Foreigners’ enrollment extended while Majlis considers amendments to Pensions Act

The Maldives Pensions Administration Office (MPAO) has extended enrollment for foreign employees onto its retirement pension scheme until May 15 following an amendment introduced in the Majlis earlier this week.

The enrollment of foreign workers into the scheme – mandated by the first amendment to the 2009 Pensions Act – was scheduled for completion today (April 1).

“We had decided that the date of enrollment should be before 1st April 2014, but now there is a proposed amendment to the Pensions Act in the parliament to make it voluntary for foreigners,” said MPAO Director Ismail Sujau.

“We are giving the delay for one and a half months for foreigners to complete their enrollment and also pay the contributions,” he added.

Sujau confirmed that the scheme will require a contribution of seven percent of employees’ earnings, matching a seven percent contribution from their employers.

The collection of contributions will be still be collected by employers before the end of April, to be handed over to the pensions office by May 15 as originally planned, he explained.

The proposed amendment – submitted by Maavah MP Abdul Aziz Jamaal Abubakr earlier this week – has been welcomed by many expatriates who fear they will struggle to reclaim their contributions upon leaving the Maldives.

“My biggest concern is not getting our money back when we leave, and if we do get it back, getting it back in rufiyaa,” said Varsha Patel, a teacher at Lale Youth International School in Malé.

“Why don’t they just call it an income tax rather than pension?” asked former teacher Rachel Evans*, aged 35.

“Nobody is dumb enough to believe we’re ever going to see that money again. It takes six months to get work visas processed. No way will they ever be able -or willing – to refund this pension at the end of a foreigner’s contract,” she added.

After submitting the amendment this week, Abubakr told local media he felt it would be better for both employees and employers to make the scheme voluntary for foreigners.

“Its enforcement may create difficulties for the employee – it may even result in monetary problems. If he can’t attain his money when he is about to leave the country, then he would face many difficulties. That would even be against his rights,” the Maavah MP told Haveeru.

Contribution concerns

Speaking with Minivan News today, Sujau assured that the regulations allowed for the retrieval of funds, but admitted that specific details of the rebate mechanism were yet to be decided upon.

“There has been a lot of concern – we understand that – even when we have had so many public information sessions,” he said.

“We have heard many concerns, especially when they withdraw the funds. We are collecting the funds in Maldivian rufiyaa and definitely we are paying out in Maldivian rufiyaa so they have a concern because local currency they make not be able to take it back and trade. They can only trade to dollars or some other foreign currency.”

Sujau said that the contributions will be transferred to rufiyaa denominated accounts, or given out in cash, though he acknowledged that transfers to foreign currency accounts had not yet been organised.

“That arrangement we have not been able to make yet. This something we will look into as it progresses.”

A heavy import-export imbalance in the Maldives results in a perennial foreign currency shortage, while a dominant tourism sector – which deals almost exclusively in US dollars – results in a weak local currency.

“What’s the point of them refunding a worthless currency when they could just call it an income tax and keep the money”, asked Rachel.

Meanwhile, Varsha – 26 -suggested that employees had been given inadequate notice of the scheme and insufficient information about how to reclaim contributions.

“We were not really given enough notice – I was only told last month. I’m not very happy to be having a pay cut for no reason.”

After the introduction of the 2009 Pensions Act, the initial regulations made no distinction between local and foreign employees – who were both included in the first phase of the scheme for public sector workers, explained Sujau.

However, just prior to the adoption of private sector workers into the scheme in  May 2011, an amendment was passed requiring separate regulations for foreigners to be drafted within 12 months, and for enrollment to be completed within three years.

Regarding complaints about the scheme, Sujau noted that his office was responsible only for the practical application of governmental decisions.

“As far as the MPAO is concerned, we are an implementing agency, we don’t make policy – we just adopt whatever is in the Pension Act and follow,” he said.

*Name changed as individual wished to maintain anonymity


“Utilise these calm times to prepare for future challenges,” President Yameen tells police

President Abdulla Yameen has called on the police to not consider the current peaceful atmosphere in the country as a “permanent stability” although peace has been established after months of turmoil.

Speaking as guest of honour at the police force’s 81st anniversary celebrations, Yameen called on the police to prepare to for any challenges that may come their way in the near future, saying times of stability are the best times for forces to prepare for war.

