ACC files ADC case with Prosecutor General’s Office

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has filed a case with the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office today over the decision to allow infrastructure group GMR to deduct a court-blocked Airport Development Charge (ADC) from concession fees owed to the state.

The deducted concession fees were to have been paid to the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL).

As part of the filed case (Dhivehi), the ACC is seeking reimbursement of MVR 353.8 million (US$22.9 million) from former MACL Chair Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem and former Finance Minister Mohamed Shihab over the alleged misuse of authority it claimed had led to significant financial loses for the state.

The ADC issue had been a key point of contention between GMR and the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik before his government opted last month to void a sovereign agreement with the India-based infrastructure group to develop and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

When contacted by Minivan News today, a PG’s Office spokesperson confirmed that the ACC case had been received, but could not provide any further details on the matter while its investigations were taking place.

The spokesperson claimed that under normal procedure, whether a case was submitted from an institution like the ACC or the Maldives Police Service, the PG’s Office would review all details before deciding whether to move ahead with a prosecution.

ACC case

According to the case filed by the ACC, former Finance Minister Shihab stands accused of misusing his ministerial authority to benefit a third party by allowing GMR to deduct the ADC and insurance charges from concession fees it owed MACL between October 2011 and September 2012.

Shihab was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

The ACC has also accused former MACL Head Saleem of allowing GMR to deduct the ADC through a consent letter signed in violation of the company’s rules. According to the ACC’s case, normal procedure for MACL would be to have the company’s Board of Directors pass a resolution allowing for consent to be given to deduct the ADC.

Airport Development Charge

In late 2011, the then-opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) filed a successful Civil Court case blocking GMR from charging an ADC – a US$25 charge for outgoing passengers stipulated in its concession agreement with the government – on the grounds that it was a tax not authorised by parliament.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration chose to honour the original contract, and instructed GMR to deduct the ADC revenues from the concession fees due to the government through state-owned MACL, while it sought to appeal the Civil Court ruling.

However, the Nasheed government fell a month later and the opposition inherited the result of its court victory, receiving a succession of bills from the airport developer throughout 2012, despite the government’s insistence that the January 5 letter from MACL outlining the arrangement was no longer valid.

In the first quarter of 2012, the government received US$525,355 of an expected US$8.7 million, after the deduction of the ADC. That was followed by a US$1.5 million bill for the second quarter, after the ADC payable eclipsed the revenue due to the government.

Combined with the third quarter payment, the government at the time of the GMR contract termination owed the airport developer US$3.7 million.

GMR attempted to compromise by offering to exempt Maldivian nationals from the ADC.

The offer was claimed to have had been personally mailed by GMR Chairman G M Rao to President Waheed. However, GMR later claimed to have received no response from the government on the matter.


Maldives to implement smoking ban from New Year’s Day

Individuals caught smoking in ‘tobacco-free zones’ such as cafes and public places risk a MVR 500 (US$32) fine under new regulations to be implemented from tomorrow (January 1, 2013).

The ‘Regulation of Determining Tobacco Free-Zones’ (Dhivehi) prohibits smoking inside cafes, tea shops, restaurants, public places where people usually gather in numbers, parks and all government buildings.

Public Health Programme Coordinator at the Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) Dr Fathmath Nazla Rafeeq told Minivan News today that notices were expected to be put up around Male’ to inform the public of tobacco-free zones in the city.

Dr Rafeeq added that designated “social areas” including the artificial beach area in Male’, are also set to become no-smoking areas.

“Male’ City Council (MCC) has made a list of these [public] areas where smoking is forbidden and we are expecting the council to announce these areas. It is expected that island councils are to do the same outside of Male’.  If a member of the public sees someone smoking in a tobacco-free zone, there will be a contact number on the no-smoking notices that they can notify the police with,” Rafeeq said.

The CCHDC estimates that roughly 44 percent of the total population of the Maldives uses tobacco – mainly through smoking.  Despite the high number of smokers in the country, Dr Rafeeq claimed that the majority of comments received by the CCHDC from the public were in favour of the regulation.

“We understand there will be people who do not like the new rules and there has been some concern raised over its implementation, but most of the people we have spoken to, which includes many cafe owners, have told us they are very positive about the regulation,” she added.  “Now might be a good time for people to make ‘quitting smoking’ a new year’s resolution.”

According to the 2009 Maldives Demography and Health Survey (MDHS), 42 percent of people in the between the ages of 20-24 are smokers in the country.  The same figures indicate that 20 percent of Maldivians aged 15-19 years also smoke.

