related to each other.

“We do not take political party rivalry personally,” Mariyam Hassan, 53, said. “What is the benefit of that? We talk to each other, help each other and try to live peacefully.”

Most people do not have much to say about democracy, the government’s performance, or the jailing of the MP who had represented them for 20 years.

“What is democracy? What is it like? I don’t know anything about it,” said Aishath Hassan, a dedicated 61-year-old PPM activist.

For the people of Dhiggaru, a parliamentarian is not a lawmaker, but an official elected to help the community in their time of need, mostly in paying medical bills.

Nazim is admired in Dhiggaru. Most, no matter which political party they support, have received his help. He was jailed for life on corruption charges, after he reportedly fell out of favour with President Abdulla Yameen and his tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

“When I was little he bought me my school books. He bought schoolbooks for my daughter. And recently, when one of my family members got sick Nazim sent him abroad for medical treatment with a family member,” Khalida Hussain, 42, said.

In his 20-year tenure, Nazim built a computer lab at the island school and is credited with the construction of the island health post, although the funds came from the state budget. Most voters said they want a man like Nazim to represent them in the Majlis.

“We are hoping to elect a man as loyal to us as Nazim,” Afeefa Abdulla, 53, said.

“Nazim is a very kind, loyal man. He brought many developments to Dhiggaru. If you go to him ask for help he would never turn you down,” Usman Mohamed, 64, said.

When asked about Nazim’s imprisonment, many said: “I have nothing to say about that.”

A 28-year-old MDP supporter, Dawood Abdul Gadhir said: “If anyone commits a crime he has to pay for it. But I have no information about it.”


Dhiggaru islanders do not have much, but they seem content.

Mohamed Munavvar is only 20 years old. By dawn he is out at sea. But on Friday, he was home because of bad weather. “It’s just fishing. It’s not hard if you love what you do,” he said.

A fisherman makes an average of MVR10,000 (US$648) per month. The fisheries sector is small and dependent on skipjack tuna.

“People ask us why we don’t build bigger fishing boats to catch yellow fin tuna, which is more lucrative. But then, we would have to travel longer distances and we will be out for at sea for weeks. We would rather spend all the money we get on this island and come back to our wives at night,” Mohamed “Gadha” Hussain, 38, said.

Some young men, however, expressed discontent with the lack of employment opportunities.

“There are no jobs here. You either go fishing or end up in a resort. I just finished my A ‘levels. I will have to go and work in a resort probably,” Ibrahim “Dida” Humaid said. “The other option is going to Malé City for work. A lot of young people are there already.”

Dhiggaru islanders have one wish – for the government to reclaim land from the lagoon and increase the land area of the now-13 hectare island.

“We want to own land. We want more people here. Every government has promised that, but its all lies,” Munavvar, the 20-year-old fisherman said.

During president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s time, a small sliver of land was reclaimed at the harbour. During Nasheed’s time, another area was reclaimed to the south of the island.

In the weeks leading up to the by-election, the government promised several development projects. An x-ray machine and air-conditioning units were delivered. A contract was signed for harbour renovation. President Yameen promised a new power generator, a new sewerage system, and said PPM constituencies will be prioritised for development in 2016.

Meanwhile, Faris has promised that the government will develop five resorts close to Dhiggaru.

Excavators and heavy machinery were brought on to Dhiggaru. But work has not begun yet.

With Faris’ win, some hope the island will be reclaimed, but many opposition supporters said they do not expect much progress.

“These machines are not going to be here for that long. Whatever the results of the elections may be, these are going to go from here,” Dawood Hassan, 28, said. “We haven’t seen any development in Dhiggaru for ages. But now that its election time, we are hearing many stories and plans for development. I think there is something awfully wrong in this.”

“Yameen recently said he is hoping the work will be done by next year. So we don’t know anymore. It progressing slowly,” Ahmed Nishan, an MDP council member of Dhiggaru island council said.


Maldivians will survive climate change, says tourism minister

Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb has urged Maldivians to adapt to the impacts of climate change instead of considering relocation to higher ground abroad.

Maldivians will continue to live on Maldivian soil for the next 500 years, he said, at a festival held to mark the World Environment Day on Saturday.

“Maldives are innovative and always looking for new innovations. We will live here in the Maldives even if we have to reclaim land or live on floating contraptions,” he said.

The Maldivian islands lie just a meter above sea-level.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a 2013 report said global sea-level is rising and predicts accelerated rise for this century.

For high emissions, the IPCC now predicts a global rise by 52-98 cm by the year 2100, which would threaten the survival of coastal cities and island nations such as the Maldives.

Sea-level rise will be accompanied by coastal erosion, surface-flooding and saltwater intrusion into soil and groundwater, scientists have said. Climate change will also bring frequent and severe weather extremes and coral reef die-offs because of ocean warming and acidification.

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon in a message on World Environment Day said: “The Maldives continues to take a proactive approach in building resiliency to the adverse impacts of climate change through pursuing a low carbon development strategy.”

President Abdulla Yameen has pledged to explore for oil in the Maldives.

Rubbish Island

In his speech, Adeeb also pledged to allocate a US$6 green tax – to be levied on tourists in November – to tackling waste management on Thilafushi Island, where garbage from Malé and resorts are sent.

“Tourists, who travel via air taxi, have asked if Thilafushi is a volcano, if volcanoes exist in the Maldives. I tell them that is not the case here and that I cannot give further details,” he said.

More than 200,000 tons of industrial and domestic waste were sent to Thilafushi in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to government figures.

While some of the waste is sorted and sent to India, most is simply used as landfill or burned. Campaign groups have highlighted the risks to workers from toxic fumes and the contamination of surrounding lagoons by floating garbage.

The former Maldivian Democratic Party-led government had signed a contract with India-based Tatva Global Renewable Energy in 2011 to provide waste management services in and around Male, including establishing a system to generate power from recycling waste.

However, the current government of President Yameen cancelled that deal late last year, having previously sought to renegotiate it on “more mutually beneficial” terms.

Photo: social media