“We should not delude ourselves into thinking that what we are experiencing today is a permanent state of stability. I appeal to the respectable police and your leaders to utilise these calm times to prepare for future challenges that may come your way,” he stated.

He went on to say that crime cannot be fought by the efforts of the police alone, and that together with the efforts of the police, the judicial process also needs to be expedited in criminal cases. He said that despite the police’s best efforts, results cannot be reaped unless the judicial branch cooperates with the efforts.

“If this is not done, regardless of how courageous the police force is, people will not have faith that there can be justice and stability amongst us,” the president said.

The Human Rights Commission’s (HRCM) annual report for 2013 recommended reform of the judiciary after it had received complaints reporting the slow speed at which cases are attended to by the courts in addition to the failure to take action against judges accused of misconduct.

“In my administration, I want the police to be seen by the public as responsible professionals who are skilled in the work they do,” continued Yameen.

“The police’s duty is today is not to protect merciless leaders. Instead, it is to serve humanity. The police are a force which saves lives and respects human rights. A force which protects people’s property from being harmed. A force which protects the society from harm,” he said.

Along the same lines as the words of his cabinet minister for home affairs, the president warned against harming police officers, stating the current government would not tolerate such acts.

“Police must always be accountable. There are also entities tasked with oversight of the police’s work. Police work will be criticised at times, and that, in the end, is something that the media must do. However, no one should resort to harming police officers. This government will never tolerate such acts,” he stated.

“I would like to happily inform all police officers that this government has submitted amendments to the Penal Code to parliament, on the passing of which, severe punishments will be dealt out to people to commit such acts. As the Penal Code gets revised, individuals who harass the police and those who cause harm to officers on duty will face strict punishments,” Yameen revealed.

The president went on to assure the police officers that the current government is also mindful of police welfare, pledging to attempt to find better housing for them.

He further pledged to provide technology and facilities needed to further develop the force. He asserted that police are trained not just with the objective of making them strong physically, but also to develop their minds to a capacity where they can be watchful over the three powers of the state.

“The people we have to face will not be patient persons, however they are Maldivians in whose service we remain. They will come to us with complaints.”

“They will be upset and angry when they come. However, police officers must remain patient and communicate diplomatically and manage things sincerely. The police are a force which remains in service of humanity,” Yameen advised the gathered officers.

A patient approach to those in police detention was also urged by the police commissioner last week after the HRCM’s report had noted a rise in mistreatment of those in police custody.


Commissioner and home minister voice concerns about difficulties facing police

Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed has stated that the police are facing difficulties in providing services due to the lack of sufficient resources.

Speaking at the 81st police anniversary celebrations held on Sunday night, Waheed opined that there is a need to revise the services of the police as the criminal environment has changed and is now inclusive of crimes involving increasingly dangerous weapons.

“We are seeing the use of swords, knives, and machetes in the crime scenes and this is something we must keep in our highest consideration when we are bringing changes to the police services,” he said.

He noted that in addition to not having suitable weapons and equipment to use for defence, the force also did not have vehicles or basic equipment like computers in some islands.

“It is proof of the high regard police officers give to national service when it is on their own private motorcycles that they go to major crime scenes, and do patrolling,” he said.

He said that the damage caused by “a group of citizens who destroyed and damaged police property during the events of February 8, 2012” have still not been overcome.

Home minister welcomes constructive criticism

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer responded to Waheed’s claims during the same event, stating that the incumbent government will ensure that the damage caused during the events of February 2012 is repaired.

The minister further stated that the work of the police is a matter that is often criticised by the public, alleging that every such criticism results in being taken as encouragement by criminals. He stated that the current government will not allow any persons to incite hatred and mistrust against the police force.

“Due to the free and open media of today, it is possible to closely observe the work of the police and criticise it. The police will always welcome constructive criticism, and bring changes in their light. The police are not a force that will resist positive change,” the minister stated.

“However, there are some instances where in the guise of such criticism, hatred is incited against the police force. My wish is that no persons take things to this level. This is because every news or every comment presented in a manner that creates hatred against the police proves to be encouragement for criminals to commit further crimes,” he continued.

Minister Naseer revealed that in 2011, 60 police vehicles were damaged, while in 2012, 166 vehicles were damaged. In the last year, another 49 vehicles were damaged by members of the public.

