Independence Day celebrations kick off with fireworks

Celebrations for the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence kicked off on Friday night with a massive fireworks display at the newly renovated Republic Square.

Thousands watched in awe as the night sky over Malé lit up for more than half an hour with the largest display of fireworks the country has ever seen.

President Abdulla Yameen, first lady Fathimath Ibrahim, former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan oversaw the celebrations. Judges, cabinet ministers, heads of independent institutions and some diplomats were present as well.

Maldives will celebrate 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

A team of 23 individuals, including students, doctors, pilots and sportsmen cut the ribbons and officially opened the Republic Square before the fireworks display.

State owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company has built a new musical fountain at the main square. At the center of the fountain is a monument symbolizing unity. The fountain started sprouting water when a group of children carrying traditional water containers poured water inside it.


Photos courtesy of President’s Office

Housing minister Mohamed Muizz said millions had been spent to renovate the Republic Square. According to the Finance Ministry, a budget of MVR150million (US$9.7million) has been allocated for Independence Day celebrations.

All government buildings, streets, lampposts and hundreds of trees and walls in Malé city have been decked in blinking red, yellow and white neon lights.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will arrive at 12:45pm today for the official function to be held at the Usfasgandu area tomorrow morning. He is the only head of state to attend Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence.

Other dignitaries from China, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Japan, Bangladesh are expected to arrive throughout the day today.

The government is yet to disclose the full program of events for the weekend. The celebrations include a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks, official games at the national stadium and football tournaments.

Former presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom will receive an honorary shield at the official function tomorrow.

A three hour play, depicting different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present will take place at the national stadium on July 27.

Bollywood pop star Sanam Puri is to perform in Malé tonight.

The anti-corruption commission is investigating the home ministry’s use of the MVR150million budget.

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STO cautions against panic buying as hundreds queue for petrol

The state wholesaler State Trading Organization (STO) has cautioned against panic-buying of fuel as hundreds  continue queuing up at petrol stations for a third day.

“There is absolutely no shortage. We are operating out petrol stations at normal hours, but only rationing petrol because some people are buying petrol in bulk,” an STO media official told Minivan News.

Malé’s waterfront is congested with cars, trucks and motor cycles on Boduthakurufaanu Magu where the two main fuel stations are located.

Many people in the queues said they had heard STO is running out of petrol. Today’s queues are shorter than Wednesday’s.

STO’s petrol stations – managed by subsidiary company Fuel Services Maldives – on Wednesday started rationing fuel, only providing each vehicle with five liters of petrol.

“Why else would they ration the petrol? Look at the big queue here. People would not panic so much unless there is a problem. Of course there is shortage,” said Shathir Ahmed, 21 years.

Some people said they had waited in queues for between an hour to two hours on Wednesday. The waiting time was approximately 20-30 minutes today.

STO said panic buying had been triggered by media reports of shortages.

“We appeal to the public to confirm with us if there is a shortage before stocking up,” the media official said.

Online newspaper CNM reported today that STO is suffering from a shortage because the petrol delivery ship was delayed due to bad weather, and is due to arrive on July 27.

However, several people at the queues continue to carry large bottles and tanks to stock up.

“I am collecting as much petrol as I can. I have already gone to the other two station and gotten 10 liters of petrol. If we run out, it would make life very difficult,” said a middle-aged man, back at the queues to get his 15th liter.

Additional reporting and writing by Zaheena Rasheed

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Nine hour power cut in Malé caused by damaged switch gear

The State Electricity Company (STELCO) has said that a power outage in the Galolhu ward of Malé around 1:00am last night was caused by a damaged switch gear at a distribution centre in Lily Magu.

The power cut lasted more than nine hours and followed STELCO warning of intermittent cuts in the capital after one of two main 8MW generators at the power plant suffered damage.

STELCO spokesperson Ibrahim Rauf told Minivan News that electricity services resumed around 11:00am this morning after the switch gear was replaced.

