Legal restrictions a challenge to investment expansion: Pension Office

The Maldives Pension Administration Office (MPAO) has said legal restrictions are preventing the expansion of investments into profitable industries such as real estate.

The MPAO cannot invest in real estate as none are currently listed securities at the Maldives Stock Exchange, the only registered stock exchange in the country, said CEO Mohamed Hussain Manik.

The Maldives Pension Act states that pension assets can only be invested in securities listed at a licensed stock exchange in the Maldives.

Manik said the office was currently in the process of identifying reliable and secure investments at technical level. Based on the findings of this work, the MPAO will consider expansion, but it may require amendments to the law, he added.

In order to prepare for the future plans for expansion, the MPAO recently held an investment seminar targeting the finance sector as well as a finance forum to discuss international finance and capital markets.

While the Pension Act details many conditions which should be considered when investing from the fund – such as minimum risk and maximum returns for the beneficiaries of the scheme – it also stresses diversification of investments.

According to the office, the annual return from current investments are on average at 7 – 8 percent with the fund expected to reach an estimated MVR3 billion by September or October this year.

In a press statement, the office has said that, considering the current inflation rates, this return is profitable for the beneficiaries for the scheme.

It was highlighted, however, that in order to sustain the increasing returns as the fund grows in size, they may have to take advantage of more investment opportunities both in the Maldives and abroad.

Statistics from April 2014 indicate that nearly 83 percent of the fund’s investment portfolio goes into government treasury bills which, according to the office, is also the most profitable due to high interest rates caused by increasing government debt.

Only 7 percent of it is invested in domestic equity and less than seven percent in fixed deposits.

Earlier this month the Capital Market Development Authority (CMDA) – an independent institution set up to develop and regulate the capital market and pension industry – said market development had not kept pace with pension development.

Speaking to Minivan News, CEO of the authority Fathimath Shafeega highlighted the importance of diversification and seeking profitable alternative investments for the pension fund, beyond the limitations of the Pension Act.

She also said that, following CMDA recommendations, the government – which holds a majority in the newly inaugurated parliament – is planning to introduce amendments to the Pension Act.

Beginning in March this year, the government more than doubled the monthly basic pension – with all citizens aged over 65 now receiving MVR5,000.

The basic pension, to which all retirement-age citizens are entitled, is still MVR 2,300 per month while the additional MVR2,700 is provided from the state budget by the Ministry of Finance and Treasury.

With an estimated 17,000 pensioners, the government had allocated MVR470 million (US$30.5 million) in the state budget to give out an MVR2,300 (US$149) in cash handouts.

At the time, the head of the cabinet’s economic council Ahmed Adeeb said that “innovative” methods, such as investing in the pension fund or government T-bills would prevent the need to divert funds from within the state budget. The MPAO has, however, said that no such arrangements have yet been made with regard to the basic pension.

The MPAO investments are currently made only for the Maldives Retirement Pension Scheme (MRPS) beneficiaries, a defined contribution scheme which requires both employer and employees to contribute seven percent (total fourteen percent) of the pensionable wage.

Under the plan, pension benefit payout at retirement will depend on the amount contributed and investment returns. It is mandatory for all Maldivian contract employees but voluntary for foreign employees.

Currently, MRPS beneficiaries will also receive a minimum of MVR5,000 if their payout is smaller than this amount.


Second Maldivian killed in Syria, claims jihadist media

A second Maldivian man has been killed in Syria in a gunfight with soldiers loyal to Bashar Al Assad, according to Bilad Al Sham Media (BASM), an online media group ostensibly run by Maldivians in Syria.

While the group revealed this week that a 44-year-old Maldivian man was killed in a suicide attack on Sunday (May 25), BASM claimed on social media that the second Maldivian militant – who had taken the name Abu Nuh – died during “regular combat” in the northwestern town of Ariha.

Local media has identified the deceased as Hassan Shifaz, of Galolhu New Moon in the capital Malé. The first Maldivian has also been identified as Ali Adam from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani atoll.

Both the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the Maldives Police Service (MPS) have since launched investigations into the incident.

Bilad Al Sham Media meanwhile posted a message on Facebook today allegedly from Shifaz’s wife.

“I am proud of my husband. He was a loyal husband, a great father and a righteous son. His entire family is proud and happy for him for we cannot even imagine the provisions Allah swt will provide for him,” she wrote.

