Airport company hires AC Nielsen for market research project

International market research firm AC Nielsen has been appointed by GMR Male International Airport Limited (GMIAL) to survey tourists at the newly-renamed Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

The research will seek the opinions of visitors, locals, sea plane operators, resorts, airline and tour operators on existing airport services.

The information will be used to improve existing services for tourists, improve amenities for employees and provide new services, GMIAL said in a statement.


Maldives High Commission to Pakistan hosts Independence Day reception

Maldives High Commissioner to Pakistan Aishath Shehenaz Adam has hosted a reception at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad to mark 46 years of independence and 45 years of diplomatic relations with Pakistan, reports Pakistani newspaper The News.

“The Marquee Hall had been nicely decorated and there was a special section in front of the stairs leading to the upper hall, where the cake was cut against a backdrop of a fishing boat and other decorative items like coconuts and the arts and crafts of the Maldives. A video screened images of the beautiful landscape of the country as well as the people going about their daily business, which includes harvesting of coconuts and fishing,” the paper reported.

“The Maldives — highlighted with the catch phrase, ‘the sunny side of life’ — are described as where sands are white as the smiles of the locals, where fish swim happily in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, where the weather is a dream, and the deep rays of the sun wait to engulf you in their arms. It has deep blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches and palm trees. It is also a place full of character, where its people have long spent their days languishing in the very essence of idyll living.”


Council discusses “nuisance and bother” of expatriates in Republic Square

Members of the Male’ City Council have offered solutions to “the nusiance and bother of expatriates [congregating] at the Republic Square” in the capital at a meeting last month.

According to minutes of a meeting on June 28 published on the council’s new website, Deputy Mayor Ahmed Samah Rasheed noted that the issue had been discussed before and suggested contacting the Bangladeshi High Commission.

However Maafanu West Councillor Ahmed Falah pointed out that it was “not only Bangladeshis who gather in these places.”

“[Mid-Henveiru Councillor] Lufshan [Shakeeb] noted that foreigners at the Republic Square were damaging the grass in a number of ways and said that the area should be walled off with a tin fence and cleaned,” reads the minutes.

Lufshan suggested working with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and police “to develop Republic Square.” Henveiru South Councillor “Rukuma” Mohamed Abdul Kareem backed the notion.

The discussion came under an agenda item titled “Making a decision on the nuisance and bother of Bangalhun [derogatory term for Bangladeshis] at the Republic Square and the problem of Bangalhun sleeping inside the old museum at Sultan Park.”

The agenda states that the discussion was prompted by a letter received by the council.

Machangoalhi South Councillor “Jambu” Hassan Afeef meanwhile claimed that expatriates were “committing indecent acts” behind the National Museum site and other open spaces in Sultan Park, recommending that the grounds be closed to the public.

Mayor “Sarangu” Adam Manik however said that “any measures taken should be democratic,” which led Falah to suggest putting up notice boards at the Republic Square in languages used by expatriates to inform them that the area was out of bounds.

The Mayor however favoured closing the square ahead of celebrations of Republic Day on November 11 instead of an abrupt closure and reopening with improved security to ensure there was no further loitering.

Manik also noted that expatriates congregated in other open spaces in Male’ such as the artificial beach area.

Following the discussions, the city council unanimously approved a motion to form a steering committee with officials from the army and police as well as the Tourism Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the Human Rights Commission.

Lufshan, Afeef and Kareem were chosen to represent the council on the committee. All seven councillors in attendance at the meeting belong to the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.

Large numbers of expatriates living in Male’ use the Republic Square as a park, particularly Bangladeshi labourers on weekends. According to official figures, 1,600 Maldivian companies and 2,000 individuals between them employ 70,000 expatriates in the Maldives – a third of the country’s population – not including an unknown number of illegal migrant workers.

Meanwhile, an ongoing police investigation into labour trafficking uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that “Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik” was present at the meeting, instead of ‘Sarangu’ Adam Manik who was Mayor at the time. Ali Manik was absent from the meeting. Minivan News apologises for any confusion caused.


Maldives lose World Cup qualifying match one nil to Iran

The Maldives national football team lost one nil to Iran in Male’ tonight at the second leg of the World Cup Qualifying group stage.

After losing 4-0 in the first leg in Tehran, the Maldives needed to win by a higher margin to qualify for the second round.

Iranian striker Mohamed Reza scored the only goal of the game in first half added time.

Iran set a World Cup qualifying record when it beat the Maldives 17-0 in 1997. However when the two nations met again in World Cup qualifying in April 2000, the match in Male’ ended 3-0.

The Maldives has now failed to score against Iran in five senior international matches.


Nexbis signals willingness to negotiate border control agreement

Mobile security system vendor Nexbis, which is behind the stalled build, operate and transfer agreement to upgrade the Maldives’ immigration system, has issued a statement welcoming the government’s decision to proceed with the project and said it is willing to negotiate the terms of the contract.