In order to provide smokers with advice on how to quite smoking, Dr Rafeeq added that the CCHDC will be printing and distributing booklets on the subject in the new year.

“Smoking regulations have successfully been implemented in countries all over the world. If it can work in countries like India, where there is a large and diverse population, it can definitely work here,” she added.

Effect on business

Under the new regulation, cafes and restaurants will be able to provide designated smoking areas within their premises upon application of a licence from the Ministry of Health.

Businesses wishing to apply for the licence will have to pay MVR 1000 (US$64) for the privilege. The type of smoking area permitted will depend on the establishment, according to the CCHDC.

“The regulation states that establishments defined as an ‘open space’ can have have a designated open air area for smoking, whereas businesses defined as a ‘closed space’ will need to designate a separate smoking room,” Dr Rafeeq said.  “According to the regulation, a closed area is defined as a space connected by at least two walls and a roof. Unfortunately this might mean that some “closed space” businesses may require some modifications to their premises that they will have to pay for.”

The regulation further states that if the owner of a premises does not put up a sign board to inform customers that smoking is disallowed, the Ministry of Health has the authority to fine the venue MVR 500 for a first warning.  Additional fines of MVR 5000 (US$3200) would then be charged by the ministry in case of any subsequent failures to display the required signs.

Should the owner of an establishment allow smoking in such places without authority they can be fined MVR 1000 (US$64), according to the regulation.

When asked of the potential negative impact the new regulation could have on independent businesses, Dr Rafeeq said that research had suggested that cafes and restaurants could experience an “initial decline” in business following the implementation of the new rules.

“There has been some concern raised from local cafe and restaurant owners, but we have carried out thorough research on the matter by looking at how similar smoking restrictions have affected businesses in other countries,” she said.  “Our research shows that while businesses may suffer slightly to begin with, eventually businesses will see the benefits regulation brings.”

Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) Vice President Ishmael Asif was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Public opinion

Ahead of the implementation of the new regulation, smokers and non-smokers interviewed by Minivan News expressed mixed views on the restrictions.

“Smoking is dangerous not just to yourself, but to everyone around you. I’m glad the government is finally taking the lead to make a place this small safer health-wise,” a non-smoking 31-year-old civil servant explained.

Meanwhile, a 19-year-old male living in Male’, who did not wish to be named, said it was his individual freedom to smoke wherever he liked and that the new regulation will “force” smokers to break the law.

“[The regulation] is a very bad thing. It’s our freedom to smoke anywhere we like, and it’s others freedom to stay away from the smoke if they are getting disturbed,” he added.

“Regulations could be made allowing people to smoke in the public and non-smokers can move away from the smoke.”

While not objecting to allowing smoking at specific premises, a 38 year-old female accountant from Male’ told how she believed larger public areas should become ‘tobacco-free zones’.

“To be honest, I don’t mind people smoking on streets or cafes, but it’s difficult when people smoke in crowds such as at gatherings or music shows of sports events,” she said.


Parliament breaks for two-month recess

Parliament broke for a two-month recess today following the final sitting of the third and last session of 2012.

According to the parliamentary rules of procedure, the first session of 2013 will begin during the first week of March.

Among the bills passed by parliament this year included the legislation on domestic violence, business profit tax, business registration, sole traders, freedom of assembly, political parties, parliamentary privileges, jails and parole and privatisation rules.

An amendment was also approved this month to allow sittings to be held during recess upon request by 26 MPs.


Three arrested on suspicion of drugging, raping 13 year-old girl

A 13 year-old living on Gahdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll was last week sexually assaulted in an abandoned home on the island after being drugged and abducted, police have said.

Minivan News understands that the 13 year-old is not originally from Gahdhoo, but had been living with relatives at the time of the attack.

The attack, which occurred on December 26, is the third suspected case of sexual abuse of a minor to have been reported over the last week.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed today that two 16 year-old males and an 18 year-old man had been arrested on December 27 in connection with the alleged rape. However, he could not specify further details on the case as investigations were continuing.

The Maldives Police Service confirmed that the detention period of the suspects had also been extended from three to 15 days.

Details of the suspected attack were released the same day that police also publicised a picture of a man accused of molesting another 13 year-old girl in a separate incident in Male’ yesterday (December 30).

Police said that the incident occurred last night in the capital, identifying the suspect as Saeed Ahmed, 55.  Authorities have requested the public share any information regarding Saeed’s whereabouts.