“Leaving us and all he had in this world was the toughest choice he made but still he sacrificed this worldly life for his aakhira [afterlife]. He was supportive all throughout his life, a guard always on duty looking out for his family.”

“He proved to us that he is not just a smart mouth who only had words to fight with, but he showed us with his actions that he meant everything he said,” read the post.

According to BASM, the first Maldivian – who took the name Abu Turab – entered Syria after a “long tiring journey” but remained fasting and spent months in the mountains before the attack.

BASM’s tweets were responded to by Sheikh Abu Sulayman al-Australi – an Australian preacher – who said that “Maldivians are some of the most courageous & well-mannered Mujahideen”.

Abu Sulayman is a member of the shariah council of Jabhat Al Nusra, Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters in Syria. Following BASM’s tweets about the second Maldivian, Sulayman replied, “He came to me a few days ago, RA asking to intercede for a martydom [sic] operation he signed for. He sought & shahadah came.”

Minivan News’ coverage

BASM has also posted a statement on Facebook objecting to Minivan News “characterising Bilad al-Sham Media as a group rather than being a media.”

“We stress that we are a media and we are located in Syria only. The Muslims who share and like our posts cannot be classed as members of this Media,” the statement read.

“This is no other than an attempt by the Minivan News to back the statement of a Sri Lankan group which claimed presence of ‘terror cells’ inside Maldives. And this is reflected in one of the News articles last paragraphs where they quoted the Sri Lankan group after designing the article in a way to guide the reader to understand that there are ‘terror cells’ in Maldives.”

BASM also contended that Minivan News misquoted Sheikh Abu Buran as saying that Abu Turab was no longer in need of prayers.

“This is a lie and the Sheikh did not say this. Rather we quoted the Sheikh and this is what we wrote: ‘He asked the Sheikh Abu Burhan al-Suri to make Du’a for him, then the Sheikh smiled and replied to the brother: “You are not in need from US to make Dua””

And you can see that we wrote the word “us” in capital letters and the reader can easily understand that the context being spoken is a context of humility from the Sheikh infront of Abu Turab. It is as if he was saying: ‘Who am I to make Dua for a great man like you?’ So the Sheikh was humbling himself infront of Abu Turab and nothing else.

But Minivan News distorted it and made the Sheikh look like as if he was a Sufi and distorted his words to make the reader understand as if the Sheikh is saying that Abu Turab has reached such a high status that he was no longer in need of a certain form of Duas. Subhaanallah.”

Moreover, BASM contended that Minivan News also misquoted from a video titled ‘The obligation of Jihad’ posted by the group in which a masked man holding a rifle preaches in Dhivehi, who stated: “the rulers of the Maldives are disbelievers and if they are disbelievers, they should be fought.”

“This is a lie as the speaker said ‘if they are disbelievers, then the RULING about DISBELIEVERS is that they be fought,'” BASM explained in the statement.

“And there is a huge difference between the two sentences. The speaker said the statement in his phrase to make it understood that it’s the Islamic ruling to fight disbelieving rulers, but at the same time, such rulings are dependent upon Siyasat al-Shar’iyya (Shar’i politics) and the speaker does not see it politically fit to wage war in the Maldives. Hence he stayed away from stating such.”


Criminal Court delays religious scholar Sheikh Fareed’s trial

The Criminal Court has decided to delay the trial of controversial religious scholar Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed after the state lawyers told the court they wanted to withdraw the case.

According to local media, state lawyers told the Prosecutor Genral’s (PG) Office  had decided to withdraw the case because too much time has passed since Fareed had committed the offense.

Sheikh Fareed was charged for conducting religious sermons in some islands of Haa Dhaalu Atoll after the government cancelled his permission to preach in 2007. The last hearing in to the case was held on 30 January 2011.

Lawyers told the Criminal Court that the PG Office had sent letters to the court informing of the decision to withdraw charges, but the court had refused to accept the letters. Instead, the letters were handed to the judge during today’s hearing.

The judge told the state prosecutor there were many charges the PG Office should withdraw if charges against Fareed are to be dismissed, and said the PG Office should treat everyone equally when dealing with such matters.

The judge also said that the PG Office cannot decide to withdraw cases filed at the court with the ongoing leadership vacuum at the PG office.

The Criminal Court will only accept the withdrawal if the new PG wished to withdraw charges, the judge said. A next hearing will be held after a new PG is appointed by the new parliament, he added.

