Red Bull reveals plans for ‘Catch the Ferry’ road race

Runners in the Maldives can expect a new challenge unlike any seen in the Maldives before. The Red Bull Catch the Ferry (RBCF) road race is set to commence on May 31. Unlike other road races previously held in the Maldives, the RBCF road race will see participants compete in a 12.6km race across Malé, Hulhumalé and Vilingili.

To progress, runners will need to make it around each of the routes on the island and catch the ferry before it departs for the next leg of the race. Ferries will leave at progressively quicker intervals before departing for the next leg, reads the press statement.

“This very unique concept, offering Maldivian runners to a new challenge. Red Bull Catch the Ferry combines challenge, excitement and fun in one competition. Athletes are really looking forward for this exciting event,” Half Marathon record holder Naseer Ismail states on the press release.

Accordidng to the statement, the fastest male and female of the race will win an opportunity to attend the Almáty edition of the Red Bull 400, which is scheduled to be held inKazakhstan in August this year.

Red Bull 400 is the steepest uphill race that takes place in Europe, and was created by former world-class sprinter Andreas Berger.

The race will take place from 15:50 – 18:00, May 31 2014, starting at the Raalhugandu Helipad Area, Boduthakurufaanu Magu in Malé.

Other races in the Maldives include the Dhiraagu Maldives Road Race, which will take place on June 6.

One of the largest athletic events in the country, the Dhiraagu Maldives Road Race comprises of 5km and 10km. The run is dedicated for a social cause, and this year’s theme is ‘Help Protect Our Children’. Local telecoms company Dhiraagu initially started the event in 2007 as a way of promoting healthier lifestyles for Maldivians.

The race is scheduled to take place in the afternoon of June 6 2014, at Male’ City (Raalhugandu Area), accompanied by live music and children’s activities. Since its inception in 2007, this is the 8th consecutive year of the event.


Parliament passes sexual harassment and sexual offences bills

Parliament passed the sexual harassment bill and sexual offences bill yesterday (April 27).

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Rozaina Adam – chair of the committee that evaluated the sexual harassment bill – told Minivan News that while the passage of the legislation was a positive step, there was still a lot of work to be done on combating the internalised effects of sexual harassment.

The sexual harassment bill was submitted in January 2013 by Rozaina, and aims to ensure gender discrimination is made illegal at workplaces, educational institutes, and other service providers such as hospitals.

“Previously there was no law or any regulation from which they could seek help. I think now the women have a place to go,” she explained.

If ratified by the president, the new law would mandate the creation of a committee to investigate sexual harassment complaints at all workplaces with more than 30 employees.

The committees shall be chaired the by the head of the respective offices and must include at least one female members.

If the committee finds an employee guilty of sexual harassment at the workplace following an inquiry, it will be empowered to advise the offender verbally or in writing, suspend him, demote him, or dismiss him based on the severity of the offence.

Rozaina however suggested that women would “still not be complaining” despite the introduction of an internal mechanism to address complaints.

“People have come to accept that this is just something that just happens,” she said.

She however said that the legislation would “create awareness,” contending that not enough was done in implementation of similar laws such as the anti-domestic violence law.

“Police are not taking domestic violence seriously enough,” she argued.

Rozaina recalled the story of one woman – whose experiences reflect the reality for many – as she attempted speak out about the sexual abuses inflicted against her.

“She was waiting outside for me,” recounted Rozaina, “she told me she complained to police about ex-husband beating her, and raping her. When I went to case, they hadn’t even done anything about it.”

“They are not giving enough importance to these cases, we need to create more awareness.”

Cooperation from police seems to be “declining”, she added, “they don’t feel it’s an important issue.”

“I just hope that everyone cooperates and more women report these cases in domestic violence. The main issue is talking and reporting, so very few people report.”

Sexual offences

The two bills – which support both men and women who are victims of sexual abuse – were submitted independently of each other.

The sexual offences bill – which called for recognition of marital rape as a crime – was first submitted in October 2012 and was vetoed by President Abdulla Yameen in January 2014.

“The bill contained some provisions that are contrary to Islamic Shariah and Islamic principles was among the reasons considered for returning the bill,” the President’s Office stated at the time.

