Sea plane with tourists crash-lands, all passengers safe

A Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane carrying 11 tourists crashed landed in the water near Kuredhu Island Resort in north central Maldives at 5:30pm today.

The passengers and three members of crew are safe, TMA has said.

The Twin Otter seaplane sank within minutes of crash-landing. A speedboat rescued the passengers and crew within minutes. There were no injuries.

“We have started a comprehensive investigation and will provide support to the relevant investigating authorities,” the TMA said in a statement.

The crash landing occurred just a couple of miles off of Kuredhu Island.

Seaplane accidents are rare in the Maldives.

The TMA and Maldivian Air Taxi (MAT) provide seaplane transfer to a number of tourist resorts. TMA transports nearly one million passengers annually.

In February 2012, an MAT aircraft crash-landed on the water runway at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) with nine passengers due to poor weather conditions. None of the passengers or crew sustained injuries.

A TMA flight crash-landed near Biyadhoo Island resort in February 2011.

TMA won the world’s leading seaplane operator at the World Travel Awards in 2014. The company which merged with MAT in 2013 operates the world’s largest seaplane fleet.

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Maldives threatens to leave the Commonwealth, again

The Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for a second time in four years, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon has said.

Some Commonwealth members are pushing for the CMAG to assess alleged violations of the Commonwealth’s principles by the Maldives.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on the Maldives over the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including ex president Mohamed Nasheed.

In a conversation on Wednesday with Kamalesh Sharma, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Dunya said there are no serious violations in the Maldives and criticized Sharma’s alleged failure to follow due process before considering action.

“I said that the trust that had begun to build between the Maldives and the Commonwealth will be seriously undermined if the Maldives is placed on the CMAG agenda,” Dunya told the press today.

The CMAG can recommend measures for collective action to restore democracy and constitutional rule.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) called on the Maldivian government to “stop being so arrogant.”

“Having to leave the Commonwealth for not abiding by its principles will only isolate the Maldives from the rest of the world. And it will not be very healthy for the Maldives, but detrimental,” MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said.

CMAG agenda

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG agenda from March 2012 – March 2013 after President Nasheed resigned amidst a police and military mutiny. He later alleged he had been ousted in a coup d’état.

A Commonwealth backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be constitutional.

The Maldives was previously placed on the CMAG’s agenda “on an unfair basis, based on false allegations, and the country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly as a result,” Dunya said.

Placing the Maldives on the CMAG’s agenda for a second time amounts to selective and unfair treatment and violates the Commonwealth’s own rules, she contended today.

She also said Sharma had not raised questions over violations in the Maldives, or extended assistance for redress as required by the Commonwealth’s rules.

Nasheed was arrested in February and sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges in March over the arrest of a judge during his tenure. His imprisonment triggered a political crisis with daily protests and hundreds of arrests.

The opposition leader’s imprisonment coincided with the imprisonment of ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim on weapons smuggling charges. Three more key opposition leaders have since been charged with terrorism over a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

The Maldives Supreme Court meanwhile ruled a report submitted to the UN by the state human rights watchdog unlawful, and has barred it from communicating independently with foreign organizations.

Signs of a thaw are emerging between the government and the opposition. Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitution amendment to allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

Representatives of the government and the opposition sat for a preliminary meeting to prepare for talks last night.

In mid-June Canada called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.”

Dunya urged Sharma to take note of the positive changes in the Maldives in the last few weeks. She also accused Canada of undue influence in the Commonwealth as a donor country.

On February 24, in response to statements expressing concern over Nasheed’s trial, Dunya said:

“We don’t get much aid or development from being a Commonwealth country. In 2012, Maldivians questioned the importance of us remaining in the Commonwealth. I am sure the question will arise again.”

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Transparency Maldives call for criminalisation of Illicit enrichment

A local anti-corruption NGO has called for the criminalisation of illicit enrichment to effectively address the problem of high-level corruption in the Maldives.

Speaking at a press conference today, Transparency Maldives’ (TM) project coordinator Fazla Abdul Samad said that a comprehensive asset declaration system should also be put in place in order to identify and prosecute cases of illicit enrichment.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) – which the Maldives acceded to in 2007 – defines illicit enrichment as a “significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or lawful income.”