When charges were first filed against Sheikh Fareed, the President of Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Fauzy told Minivan News that Fareed was arrested alongside many MDP delegates while he was aboard a boat traveling from Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll in the year 2007.

”The former Religious Unity Act is contradictory to the new constitution, it is not acceptable to charge Sheikh Fareed over this issue,” said Fauzy. ”It is all related to politics. The former government confiscated his permission to preach, and later he only spoke at political rallies when he was in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).”

Sheikh Fareed was arrested several times during the former regime for his participation in anti-governmental protests. According to the local media, he was also once charged with terrorism but acquitted.

In 2007 he was the vice president of MDP religious council but resigned after alleging that the party was against Islam.


“Work hard, pay rent, die” – Rajjetherey Meehunge Party calls for an end to modern slavery

Shortly after Mariyam Sadha* moved to Malé in 2002, at the age of 14, her father was thrown into jail and her brother lost his job at the airport. She had just started eight grade at Aminiya School, but was forced to work at the grocery store and tutor younger students to help pay rent.

Without a constant source of income, Sadha’s mother began housing students from the atolls in their two bedroom apartment. There were eight people sleeping in her room, Sadha recalls. She finished tenth grade exams with excellent grades, but could not pursue further education.

“How could I? I could see what my parents were going through, I could not add to their burden,” the tall young woman says, adjusting her scarf.

Instead, as soon as she turned 18, Sadha married to “escape” her congested house. Soon afterwards, she  became pregnant.

Sadha took night classes, but could not complete her business management degree with a young child and a resort-worker husband whom she sees once every few months. But at 25, she says she is “now out of all that shit”, due to a stable income from a travel agency job. However, she continues to spend most of her earnings on rent.

“This is modern slavery. The system is built so that the average person does not have any savings. I earn a lot more than those who work in the government. But at the end of the month, me and my husband together, we don’t have anything.”

“All the money we earn we have to go pay rent. That moment – when you have to count all of those bills and hand it over to someone else – is incredibly difficult,” she says.

Sadha is one of the administrators of an online Facebook page called the Rajjetherey Meehunge Party (RMP). The movement with 15,520 followers contends that the residents of the atolls are trapped in a vicious cycle of “work hard, pay rent, and die” due to forced migration to capital city Malé.

The term raajjetherey meehun – often used in a derogatory manner – refers to Maldivian citizens who are not original residents of the capital city. RMP’s founder, Ali Yasir, 27, argues the institutionalised regional discrimination of the 70s continues indirectly today, as jobs, healthcare, and education continue to be concentrated in Malé.

The city is now the most densely populated city in the world with rent prices equalling that of developed cities.

The Rajjetherey Meehunge Party advocates for the development of urban centers with modern facilities on already-existing large landmasses throughout the Maldives in order to incentivise small communities to relocate.

“We cannot have development when people are dispersed over a 190 something islands. Development from the citizen’s money should not just be in the Malé region. Development should be available to all citizens.”

“We want people to be aware, to pressure their MPs, to divert resources to and consolidate populations to the North and South,” Yasir says. 

Money making machine for the rich

Articles 16, 17, 23, 37, and 41 of the constitution guarantee education, shelter, jobs, clean water, sewerage and transport systems to all citizens without discrimination –  but RMP contends the Maldivian government (or Malé government as RMP describes it) uses tax payer’s money to concentrate all services in the Malé region.

Furthermore, even though successive governments have undertaken multi-million dollar projects to address congestion in Malé, they have failed, Yasir argues.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom first announced the reclamation of Hulhumalé in 1997 from a northern lagoon adjacent to Malé, claiming it would solve congestion. In 2011, President Mohamed Nasheed announced a US$600 million development project in the Gulhi Lagoon east of Malé – also to relieve congestion.

The Veshi Fahi Malé project – combining development of Malé, Villingili, Thilafushi, and Hulhumalé – was touted as providing adequate housing for the least advantaged families from Malé and support the decongestion of the capital city.

The new government of President Abdulla Yameen has continued the trend, pledging to establish a youth city on Hulhumalé and to connect Malé and Hulhumalé with a multi-million dollar bridge.

However, instead of providing the needy with housing, land and apartments have gone to rich businessmen, says Yasir. Moreover, with new land and apartments costing millions of rufiyaa, both Hulhumalé and Gulhi Falhu have become a moneymaking machine for the rich, he argues.