The contentious bill was drafted and submitted in October 2012 by now-Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Kulhudhufushi South, Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed wrote in the draft legislation that it was not intended to replace Shariah, explaining that it did not preclude application of a Shariah penalty for an offence specified in the bill.

Previous reports of police apathy

Minivan News has previously spoken with foreign women from diverse nationalities working in Maldives who came forward and reported various attacks, ranging from verbal abuse to physical and sometimes sexual assaults.

Katie*, a 34-year-old American who has worked in Male’ for almost a year, was subject to a horrific incident last month when a local man sexually assaulted her while she was unlocking the door of her apartment.

Neighbours who heard her screams called the police, and around five to six officers arrived on the scene with a forensic team.

However, according to Katie, the police did not take her statement until three weeks later and then got the details of the attack completely wrong.

“The police had stated my necklace was stolen. It broke off during the attack, I still have it. The attacker must have known the necklace I was wearing was not gold because it was made of multi-colored beads,” Katie pointed out.

She added that she had later found out from CCTV camera owners nearby her house that the police had not requested the footage or interviewed neighbours for clues. Frustrated over the lack of police assistance, she called the US embassy.

“I don’t think they would have even taken the statement if the American Embassy had not called them,” Katie claimed.

The Police department was not issuing statements to Minivan News at the time of publishing.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.


Fatwas against registering marriages a huge challenge: Family Court chief judge

Fatwas claiming that registering marriages at the court is unnecessary and un-Islamic are posing serious challenges to the Family Court, Chief Judge Hassan Saeed has said, suggesting the formation of an official state institution to issue fatwas.

“As Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, legally mandating some people to issue fatwas officially will encourage people to follow the law,” Saeed was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

Registration of marriages was a common practice in all countries, he observed, calling on religious scholars to publicly discuss and clarify such issues.

“Is there any basis in law or Sharia to say that [registering marriages] is not an Islamic requirement? You cannot say it is okay to perform a marriage hiding inside a room with two random witnesses [to whom] you give some treat,” Saeed was quoted as saying.

The Family Court issued a statement last week announcing that it will not register marriages performed by individuals without the court’s involvement, which would be in contravention of the Family Act.

Complaints regarding the refusal to register such marriages will also be rejected by the court, the statement noted.

As such marriages have come to the court’s attention, the Family Court noted that it could not accept cases related to divorce or other disputes as the marriages were not registered officially.

The rights of couples and their children could only be protected through wedlock within the bounds of law, the court said, insisting that marriages could only be performed or sanctioned by the state.

Marriages performed outside the Maldives are registered by the Family Court upon submission of legal documentation.

The penalty for violating the Family Act is meanwhile a fine of up to MVR1,000 or banishment to another inhabited island for a period less than six months.

The issue of unregistered marriages was raised by the court in 2010 as well.

Religious extremists in the Maldives have both endorsed and performed such marriages, claiming that even private, out-of-court marriages should be treated as legal as long as the minimum Shariah requirements for marriage are met.

Some cases of out-of-court marriages include child marriages, which are to a large extent illegal in the Maldives.

Under the Family Act, children under the age of 18 can get married at the court if he or she has reached puberty and has received a special permission from the court.

The Child Sex Abuse (Special Provisions) Act however states that engaging in sexual activity with a child through a marriage performed in accordance to Islamic Shariah principles shall not be considered child abuse.

In October 2009, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives looked into a case involving the marriage of a nine-year-old by religious preachers, whilst police investigated a similar case earlier that year.

In 2007, local media reported that a 14-year-old girl was married privately to an older man on Himandhoo island – a hotbed of religious extremism at the time.


Oil exploration attracts investors at Singapore investment forum

The Maldives has garnered interest in oil exploration during an investment forum in Singapore.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr. Mohamed Shainee, told Minivan News at least one investor will be visiting the Maldives in the coming weeks to present their company profile and discuss the project further.

Over 160 companies and nearly 200 representatives from 16 countries were present at the first overseas investor forum organised by the Maldives.