According to police, the suspect is accused of entering a house where the 13 year-old girl was staying at around 9:30pm before sexually assaulting her.

Vili-Male’ attack

On Saturday (December 29), police said they had arrested a 33 year-old man on suspicion of the rape of a girl below 16 years of age in Vili-Male’.

The man identified as Mohamed Abdushukoor, 33, of Galolhu Red Coral, was accused of forcing the under-aged victim into a house in Vili-Male’ at about 1:00pm while she was out walking with her 14 year-old brother.

Police accused the suspect of keeping the pair in separate rooms as he sexually abused the girl. The incident was reported to the Police Family and Child Protection Unit.

According to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors, almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused.

The same study claimed that sexual abuse rate of girls in the country was found to be almost twice as high than cases recorded against boys.

One in five Maldivian girls has been sexually abused – while the figure for boys was 11 percent.  Female minors were particularly at risk in the capital Male’, the report found.

2007 study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences meanwhile found that one in three Maldivian women aged 15 to 49 experience either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, including childhood sexual abuse.

In recent years, local authorities and NGOs have released a number of findings highlighting the extent of child abuse and wider sexual assaults within society.

The state-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital’s (IGMH’s) Family Protection Unit reported in 2010 that the centre was notified of 42 cases of rape between 2005-2010. Most of these cases were found to involve minors.

According to the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, 13 rape cases were reported last year alone, the majority of which most were gang rapes or assaults involving minors.


Swords, knives found inside residence of MP Ibrahim Riza

Police have said that two swords and a knife have been discovered in a house in Male’.

Local media has reported that the residence, identified as Crab Tree House, is the home of Guraidhoo Constituency MP, Ibrahim Riza.

Speaking to Minivan News today Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that the swords and the knife were suspected of having been kept at the house for a significant time, describing their appearance as being rusty and old.

” Two four foot long swords and a knife were found,’’ Haneef confirmed.

Local media today reported that police have strengthened security provided to Riza following the discovery of the sharp weapons.

However, Haneef has told Minivan News that police had always been providing security to MPs.

The discovery of the weapons was revealed at today’s sitting of parliament by MPs Ali Waheed and Ilham Ahmed. The latter said that he lived next door to MP Riza and expressed  concern over the security provided to MPs.


Parliament’s Finance Committee revises pay scheme for senior state officials

Parliament today passed revisions to the pay scheme approved by the Finance Committee for senior officials in the executive, judiciary and independent institutions.

The revisions included a MVR 5,000 (US$324) pay raise for board members of the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA).

Article 102 of the constitution states, “The President, Vice President, members of the Cabinet, members of the People’s Majlis, including the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, members of the Judiciary, and members of the Independent Commissions and Independent Offices shall be paid such salary and allowances as determined by the People’s Majlis.”

The task of determining salaries and allowances is entrusted to the Finance Committee under section 100(a) of the parliamentary rules of procedures.

Among the changes brought by the committee to the pay structure passed on December 28, 2010 was a monthly phone allowance of MVR 1,000 (US$65) for MPs, ministers, judges of the High Court and Supreme Court, members of independent commissions, the Prosecutor General, the Attorney General and the Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority.

If the phone bill exceeds MVR 1000, the officials would be allowed to claim compensation for the cost of phone calls made for official purposes.

The Finance Committee also decided to discontinue monthly salaries for drivers of cabinet minister’s cars (MVR 7,500) as well as an allowance for petrol cost (MVR 1,000). Ministers would be instructed to settle the expenses out of their salaries from April 2013 onward.

However, the committee did not terminate similar expenses for other officials provided state cars.

The committee meanwhile approved raising monthly salaries of Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) board members by MVR 5,000 (US$324) and the health insurance premium for judges and their parents from MVR 4,500 (US$292) to MVR 7,000 (US$454).

MIRA board members would now receive a monthly pay of MVR 15,500 (US$1,005).

Followings its review of the pay scheme and consideration of requests, the Finance Committee however decided not to increase the salaries of Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) board members.

The committee also decided against making any changes to the remuneration of MPs.

Moreover, requests by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for a committee allowance as well as an additional allowance for Criminal Court judges ruling on extension of detention for criminal suspects were denied.

The revised pay scheme was passed with 38 votes in favour, two against and five abstentions.

Presenting the Finance Committee report (Dhivehi) to the floor, MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed said the change to phone allowance was made in light of issues raised by the Auditor General’s Office in various audit reports regarding the waste of public funds and phone credit transfers.