The upgrade was stalled earlier this year when the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) expressed concerns about the deal, claiming that there were “opportunities for corruption” during the bidding process.

“A number of further gross inaccuracies continue to be perpetrated, whether intentionally or through ignorance, particularly regarding the cost of the contract,” Nexbis said in its statement.

“Despite sensationalist claims in the media regarding [the tender process], the terms agreed to by the parties, or the suitability of the system being provided, Nexbis will be delivering a state-of-the-art, flexible and cost-effective security solution.”

Under the 20 year agreement, Nexbis levies a fee of US$2 from arriving and departing passengers in exchange for installing, maintaining and upgrading its immigration system, and a fee of US$15 for every work permit card.

“This means that neither the government nor the Maldivian public have to pay in exchange for a state-of-the-art border security protection,” Nexbis claimed.

The company said that “although the bid proposed a fee to be applied to all travellers including Maldivians”, the company waived the charges for Maldivians “as a goodwill gesture.”

“In addition Nexbis is providing a five percent revenue share to the government should passenger numbers grow. In stark contrast to some of the other bids, we have not requested a guaranteed minimum volume of passengers. Essentially the company must bear the cost risk should the number of visitors to the Maldives drop as has previously occurred during the tsunami and financial crisis.”

Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid has expressed concern over both the cost and necessity of the project, calculating that with continued growth in tourist numbers Nexbis would be earning US$200 million in revenue over the 20 year lifespan of the agreement.

At five percent, royalties to the government would come to US$10 million, Shahid said, when there was little reason for the government not be earning the revenue itself by operating a system given by a donor country.

“Border control is not something we are unable to comprehend – it is a normal thing all over the world,” Shahid told Minivan News.

“There is no costing of the equipment Nexbis is installing – we don’t know how much it is costing to install, only how much we have to pay. We need to get everything out in the open.”

Nexbis meanwhile argues that “reasonable persons will likely realise that once the hidden costs after are taken into account and adjusted for inflation, the benefits and efficiencies of the Nexbis system will far outweigh the risk, inadequacies and uncertainties of any such alleged cheaper system.”

“This frees up the [Department of Immigration] from managing systems and securing the budget year in, year out to ensure the system is maintained. This will prevent interruption of service and avoid potential corruption as there will no longer be a need to purchase equipment every year.”

Shahid however estimates that maintaining a free system given by a donor country would cost at most several hundred thousand dollars a year, and said he was unsure as to why such an agreement had ever been signed.

“Airport charges are calculated based on government expenditure – such as the cost of the immigration counters. The US$18 collected as an airport tax is included in the ticket, and in the end [under this agreement] the amount for immigration will be going to Nexbis,” he said.

He further noted that despite Nexbis offering not to charge Maldivians for use of the service as a “goodwill gesture”, there was no mention in the contract that Maldivians would have to pay at the border: “the contract says every foreigner,” he said.

Shahid would not comment on the specifics of the pending negotiations with Nexbis, but said that the Immigration Department had the government’s full support in the matter.

Nexbis meanwhile said it had agreed to review the government’s additional requirements, “and have expressed our willingness to accommodate any such changes within commercially viable terms.”

“We have this requires some changes to the solution we ultimately provide, then it is within the scope of our agreement to accommodate these changes,” the company said.

Meanwhile, an ongoing police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives last week uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.

Police discovered several thousand passports confiscated from expatriate workers during a recent raid of 18 ‘paper companies’, created to fraudulently apply for work permit quotas. The imported workers, many of them illiterate and from rural Bangladesh, are then typically employed for a pittance under substandard conditions or else simply abandoned at the airport after having paid up to US$2000 to bogus recruitment agencies.


Democratisation of Maldives is irreversible: President Nasheed

The democratisation of the Maldives through the burgeoning multi-party system cannot be reversed, President Mohamed Nasheed asserted in his Independence Day address.

“No government can last in this country anymore except through clearly stated policies, pledges made to the people and [based on] the extent that the pledges are fulfilled,” Nasheed said. “No greater independence nor a happier state than this could be seen from an independent country. We have definitely changed to that state.”

The type of political system found in a country, said Nasheed, was the “true foundation” for sustaining independence.

Although multi-party constitutional democracy in the Maldives was in its infancy, Nasheed continued, the hopes fostered through the new system promised “a much brighter future.”

Maldivians have proven that “anyone could aspire to become President,” he added.

After emerging as a nascent democracy post-2008, President Nasheed said that the Maldives was punching above its weight in the international arena.

“Especially in the area of human rights and environmental advocacy, the Maldives is by God’s will among the front rank,” he said. “It is unlikely that we will see a better, smoother transition to democracy than the example shown by Maldivians.”

President Nasheed praised and congratulated Maldivians for being forerunners to the Arab revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt as well as democratic change in other parts of the world.