Speaking at the event on Friday, Shainee assured potential investors that there was no room to refute the presence of oil in the Maldives based on seismic testing by Royal Dutch Shell.

“Those studies were carried out 25 to 27 years ago, with limited technology capable of investigating under sea. However, now we have better technology that is more capable of more exploration,” he said.

Oil has been found in both Sri Lanka and India and therefore there is a high possibility that it will be found in Maldives too, he added.

Lying just a meter above sea level, the Maldives is among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts such as sea level rise, ocean acidification and extreme weather events.

Crude oil will diversify and stabilise the economy, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has said. At present, the Maldives heavily relies on tourism, which supports an estimated 70 – 80 percent of its GDP.

However, some have argued that economic benefits will not outweigh the possible environmental repercussions.

“When you take up the issues of drilling, we are concerned about the oil container tanks with unrefined fuel passing through,” concluded Executive Director of local NGO Bluepeace Ali Rilwan. “We can’t afford to go into that dirty energy.”

With this in mind, Rilwan asked, “can we avoid a disaster in the Maldives? The Maldives is a tiny island and this can have a very negative impact, the tanks are a worrying thing.”

In addition to oil exploration, the government is seeking investment in establishing a port in northern Ihavandhippolhu Atoll, land reclamation and maritime seaport in Hulhumalé, expansion of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) and the relocation and expansion of the central port to Thilafushi Island.

The projects for which the government was seeking investors were “designed to position Maldives to take advantage of its strategic location as a hub and gateway for commerce, innovation and creativity, linking rest of the globe with South Asia,” President Yameen said in his keynote address.

“To address investment climate and to facilitate mega investments with attractive incentive packages, a Special Economic Zone Bill will be tabled in the parliament soon. Additionally, the Foreign Investment Act and Companies Act are being revised to cater the ever increasing needs of the modern foreign investors,” he added.

Meanwhile, a Singaporean court is currently overseeing the arbitration process between the Maldives government and Indian infrastructure giant GMR in which the company has claimed US$ 1.4 billion for the abrupt termination of a concession agreement to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).


“The authorities arrived in a wave of terror”, says eyewitnesses of Anbaraa arrests

Physical abuse, verbal harassment, and the excessive use of weapons have been reported by some of those detained following the police raids on the Anbaraa music festival last weekend.

“They used a lot of weapons- stun grenades and tazers, pretty excessive force when you’re raiding,” a reliable source told Minivan News.

Other attendees suggested police had threatened both physical torture and sexual violence. All Maldivian nationals interviewed for this article chose to remain anonymous.

Festival attendee Brandon Ingram – a Sri Lankan national – described the authorities as arriving “in a wave of terror, shooting their guns and shouting their violence in Dhivehi.”

The two day music festival – attended by 198 people,  including international DJs – was raided by police at 12:00am on Saturday (April 19), with the aim of shutting down the event.

A total of 79 people were arrested from the uninhabited island in Vaavu atoll, 19 of whom have been released to house arrest, while the remaining are being held at the Dhoonidhoo detention facility.

“They shot flares and one of them [an eyewitness] told me stun grenades were shot in centre of dance floor. Stun grenades are meant for dispersing large crowds – they shouldn’t be shooting at people,” stated an authority investigating the case.

Ingram’s recently published testimony of the raid describes gunfire and lasers, associated with stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Another person present at the festival alleged that, once they were handcuffed, police refused to give them water, had tightened the cuffs when they complained of swollen wrists, and refused to let them go to the toilet.

After a body search at around 1am, the police changed the cuffs to the front and the detainees fell asleep leaning on one another.

The tents and belongings were checked at around midday the following day, the source continued. The cuffs were only taken off after they had picked the 79 to be arrested – meaning they were handcuffed for 13 to 14 hours.

Verbal Abuse

In addition, many of the detainees have stated that police verbally threatened them. One attendee alleged that police told people, “if they didn’t calm down they would all be killed.”

“[Police] verbally abused all of them, harassed them, some of the girls – especially the girls – I heard a lot, one of them [police] said they were going to shove their batons up them.”