“As a signatory state to the UNCAC, the Maldives is recommended to criminalise illicit enrichment as an anti-corruption measure,” said TM.

According to a corruption barometer survey conducted by TM in 2013, 83 percent of respondents believe that corruption is a problem at the public sector.

The parliament was perceived as the most corrupt institution in the country, followed by political parties and the judiciary.

“However, despite the public perception and widespread media coverage of high profile public officials with allegations of illicit enrichment, it is not reflected in the number of investigation, prosecutions and convictions carried out by the relevant state bodies,” the NGO said.

According to information obtained by TM from the prosecutor general’s office, only three cases of bribery have been prosecuted between 2010 and 2014, of which one case ended in a conviction.

During the same period, 37 cases of undue advantage by government employees were prosecuted but only one case had been proved in the courts.

“Successful convictions are low and have not been forthcoming largely because ill-gotten wealth through bribery and other corrupt means is currently difficult in the Maldives as there is not legal provision criminalising illicit enrichment,” said TM.

A 2012 World Bank study showed that a number of countries with illicit enrichment legislation has been successful in recovering ill-gotten wealth.

TM has also started an online petition calling on high level state officials to declare their assets to the public.

In March this year, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) submitted 13 amendments to attorney general’s office for inclusion in the new penal code, including the criminalisation of illicit enrichment.

While the amendment was not submitted to the parliament, TM said discussions are underway between ACC and the attorney general’s office regarding the criminalisation of illicit enrichment.

The new penal code was due to come into effect in April, but the pro-government majority in parliament postponed its enactment to July 16, 2015.

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Government revenue declines in May

Government revenue declined by MVR19.2 million (US$1.2 million) in May compared to the same period last year and reached MVR1.2 billion (US$77.8 million), the central bank has revealed in its monthly economic review.

Total expenditure during the month meanwhile rose by MVR104.9 million (US$6.8 million) and amounted to MVR1.5 billion (US$97 million).

“The decline in total revenue during May 2015 was mainly due to the decline in both tax and non-tax revenue which fell by MVR9.5 million and MVR1.7 million, respectively,” the review stated.

“The fall in tax revenue was mainly contributed by the decline in revenue from business profit tax and tourism tax, while non-tax revenues declined owing to a significant fall in revenue from resort lease rent. Meanwhile, the increase in expenditure was largely due to a growth in recurrent expenditure.”

In May, the government obtained US$20 million from Saudi Arabia for budget support. Finance minister Abdulla Jihad told Minivan News at the time that the funds were to be used to “manage cash flow” as revenue was lower than expected.

A large portion of forecast revenue is expected later in the year, he said, adding that shortfalls are currently plugged through sale of treasury bills (T-bills).

According to the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), the total outstanding stock of government securities, including T-bills and treasury bonds (T-bonds), reached MVR18.4 billion (US$1.1 billion) at the end of May, representing an annual increase of 36 percent.

The forecast for government income in this year’s record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) budget is MVR21.5 billion (US$1.3 billion).

The projected revenue includes MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) anticipated from new revenue raising measures, including revisions of import duty rates, the introduction of a “green tax”, acquisition fees from investments in special economic zones (SEZs), and leasing 10 islands for resort development.

The MMA’s monthly economic review meanwhile revealed that gross international reserves increased by 65 percent in May compared to the corresponding period in 2014 and stood at US$703.7 million, “of which usable reserves amounted to US$229.7 million.”

“During the review month usable reserves also registered increases in both monthly and annual terms by 12 percent and 41 percent, respectively. As for gross reserves in terms of months of imports, it rose both in monthly and annual terms and stood at 4.2 months at the end of May 2015.

Tourism and fisheries

The economic review noted that tourist arrivals declined by three percent in April compared to the same period in 2014, reaching a total of 102,242 guests.

“The annual decline in arrivals was contributed by the significant decline in tourist arrivals from Europe,” the MMA observed.

