ID card unit swamped in anticipation of Aasandha scheme

The Department for National Registration is overwhelmed by the sudden increase in applications for national identity (ID) cards, ahead of the universal health insurance scheme which begins on January 1.

To be eligible for the “Aasandha” scheme which provides government-sponsored coverage up to Rf100, 000 (US$6,500) per year, a person must hold a valid ID.

The department typically experiences a rise in traffic during this time of year as Maldivians take advantage of the annual holiday (October to December) to make trips from islands to take care of necessary business and annual shopping in Male’.

Many are now rushing to the national registration office to renew expired ID cards or apply for new ones.

Assistant Director Abdullah Haleem is in charge of ID card operations at the department, and spoke to Minivan News regarding the matter.

“Since Sunday a lot of people have been coming in. It is very difficult to cater to the increased number of applicants because we lack resources and staff,” he said.

“It is difficult to estimate how many people are coming in. Everyday we are releasing 250 token for applicants. Many who queue up have to leave because they don’t get the token. Sometimes within an hour all tokens are over,” Haleem explained.

Minivan reporters observed that the office was crowded with men, women and children- as all chairs were taken, some stood desperately staring at the board displaying their token numbers.

A father waiting in the queue with his five year old daughter complained about the long hours of waiting, but he said it is “worth it” because his daughter would get free heath care once he had received the ID card.

Haleem also noted that it is mostly parents coming in this week to make ID cards for their children. In order to ease their burden, he said the office has decided to release additional tokens for children between 3:00pm and 4:00pm from Tuesday onward.

The office is usually open from 8:00am to 4:30. However, a staff member noted that they have to put in extra hours to meet the demand.

Meanwhile, bundles of application forms coming in from different atolls are piling up at the registration department.

“We have ID card application form collection centers in all the atolls. So those centers are sending in a lot of forms as well,” Haleem said, noting that the paperwork is “fairly simple”.

He said some applicants may not receive the card before January, however assured that the office is working hard to issue the cards as soon as possible.

The health insurance bill was submitted by Nolhivaram MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed and unanimously approved by with 72 votes on December 21, 2011. It was ceremoniously signed into law on December 22.

According to the bill, citizens receive government-sponsored coverage up to Rf100,000 (US$6,500) per year. The bill includes provisions for medical treatment abroad, and for citizens who require further financial assistance.

Expatriate workers are also eligible for coverage providing their employers pay an upfront fee of Rf1,000 (US$65).

The decision has caught the approving eye of Mexico’s government, which passed a similar bill eight years ago.

“Mexico and the Republic of Maldives are developing countries, but with our universal health insurance programs our people’s health care can be better than that of developed countries such as the United States,” read a statement.

Speaking to Minivan News at the time, President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said that the program has challenged the government “to raise the standards of medical service and continuously improve the care available in the Maldives.”

The Aa Sandha plan coincides with discussions over renovating the procedure for prescribing medications and shifting from a brand-based market to generic drugs.

In a previous article, Minivan News reported that the current system is based more on the business interests of pharmaceutical importers than on the health needs of the community.

“The drugs that are imported are the ones they want to sell, not the ones we want to prescribe,” explained Medical Director at Male’ Health Service Corporation, Dr Robert Primhak.

Chief Operating Officer at ADK Hospital and former head of the Center for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC), Ahmed Jamsheed, added that the shift would benefit people physically and financially.

“The new system would move towards generic drugs which would make it easier to monitor drug quality and standards, and bring down the price,” he said at the time.


Transport, Tourism Ministers summoned for actions against Gasim’s businesses

Parliament’s Government Oversight Committee has decided to summon Transport Minister Adil Saleem and Tourism Minister Dr Maryam Zulfa after the government closed five spas in five Villa company resorts and grounded Airline ‘Flyme’ operations.

Flyme operations were cleared earlier today upon completion of a security inspection.

The companies are owned by opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) Leader and MP ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim.

Transport Minister Adil Saleem today told Minivan News that the parliament has not informed him about the decision and has not yet received a summons.

He said the Transport Ministry had to ask Flyme to stop operations after it received a report that a plane’s windscreen broke during a flight to Male’.

‘’I as the Transport Minister have to be responsible for the safety of the flights operating in the Maldives,’’ Adil said. ‘’We did a safety audit following the incident.’’

He said three things were noted in the audit report.

‘’They have now corrected the three things noted in the safety audit report,’’ he said. Adil said he would not like to tell the media about the three things noted in the report.

Meanwhile Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) voiced its extreme concern over the Tourism Ministry’s actions.

‘’The association has not been able to find the reason behind this nor see any investigation done by Tourism Ministry for such irresponsible action,’’ read MATATO’s press statement. ‘’The industry is in the midst of the business period with the new year ahead of us and sees that these actions by the ministry will have serious implications beyond repair.’’