“The question is, whose property is being damaged here? It is in fact property brought from the money of Maldivian citizens to provide a service to the same Maldivian citizens. People need to realise this,” he said.

Commissioner Waheed further said that the lack of a suitable training institution for police officers also presented additional challenges.

The commissioner also called on the newly elected 18th parliament to expedite the pending bills concerning the police, noting that the lack of required legislation proves to be another obstacle in reaching their goals.

Fighting crime

Despite revealing the challenges faced by the police force, the commissioner asserted that the force will be working tirelessly to fight crime, and will be willing to make whatever sacrifice is required of them in the fight against the drug trade.

He stated that those involved in the trade will be brought to justice adding that, if need be, officers will be deployed abroad for this purpose. He noted that the discovery in early March of the 24 kilos of narcotics that were being smuggled into the country was an exemplary operation.

The commissioner assured that police will not hesitate to bring to justice any persons who break the law, regardless of their status -whether they are powerful politicians, wealthy individuals, or otherwise powerful persons.

Nevertheless, the commissioner said that in order to become free from the problem of drugs, all citizens need to cooperate sincerely with reintroducing addicts into society.

He further referred to the recently unearthed cases of possession of illegal and dangerous animals, stating that the police will, in the near future, uncover the tactics used by smugglers of such animals and bring it to an end.

He then stated that it is crucial to bring an end to serious and organized crimes, saying that doing so is necessary to strengthen the country’s economy.

Home Minister Umar Naseer also added that the current government intends to introduce police services to every single inhabited island in the Maldives.

Both Naseer and Waheed noted the economic benefits that would accompany a reduction in organised crime.

“Although sometimes, it gives rise to international criticism when a country is seen as a place where laws are implemented, implementation of laws is necessary to increase investor confidence,” said Naseer.


Lighting the way: Youth and the environment

Last night (March 29), the Maldives took part in celebrating the international event, Earth Hour. In the press statement prior to the event, the Ministry of Environment and Energy confirmed that the activities planned around Earth Hour Maldives 2014 were to be “mainly focused on children and youths.”

As the next generation is invited to take responsibility for climate change, some still wonder if the young people of the Maldives are being equipped to tackle one of the biggest threats to the archipelago.

“There needs to be a lot more dialogue on climate change,” argues Ahmed Shaam from NGO Dhi Youth Movement, who helped organise a youth-led flash mob to promote Earth Hour Maldives. “Apathy comes from lack of understanding.”

According to its statement, Earth Hour’s mission is three-fold: to bring people together through a symbolic hour-long event, to galvanise people into taking action beyond the hour, and to create an interconnected global community sharing the mutual goal of creating a sustainable future for the planet.

From 8:30pm to 9:30pm local time on the last Saturday of March every year, Earth Hour is celebrated in all countries by encouraging people to turn off all the lights and electrical appliances in a “massive show of concern for the environment”, according to the event’s website.

Earth Hour 2014 in the Maldives was a joint venture by the Scout Association of Maldives, with support from the Ministry of Environment and the State Electric Company Limited (STELCO).

The activities included an impressive firework display followed by bands and DJs performing on the main stage – equipped with stage lighting and PA system. Organisers confirmed that they were expecting around 470 attendees, but estimate that the number was much higher than that.

However, while young people attended in their hundreds, the question remains as to whether people really engaged with the subject at the heart of the campaign – or were the bright lights of the stage the main attraction?

“I think people who work on Earth Hour have really good intentions and did a really good job,” said Project Co-ordinator for Dhi Youth Movement Shaam. He added, however, “I think Maldivians are not in the right place to take initiative on their own, the government needs to do a lot more work in terms of creating awareness.”

Youth-led action

Dhi Youth Movement is one of the Maldives most popular youth led NGOs, but also the newest – having only been officially established in 2012. In spite of this, the “new kids on the block” have an impressive resumé of events, including the Kittu Hivaaru Festival – a platform for aspiring young artists and musicians to showcase their talents.

Priding themselves on thinking outside the box, Dhi Youth Movement organised an alternative to the official Earth Hour activities, with an estimated 60-70 young people attending the Dhi Youth Earth Hour campaign called ‘Simon Says’ – an interactive ‘flash mob’ which took over the streets of Malé last night.