“In April 2015, total bednights registered a decline of 7 percent in annual terms, as the average duration of stay declined from 6.2 to 5.9 days. Partly reflecting the decrease in bednights, the occupancy rate of the industry declined to 73 percent in April 2015 from 80 percent in April 2014.”

In its quarterly economic bulletin, the central bank noted that despite a three percent growth in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2014, tourist bednights declined by three percent “owing to the fall in average stay of tourists from 6.3 days in Q1-2014 to 6.0 in the review quarter.”

Tourism receipts also decreased by four percent in the first quarter compared to the corresponding period in 2014.

“On the supply side, the operational capacity of the tourism industry increased by 3% when compared with Q1-2014 to reach an average of 27,827 beds. Reflecting this and the decline in tourist bednights, the occupancy rate of the industry fell to 79 percent in Q1- 2015 from 84 percent in Q1-2014,” the bulletin stated.

The volume of fish purchases meanwhile decreased to 6,134.6 metric tonnes in April, registering an annual decline of 11 percent.

“In May 2015, both the volume and earnings on fish exports declined in annual terms by 35 percent and 12 percent, respectively. This was mainly owing to the decrease in the volume and earnings of frozen skipjack and yellowfin tuna exports,” the economic review revealed.

In other sectors, the MMA noted that construction activity “continued to expand and remained robust as indicated by the annual increase in construction-related imports and increased bank credit to the sector during Q1-2015.”

“Activity in the wholesale and retail trade also grew, as indicated by increased imports by the private sector (excluding tourism) and bank credit to the sector.”

The rate of inflation in Malé meanwhile accelerated to 1.7 percent in April from 1.1 percent in March.

“The pick-up in inflation during the month was mostly contributed by the growth in fish prices and prices charged for housing rent,” the central ban explained.

“The monthly percentage change in the [Consumer Price Index] increased in April 2015. This was mainly due to the rise in fish and cigarett e prices. Cigarette prices rose during the month due to the increase in the import duty levied in April 2015.”

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Majlis notifies vice-president of impeachment vote

The People’s Majlis has notified vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed of a resolution calling for his removal, and granted him 14 days to respond to charges.

The notice was sent on June 30. Jameel must respond orally or in writing by July 13.

The motion to impeach has not been placed on the Majlis agenda yet, secretary general Ahmed Mohamed said.

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had secured 61 signatures on the impeachment motion. A two-thirds majority or 57 votes of the 85-member house is required to remove the president or the vice president.

Jameel is in London at present. PPM MPs have said that President Abdulla Yameen has ordered his deputy to return and answer the charges. But Jameel told an Indian newspaper that he had obtained permission before travelling to the UK for a human rights seminar.

The parliament has changed its standing orders to fast-track the process of impeaching the vice president. The new rules state the Majlis can vote on the vice president’s impeachment without an investigation by a select committee.

Jameel has called his party’s attempts to remove him a “constitution coup,” and suggested that the international community should intervene.

Speaking to the New Indian Express on Tuesday Jameel said, “There is complete disregard for parliamentary procedure just to get the tourism minister after me. This is personal vengeance.”

PPM MPs have publicly accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence and are seeking to replace Jameel with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Responding to Jameel’s allegations, Adeeb told Haveeru that Jameel had fled the Maldives after a failed coup attempt.

“A lot of people are accusing him of leaving with a lot of money and a lot of things. He is even now accused of dereliction of duty and fleeing the country. He has left the country because the coup he had planned has failed,” he said.

Adeeb also slammed Jameel’s call for help from the international community.

Jameel told the New Indian Express he had carried out his duties as ordered by President Yameen. “The President has to tell me that I have not performed properly, but he never told me that.”

Minivan News was unable to reach Jameel at the time of going to press.

Jameel had kept silent on the petition for impeachment, but released a statement on Twitter on Tuesday, in which he accused the PPM parliamentary group of greed and said that MPs have arbitrarily amended the constitution for their personal interests.

The parliament last week passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set the new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency.

Adeeb is now 33. The constitution previously stated that candidates must be 35 years of age.

The opposition’s backing for the amendment is widely perceived to be a deal made in exchange for jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.