“One girl resisting arrest, they hit her from behind and manhandled her, another girl they pulled by the hair and shoved into the sand. It was mostly toward people who were resisting arrest,” stated a source who is investigating the arrests.

According to another eyewitness at the festival, while they were lying on the ground, one girl reportedly heard a policeman say, “why don’t we pour petrol on them and set them on fire, who’d know?”.

Additionally, Ingram recalled the “those authoritative looks of accomplishment and farcical displays of power.”

“They said to us, with conviction, ‘heroine, yea, that’s whatever… but alcohol and LSD, very dangerous.’ They pointed at the girls who were in shorts and tank tops and said: ‘these girls are naked in public, that is against law.'”

“They went on to say – ‘on resort anyone can do whatever they want, on normal island, you cannot.’ They also said – ‘Maldivian boys and girls want to have fun, they can go to other countries, other places, not here’.”

However, Ingram’s account claimed that the treatment by the police was not malevolent.

“They were not unkind to us – in fact they were almost as nice as our Maldivian friends,” he observed.

Drug tests

After the raid, police confirmed with the media that out of the 198 searched, the 79 arrested either tested positive for drugs, or had drugs in their possession.

Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh noted at a press briefing that the 79 persons taken into custody were arrested either with drugs in their possession or police suspected they were under the influence of drugs.

While the remaining 119 were released without charge, Satheeh revealed that none of them had been tested for drug use.

“The people who were let go were supposedly the people who they didn’t find anything on them. The urine test were taken much later,” confirmed a source investigating the arrests.

At the time of the arrests, the only tests the police carried out were a breathalyser test, with only two people testing positive for this, they continued.

Contrary to police reports, “they didn’t do urine tests for everyone,” revealed the source, adding that this was a key point that could stand in the detainees favour.

The Police Integrity Commission declined to comment on the events when contacted by Minivan News today, saying they were not yet investigating the case.


Government plans massive operation to deport undocumented workers

The government today announced a massive operation to detain and deport undocumented workers.

“Within three to four months the whole Malé will be cleaned,” said the Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the Immigration Department.

“They can’t live in Malé. When I say this, it will happen – I am not just saying it.”

Nazim told media the government is planning a “very strong operation” to reduce the number of undocumented migrant workers in Maldives “for the safety and security of everyone and for the economy”.

He said the operation would be carried out jointly by Maldives National Defence Force, the Maldives Police Service, the Department of Immigration and Emigration, and other relevant institutions.

Those detained in the operation are to be be deported using the money deposited by their employers when they were recruited.

A special facility has now been assigned to keep those who will be detained in the operation. Local councils will implement the operation in the atolls.

Nazim said the operation will begin before Ramazan and will target all undocumented workers – from those at the local market, to those wiping motorcycles.

Those deported will have to wait 5 to 10 years before being allowed to enter Maldives again, as opposed to those recently deported through a special voluntary repatriation program, who have the option to return in six months.

The defense minister noted that the capacity of institutions will be considered when carrying out the operation, as the government “does not want to detain so many people and take care of them”.

Actions such as imposing fines and restricting quotas will be taken against those who employ such workers, while a public awareness programme will be carried out simultaneously.

Limiting quotas for agencies

Nazim today announced that, within the year, the recruitment of foreign workers will be limited only to employment agencies.

In this regard, quotas – the maximum number of foreign nationals that can be employed by a single employer – will be issued only through employment agencies.

“Instead of individuals requesting for a quota, they should go through [recruitment] agencies to get the quota. They should apply to agencies and do it through those agencies,” he said, noting that individuals can still employ foreign workers, but can also only do so through agencies.

Nazim said the main reason for the change is the current difficulty in holding individuals accountable.

When the government allowed individuals to recruit foreign employees directly, in 2009, the Association for Employment Agencies expressed concern that the move would increase the number of undocumented workers.

In addition to the approximately 110,000 migrant workers employed in the Maldives, the number of undocumented workers have been estimated to be as high as 44,000. Many workers live at congested labor quarters owned by locals.

Authorities reported a good response to the recent voluntary repatriation scheme, with over 4,000 workers reported to have left the Maldives between December and the end of March.