The pioneering event invited attendees to download a track from the internet via social media, and directed them to a central meeting point. Once there, participants play the audio track from their mobile phone at exactly 8pm. The activities are based on a mixture of fun, and environmental conscience – with one instruction being to go into a shop which has not turned off the lights for Earth Hour, and slow-dance with a mannequin. On leaving the shop, young people would inform the perplexed owners about Earth Hour, and some of the issues behind the project.

Speaking about why their event was a welcome supplement to the official activities, Dhi Youth’s Shaam explained that “people sometimes forget the actual reason why they are doing it, and there needs to be more emphasis on why we are doing it. In our event we make sure there is an environmental component to it.”

“I think there still needs to be a lot more of a dialogue when it comes to climate changes– people in the islands don’t see how climate change can affect us.”

Political Change vs Climate Change

Under the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives had pledged to become carbon neutral by 2020.

As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, with an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, the country is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise.

Based on the findings of a 2013 report on the effects of climate change, the World Bank highlighted the urgent need for concerted efforts to support the Maldives in adapting to climate change.

Nasheed sought to highlight the need for the Maldives to be a key model for other countries seeking to become more sustainable, and that an inability to meet the unilateral commitments would prove detrimental to wider arguments around the globe for adopting law carbon initiatives.

The government of Nasheed’s successor Dr Mohamed Waheed also said that it was committed to “not completely“ reversing the Nasheed administration’s zero carbon strategy: “What we are aiming to do is to elaborate more on individual sustainable issues and subject them to national debate,” said Waheed.

Speaking to Minivan News in October 2012, the government assured that they were adhering to their commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020 in spite of political uncertainty.

More recently in the news, the International Renewable Energy Investor’s conference, focusing on the development of solar energy in the Maldives, took place on March 26 at Bandos resort.

The one-day conference – organised by the Ministry of Environment and Energy with the World Bank – aimed to transform the Maldives’ energy sector by reducing the dependency on costly fossil fuels for power generation.

Meanwhile, further confirmation has come in recent weeks from President Abdulla Yameen that that the government will commence work on locating crude oil in the Maldives.

According to local media, Yameen had said that if the government is indeed successful in finding oil in the Maldives, the outlook for the entire country would change for the better.

“The previous government [Maldivian Democratic Party] had a lot of emphasis on environment and climate change, they tried a lot of advocacy and awareness, but I think the current government needs to do a lot more to create awareness,” said Shaam.

“They don’t understand why they need to do this. Apathy comes form lack of understanding – if the people involved can pass on information to the public there will be less apathy.”


Government proposes abolishing Women’s Development Committees

The government’s proposal for amendments to the Decentralisation Act include abolishing Women’s Development Committees in the islands.

The amendment requires the councils to abolish the committees and to form four new advisory committees – a Women’s Development Advisory Committee, an Economic Committee, a Development Advisory Committee, and an Environment Protection Advisory Committee – that would advise island councils.

According to the amendment, the funds and assets of the existing Women’s Development Committees will be transferred to the council, and will only be permitted for use after consulting with the Women’s Development Advisory Committee.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group leader and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik said that the parliamentary group had not yet reviewed the amendments.

Introduced by former President Nasheed in 2010, the Decentralisation Act created Women’s Development Committees for the purpose of generating income for the development of local women, working to increase religious awareness, and to improve the health, education, and political participation of women.

Following its observation of this month’s Majlis elections, the EU Election Observation Mission noted an “extremely low numbers of female candidates,” with a total of 23 women standing – just 5 of whom were elected.

The report noted that this, along with the low voter turn out for women, was in part down to “prevailing and increasing social and cultural norms which disempower women, confining them to the domestic sphere.”

Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s 2013 gender gap index noted that the Maldives had fallen behind in both economic and political gender equality – ranking 97 out of 136 countries ranked.

In the same amendment bill – given its first reading last week – MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur, who submitted the bill on behalf of the government in December also proposed cutting the monthly salaries for all council members except for the president vice president of the council in the islands – instead, paying an allowance for each meeting attended.

The current act ensures that five council members must be elected for every island with less than 3000 people, while islands with more than 3000 people are entitled to seven councillors.