“God did not give Hulhumalé to the people of Malé. It’s being developed with all of our money. But even now, it is Malé residents and businessmen who gain land plots from there. There is corruption in it as well. This is injustice,” he says.

The root of all social ills

Successive governments have brandished the term ‘housing issue’ to manipulate islanders into believing they have no land in order to pump money into reclaiming land in the Malé region, Sadha says.

“We don’t have a housing issue. We own 5000 acre plots in our home islands. The problem is that there are no services where we own land.”

“There are water shortages and power cuts. There are schools, but no teachers. There are hospitals, but no doctors. Even if we have jobs in the islands, all the money feeds into Malé.  There are cemeteries in the islands, but we have to be buried in Malé,” she says.

Forced migration has led to ghost villages in the atolls, Yasir says. Every second house is abandoned and falling apart in his home island of Gaaf Alif Atoll Kolamafushi. Only the old, young mothers and their infants remain on the island. The men are working away from home, and the ones that stay on the island have turned to drugs, he says.

It is migrant families who now live in Hulhumalé apartments which were originally given at a low price to rich Malé residents, Sadha says. If the least disadvantaged Malé residents had indeed received the flats, it would be their families living there, she says.

Instead, three or four families from the islands are often crammed into small spaces and pay inflated rents equivalent to Malé prices. The rent then finances landowners to relocate their families abroad, she says.

“The government may say look, we are consolidating populations here, in Hulhumalé, in Gulhi Falhu, but without developing other regions, it is not consolidating, that is congestion. Consolidation and congestion are different. This area cannot accommodate everyone. People will live in slums, on top of each other. That is not what we deserve,” she says.

“This is not living. This is just existing because you are not dead. This is not life. All the money you earn, you give to someone else. The rest for something else. Inflation keeps rising,” she continues.

The RMP believes congestion is at the root of most social ills in the Maldives, from high rates of divorce to an increase in gang crimes. It is also driving more and more women to prostitution, Yasir argues.

Instead of addressing the root cause, the government tends to advocate stop-gap measures such as religious education and increasing security, he continues.

“What the heck? Religious education is not going to solve it. Without an environment in which people can live in contentment, those issues cannot be solved. No matter how much [Home Minister] Umar Naseer increases guns, soldiers, and police in the country, these issues cannot be solved, unless we can build an environment in which people can be content. That is the smart solution,” he says.

Developing urban centers on already existing large landmasses throughout the Maldives and consolidating populations to these regions is the only way to relieve congestion in Malé, he argues.

“There are a lot of southerners in Malé. They will migrate back when there are jobs and services in their region. Then there will be three centers – in the north, central, and south of Maldives,” he says.


The government has not only made no substantive effort to develop other regions, but it has also actively blocked any development initiatives by locals, Yasir contends.

He points to numerous pledges which have failed to bear fruit in the past decade, including a 2005 promise to develop south central Laamu Atoll Gan as a city, a promise to build a university campus called “dream campus” in the same atoll, a July 2011 agreement with the Chinese to provide city facilities in southern Huvadhoo atoll, and promises to upgrade the northern Hanimaadhoo International Airport and the southern Gan International Airport.

President Yameen must complete these initiatives before pumping money into football stadiums and a youth city in Hulhumalé, Yasir said.

Meanwhile, Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz has in a tweet criticised the movement as inciting hatred, claiming that 97 percent of the state budget is spent on the atolls.

However, Yasir and Sadha suggests that any money spent on island development usually takes the form of establishing futsal pitches, building cemetery walls, and renovating already existing infrastructure.

“The government is saying one thing and doing the other. They call Addu a city now. But it does not have municipal services or jobs,” Sadha says.

While a system of local governance has been established to empower locals to make their own decisions, the central government has failed to empower the local councils, they say. Several councils – including opposition dominated Malé and Addu City councils – have criticised the government’s decision to limit their ability to generate independent income by leasing land.

Divide and Rule

The RMP believes the government favors populations remaining dispersed over 190 islands for political control.

“When people are isolated, it is easier to control them,” Yasir says, adding:“That is why rich politicians can buy votes with MVR500 (US$30). If islanders were economically empowered, if they could see a future, they will not accept bribes.”

Sadha raises the example of tourism tycoon and MP Sun Travel Ahmed Shiyam who owns resorts in Haa Alif, Noonu, and Dhaalu Atolls.