Meanwhile, the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) today announced that, starting from Sunday, immigration related payments such as the visa fee and fines will be collected from the newly established ‘Huravee Collection Center’ on the third floor of the Huravee Building.

Commissioner General of MIRA, Yazeed Mohamed said that similar collection centers will be established around the country to make such payments easier. And said that the authority is working to establish a tax collection center in Hulhumale as well.


Woman gives birth on a boat while waiting for emergency assistance

With additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

A woman has given birth on a boat traveling from Naifaru to Malé early this morning, after the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) were unable to provide immediate emergency assistance.

The MNDF have confirmed that they were contacted by the boat at around 3am while it was located near Gaafaru, on the northern side on Malé atoll.

“Our vessel was engaged in another operation – we have five or six to handle every day,” explained Deputy Spokesman Captain Ali Ihusaan. “We attempted to guide the boat into Gaafaru but the captain said the channel was too narrow.”

The MNDF Coast Guard was unable to send assistance because it had only one vessel in Malé at the time – a fire launch normally reserved for fire-related incidents.

“The real delay was getting a doctor ready to go,” said Ihusaan. “If we go without professional medical care and the condition worsens, that’s a whole different situation.”

According to Vnews, both the mother and baby were weak when they reached Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital and, while the mother is now in good health, the baby is said to be having breathing difficulties.

The woman was reportedly travelling to Malé after being advised to do so by doctors in Naifaru, Lhaviyani atoll, due to possible complications which may occur at birth.

The Ministry of Health’s 2014 health profile had noted that the recent strengthening of emergency obstetric care at the atoll level has included the upgrading of atoll level health centres to hospitals.

Maternal mortality rates in the Maldives were recorded at a record low of 13 per 100,000 live births in 2012 – ahead of both the Millenium Development Goals target of 125, and the Health Ministry’s own Health Master Plan which aimed to reduce the number to less than 50 by 2015.

Vnews reported that the husband contacted Minister of Defense and National Security Mohamed Nazim as well, to which he responded saying he was trying find a way to provide assistance.

“I told MNDF officials that if anything happens to the baby or mother they should take responsibility for that. But they spoke in a very rude manner saying ‘what taking of responsibility [are you talking about]’ and that there wouldn’t have been any problems if you left earlier,” Vnews quoted the husband as saying.

The MNDF spokesman told Minivan News that the service’s night staff are well trained and used to handling “emotional” callers, suggesting that the husband’s recollection of the conversation would have been affected by his “agitated” state.

After the mother’s condition started worsening, her husband called the Marine Police for assistance. They were on their way when she gave birth on the boat – reportedly assisted by her husband and two family members.

Marine police reached the boat near Kuda Bandos island, following which the mother and baby were transferred to the police speed boat.

After coming across the Coast Guard vessel – which had completed its previous operation – on their way to Malé, the physician and nurse with them came aboard the police boat and provided medical assistance until they reached the capital.


Is the government protecting the youth from drugs?

Last weekend’s raid of the Anbaraa island music festival was defended by police as being part of law enforcement efforts to “safeguard youth and the society from dangers of drugs”.

But how successful are the current methods in keeping the youth away from drugs?

Beginning with soft drugs in the seventies, and later with the introduction of heroin around 1993, the drugs issue became a national epidemic in the nineties with the number of drug-related offenses increasing rapidly since that time.

The National Drug Use Survey (NDUS) of 2011-2012, conducted by the UNODC, revealed that there were 7,496 drug users aged between 15 and 64 years in the Maldives. According to the survey, 72 percent of the drug using population was under the age of 24, and 48 percent of the drug users in the capital Malé were between 15 and 19 years.

A 2003 Rapid Situation Assessment by the Narcotics Control Board revealed that the age at which young people start using drugs ranged between 10-27 years (a mean age 16.8 years).

Those young people are often arrested and sentenced to long periods in prison, while more and more join them in becoming frequent users and addicts.

It has been suggested that Maldivian prison population could be reduced by up to two-thirds if the government would decriminalise the offence of drug usage and propose mandatory rehabilitation.