Contrary to rumours, Rauf said last night’s outage was not the result of an overload caused by LED lights placed at government buildings to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of independence.

Rauf suggested that the damage could have been caused by heavy rainfall last night, but said that the exact cause has not been determined.

The damage to one of the main engines earlier this month was caused by “technical problems” and will take time to repair, Rauf said. The generator’s parts will have to be brought from overseas and replaced, he added.

STELCO is yet to determine the cause of the generator failure.

The government-owned electricity provider in the atolls, Fenaka Corporation, is meanwhile transporting two 2MW engines to Malé from Addu City for temporary use during the independence day celebrations.

Rauf said one of the generators was shipped out last night and STELCO “will see when it arrives” whether it could be installed ahead of Independence Day. But he expressed confidence that STELCO will be able to handle the high demand for electricity on July 26 without power cuts.

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post on Sunday, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq said electricity services provided by the central power station was disrupted last week while power outages have been common in recent weeks.

The transfer of the generator to Malé is regrettable, he said, calling on the government not to “deprive citizens of such basis services.”

The government’s policy of ensuring reliable, round-the-clock electricity across the country has “failed,” Sodiq contended.

“The question is if Addu faces an electricity problem tomorrow, will an engine be brought from Greater Malé?” he asked.

Rauf meanwhile told Minivan News last week that the LED lights strung for independence day celebrations will use around 2.5 MW of electricity from the STELCO grid.

“We are very concerned and saddened because the lights may also suffer due to the power cuts,” he said.

Malé uses 46MW of electricity on average, but the amount could go up to 52MW at peak hours or on dry and humid days.

“The demand for electricity depends a lot on the weather. If we have wet cold weather then people would not use air-conditioners and electricity demand will be reduced,” he said.

It has been raining heavily in Malé this week, but July 26 is expected to be dry, according to weather forecasts.

Power cuts will last only one hour at high demand periods, and will be spread out in different areas of Malé, Rauf said.

Maldives is celebrating 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark Independence Day, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and a football tournament in the atolls.

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Constitutional amendment on foreign land ownership up for debate tonight

A constitutional amendment to allow foreigners to own land in the Maldives will be up for debate at an extraordinary parliament sitting tonight, only hours after it was submitted to parliament.

The amendment allows foreign parties to own land for projects worth US$1 billion. Ownership is dependent on the parties reclaiming more than 70 percent of the plot.

The constitution at present prohibits foreigners from owning land under any circumstances, but allows the government to lease land to foreign parties for up to 99 years.

The amendment is the second amendment proposed to the constitution since it was ratified in 2008. It was proposed by Ahmed Nihan, MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the majority leader.

Nihan said he has proposed the amendment to increase economic growth and to facilitate sustainable investment. It will allow foreigners free holds in the Maldives, and to transfer ownership or lease their plots.

The amendment comes amidst negotiations between the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The opposition has so far backed several unprecedented measures proposed by the government in hope of freedom for jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

MPs in June passed the first amendment to the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. Subsequently, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was impeached today. He is expected to be replaced by tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

The amendment may be put to a vote as early as tomorrow. Tonight’s sitting was scheduled after the parliament today approved changes to the standing orders to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law.

The legislative process includes three main stages: a preliminary debate on the floor, an extensive review by a committee involving consultations with stakeholders and experts, and a final debate on the committee’s report followed by a vote. However, under the new rules, all three legislative stages can be carried out consecutively and a final vote could be held on the same day as a bill is submitted.

The changes were approved with 56 votes in favour and 24 against.

The PPM in 2014 enacted a law on special economic zones with tax breaks and little regulation to incentivize foreign investment. The government previously said one SEZ project could transform the economy, but has so far failed to attract investment.

The amendment on foreign ownership comes amidst increased attempts by the government to woo Chinese and Middle-eastern investors.

The proposed change includes amending Article 251 of the constitution and adding a new chapter to the constitution. Below are some important provisions.