The presidents of island councils currently receive a monthly salary and allowance of MVR15,000 (US$973) while council members receive MVR11,000 (US$713). The mayor of Malé is paid MVR45,000 (US$2,918) a month.

Under article 25 of the Decentralisation Act, a five-member council is elected in islands with a population of less than 3,000, a seven-member council for islands with a population between 3,000 and 10,000, and a nine-member council for islands with a population of more than 10,000.

Since assuming power last November, President Abdulla Yameen’s government has made clear its intention to reduce the size of local government in order to reduce the state’s recurrent expenditure – which accounts for over 70 percent of the budget.

In December, the World Bank warned in a report that the Maldivian economy was at risk due to excessive government spending.

The current model of more than 1,000 elected councillors approved in 2010 by the then-opposition majority parliament was branded “economic sabotage” by the MDP government, which had proposed limiting the number of councillors to “no more than 220.”

The new layer of government introduced with the first local council elections in February 2011 cost the state US$12 million a year with a wage bill of US$220,000 a month.


Week in review: March 22 – 29

The week began with 302 candidates and 189,000 voters taking part in the Maldives’ second multiparty Majlis elections.

After polling proceeded without notable incident, preliminary results quickly showed that the governing Progressive Coalition had secured a clear victory - later confirmed as a 53 seat majority in the 85 seat legislature.

President Abdulla Yameen – whose Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) took 33 seats – interpreted the result as a ‘yes’ to peace and stability and a chance to pick up where his half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s ‘golden 30 years’ had left off.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon – daughter of former President Gayoom – saw the result as a rejection of “foreign interference” and a show of support for her father and uncle’s leadership.

Coalition ally the Maldives Development Alliance noted that the result – in which it took five seats – as a sign of public confidence in the relatively young party. Despite being upbeat about his party’s 15-seat haul, Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim accused his coalition allies of fielding independent candidates in violation of pre-election agreements.

While Yameen acknowledged that vote splitting may have detracted from the size of the coalition win, the immediate effects appeared to have benefited his party, with two of the five successful ‘independent’ candidates switching to the PPM before the official results had been announced.

A further source of discord within the coalition loomed large after Gasim threw his hat into the ring for the Majlis speaker’s position this week. Though Gasim told local media he had the coalition’s full backing, the PPM subsequently announced its intention to field its own candidate.

The impact of the defeat on the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – who won just 26 of the 85 seats for which it fielded candidates – looks likely to be a period of restructuring, with former President Mohamed Nasheed calling for new leaders to step forward.

All observers of the elections – partisans and neutrals alike – expressed concern at the ‘money politics’ involved, with both the MDP and Adhaalath parties blaming such practices for their own poor performances.

Despite the foreign minister’s prior comments, both the EU and the Commonwealth observer missions focused on the negative impact the Supreme Court’s dismissal of Elections Commissioners had upon the electoral environment.

Government business

Amendments to the Decentralisation Act, which would resurrect previous previously thwarted plans for streamlined local governance, were this week introduced on behalf of the government.

The resuscitation of the Nasheed administration’s attempts to transform the country’s energy sector also continued with the outlining of the Accelerating Sustainable Private Investments in Renewable Energy (ASPIRE) programme.

The government’s transformation of the island of Meedhoo appeared not have gone to plan, however, after a recently initiated reclamation project was halted due to its potential environmental and health impacts.

The Immigration Department revealed the success of a recent repatriation programme for illegal migrant workers, while employees on the Vilu Reef resort were also given their marching orders after having taken part in strikes.

In the courts, the decision to uphold a prior ruling saw the return of a five-month-old child to it’s German mother, while the Criminal Court heard the final disturbing details in the 2010 murder of Mariyam Sheereen.

The Tiny Hearts of Maldives NGO this week held their annual camp in Malé’s IGMH, providing expert care for children with congenital heart defects. Meanwhile, in Addu, investigations have begun in the events that led to a death during childbirth at Hithadhoo Regional Hospital.


Ongoing strike at Vilu Reef resort sees 18 staff fired

Vilu Reef resort has allegedly terminated 18 members of staff, with some given just one hour to leave, after employees had presented management with a list of grievances.

Speaking with Minivan News, Ahmed Rasheed – a Vilu Reef employee for two years before his dismissal yesterday – described his termination:

“They sent me with 5 police guards into my room. They locked the door and asked me to pack within one hour.”