Rehabilitating rehab

The NDUS report said the Maldives’ response to the drug problem appeared to be skewed heavily towards the criminal justice system rather than health and social welfare systems.

Considering this, the report proposed turning this around by approaching the issue from three broad angles – supply reduction, demand reduction, and harm reduction.

One key achievement in this change was the Drug Act, introduced in 2011 with provisions for treating drug users instead of opting for incarceration. Under the Act, the National Drug Agency (NDA) has been mandated as the lead agency dealing with all issues related to drug prevention, harm reduction, and treatment.

A Drug Court was also formed under the new act as part of a policy shift away from taking a punitive approach against small-scale drug offenses.

Earlier this month, the NDA reported that 101 offenders have completed their drug rehabilitation programme. But how successful is this programme?

Mohamed Shuaib, the CEO of ‘Journey’ – a support NGO for recovering addicts – said the rehabilitation programme in the Maldives had failed completely.

“Three months later they start using again. While a lot of money is spent on these programmes, right now it is just a small prison. There is no good treatment programme there,” he said.

He highlighted various failures ranging from the programme’s structure and staffing capacity, to unrepaired damages at the buildings and the lack of capacity in the programme itself.

Mohamed Rashad – the 24-year-old found dead after a heroin overdose on April 1 – is a testament to this failure. He passed away within 24 hours of being released from the Himmafushi drug rehabilitation centre.

A full programme

Earlier this month, the Drug Court’s Judge Mahaz Ali Zahir said that the NDA had informed the court that one of its centres was full in April last year. Again this month the second centre in Maafushi was also reported to be full.

“People in prisons who have been sentenced to rehabilitation are also waiting for such an opportunity. If this stays this way the [expected] result of [establishing] the Drug Court will not be seen,” the judge has said.

Judge Mahaz called on authorities to speed up the process of sending cases to the court, stating that out of 1,616 cases only 19 were submitted within a month of the incident.

Fathimath Afiya, the Chairperson of the Society For Women Against Drugs (SWAD) said the rehabilitation programme currently only existed “just for name’s sake”.

“We visited the [rehabilitation center] place for an assessment just around the time the new government came to power. And it is true, the programme is there just for name’s sake,” she said.

“There is no stable programme. The place is full. There are so many issues. While the Drug Court is sending more and more people, there is no stable programme for them.”

Afiya said the government had started taking action regarding the issue now, and that SWAD was closely following it.

“SWAD is lobbying to work towards a long term strategic solution, based on a strategic action plan and prevention policy. The government is listening to our recommendations and bringing small changes already.”

She said the importance of following a systematic plan is to work realistically towards a solution instead of having every new government introducing something new with each new term.

Long term reform

Journey’s Shuaib also noted the importance of having a long term plan to addressed the issue.

“There have never been any research and evidence based prevention programmes in the Maldives. It is always an ad hoc approach. Our outreach teams have observed that there are a lot of new users now.”

Shuaib said prevention is of the utmost importance and, since children start using drugs, parental guidance and providing children with information will help them make the right choice.

“Even in the US their policy was using guns and force but it did not work. So now they are reforming their drug policy to focus on prevention. Prevention is more important. Young people who were using hash oil three or four years back are now using heroin,” Shuaib said.

Speaking to Minivan News, one recovering heroin addict said the programme ‘s failure could be connected to the Drug Act itself.

“Every one at the programme does not always want to deal with their issue. Many  just don’t care about it and are there only because they have been ordered to do so. This makes things harder for those of us who genuinely want to get better,” he said.

While Minivan News was unable to get a comment from NDA regarding the issue, all NGOs expressed hope that the programme can be saved, with the agency currently taking steps towards reform.

Supply, demand, and harm

In terms of supply reduction, drugs confiscated by the Maldives Customs Service while being imported to the Maldives in 2013 include 6.98 kg of heroin and 10.73 kg of hashish oil, while the numbers in 2012 were 4.12 kg of heroin along with 8.39 kg of hashish oil.

This is relatively small amount compared to what is being imported to the country, considering the huge demand. The 24 kg of heroin seized by police last month gives an idea of the true scale of the problem.