The association noted that transfers that have been arranged for tourist arrival via ‘Flyme’ will be disrupted due to the decision to suspend the airline.

‘’The spa and wellness concept is very popular among tourists and many tourists pre-book their treatments in advance not only in Villa Resorts but across all the resorts in the Maldives,’’ the statement read. ‘’Already several international hotel chains operating in the Maldives are worried that the same could happen to them, and this will have a negative impact on investor confidence and will be a motive for businesses to take money out of the economy rather than inject it locally.’’

MATATO also urged the government to keep politics away from tourism as ‘’majority of Maldivians depend on tourism for their livelihood and it is something to be dealt with extreme caution and care.’’


Gasim will “not surrender to pressure” as government closes Villa spas

Opposition MP and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim has warned the government that he would not “surrender to the pressures” of authorities after they halted operations of his airline, Flyme, and ordered the closure of spas in five resorts in his Villa chain in the past 48 hours.

In a statement released on Monday, Transport Ministry said that Flyme airline, which began operating on October 2, was asked to halt operations while the ministry carried out an audit. The audit is addressed on an incident with the aircraft which took place on December 24.

The audit would be carried out within three months to determine whether the Flyme operations are administered according to the Civil Aviation regulations, the statement read.

However, on Tuesday morning Gasim’s lawyers successfully sought a civil court order to resume Flyme operations.

Meanwhile, on Sunday the Tourism Ministry sent a notice to Gasim’s Villa resorts ordering management to shut down resort spas until further notice, claiming the ministry had received reports of prostitution in those departments.

On Monday, a police team accompanied Tourism Ministry officials to Gasim’s Paradise Island resort to investigate the reports.

However, the resort’s manager Gaisar Naseem rejected the ministry’s order, claiming that  no illegal activity is occurring in the spas, and refused to close down the spas without a court order, local media reported.

Naseem was summoned to appear at Police headquarters for further questioning at 2:00 pm on Tuesday.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that police are cooperating with the Tourism Ministry to investigate the allegations against the resorts.

Gasim, Leader of Jumhoory party, has said the government’s recent decisions are targeted to “silence” him because of his work in the parliament and on a political platform.

In a press statement released on Monday night, Gasim assured that his businesses are of high standing and will bring only a good name to the country.

However, he warned that the government’s allegations that he is running “brothels in the resorts” will harm the tourism sector.

Gasim also warned the government that he will “not surrender to the pressures”, and that the government is “foolish” to think otherwise.

During the December 23 protest to “defend Islam”, Gasim criticized the government’s religious credentials.

“We don’t know there is a moderate, higher or lower Islam. We only know Islam, which is above all the religion. The only road we must follow is based on Allah’s callings,” said Gasim, slamming the government’s calls for “moderate Islam”.

Ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs have also recently accused Gasim of proposing amendments to “destroy” the government’s budget for 2012.


Security officials dismiss UK travel advisory

The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has maintained its December 13 travel advisory for the Maldives, cautioning tourists to be wary of spontaneous gatherings and warning of indiscriminate attacks in public areas.

Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) spokesperson Abdul Raheem did not believe there was cause for concern.

“We don’t think there is any security problem at the moment so far as MNDF is concerned, for tourists, guests or Maldivians,” he said.

Raheem added that it was unusual for a travel advisory to be issued against the Maldives, and said that the UK’s advisory was the first one, to his knowledge.

Police officials were similarly dismissive of the matter.

The advisory was issued with particular reference to the protests held on December 23 in defense of Islam.

“Maldives has been going through a period of political transition. Social unrest is possible and some past demonstrations on the capital, Male’, and other islands have resulted in violence. You should avoid demonstrations and beware of spontaneous gatherings,” reads the office’s travel summary.

“There is a general threat from terrorism and attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates, foreign travelers including tourists.”

The advisory was published on December 13 in anticipation of the December 23 protests. It is categorised as mild, and there are no travel restrictions.

Religious party Adhaalath today released a statement by party chief spokesperson Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed claiming that protest coverage by state media may have had a negative impact on Maldives tourism.

“It shows that the persons that determine the national foreign policy do not have good foresight because they are trying to show that Maldivians are extremists,” reads the statement.

Coverage of the events was censored by MNDF, which requested all television stations not to broadcast content that could disrupt national security and “encourage the toppling of the lawfully-formed government.”

Meanwhile privately-owned media outlets, DhiTV and Villa TV broadcast live coverage of the eight-hour long protest organised by a coalition of NGOs and seven opposition parties.

“Adhaalath Party calls on the international community to visit Maldives without any fear, assures that there is no terrorism in the Maldives, and that it will never give space to terrorism in this country.”

The statement further assures the international community that Maldivians are capable of protecting tourists.