Article 302: If a project meets the set criteria, he Maldivian government may grant any party a freehold in the area designated for the project

Article 304: A project can only be approved if it meets the following criteria
(a) A project approved under a law passed by the People’s Majlis
(b) An investment of US$1billion in the territory of the Maldives
(c) When the project reaches completion, at least 70 percent of the land must have been reclaimed from the ocean and visible at medium tide

Article 305: The parliament can increase the threshold for investment by a law. However, such a change will not apply to projects approved before its enactment.

Article 251: No foreign party shall own land in the Maldives, except under the circumstances specified in Article 302. Allowing foreigners to own land under Article 302 does not undermine the Maldivian state’s sovereignty over its territory and does not amount to loss of territory.

Reporting by Hassan Mohamed, Ahmed Naish and Zaheena Rasheed. 

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Former presidents, Nasir and Gayoom, to be honored on Independence Day

Former presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom are to receive an honorary shield on the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence from the British on July 26.

Nasir, who served as the president of the Maldives from 1968 – 1978, is being honored for his role in securing independence for the Maldives. When the independence agreement was signed in 1965, he was prime minister of the Maldives.

Nasir died in exile in Singapore in 2008 at 82 years of age. His body was flown back to Malé where he received a state funeral.

Gayoom, who succeeded Nasir and served as the president from 1978 – 2008, is being honored for his role in maintaining the Maldives’ independence, the president’s office said today. He remains influential in Maldivian politics.

The government is planning to hold grand celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of independence, including a parade by the army and school bands, reopening public parks with water fountains, and an official function at the Usfasgandu area. More than 100 foreign dignitaries are expected to attend.

The government is yet to disclose the full program for the day. Several areas at Male’s waterfront have meanwhile been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the spokesperson at the president’s office, said President Abdulla Yameen had asked for updates on preparations at a cabinet meeting today.

“The President requested his minister’s to use all the government’s resources to hold the Independence Day celebrations,” he said.

A budget of MVR150million (US$9.7million) has been allocated for Independence Day activities.

The Supreme Court, the President’s Office, the foreign ministry, the Malé power plant and other government offices have been decked in lights for July 26. Plastic palms have been set up in some areas. Malé’s streets have also been decked in flags.

Deputy minister for home affairs Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem, who is in charge of the organizing the activities, told the press previously that a three-hour play will take place at the national stadium from 9pm to 12pm on the night of July 27.

The play will show different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present and depict the sacrifices of national heroes to maintain the country’s independence. It will also feature video projections.

The Minivan 50 or independence 50 office has awarded a contract to a British company called The Projection Studio to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Some 15 Maldivians have meanwhile undergone a 15-day training session in Addu City for a skydiving event on the night on June 27.

The skydivers will land at the national stadium using special parachutes manufactured with the national flag. The second part of the skydiving training is due to start in Malé today with Malaysian trainers.

Meanwhile, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef told the press earlier this week that more than a 1,000 people will attend the official function on July 26, including all Maldivian citizens born on July 26, 1965.

Shareef also dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the Independence Day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

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Three-hour play, skydiving among Independence day activities

A three-hour play with 2,000 students from across the country and a skydiving event are among activities planned to mark 50 years of independence.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence from the British on July 26, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and an atoll football tournament.

The government has not yet disclosed the full program for the day.

Deputy minister for home affairs Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem, who is in charge of the ‘Minivan 50′ (Independence 50) office organising the celebratory activities, told the press that the three-hour drill will take place at the national stadium from 9pm to 12pm on the night of July 27.

The play will show different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present and depict the sacrifices of national heroes to maintain the country’s independence, Saleem said.

The drill will also feature video projections. The Minivan 50 office has awarded a contract to a British company called The Projection Studio to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Some 15 Maldivians have meanwhile undergone a 15-day training session in Addu City for a skydiving event on the night on June 27.

The skydivers will land at the national stadium using special parachutes manufactured with the national flag.

The second part of the skydiving training is due to start in Malé tomorrow with Malaysian trainers.