“These are his three atolls. Every year he sponsors pilgrims for the Hajj from those three atolls. The residents of these three atolls eat and sleep when he provides because he employs them. He will not want to lose control of those people.

“It is rich tourism tycoons who oppose local tourism. They are afraid of empowerment, of people not begging. I don’t know what their motive is. Are they afraid people won’t end up at their feet? I keep thinking, there must be something else. All I know is they oppose any empowerment,” she continues.

A different day

Yasir initially started the Facebook page in December 2013. He ordered pizza one day, compiled posts and slowly started releasing them over the week. Within six days, he had gained 6,000 followers online. He also received death threats. But he says he is not deterred. With the help of Sadha and other dedicated volunteers, the group is now making plans to “leave Facebook.”

“This is our message: When the government builds a wall around the cemeteries or builds a mortuary, don’t accept this to be what you deserve. Demand development in your region, in the bigger islands. Tell them you don’t want to come to this region!” Sadha said.

Several people have left pessimistic comments saying there is no use in pursuing RMP’s objectives, but Yasir believes he must at least try for the sake of his children.

“They tell me there is no other way but the current situation. They cannot even imagine this may go another way. But someone has to take the initiative. We cannot stand by without doing anything. At least, I can tell my children I tried. Come on, there’s only 300,000 people here. We can manage,” he says.

For Sadha, RMP must succeed because she does not want her child to grow up in the same conditions she did.

“I also want to see a different day. I want to see a day where we are able to save, when we do not have to spend all of our money on rent. Without even knowing it, we are slowly getting depressed. You slowly get used to it to the point you don’t know it is slavery that you live under. I want to see a different day.”

*name changed

A previous version of this article incorrectly said islands must have water and sewerage systems to establish guesthouses. It has been modified to reflect the change.


“Social stigma, religious and social culture” hinder women’s sexual health, says Hope for Women

Young women’s sexual health is being compromised by “social stigma, religious and social culture,” argues Fathmath Nazeefa, Advocacy Officer at local NGO Hope for Women.

According to Nazeefa, many young Maldivians refrain from accessing the limited sexual health services due to these societal pressures.

“It is apparent in many cases we are lacking information in the family-planning area, early sexual engagements, and in gender stereotyping, which actually makes women to go ahead with child bearing practices even though that is not in their best practice,” Nazeefa told Minivan News.

Her comments came after the body of a new-born baby was discovered in a house in Maafanu yesterday. After local media reported that an 18-year-old committed infanticide after having hidden her pregnancy, police have today confirmed the girl in question was arrested this afternoon.

After being taken into custody at around 2:20pm, the girl’s will be detained for up to fifteen days pending a court appearance.

Nazeefa expressed particular concern over a lack of sexual health education for young women which prevents them from making informed choices.

“To prevent this, we need to educate the young minds starting from adolescents on human anatomy, reproductive health, and build their capacity to protect themselves from being sexually exploited.”

A lack of sexual education, argues Nazeefa, is “depriving [women] of their sexual rights and human rights as well.”

“The ultimate objective has to be the empowerment of girls and women so that they make the right choices,” she concluded.

Rise in Infanticide – DNP reports

Yesterday’s news of the abandoned baby girl – discovered after the mother was forced to seek medical treatment by her family – has brought attention to the issues surrounding sexual health services available to young women.

Local media reported yesterday that the 18 year-old gave birth on her own in the family bathroom, with family members unaware of her pregnancy.

According to one family member, the girl didn’t admit to giving birth – even during a doctors appointment arranged by her family.

“However, doctors kept questioning her about her marital status,” a young female member of the family told local newspaper Haveeru.

According to Maldivian law, the repercussions for fornication out of wedlock is flogging for both the man and the woman involved.

The Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, and it’s justice system is based on a hybrid of common law and Islamic Sharia.

Some critics of the justice system have also highlighted the lack of accountability for men in cases of extra marital fornication.

“These women are tainted for life and forever looked down upon. There were a couple of men too, but the islanders did not react in the same way against the men. They seem to be more easily accepted back into society, their sins are generally forgiven or forgotten in time,” a former court official, who wished to remain anonymous, had previously told Minivan News.

Issues regarding a lack of support services for women with unwanted pregnancies in the Maldives have been well-documented in the past.