A rumor on Friday claimed that resorts had been asked to halt all trips to Male’, in anticipation of the protests’ outcome. Security and tourism officials have denied the rumor, and resorts report no serious concerns among staff and guests over the situation on Male’.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said that foreign governments are concerned, and that the recent protests were not “good publicity for the country.”

However, the peaceful execution of both protests had reassured many, he said.

The Commonwealth website notes the 2007 Sultan Park bombing as the only other instance of unrest in which foreigners were injured.

On September 29, 2007, 12 tourists from China, Britain and Japan were injured by a bomb triggered using a mobile phone and washing machine motor attached to a gas cylinder.

The incident received widespread publicity around the globe, damaging the country’s tourism industry.

Authorities were meanwhile prompted to declare a state of high alert and police arrested 12 suspects within 48 hours.

Terrorism charges were filed against 16 suspects, including ten who had fled the country.

Suspect Mohamed Ameen was apprehended in Sri Lanka in October of this year for his alleged involvement in the bomb plot.

Meanwhile, the National Security Committee continues to debate whether allowing Israel’s El Al Airlines would raise the domestic threat level.


Pakistanis and other released from detention

The police have confirmed some foreigners in Male’ were detained as a “security” measure, prior to the mass religious rally on December 23.

Violent outbreaks and confrontations were speculated to take place during a religious rally organised by NGO’s and opposition parties “to defend Islam” in the Maldives and another led by ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to exhibit support for a “moderate Islam”.

Contrary to speculation, the protests proceeded peacefully.

Sub- Inspector of Police Ahmed Shiyam said the foreigners were arrested before the protest and were released afterwards.

Shiyam did not specify the number of foreigners arrested and their nationality.

“We brought them under police custody as part of security measures taken during the protest. All of them have now been released,” Shiyam said.

Minivan News has learned that the arrested foreigners included Pakistanis and people of two other nationalities who had arrived in the Maldives on tourist visas. They were detained on suspicion of participating in the religious rally, according to a source.

Controller for Immigration and Emigration Abdullah Shahid told Minivan News that “there was a high number of Pakistanis coming into the country at the time” of protest.

Shahid noted it was part of the security procedure to investigate inconsistencies in arrival rates.

Meanwhile, religious groups in Maldives have been accused of using funds from extremist groups in Pakistan to finance their activities locally.

India’s The Hindu reported last week that Maldives believed Pakistani money was helping extremists, according to a top source.

However spokesperson for the religious coalition, Abdullah Mohamed, rejected the accusations and said that they have not taken any money from foreign organisations.

“We are funding our activities through donations by our supporters,” he added.

He also added that he is unaware of any foreigners who came to Maldives to participate in the protest or their arrest.

According to him a few Maldivians living in Sri Lanka and India came to Male’ for the protests.


2012 budget passed with opposition MPs’ amendments

A state budget of Rf14.6 billion (US$946.8 million) for 2012 was passed by parliament today with Rf3.5 million (US$226,977) added through amendments proposed by opposition MPs.

The budget was approved with 70 votes in favour, two against and one abstention.

Among the amendments passed today included proposals by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) to shift Rf300 million (US$19 million) from other items to local councils, increase funds for political parties from Rf11 million (US$713,000) to Rf14.5 million (US$940,337) and raise state benefits to the elderly from Rf2,000 (US$130) to Rf2,300 (US$148) to adjust for inflation.

The additional spending on political parties was proposed by Kelaa MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom in reference to the regulation on political parties, which stipulates that 0.01 percent of the state budget must be allocated for party finance.

An amendment proposed by Fares-Maathoda MP Ibrahim Muttalib to prevent privatisation of the Maldives Post Limited (MPL), State Electricity Company (STELCO), Island Aviation and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) was passed after Speaker Abdulla Shahid cast the tie-breaking vote.

Of the five public companies proposed by the government, Muttalib’s amendment stated that the government could privatise only Maldives In-flight Catering (MIC).

A total of Rf750 million (US$49 million) was projected as revenue from privatising the state-owned enterprises.

Seven amendments proposed yesterday by Jumhooree Party Leader and Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim to scrap the privatisation plans on the grounds that it violated the Public Finance Act were not put for a vote after parliament’s newly-appointed Counselor-General Fathmath Filza advised that the government’s proposals were not unlawful.

Other amendments included proposals for the Ministry of Finance to provide detailed information of development programmes including selected islands, funding plans and schedules before next year’s budget debate commences.

Meanwhile over 50 new development projects were added by the budget committee, which also increased funding for independent institutions by Rf192 million (US$12.4 million) and included Rf100 million (US$6 million) as fisheries subsidies.


Dr. Bari requests Parliament to forbid all Israeli ties

Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr. Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has requested the parliament to endorse a resolution forbidding the government to establish ties with Israel.

