Trial against minor for “consensual sexual relations” to continue this week

The case of a 15 year-old minor charged for having “consensual sexual relations” is to continue in the Juvenile Court on Wednesday (January 30), despite the Prosecutor General (PG’s) Office confirming it is reviewing its decision to prosecute the minor.

A Juvenile Court Spokesperson confirmed to Minivan News that the case was expected to continue this week despite calls during the previous hearing on Wednesday (January 23) from the PG’s Office for the case to be delayed pending review.

The filing of criminal charges against the 15 year-old girl – identified as a victim of alleged sexual abuse in a separate criminal case – has been slammed as an “absolute outrage” by international NGO Amnesty International.

The government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik this month pledged to hold meetings with relevant authorities in the country to amend laws it contended – in certain cases – were punishing sexual abuse victims as if they were criminals.

Calls for delayed trial

Juvenile Court Spokesperson Zaima Nasheed told Minivan News today that during a previous hearing of the case on January  23, the PG’s Office had called for the trial to be delayed. The request, which was made 10 minutes before the hearing had commenced, was not able to be granted by the court at the time, according to Zaima.

“As the court does not have a procedure to cancel and delay hearings without a probable reason, the hearing went ahead,” she said.

Zaima added that the state attorney requested the judge to cancel the hearing against the minor as there was another case going on in the Criminal Court that was related to trial.

“The state attorney told the judge that a male suspect charged in connection with the case [against the minor] was being tried in the Criminal Court for sexually abusing the 15 year-old and being a person in a position of  trust,” she said.

“The state attorney told the court the PG needs to review the case and see if there is any reason the girl should not be charged for fornication.’’

Zaima claimed that the presiding judge had requested the state during the previous hearing send a written letter to the court before 3:00pm the same day requesting for cancellation of the hearing.

“As the Juvenile Court presides over cases related to minors, the court is required to conclude all cases as soon as we can. The court therefore always schedules a next hearing as soon as the previous one concludes,’’ she said.

According to Zaima, the PG had not yet requested the case to be withdrawn.

The PG’s Office confirmed to Minivan News that the decision to press charges against the 15 year-old girl was being reviewed, though no further details could be given until a decision had been made.

The President’s Office announced earlier this month that a review of legislation outlining the treatment of victims of sexual abuse was ongoing following international coverage of the PG’s decision to press charges against the 15 year-old girl.

In a case unrelated to the charges against the minor, the girl’s stepfather was also facing criminal charges for alleged sexual abuse after authorities last year discovered a new born baby buried in the outdoor shower area of a home on the island of Feydhoo.

In light of the cases, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad pledged that discussions had this month been scheduled with authorities including the Islamic and Human Rights Ministry to review the treatment of minors and adults who had been sexually abused. According to Masood, the pledge has been made on the back of a number of similar cases where young women were perceived to have been victimised and punished by authorities.

“If needs be we will come out with legislation where victims [of sexual abuse] are treated as victims,” he said. “It’s incredible that sometimes these victims are actually being seen as perpetrators [of crime] under the law.”

Masood added that the government would be making further announcements on its future plans to address these concerns once it had held talks with ministerial and legislative authorities.

The President’s Office was not responding to calls at time of press.

NGO criticism

The filing of criminal charges of “consensual sexual relations” against the 15 year-old girl were slammed this month by NGO Amnesty International.

The NGO’s Maldives Researcher Abbas Faiz stressed at the time that suspected victims of rape and sexual abuse required counselling and support rather than facing prosecution.

Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal has previously told Minivan News that he was hugely concerned about the number of reports of sexual abuse against minors in the country.


“Administrative issue” behind delayed civil service wage payments: Finance Minister

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has said that delays in paying wages to some state employees was the result of an “administrative issue” with the Bank of Maldives (BML) that was expected to be resolved by today.

Jihad told Minivan News that there were no issue maintaining civil servant salaries, adding that BML had been unable to credit accounts for the last few days. A BML spokesperson today responded that the company was “not aware of any such issues” concerning payments being made to accounts it held.

Meanwhile, several island councils have said they had not had any issues with providing wages to their staff.

Economic situation

The Maldives government last week said it was working on overcoming “economic difficulties” to cover several months of outstanding premium payments resulting from the Aasandha universal healthcare programme. Authorities are presently facing a 27 percent budget deficit that has already drawn concern from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Besides a crippling budget deficit, the Maldives is also facing a foreign currency shortageplummeting investor confidencespiraling expenditure, and a drop off in foreign aid.

Late last month the Finance Ministry also ordered all government institutions to immediately reduce their budgets by 15 percent.

However, Jihad denied that the present economic situation was adversely impacting the state’s ability to provide wages to civil servants this month.

“We are expecting crediting to occur as of today,” he said. “This is just an administrative issue with the bank.”

Both Civil Service Commission (CSC) President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan and Parliamentary Financial Committee Head Ahmed Nazim were not responding time of press.

However, a number of island councils have maintained that they have continued to receive state funding without any interruptions.

An official for the North Ari Atoll island of Maalhos’ Council Secretariat told Minivan News this afternoon that he was not aware of any issues concerning paying staff salaries, which had so far been received on time each month.

In Haa Alifu Atoll, Utheemu Island Councilor Asrar Adam said the council also had not experienced difficulties with paying wages

“We have been paying the salaries of the staffs on the last day of each month always and this month’s salary have been paid,” he said.

Island Councilor of Raa Atoll Innamaadhoo claimed that during the time of former President Mohamed Nasheed, the council was given funding for its 2012 salaries in advance – therefore ensuring it did not have any issues in paying staff.

“When our president was here everything went fine, we don’t have to worry about the salaries of 2012,” he said.