Several areas at Male’s waterfront have meanwhile been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Meanwhile, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef told the press earlier this week that more than a 1,000 people will attend the official function on July 26, including all Maldivian citizens born on July 26, 1965.

Shareef also dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the independence day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

The president’s office minister refused to disclose the total amount allocated for independence day, but finance minister Abdulla Jihad last week told Minivan News the budget was MVR150 million (US$9.7million).

 

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Senior TVM staff found guilty of sexual harassment, let off with warning

The state broadcasting company, Public Service Media (PSM), has let off a senior technical officer found guilty of sexual harassment with a warning.

PSM spokesperson Abdulla Rameez refused to confirm the decision made by an internal committee following an inquiry, saying: “We do not give out information that would harm our staff’s dignity.”

But a copy of the committee’s decision obtained by Minivan News states the accused was warned in writing “after considering the seriousness of the case.”

The PSM said in a statement yesterday that “a just decision” was made in accordance with the law and that the offender has been punished.

According to 2014 sexual harassment law, government offices must set up internal committees to investigate complaints of workplace harassment within 60 days. The committee is authorised to warn, suspend or dismiss the perpetrator.

The PSM operates the Television Maldives (TVM) channel and a radio station.

A senior PSM staff who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News that the technical officer had “groped a woman’s breasts.”

Other PSM employees who spoke to Minivan News alleged that “many girls were subjected to sexual harassment from the technical officer.”

“They never looked into the case when there have been numerous cases where he assaulted women. This time they had no other choice but to investigate the matter after it was exposed in the local media,” an employee said.

Another staff member criticised the company’s attitude towards sexual offences after “the technical officer’s matter was handled lightly. He was allowed to work while still the case being investigated. He is here as if nothing had happened.”

CNM reported yesterday that the accused senior official was “forgiven” by the committee.

The PSM, however, denied the media reports in its press statement, noting that the complainant has the right to appeal the committee’s decision but had not done so.

The state broadcaster said it regretted the misleading media reports that has brought PSM into disrepute and threatened to sue media outlets for damages.

According to CNM, the incident occurred three weeks ago at the PSM recording library. Sources told the online news outlet that the technical officer grabbed the woman from behind and groped her breasts.

The committee decided to pardon the offender because he has worked at the state broadcaster for 22 years, the sources claimed. The technical officer had reportedly confessed to the committee.

Last month, a manager at the state-owned Hulhumalé Development Corporation (HDC) was also let off with a warning after he was found guilty of sexually harassing a female employee.

The HDC’s human resources manager Mirshan Ahmed was accused of sending inappropriate text messages to an employee who had joined the company in March.

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Islamic ministry flags publication of religious books without permission

The Islamic ministry has raised concern over publication of  books on Islam in Dhivehi without official approval.

In an announcement, the Islamic ministry noted that the 1994 religious unity law requires written permission from the ministry to preach, deliver sermons, and publish books concerning religion.

The ministry said it has learned that books on Islam and Dhivehi translations of verses and parts of the Quran have been published without authorisation.

The ministry appealed for compliance with the law in publishing religious literature.

The requirement was introduced through amendments brought to the Protection of Religious Unity Act in March 2014. The amendments prohibited “sowing religious discord” in the community, outlawed independent or unauthorised prayer congregations, and required Islam to be taught as a compulsory subject in all public and private schools from grade one to 12.

The changes also criminalised the construction of places of worship for other religions, the sale, possession, or advertisement of expressions or slogans of other religions and the importation, display, advertisement and sale of books of other religions.

Seeking financial assistance from foreigners to propagate other religions was prohibited while permission must be sought in writing from the Islamic ministry before accepting a salary, funds, or a gift from a foreign party for conducting religious activities in the country.

Similar provisions were included in the religious unity regulations enforced in September 2011 to crack down on extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam in the country.

Meanwhile, in September last year, the national bureau of classification enacted new regulations that subjected the publication of prose and poetry in the Maldives to government approval.