The Islamic Minister made his request during discussions with the parliament’s national security committee, which is currently debating whether to permit Israeli airlines to land in Maldives.

Expressing his views on the issue, Dr. Bari told the MPs he “personally does not support the Israel airline to operate in the Maldives”.

Speaking to Minivan News, Dr. Bari said that he made the request because he believes “Israel has committed several human rights violations”.

Dr. Bari noted that Maldives should not stand with Israel as it commits atrocities against the Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine.

“Maldives cut off ties with Libyan President Muammar Gadaffi’s government when he was killing, violating fundamental rights of his people. Similarly, Maldives should follow the same standard by isolating Israel for the atrocities committed against Muslims,” Dr.Bari said.

He also alleged that Israel is attempting to “gain sympathy” because the country is geographically isolated from non-Muslim countries.

Israel’s relationship with Palestine has raised concern in the Maldives, however the government has tried to maintain diplomatic relations.

Adhaalath Party chief spokesperson and former State Islamic Minister Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said “we are afraid that the security level in the Maldives is too low.” He noted that the Indian army was asked to intervene during a 1983 coup attempt by Sri Lankan terrorist groups.

Shaheem said allowing Israelis into the country would raise the threat level to themselves as well as to Maldivians.

“I don’t want to bring harm to Israelis or Maldivians. There are terrorist groups in other countries, like Afghanistan, and these people might come to the Maldives when they see the security level is weak in order to attack locals or the Israelis,” he explained.

The Transport Ministry granted a license to Israeli flag carrier El Al to begin operations to Maldives in September, following a formal application to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to begin flying to the Maldives starting in December.

Shortly after the license was granted, Adhaalath party severed its coalition agreement with the government. The party subsequently requested that the airline license be reviewed by the National Security Committee (NSC).

NSC has been holding discussions on the topic since last week.

“The committee deals with facts, not rumors,” said NSC President Ali Waheed. “As of now, there is no such thing as the Maldivian government giving permission to an Israeli airline.”

NSC today consulted Transport Ministry officials, and will tomorrow meet with the Fisheries Minister over allegations that the government leased land to an Israeli party. Cabinet ministers, Adhaalath Party Vice President Dr Mauroof Hussein and Chief of Defence Force Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel have also been consulted.

NSC President Ali Waheed said Dr. Bari’s concerns were duly heard by the committee, and will be discussed tomorrow.

Although Parliament is due for recess after December 31, Waheed was unable to say when the committee’s investigation would conclude. “I will make the contacts and be available for the discussions as long as the committee requests it. I will put in my time,” he said.

According to opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf, all opposition parties and religious NGOs agree that permission should not be given to Israeli airlines.

Mahlouf said the main concern was the threat of direct flights to national security.

“Being a small Muslim country, it is unacceptable for us to see Israelis attacking Muslims in Palestine and then allow them to fly to our country. This is why the former government did not allow Israeli flights, or even flights that transferred in Israel, to come to Maldives,” he said.

He point out that Maldives is not the only country to refuse direct flights from Israel, and suggested that the government was transferring the blame of the decision to the Parliament.

“The government can say ‘no.’ I know they think we need the money from tourism, but we are already doing well without these direct flights,” he said.

Mahlouf agreed with Shaheem’s concern that direct flights would open the door for terrorists in neighboring countries to begin operations in the Maldives. However, he disagreed with Dr. Bari’s request that diplomatic relations be cut off.

MDP MPs had not responded to phone calls at time of press.


12-year-old girl found pregnant after disappearance

A 12-year-old girl reported missing last week in capital Male has been found two months pregnant.

The girl was found severely dehydrated and taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH). Her family, however, took her home in spite of IGMH staff requests that she stay at the medical facility, reports Haveeru.

No information has been released regarding the girl’s disappearance or her pregnancy.

The case is expected to fall under the remit of the Health Ministry’s Gender Department.


Tholal receives 87 points from parliamentary review committee

Ahmed Tholal has been recommended to the post of Deputy Human Rights Commissioner by a parliamentary review committee.

President Mohamed Nasheed recommended Tholal for the post on December 18. Parliament is now expected to vote on the nomination.

The review committee reports that Tholal received 87 points for his capability, experience, leadership, integrity and educational qualifications, Haveeru reports.

The committee includes Dhidhoo MP Ahmed Sameer, Machangoalhi-North MP Mohamed Rasheed, Madaveli MP Mohamed Nazim, Kela MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, Hithadhoo-South MP Hassan Latheef, Velidhoo MP Ali Mohamed, and Maavashu MP Abdul Aziz Jamaal Abu Bakr.

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has operated without a deputy commissioner for over one year, although one is required by the commission’s charter. The nomination of Jeehan Mahmoud  last year was rejected on the grounds that the commission leadership should exhibit a balance of genders following Mariyam Azra’s approval as HRCM President.