A report entitled ‘Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014‘, carried out by the Department of National Planning (DNP), claimed that incidents of infanticide and unsafe abortions are symptoms of a lack of sexual education in young Maldivians.

The report identified, “clear indicators of the imperative need to provide access to information on sexual reproductive health and reproductive health services to the sexually active adolescents and youth population.”

Infanticide also appears to be increasing, as demonstrated by media reports cited in the study, which included several new born babies and few premature babies abandoned in parks, buried in secluded places, or thrown into the sea.

“These are clear indications for the need of life skills programmes and reproductive health education,” the study suggested. “Access and utilisation of contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies must also be advocated to minimise these issues.”


Afghan coach suggests Maldives should not host further tournaments

Afghanistan national football team coach Mohammad Karger has called on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) not to hold further tournaments in the Maldives.

“We have suggestions for the AFC that they do not again organise games in a country in which we can’t go and play football. This is for holidays, we come [here] for holidays,” said Karger.

The AFC has meanwhile suggested today that the Maldives could face suspension from further tournaments should local authorities carry out investigations into possible corruption regarding ticket sales.

The Anti-Corruption Commission yesterday announced it would investigate potential misconduct after irregularities in the sale of tickets prompted fans to protest outside Football Association of Maldives (FAM) headquarters yesterday.

Speaking during a pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow’s semi-final against Palestine in Malé, Afghan coach Karger complained of the logistics surrounding the team’s group matches – held in Addu City.

Echoing comments made by Phillipines coach Tom Dooley yesterday, Karger suggested that it was inappropriate for teams to have to travel by boat prior to games.

Dooley told media yesterday that the 20 minute speedboat between Herathera resort and Hithadhoo was “unusual”, and that this had caused some of his players to suffer travel sickness before games.

Karger – speaking through his captain Zohib Islam Amiri who acted as translator – advised the AFC today not to organise games where transport to matches causes players to vomit.

Addu City is scheduled to hold the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Challenge Cup later this year.

Prior to the tournament, Assistant Secretary General of the Football Association of Maldives Mohamed Nasir had cited the unusual geography of the country as a reason to celebrate the staging of the tournament as something “remarkable”.

The after-effects of the Afghan team’s bus crash on Saturday were also revealed during today’s press conference, with the head coach stating that three players injured in the incident were now unavailable for the game, while three more were being assessed.

Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed has stated that the incident may have been deliberate, although the road on which the crashoccurred is a notorious accident hot spot, and the motorcyclist involved has tested positive for opiates.

Addu City Council has today expressed its regret over the incident as well as defamatory remarks during the ongoing investigation.

“We call on the organisers of this tournament to identify what has caused this and to take action to further strengthen organization in order to ensure that such a sad incident is not repeated during future international tournaments,” read a council statement.

Possible penalisation

Following the Anti-Corruption Commission’s announcement that it would be looking into potential wrongdoing in the sale of tickets for tomorrow’s semi-finals, the AFC today released a statement today warning that such investigations fall under its jurisdiction.

“If any domestic investigative authority attempts to intervene in the affairs of AFC or in any tournament conducted by AFC in partnership with FAM [Maldives Football Association], the Republic of Maldives, as a member of AFC and FIFA is at risk of being penalised for such intervention, including suspension from international events and tournaments,” read an AFC statement.

Minivan News has previously received information that relatives of FAM staff had been selling tickets at inflated prices. Unrest broke out among queuing fans as the number of available tickets dropped dramatically yesterday.

Local media reported that sales had continued this morning. FAM officials were not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Meanwhile, local media has reported that President Abdulla Yameen has pledged a further MVR1 million to the Maldives team should it win its semi-final against the Philippines tomorrow.

Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal is said to have made the announcement at a function held to award the team with the previous MVR1 million – promised in return for the team’s progression from the group stage.

Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim was also reported to have offered a further MVR500,000 to the players.

With the tournament touted as an opportunity to bring unity to the country after an extended period of political division, the Civil Service Commission today requested that all employees wear red tomorrow in order to demonstrate support for the team.

The winner of Friday’s final will automatically qualify for next year’s Asian Cup in Australia.


Corruption and conspiracy allegations mar AFC Challenge Cup

With additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

The national unity created by the AFC Challenge Cup appeared to waver today as protests broke out in ticket lines amid claims of corruption while the police commissioner alleged a conspiracy in yesterday’s Addu City bus crash.