The regulations were enforced to ensure that books and other material adhere to “societal norms” and to reduce “adverse effects on society that could be caused by published literature.”

The Maldives High Commission in the UK told the Guardian newspaper at the time that the regulations would not “limit or interfere with freedom of expression derived from the Constitution, or constructive new thoughts.”

The regulations “only formalise an approval process that has been in operation for a number of years”, the high commission insisted, adding that the “most significant development of the new regulations is that they have reduced the amount of time for books and poetry to be approved”.

“The regulations were made public to ensure that all poetry and books published in Dhivehi [the Maldivian language] are published in accordance with the societal norms of the Maldives, and in accordance with the laws and regulations governing the Republic of Maldives. This is intended to protect the 2,000-year-old history of our unique language,” said the commission.

 

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On social media, an outpouring of support for ex university vice chancellor

The resignation of Dr Hassan Hameed, the vice chancellor of the Maldives National University, has elicited an outpouring of support on social media and a campaign requesting President Abdulla Yameen to re-appoint him to the university board.

Hameed resigned on Thursday in the wake of amendments to the national university law that authorizes the president to appoint nine members to the 13-member governing council, including the chancellor and the vice chancellor.

The president could previously only appoint the chancellor who also heads the governing council.

Hameed had served at the university and the former Maldives College of Higher Education since 1998. He was elected for the position of vice chancellor in 2011.

In a letter to all the staff at the MNU on Saturday, Hameed said he had submitted his resignation on Thursday and asked them to support new appointments to the board. “17 years is a long time in one’s life. If I’ve offended any of you, I wish for your generous forgiveness,” he said.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has warned that the changes will compromise the MNU’s independence and politicize the institution.

Officials will be hired and dismissed for political reasons if the institution is politicized, the MDP said, and pave the way for the “misuse of the university’s students, employees, and resources to achieve political purposes.”

On Saturday, a supporter started a Facebook Page calling on President Yameen to reinstate Dr Hameed. The “Dr. Hassan for MNU” has gained 1,641 supporters in one day.

“When the university bills were passed by the parliament, I was concerned that Dr. Hassan may not be the choice of the president of at least, that is the rumor I’ve heard. I thought it might not be in the best interest of the nation to be deprived of his service. He is one of the few individuals who have a vision for the advancement of this country in the field of science and engineering in particular, not to mention his passion for the university’s development,” said Ahmed Hussein, who had started the page.

“I would like to respectfully request the president and anyone who is involved in making this decision to seriously consider Dr. Hassan’s invaluable service to the nation and to let him continue to serve the people. There is no replacement for him,” he added.

Hameed was not available for comment at the time of going to press.

He did not state the reasons for his resignation, but many supporters on social media suggested Hameed was forced to resign. Some pro-government supporters, meanwhile, accused him of treating the university “like his home.”

One supporter said: “Another sad day for democracy since the vice chancellor of the nations only university who was democratically elected to the post had to leave because of government sponsored changes to remove autonomy.”

Students and teachers at the university described Hameed as visionary and humble.

Aishath Ali, the registrar at MNU, said Hameed was the first to come into the office and the last to leave. “The people who are closest to him are the security guards, the laborers, those who cannot do anything for him. Despite his great knowledge and high position, he is very humble and down to earth.”

Many supporters said Hameed had turned down ministerial jobs to stay at the MNU. One commenter said he had introduced undergraduate degrees and later postgraduate when “so many people told him this was not possible in a small country like the Maldives.”

Another former employee said: “He supported everyone and had a smile on his face. I like his way of critically thinking on every aspect of what may happen. Learnt a lot from Dr. Hassan Hameed.”

The former minister of Islamic affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari and the minister of youth and sports, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, said Hameed’s resignation was a loss to the nation.

A former student, Jaleel Ahmed said: “He brought changes to teaching style in Majeedhiyya [a high school in Malé], during the 80s and 90s when he was teaching physics. As a result, many students were able to think on their own, which has resulted in great academic achievements.”

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