State revenue

The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) last month published its second quarter report for 2012, detailing the majority of government revenue (with the exception of import duties).

The MIRA report highlights a 16.8 percent increase in revenue collected compared to the same period for 2011, attributable to the increase in tourism GST from 3.5 percent in 2011 to 6 percent in 2012.

Tourism land rent collected for the period was MVR 465.4 million (US$30.2 million)  – a drop of 24.9 percent that was 12.3 percent lower than expected.

Airport Service Charge revenue meanwhile fell 18.6 percent, to MVR 172 million (US$11.2 million).

Total revenue collection for the first half of the year was MVR 3.5 billion, an increase of 59.2 percent compared to the corresponding period of 2011, but 8.4 percent lower than projected.


Resort giant rejects dismissed local workers’ allegations of foreigner bias

Hospitality giant Conrad Hotels and Resorts has rejected accusations concerning its treatment of a group of Maldivian workers made redundant earlier this month at its Rangali Island Resort, claiming the site adheres to both company and Maldivian labour laws when dealing with staff.

Responding to accusations made by a group of 29 staff that resort management recently decided to make redundant over concerns about profitability during the low season, Conrad claimed all its staff were treated “fairly” regardless of their ethnicity.

The group of staff dismissed this month by the company have alleged that whilst working at the Conrad Rangali Island Resort, they witnessed multiple examples of Maldivian workers being discriminated against in favour of expatriate workers of other nationalities. The group claimed that some staff were additionally made to flout expiry dates and other quality standards by management figures.

Some of the allegations reflect wider concerns about the treatment of Maldivian staff across the country’s resort industry, says the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM), which it claims varies significantly in comparison to other countries.  The group claimed that these discrepancies may, in some cases, verge on being “racial abuse”.

Not singling out a particular resort for the practices, TEAM told Minivan News that it believed there were widespread discrepancies in the treatment of Maldivian resort staff in areas such as payment compared to resort workers of other nationalities.

“There are bigger concerns regarding some of these issues – particularly we see there is some salary discrepancy between Maldivian staff and other employees,” claimed TEAM President Ahmed Shihaam. “Right now however, we are focusing on more prominent concerns such as the possible introduction of a national minimum wage.”

The group of workers dismissed from Conrad this month claimed that they believed they had been removed from their positions for demanding action on issues involving site management and staff.  The workers were dismissed with redundancy packages, according to Conrad.

According to the group, management figures had threatened to fire members of staff for their role in trying to raise the issues, which they claimed were linked to strikes taking place at the resort over several days in March of this year.

“There is a lot of discrimination going on in the island, foreigners are more favoured than Maldivians, they earn more, have luxurious rooms to sleep and everything is so perfect for them. We sleep 10-15 men in a room, while foreigners sleep maximum three in a room,” a dismissed former worker at the Conrad resort told Minivan News. ‘’It is very regrettable that we are being mistreated and enslaved in our own country.”

The spokesperson for the group claimed that none of the staff who were given redundancy by the company had deserved to be removed from their posts; having tried to ensure that the “high standards” expected of the resort were being met.

One member of the dismissed group who worked in the resort’s house keeping department alleged that human resources officials at the site turned a blind eye when some staff failed to properly wash towels beyond soaking them in water, drying them off and throwing them onto an office floor.

‘’One day when I was at the house keeping office I was told to wipe out the expiry date of all the mouth wash bottles that has expired,’’ the person claimed. ‘’I told the house keeper that he can’t do that, but I was forced to do it if I wanted to work there.’’

Amongst a list of accusations, the dismissed staff claimed that some senior management figures had  abused their roles by arranging to have the resort’s high-profile underwater restaurant dismiss confirmed bookings so as to accommodate a private dinner for a senior resort employee.

The spokesperson for the group claimed that the company was aware of the restaurant closure, as well as a number of policies it claimed breached rules on safety and employment regulation.

‘’[Local staff] have to test wine, which it violates the Tourism Act. It is also not allowed to have a Maldivian as a barmen, but currently there is a Maldivian barmen at the island,’’ he alleged.

The group’s spokesperson alleged that he and his colleagues had also been asked to open a number of expired yoghurt containers in the main restaurant’s kitchen and to pour them all in to a big bowel to serve for breakfast that morning.

‘’We did it, it was not something related to us or something that would harm us, but we complained to  the management and there was no action taken against it,’’ he said.

Resort response

Addressing the accusations made by its former staff, Conrad Hotels said it preferred not to enter into a “public discussion” concerning the claims. Conrad said it offered several official channels within its organisation that allowed staff to address particular concerns over adherence to company rules and policy during their employment.

The company added that as an international hotel chain, it worked to ensure its employment policies were in line both with Maldivian labour laws and global company standards in order to protect staff at Rangali Island. The resort employed almost three Maldivian workers to each expatriate member of staff, the resort noted.

“The hotel follows employment policies that are consistent with the country’s labour laws and the company’s own standard practices. This includes, but is not limited to fair remuneration, respectful treatment of our team members, training and development opportunities, diversity recognition and fair treatment for all,” stated the company. “It is important to note that as of June 2011, 74 percent of the resort’s team members are Maldivian.”

Conrad also reiterated its claim that the decision to release 29 staff was made based for business reasons – with all members receiving redundancy packages to “help them through the transition.”

Without commenting specifically on the policy of an individual resort, ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim, the Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said the group had not been made aware or been involved in dealing with concerns about discrepancies in the conditions of Maldivian resort workers, as compared to other nationalities.

However, Sim said he believed that the government would not allow Maldivian staff to be treated unfairly and in a disproportionate manner to other nationalities of workers under the conditions of its Employment Act.