Supporters of the national team staged a protest outside the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) after ticket sales for Tuesday’s semi-final against the Phillipines were halted, with the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) promising an investigation.

Sources who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News today that they had bought tickets at inflated prices from relatives of senior FAM officials – the organisation has denied these claims.

ACC President Hassan Luthfee expressed confusion over the sale of tickets, telling local media that the commission will investigate how the number of available tickets in the 8,000 capacity stadium suddenly dropped to 150 today.

Luthfee was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed told police media that suggestions yesterday’s accident was pre-planned were credible. He did not provide details, saying the police would be looking into the matter further.

FAM President and MP Ilham Ahmed said today that Asian Football Confederation (AFC) officials had called him to ask if the environment in the country was safe to continue the tournament. The confederation intends to take action against the FAM regarding yesterday’s accident, reported Ilham.

After AFC reportedly raised concerns about security at the National Stadium, Chief Superintendent of Police Ismail Naveen today said that – despite proceedings having been peaceful up to now – police were now upgrading security services of the national stadium.

Speaking at the press conference held today, FAM’s director of football said that tickets were not sold or given to FAM staff in a way that could lead to misuse.

Ilham – who said that police had advised the FAM stop selling tickets after people broke the queue – said the FAM had sold three tickets to each member of staff , while locals were only allowed two tickets each for the semi-final.

Ilham claimed that 50,000 people wanted to get into the 8,000 person National Stadium for Tuesday’s semi-final saying that the FAM would try to screen the upcoming matches in Olympus theatre, Adi Park, and in the Social Centre in Malé.

Today’s events followed yesterday’s accident in which five members and two officials from the Afghan team suffered minor injuries in a bus accident on Addu City’s link road.

Police and media reports describe the accident as having been caused when the driver attempted to overtake a van travelling in front of the team’s motorcade. The van was forced to break, causing the following vehicles to hit it from behind.

One police officer accompanying the motorcade broke an arm, while a female protocol officer suffered head injuries. Eight others, including two soldiers and two locals also suffered injuries.

The site of the accident – the 14-kilometer Link Road in Addu City – is the longest paved road in the country and is a notorious accident hot spot.

The tournament, which concludes on May 30, has been lauded for uniting the people of the country after a prolonged period of political division.


Afghan football team injured in Addu City accident

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed and Daniel Bosley

Five members and two officials of Afghanistan’s national football team have suffered minor injuries in a bus accident at 6:36pm on Addu City’s link road.

Afghan team captain Haroon Fakhruddin Amiri and coach Yousuf Kargar were among the injured.

The team was traveling to Herathera Island Resort following its group stage win against Laos in the ongoing Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup this evening.

One police officer accompanying the motorcade broke an arm, while a female protocol officer suffered head injuries. Eight others, including two soldiers and two locals also suffered injuries, an AFC media official told Minivan News.

Local media said vehicles in the motorcade accompanying the Afghanistan and Laos national teams collided when a local on a motorbike cut in front of the motorcade. Police at the hospital were refusing to give further details at the time of publication.

The teams are to fly to capital city Malé tonight, the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) has said.

Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said the Addu City Regional Hospital has confirmed there are no serious injuries and said the government will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Assistant Secetary General of the Football Association of the Maldives (FAM), Mohamed Nasir, said he was deeply saddened by the accident.

“Accidents happen. We took all the precautions, security was in place. Police are investigating how a motorcade with sirens met with such an accident,” he said.

The 14-kilometer Link Road in Addu City is the longest paved road in the country and is notorious for fatal accidents due to reckless driving. Most recently, a 17-year-old broke his collarbone in an accident on April 7.

Addu City journalist and road safety campaigner Amy Jabeen highlighted the lack of traffic police on the link road and expressed hope that the unfortunate accident would raise awareness for better road safety in the city.

“We are a city without any traffic police, poor roads and a younger generation with no lane discipline,” said Amy, who has recently held discussions with the city council regarding improvements to local road safety.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed tweeted criticism of the logistics of the AFC Challenge Cup in Addu City saying, “The standards of the facilities and logistics in Addu are an insult to our people.”

The last-minute construction of the Addu City football stadium has been marred by allegations of corruption. None of the knockout stage matches or any match in which the Maldivian team was to play has been scheduled in Addu City.

The Maldives, Phillipines, Afghanistan, and Palestine have qualified for the semi-finals which will be held in Malé later this week.