The government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are now preparing to begin talks to end a six-month long political crisis.

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Leaders commit to reconciliation, prepare to begin talks

Representatives of the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) made an unprecedented show of commitment to resolving a six-month long political crisis tonight following a preliminary meeting ahead of talks.

“I believe this is the time for a major reconciliation by finding a consensus through talks. The government, to show its sincerity, will make all the concessions we can,” Home minister Umar Naseer told the press.

Naseer and the MDP’s parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih met at the President’s Office at 11:00pm on Wednesday night, and discussed the agenda and structure for the long-awaited negotiations.

“We believe the government is ready to come to a resolution. That is why we are sitting down. I have high hope that we will find a solution,” Ibu said.

The Maldives has been gripped by political turmoil since the arrest and imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

Hundreds were arrested in protests and key figures were charged with terrorism. Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen’s government to release all political prisoners, including Nasheed.

“We have not spoken on the substance of the talks tonight, meaning on what it is that we will agree on, or what we cannot agree on. We spoke on the design of the talks, and how we will proceed,” Naseer said.

A second meeting will be held on Sunday (July 5) at 10:30pm.

“We noted even tonight that there is common ground. Our two parties are very mature. Both have ruled, and both have been in opposition. Both parties have experienced all there is to experience in the political sphere,” Naseer said.

“This might take some time, but both parties we are starting off with sincerity, with the hope of success.”

The two parties, in their role as opposition, had made mistakes, Naseer said. “In light of those experiences, with the awareness that either of us may be in power, or in opposition in the future, we believe this is the beginning of a very important process to shape the Maldives’ political future.”

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest for eight weeks in June, after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment to allow President Yameen to replace his vice president.

Agenda

The government’s agenda, proposed in mid-May, includes three aspects – political reconciliation, constitutional and judicial reform, and political party participation in development.

MDP has requested tonight that the government agree on five basic rules and a timeline for the talks. The proposed rules include:

  • Agreement to talks between all parties, including ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the MDP, the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party.
  • Each party must be able to determine their representatives
  • Talks should proceed in three stages
  • Agreement on a measure to determine success

The MDP also presented Naseer with papers on the government’s agenda points.

The party has requested that the government, in order to establish an environment conducive for talks and to reach political reconciliation, agree to the following:

  • To make concessions on “politically motivated sentencing” of politicians, including Nasheed, Nazim, ex-defence minister Tholhath Ibrahim and MP Ahmed Nazim
  • Withdraw “politically motivated charges” against some 400 protestors
  • Withdraw economic sanctions against businessmen, namely JP leader Gasim Ibrahim
  • Job security for councilors, civil servants and employees of state owned companies
  • Independent inquiry into the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan
  • Independent investigation of the death threats sent via text messages to politicians and journalists

After an agreement is reached on political reconciliation, the MDP has proposed that the parties begin discussions on judicial and constitutional reform and development.

The MDP has also proposed a constitutional change to a parliamentary system of government

“Our party has governed within a presidential system, and so has the ruling party. Every time, it is the candidate who wins the second largest number of votes who comes to power, through a coalition. But the coalition falls apart soon afterwards and the government is plunged into turmoil. We have experienced this system and we have not seen good results, so lets change to a parliamentary system,” Ibu said.

The paper on political party participation in development includes some 40 proposals, Ibu said.

President Yameen had first proposed talks on May 14. But there was no progress after the government ruled out negotiations over Nasheed and Nazim’s release and vetoed Nasheed as an MDP representative.

When the opposition leader was transferred to house arrest, the MDP said it will continue with talks without Nasheed.

The government tonight appeared to relent on its veto on Nasheed with Naseer saying: “We have not directly decided who will represent the MDP in talks. MDP will decide that.”

Assuring the public of the government’s commitment to a resolution, Naseer said they stand ready to make any concessions necessary by amending laws.

“We have compromised even when it was really hard for us. We will do so in the future. The MDP represents a large portion of the Maldivian public and is among the largest political parties. It will be much easier for this government to achieve the development, progress that we seek with them, in light of discussions with them,” he said.

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