Vilu Reef is part of the Sun Travel & Tours group – a company owned by the prominent businessman and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam.

After compiling a list of grievances against the resort, Rasheed explained that he had prepared a petition on which he managed to get 153 signatures from fellow staff.

He recalled that the demands were then presented to the hotel management on March 17, who came back to the employees, suggesting “if you don’t want to stay here you can leave.”

After conferring with the staff team, employees then decided to strike, stated Rasheed, with around 50 resort employees congregating at around 11pm with their demands on Sunday (March 23).

The management called police, but assured staff that no would be terminated, said Rasheed. They agreed to carry out amendments to meet the requests as of the April 30, he added, “so the next day we went back to work.”

“I was fired after two days,” continued Rasheed. “They just give me a call and said ‘hey can you come to the office’, then they gave me a letter. They asked me to sign.”

According to Rasheed’s termination contract, the reason Vilu Reef fired him was because his post was no longer available.

The termination letter stated that the employees were being fired due to their posts “being made redundant” and were asked to leave with “immediate effective (sic) of March 25”.

The letter acknowledges that there should be one month’s notice for the termination of staff, and therefore the management “have decided to as an extra measure compensation payment in lieu of three months notice period.”

The next steps, according to Rasheed, are being supported by the Tourism Association of Maldives (TEAM).

“We are not a member of TEAM but we are really thanking them for their help. They are helping us to do something good. At least we have some people who are trying to get our rights back.”

Workers’ right to strike

TEAM Secretary General  Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News that TEAM would assist the staff in taking the case to the Employment Tribunal, though felt there would be “no hope” for a fair case.

“Shiyam is very strong here,” he noted, “one of the partners of the government.”

“Since 2012 the decisions are against international standards and international best practice,” he added. “It’s all corrupt judiciary, and high court decisions against employment cases are one of the key factors.”

According to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act 2013, tourist resorts, ports, and airports fall into a category of places in which protests are prohibited.

The US State Department expressed concern about the change in this law in their recently released 2013 Human Rights Report.

Local NGOs Transparency Maldives and the Maldivian Democracy Network have also expressed their concern that the law has impacted upon freedom of peaceful assembly.

No-one from the management team at Vilu Reef was available for comment when contacted by Minivan News.

Earlier this year the prestigious One & Only Reethi Rah resort saw an estimated 90% of its employees partake in an organised strike against perceived ill treatment and discrimination.

The strike was called following the management’s failure to meet employees to discuss concerns regarding discrimination against local workers, and a team of police were dispatched to the resort.

In a similar case in September 2013, staff at Irufushi Beach and Spa resort reported a “firing spree” affecting staff members professing to support the Maldivian Democratic Party.

The resort, which in May 2013 abruptly terminated its agreement with hotel giant Hilton – leading to the overnight resignation of 30 employees – is also part of the Sun Travel group.

A source working at the hotel at the time of publishing stated, “Shiyam took over this resort in what the staff refers to as another coup d’etat at the resort level. Since then we have been gradually stripped of rights we are legally entitled to as citizens of the Maldives.”


Immigration department boosts efforts to curb undocumented workers

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has said that it is strengthening action taken against those who employ or provide housing for undocumented migrant workers.

Deputy CEO of Immigration Abdulla Munaz said the department is strengthening the implementation of existing regulations because the provision of employment and shelter is a major cause is rising numbers of undocumented workers in the country.

“We will take whatever action is necessary. The actions [to be taken] are very clear in the existing laws. The immigration act allows to fine anyone that employs or provide accommodation for immigrants residing in the Maldives unlawfully,” said Munaz.

According to the department, employers will be fined between MVR15,000 and MRV50,000 if found to be unlawfully employing or housing an immigrant, while the removal of the right to employ foreign workers can result from employing even a single undocumented worker.

Rather than blacklisting companies, the department now targets employers engaged in the unlawful employment of foreign workers, preventing them from employing any migrant worker under their name.

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.

While some of these workers are engaged in manual labor, others are employed officially by companies and by individuals working for various industries such agriculture, construction, and fisheries – an industry in which foreign workers are not allowed.

As per immigration laws and regulations, foreign employees can only do the type of work for which the visa is issued and only for the employers with whom they are registered.