Last year police dealt with 38 cases of buying and selling of drugs and 130 cases of trafficking drugs, while there were 2,139 drug use cases and 833 possession cases. Even less is done with regards to major drug dealers.

With regards to large-scale drug dealers, previous attempts by former President Nasheed to apprehend some of the nation’s most prominent drug dealers failed to bear fruit. Among them, Adam Naseer was found innocent by the Criminal Court despite police finding over MVR6million (US$461,500) in cash and drugs just outside his home.

In  June 2011, police arrested another ‘top dealer’ Ibrahim ‘Shafa’ Shafaz, finding 896 grams of illegal drugs in his apartment.  This February he left the Maldives for ‘medical treatment’ and has appealed his eighteen year jail term to the High Court from abroad.

While NGOs seem hopeful about fixing the rehabilitation program, a complete change in policy and approach to the drug issue is needed to protect the youth from drugs.

These examples only provide further evidence – if it is needed – that a more efficient way must be devised, moving away from the criminal justice system approach, towards a method based more closely on supply, demand, and harm reduction.


Nasheed criticises indirect taxation following amendments to import duties

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has criticised the recent amendments to customs duties, arguing that a strong economy cannot be built upon regressive taxes.

“We have noticed that indirect taxes such as import duty have a very bad impact on the economy,” the acting president of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) told local newspaper Haveeru.

“The tax that is being derived from the poorest man’s toothpaste is equal with the tax levied on the richest man’s toothpaste. We do not believe that this is a smart way of generating state income,” he said.

Nasheed’s comments followed the approval of amendments to the Import-Export Act which increased import duties on a range of goods as part of the current administration’s revenue raising measures.

He told local media yesterday that history had shown progressive taxation, with greater contribution from higher earners, was the best technique to raise state revenue.

During this week’s final debate on the government-sponsored amendments, MPs of the opposition MDP severely criticised the indirect tax hikes, contending that the burden of increased prices of goods would be borne by ordinary citizens.

Once the amendments (Dhivehi) are ratified by the president, a 15 percent tariff will be reintroduced for construction material, articles of apparel and clothing accessories, silk, wool, woven fabrics, cotton, man-made filaments, wadding, special yarns, twine, cordage, ropes, cables, carpets and other textile floor coverings, lace, tapestries, trimmings and embroidery.

Tariffs are also set to be increased from the current zero percent to five percent for sugar confectioneries and diesel motor oil and raised from 10 to 15 percent for organic chemicals and compounds of precious metals, rare-earth metals, radioactive elements or isotopes.

Nasheed suggested that progressive taxation such as the Business Profit Tax (BPT) – introduced during his presidency alongside Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Tourist-GST – would produce a more sustainable economy.

These three taxes were shown this week to have contributed to nearly three-quarters of the state’s revenue in the first quarter of the year, amounting to over MVR2 billion. The introduction of these taxes has seen state revenue quadruple since 2010.

The economic policies pursued during the MDP administration also included sweeping changes to the Import-Export Act, which included the removal of duty on a wide range of items.

The Maldives Customs Service meanwhile revealed last week that its revenue in March increased by 12 percent – to MVR 139.7 million – compared to the same period in 2013 on the back of a 30 percent increase in imports.

Exports, however, dropped by 65 percent last month compared to the same period last year, and imports increased by 11 percent compared to the first quarter of 2013.

The Maldives Monetary Authorities’ latest balance of payments forecasts estimated the current account deficit to have widened to US$562.5 million – representing 22% of GDP in 2014.

Other revenue raising measures to be implemented by the government include raising T-GST to 12 percent this coming November as well as the introduction of GST to telecommunications services from May 1.

Plans to increase Airport Service Charge from US$18 to US$25 appeared to be moving closer to realisation this week, with local media reporting that the measure had been approved my a Majlis committee.

In December, parliament passed a record MVR17.5 billion (US$1.16 billion) budget for 2014, prompting President Abdulla Yameen to call on the legislature to approve the revenue raising measures, which the government contends are necessary to finance development projects.

Recognising that the Maldives is in a “deep economic pit”, President Yameen vowed to slash state expenditure in order to improve government finances following his election victory last November.