The decision was made to impose one rule and limit for all institutions and reduce costs, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Nolhivaram said.

As a recommendation to reduce state expenditure, the Finance Committee also decided to advise the government to merge the Customs Integrity Commission and the Police Integrity Commission to form a “National Integrity Commission” with oversight over all state institutions, Nasheed said.

Nasheed added that eliminating salary for minister’s drivers and fuel allowance would save 89 percent from the budget item.

Meanwhile, on December 23, the Finance Ministry issued a circular instructing government offices to arrange a medical insurance scheme for ministers, their spouses and children under 18 years of age to receive medical treatment in the Maldives as well as overseas in SAARC and ASEAN nations.

The offices were asked to make arrangements from their budgets for the health insurance scheme from the Allied Insurance Company with an annual premium of MVR 12,500 (US$810).


Nasheed administration was “toppled,” tweets Home Minister Dr Jameel

Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed tweeted today that the previous administration of President Mohamed Nasheed was “toppled” on February 7, 2012.

“2012 was historic year for the Maldives. Democracy was tested repeatedly, arrogant, impulsive & authoritarian regime of Nasheed was toppled,” he wrote.

The government of former Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed has insisted that Nasheed resigned voluntarily and that the transfer of power was constitutional – a stance backed by the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) earlier this year.

Jameel however tweeted that the events of February 7 was a “landmark moment where people power prevailed over a mad govt that failed to hear the voice of the people.”

President Nasheed resigned on February 7 after police officers joined opposition protesters in mutiny at the Republic Square in the wake of violent clashes at the artificial beach between rival protesters and an assault on members of the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party by riot police.


MDP expresses concern over legality of Immigration Department switch

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has questioned the legality of transferring control of the Department of Immigration and Emigration to the Defence Ministry amidst wider concerns over what it alleges are a number of “surprising coincidences” this week.

In a press statement, the opposition MDP accused President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik of acting suspiciously after parliament voted by 74 votes to cancel the border control system agreed with Malaysia-based IT service provider Nexbis.

The President’s Office said today it rejected any insinuations that it had operated outside the law, while declining to comment on any statements from the MDP.

The former ruling party’s allegations focused on the president’s decision to travel to Malaysia – where Nexbis’ head offices are located – for a personal visit just three days after the Majlis vote.

The MDP also maintained that the president’s decision to transfer the Department of Immigration and Emigration to the Ministry of Defence and National Security was an unlawful act.

The Immigration Department was previously under the mandate of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

According to the opposition party, the structures of the executive ministries compiled by parliament had placed the immigration department under the oversight of the Ministry of Home Affairs.  The party contended that the President’s Office decision to transfer any department outlined in this structure without prior parliamentary approval was therefore an unlawful act .

The Nexbis agreement was signed when President Waheed’s brother in law, Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, was serving as Controller of Immigration and Emigration.

Ilyas has since been transferred to the Ministry of Defence and National Security as a State Minister, to which the immigration department now reports. The MDP statement alleged that the transfer of the department effectively placed control of immigration back under the authority of Ilyas.

The statement alleged that the move was an attempt by Waheed to cover up allegations of corruption in the deal signed with Nexbis.

Nexbis has denied all allegations of corruption in its Border Control System (BCS) deal, while last week filing a case with the Maldives Civil Court claiming parliament lacked the jurisdiction to order the government to terminate the IT company’s contract.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad also dismissed the MDP’s claims, stating “This government will never do anything unlawful. We review actions carefully before doing anything. It’s MDP that conducts unlawful activities.”

Masood refused to comment further on the matter, stating “MDP releases lots of statements. I do not wish to comment on what they have to say in those.”


Red Crescent launches campaign to promote volunteerism

The Maldives Red Crescent launched a campaign last night (December 30) to promote volunteering and raise awareness of the organisation’s activities.

The campaign dubbed “I Am For Humanity” was officially launched at a function at Trader’s Hotel by chief guest Mohamed Hussain Manik, CEO of the Maldives Pension Office.

As part of the six-month long campaign, the organisation plans to provide information to the public regarding the work of the Red Crescent and recruit volunteers.

Speaking at last night’s function, Red Crescent Secretary General Rasheed Ali said that the organisation has opened branch offices in 10 atolls and units in 20 islands.

The Maldives Red Crescent has more than 1,300 registered volunteers, he said.

Formed in August 2009, the organisation was recognised as a full member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on November 9, 2011.

On November 23, 2011, the Maldives Red Crescent became the 187th member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.