Meanwhile former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom issued a statement on Independence Day warning of “foreign influences” that could compromise economic independence, sovereignty and “independence of thought.”

Gayoom argued that while “enslavement of Maldivians” by foreign armies was unlikely given the vast changes that have taken place in the world, the undue influence of powerful external forces was a challenge to small states like the Maldives.

“In light of this reality, we have to renew efforts to strengthen and fortify the Maldives’ political and economic independence,” he said.

In his message to the nation, the former President said that preparations to celebrate 50 years of independence in 2015 as colourfully and joyfully as possible should begin now.


Criminal Court releases MP Adil from house arrest

The Criminal Court released Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hassan Adil from house arrest on Monday.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that Adil was released by the Criminal Court under conditions.

The Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Adil in April, following allegations of child molestation. His detention was subsequently extended, and then later reduced to house arrest.

On June 12, the Criminal Court granted the Prosecutor General (PG) permission to hold MP Hassan Adil in house arrest until his trial reaches conclusion.

The court has said that permission was granted upon a request made by the PG’s office today during the first hearing of the trial.

Police have alleged that Adil sexually abused a 13 year-old girl belonging to a family with whom he was close friends.

The Criminal Court said the court warrant to hold Adil under detention until the trial end was issued according to article 28 of Child Sex Offenders Special Provisions Act.

Article 73[c] of the constitution states that a member of the parliament will be disqualified if found guilty of a criminal offence that involves a prison sentence of more than twelve months.

Formerly an MP of the opposition-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Adhil crossed the floor and joined the MDP in September last year.


India gifts US$5 million for SAARC summit

The Indian government gifted US$5 million to Maldives today to assist preparations for the upcoming SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Corporation) summit due to place November in Addu City.

The US$5 million aid was officially handed over to Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem at a ceremony at the President’s Office this afternoon by Indian Minister of External Affairs of India S.M. Krishna, who is currently in the Maldives for a two-day visit.

The registry of a plot in Male’ for a new Indian High Commission building was presented to High Commissioner D.M. Muley by Foreign Minister Naseem.

Meanwhile Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz presented the signed agreements for a multi-disciplinary university, a wellness centre and medical resort to be developed in Laamu Atoll by Universal Empire Infrastructure to the Indian company’s Chairman Bala Chandran.

The infrastructure company also signed an agreement yesterday to upgrade the Laamu Gan regional hospital.

Speaking at today’s ceremony, the company’s director Manis Gupta said that the joint venture Island Development Company formed with Works Corporation hoped to complete the university within the next five years. He revealed that the deal took 16 months to finalise and sign.

Gupta added that upon completion of the US$200 million projects, Laamu Gan would become a regional hub for medical treatment.


Releasing of convicted criminals will not increase crime rate, says Zuhair

The impending release of close to 400 convicts will not result in a spike of crime rates in Male’, Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair insisted today, citing research conducted over the past few years.

Zuhair explained that based on the screening process the 400 prisoners to be pardoned were unlikely to become repeat offenders.

“Our statistics show that there will be nearly 400 convicted criminals that have been granted a second chance,” Zuhair said. “Out of the 119 people released on a previous occasion only two people had to be taken back to prison for committing an offence.”

Zuhair added that the inmates will be released on the condition that they would be returned to prison to complete the rest of their sentences if they committed any sort of offence in the next three years.

Apart from being hired for government jobs, the released inmates would be required to participate in rehabilitation programmes as well as national service programmes over the next two years.

In his address to the nation on Independence Day, President Mohamed Nasheed announced that close to 400 youth currently serving sentences would be offered “a second chance” and released from prison.

He explained that in classifying the 400 convicts to be freed, priority was given to inmates with serious illnesses and those who could pursue higher education or be trained to acquire new skills.

400 inmates represent almost half the Maafushi prison population in 2009.

“A rehabilitation programme will be established for those who meet the conditions and will be rejoining society under the second chance,” Nasheed said. “The basic purpose of this programme is to train them, find job opportunities for them and to ensure that they become people who are beneficial to their families.”

Speaking to press at the President’s Office today, Zuhair said that the government was grateful for the efforts of minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) to undermine the support President Nasheed has from the international community.

“They have said they will try and lessen the support President has in the international community and we are very grateful for that because the DQP has been working very hard as the opposition,” Zuhair said. “However the President has many invitations from other countries but he does not attend unless it is so important that it could not be dismissed.”

Zuhair said that the President had been scheduled to visit Seychelles, France, America and the UK this year on official trips which would be funded by the inviting nation.

On the allegations made by opposition parties that the government’s policies risked undue influence of foreign powers in the Maldives, Zuhair suggested that such claims sprang from the government’s decision to sign a concession agreement to hand over management of Male’ International Airport to Indian infrastructure giant GMR.

“Those who opposed to the agreement should have rather filed a lawsuit in court rather than protesting on the streets,” he said.