Voluntary repatriation program

Munaz said that the intention of stricter regulation is not take action against as many people, but to resolve the issue.

He described the voluntary repatriation programme announced last December as an opportunity for employers to get things right, as the department understands how widespread the employment of such workers are in the country.

The programme – offering leniency for undocumented migrant workers who wish to return to their home countries voluntarily on their own expenses – received huge support, according to the department.

By last week, approximately 4,400 workers out of 5,134 that registered for the programme had left the Maldives. Under the scheme, they will be allowed to return within six months of departure. According to immigration, on average 50 of these workers are now leaving Maldives daily.

“The reason we started that programme is because we noticed that a lot of foreign workers who are staying in Maldives unlawfully are forced to do so. They are not doing it intentionally, but circumstances they faced lead them to be in that situation,” explained Munaz.

“If we are to investigate each and every case to see if it was intentional or not, it would take a lot of time to achieve the primary objective of reducing the number of undocumented workers,” he continued.

Some workers are recruited unlawfully at the airport before they even meet the actual employer by promising higher wages and providing false information, said Munaz.

“These people don’t have documents and they actually want to leave. But they can’t. They don’t have their documents. So we helped them through their consulates to create a one way travel document so they could leave. We received a good cooperation from all embassies.”

Munaz said cases identified as human trafficking are forwarded to the police, and cases where there are labour right violations such as non-payment of wages are forwarded to the labour relations authority for further investigation.

“Sometimes employers let their foreign employees go, stop paying them wages, and ask them to go out and seek work on their own. In such cases the employees will not have any place to go, they may not have much savings.”

“Recently there was a case where a group of migrant workers were taken from Malé to another island to work, and after completing the work the employers went to another island and just left them there,” said Munaz.

Workers in such situations who voluntarily approach the department are provided with accommodation at the ‘Bidheysee Hiyaa’ safe house until their travel arrangements are made from the employer’s deposit at the department.

Those who are caught by the department are held at the Immigration Removal Center at Hulhumalé Prison until they are deported.

The People’s Majlis passed the country’s first anti-trafficking legislation last December following international criticism of the Maldives’ moves to prevent the practice.


Police Commissioner urges all officers to be patient with inmates

Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed has called on police officers to treat inmates held in Dhoonidhoo in accordance with the law, warning that he will not hesitate to take action against those doing otherwise.

The commissioner noted that inmates in Dhoonidhoo detention centre face the curtailment of some of the basic rights – such as freedom of movement – and that police officers should maintain patience when faced with unsettled detainees.

Waheed also stated that police officers were now being trained to serve inmates in accordance with local and international human rights laws, urging officers to put this training into practice.

He added that he would not accept any police officer committing a crime, noting that sometimes officers have been involved in criminal activities which give a bad name to the whole institution.

On March 16, 2014, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) – in their 2013 annual report – stated that incidents of torture in detention centres were increasing in the Maldives.

Among the issues noted during the commission’s visits, and from complaints received, were detainees being held in cuffs for extended periods, detainees not being provided adequate hygiene and sleeping materials, overcrowded cells, rotten food, and the mistreatment of detainees during transfer.

The report also listed a failure to keep proper records of detainees’ medical, search, and solitary confinement details, as well as a failure to inform the HRCM of arrests.

According to the commission’s report, of a total of 596 recommendations regarding state detention facilities made – including prisons, detention centres, and homes for people with special needs – only 20 percent have been fully implemented.

The rising incidence of torture was reflected in the number of cases submitted, and a total of 72 cases of degrading treatment and torture were submitted within the year.

In December 2013, the parliament passed the Anti-torture Act [Dhivehi] which declares freedom from torture as a fundamental right, ensures respect for human rights of criminal suspects, and prohibits torture in state custody, detention in undisclosed locations, and solitary confinement.

According to the bill, any confession gained through the use of torture should be deemed invalid by the courts.

On June 2, 2013, the man found to have murdered parliament member and prominent religious scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali, Hussain Humam, retracted his confession to the crime, claiming it had been obtained by police through coercive during his detention.

Last month, Ahmed Murrath – sentenced to death for murder –  was also reported to have appealed his case at the High Court telling  judges that he had been refused access to a doctor during pretrial detention.