SAARC centre 60 percent complete, says Foreign Ministry

The convention centre being constructed in Addu Atoll for the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit is 60 percent complete, reports the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

This is the first time that the SAARC has been held off of Malé, and south of the equator.

Director of Communications for the Foreign Ministry, Irushaadha Abdul Sattar, said official invitations had been sent to participating countries, and teams were working round the clock to ensure the facilities were ready.

Workers were currently on a three shift a day schedule to complete the facility on time, Sattar said, noting that the physical structure was now complete and workers were focusing on internal wiring and landscaping.

“There has never been this amount of development for a SAARC Summit in the Maldives,” she said. “Roads are being built, buildings put up, wiring is being done, and this time it’s all going straight to the people.”

The Sri Lankan government has pledged to build a six kilometer road as part of project, with teams expected to arrive soon. The Foreign Ministry predicts that the facility will be completed by mid-September.

Addu City Mayor, Abdullah Sodiq, meanwhile forecast October 15 as a likely completion date for construction project, which covers 70 hectares. The Summit will be held in November.

Sodiq told Minivan News that the people of Addu were happy to see the infrastructure being built.

“The only concern is that it may not be completed on schedule,” he said, “At the beginning, progress was very slow, but now they are working very hard around the clock to be finished by October 15,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry said 30 groups have been chosen to perform sideline activities, such as entertainment, during the convention. Sodiq noted that youth groups and NGOs will be included, as well as some groups from other countries in the region.

The government has previously announced that the theme for the 17th SAARC Summit will be “Building Bridges” between member states, both in a physical and diplomatic sense.

One anticipated topic for the summit – heavily promoted by the Maldives – is the introduction of ferry services between the Maldives and destinations such as India and Sri Lanka.

President of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s youth wing, Shauna Aminath, previously observed that SAARC member nations included those the lowest-lying in the world – the Maldives – and the highest: Nepal.

“There are differences, but we want to use these as an opportunity to celebrate as a united force to build bridges of friendship, peace and security,” Aminath said.


Government signs MoU for first national marine park sponsored by private individual

The Ministry of Housing and the Environment has signed a memorandum of understanding with a private individual, Mohamed Hameed, to create the Maldives’ first comprehensive national marine park.

The park, which Hameed says was conceived in the 1980s, is designed to protect nine islets in South Miladhunmadulu Atoll Edhudhfarru.

Hameed proposed his plan to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration in 2007, but says the current administration has been more supportive and would be overseeing the project.

The government has asked that the plan involve minimal intrusion to the natural environment. “I would expect the government to have a majority share in the program,” said Hameed, explaining that a foundation would be established for the park project.

Hameed said he has been advised by scientists from all over the world, and describes the Edhudhfarru area as “fragile and sensitive, with more water than land, and many unique flora and fauna.”

Hameed said the Marine National Park will provide day trips only, and visitors will pay a fee. An underwater observatory is also expected to draw researchers and tourists alike.

Bluepeace, a local environmental NGO, voted last night to support the project.

“We are very supportive of the concept,” said the NGO’s founder, Ali Rilwan. “I think it is very important that private sector individuals get involved in conservation.”

Rilwan said the Edhudhfarru area is very rich in biodiversity, adding that Bluepeace “expects [the foundation] to be much better than most places because of Hameed’s vast knowledge and interest in the place.”

Rilwan noted that this was the first time a private individual had proposed a conservation project to the government, and that the marine park would be the first national park to host a research center. The land itself will be given to the project’s foundation, which has yet to be established.

Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa said the park was intended “not just for preserving species for people to see, like in a zoo. There will be activities going on with the research.”

International groups had been inquiring about such a park for years, she noted.

“The park should have been established a long time ago, because tourism in the Maldives is based on sustainable development,” she said.

Director of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Mohamed Naeem said the organisation had not been officially informed of the project, although he understood it had been given to a private company, and said it was “too early to know what to expect from Mr  Hameed.”

Hameed has meanwhile said he hopes locals will become involved in the project. “A national park can only be preserved with the collaboration of the community, and the community should not feel they are deprived of use of the area in any way,” he said.


CBI search for missing Malayali teacher, husband, and Sri Lankan national ongoing

The search for a Malayali teacher who went missing from the Maldives seven years ago, and her husband who left their home in Hyderabad some time after, is being continued, reports the Sri Lankan paper Daily Mirror.

Cheruvathoor Anitha Nair, 37, of Kalladipetta at Ongallur and C. Ramachandran of Kannadi village, had been living in Hyderabad since 1991 along with their son, Vineeth Nair.

Ms. Anitha left her Hyderabad home for a job at Inguraidhoo School in Raa Inguraidhoo, Maldives, in January 2003. In October 2003, she returned to Hyderabad for a month’s leave. After seeing her off for the Maldives at Thiruvananthapuram airport in December, Ms. Anitha’s family has not heard from her.

Passport records show Ms. Anitha arriving in the Maldives, but departing for Sri Lanka the next day. Ms. Anitha is said to have left the Maldives with one Sreerangan, a Sri Lankan receptionist from the hotel at which Ms. Anitha allegedly stayed.

Sources say Sreerangan returned to Sri Lanka in 2004, reports the Daily Mirror. But the Chennai special branch of the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) has not been able to trace Sreerangan. Anitha is said to have returned to Chennai in 2004.


Plunge in youth pursuit of higher education “worrying” say education officials

Recent statistics from the Education Ministry show that only six percent of Maldivian youth aged between 17 to 25 are pursuing higher education.

The statistic comes from two reports on higher education, which are currently being compiled with assistance from the World Bank and the United States. The first report is investigating the status of higher education in the Maldives, as well as plans for its improvement. The second report is examining financial assistance.

Maldives National University Chancellor Dr Mustafa Luthfy said that six percent is “a worrisome number.”

“If they are qualified enough to go into a higher institution, they should,” he said. It was not difficult to find a public college in the Maldives, Luthfy noted, although he acknowledged that private institutions were costly.

The challenging transition between grades 7 and 8 is one explanation for the dropout rate, said Luthfy. He added that if students were unable to keep up with secondary school material, then they would not be able to get into higher institutions.

“We have to be very very careful about criticizing enrollment,” Luthfy said. “If we are going to offer more degree-level courses, we need students who achieve higher A and O levels in high school.”

A recent Juvenile Justice Report suggests a correlation between academic success and relationships with a parent or guardian. Juvenile Justice records say that of the offenders reported between April 1 and June 30 this year, 95 percent dropped out in 8th or 9th grade, and few lived with parents or guardians.

When asked if this contributed to low enrollments in higher education, Luthfy replied that “schools and parents are working very hard to improve the quality of education, and improve graduation rates.

“The Maldives has a small population, we want everyone to be an educated person,” he said.

O-level results for 2010 improved on previous years, with particular gains in science subjects, however the pass rate for the 6700 who sat the international standardised high school exams was 35 percent – up from 32 percent in 2009, and 27 percent in 2008.

Most major subjects showed a positive trend in results except for arts, geography and history, Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer stold Minivan News at the time, “subjects which are only taken by a few students.”