Speaking to Minivan News prior to the accident, Director of the Maldives national team, Ali Suzain, said the FAM was hopeful that the Maldives team will win the Challenge Cup.

“The chances of going to the final is very high now that the Maldives national team has to play against Philippines in the semi-final. Having to play against Philippines is an advantage to Maldives,” Suzain said.

The AFC had only noted minor issues such as a supporter entering the football field during the first match and an official from the Kyrgystan national team throwing a water bottle onto the field, Suzain said.

“We were asked by the AFC to install doors in the V.I.P area after the Kyrgystan football federation president ran up and down the stair case and went in to the field and threw a water bottle inside,’’ he said. “We have now installed a door in the area.’’

The FAM was very pleased with the Maldives Police Service’s oversight of security at the football matches, he added.


Former home minister questions government’s sincerity regarding death penalty

Former Home Minister Hassan Afeef has questioned the government’s intention to carry out the death sentence under recently introduced regulations.

“I think they are just playing to the minds of the people because they say they want to protect the religion and protect the country as one of their campaign pledges,” he said.

Afeef – home minister between 2010 and 2012 – also questioned the ability of the current tainted judiciary to provide the certainty required for implementation of the death penalty under Islamic law.

“The judiciary might pass the sentence, there may be a verdict, but I don’t think the current regime will carry it out,” said Afeef.

“They know how politically influenced the judiciary is as the present government are the people who politically influence these judicial decisions – so they know why they make these decisions.”

Afeef’s comments follow further international headlines regarding the new regulations.

The AFP has described the recent murder conviction of a minor to be a “test case” for the new law, although the home minister had previously said that the rules will be applied retroactively to all pending death sentences.

In a statement released yesterday, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) joined the growing international criticism accusing the Maldives government of being out-of-step with its international commitments.

“The decision to reinstate the death penalty in the Maldives, in particular against minors, is an outrage and gravely at odds with the growing international momentum towards abolition,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

Lack of capacity

Speaking with Minivan News today, Afeef said the government’s attempts to carry out death sentences in accordance with Islamic Shariah were not possible with the criminal justice system as it is.

Afeef argued that those found guilty of such crimes beyond any doubt should be punished according to Islamic law, but questioned the capacity of the police and the judiciary to provide this certainty.

“According to Islam, when you pass the death penalty it has to be proven beyond doubt that the person has committed that crime and, according to the present situation – the present judiciary and the autocratic regime – we may find a situation where the person sentenced may not be the actual culprit,” he said.

The impartiality of the police and the judiciary has continued to be questioned this month, with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party describing failures investigate the multiple charges against Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed as “awe-inspiring”.

The statement said the failure of the police and the Judicial Services Commission to conclude investigations or to prosecute Judge Hameed were a clear indication of the status of the Maldives’ criminal justice system.

“Such a judge sitting on the supreme court bench is not recognised by any judicial or legal system in the world. And surely it is the general public who are facing injustice because of this,” said the party.

Hameed – who stands accused of appearing in a sex-tape as well as corruption – adjudicated on both the annulment the first round of last year’s presidential elections as well as the dismissal of the elections commissioner prior to parliamentary elections in March.

Both incidents were denounced by the international community, which has consistently called for judicial reform. Current Attorney General Mohamed Anil has pledged review and reform of the courts as part of the government’s legislative agenda.

Dheen and Qawm

Home Minister Umar Naseer’s January announcement that the government was making preparations to end the country’s 60-year moratorium on the death penalty culminated in the publication of new procedural regulations last month.

Following the gazetting of the new guidelines, Naseer said the chances of killing an innocent person after completing all the procedures in the regulation were “far-fetched” and “almost impossible”.

The regulation – which only allows implementation of death penalty when the sentence is delivered by the Supreme Court – will establish a death penalty committee to assure all procedures have been adhered to.

Mediation between the Islamic Ministry and the victim’s family is also mandated, with family members who are ‘warith’ (heirs in Shariah law) given an opportunity to pardon the convict with or without receiving blood money.

After having previously been opposed to the practice, President Abdulla Yameen announced a “change of heart” just weeks after winning his party’s presidential primary race last year.

Suggesting that “murder has to be punished with murder” in order to “save society”, Yameen embarked on a campaign of ‘dheen and qawm’ – religion and country – winning a drawn-out election in the second round last November.