STO cautions against panic buying as hundreds queue for petrol

The state wholesaler State Trading Organization (STO) has cautioned against panic-buying of fuel as hundreds  continue queuing up at petrol stations for a third day.

“There is absolutely no shortage. We are operating out petrol stations at normal hours, but only rationing petrol because some people are buying petrol in bulk,” an STO media official told Minivan News.

Malé’s waterfront is congested with cars, trucks and motor cycles on Boduthakurufaanu Magu where the two main fuel stations are located.

Many people in the queues said they had heard STO is running out of petrol. Today’s queues are shorter than Wednesday’s.

STO’s petrol stations – managed by subsidiary company Fuel Services Maldives – on Wednesday started rationing fuel, only providing each vehicle with five liters of petrol.

“Why else would they ration the petrol? Look at the big queue here. People would not panic so much unless there is a problem. Of course there is shortage,” said Shathir Ahmed, 21 years.

Some people said they had waited in queues for between an hour to two hours on Wednesday. The waiting time was approximately 20-30 minutes today.

STO said panic buying had been triggered by media reports of shortages.

“We appeal to the public to confirm with us if there is a shortage before stocking up,” the media official said.

Online newspaper CNM reported today that STO is suffering from a shortage because the petrol delivery ship was delayed due to bad weather, and is due to arrive on July 27.

However, several people at the queues continue to carry large bottles and tanks to stock up.

“I am collecting as much petrol as I can. I have already gone to the other two station and gotten 10 liters of petrol. If we run out, it would make life very difficult,” said a middle-aged man, back at the queues to get his 15th liter.

Additional reporting and writing by Zaheena Rasheed

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Power shortages may affect plans to light up Malé on Independence Day

Power shortages may spoil the government’s plans to light up the capital Malé City on Independence Day, the State Electric Company (STELCO) has said.

A crucial 8MW generator is down at the power plant due to an unexpected failure and may take up to two weeks to repair.

Ibrahim Rauf, the STELCO spokesperson, said the company may have to cut off power intermittently at different areas in Malé due to the generator failure. It is one of the two 8MW generators at the power plant. There are a number of smaller power generators.

“The lights alone will use around 2.5 MW of electricity from our grid. We are very concerned and saddened because the lights may also suffer due to the power cuts,” said Rauf.

The Supreme Court, the President’s Office, the smoke stacks at the power plant, the foreign ministry and numerous government buildings have been decked from the ground floor to the top in red, green and white LED lights.

Maldives is celebrating 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

Malé uses 46MW of electricity on average, but the amount could go up to 52MW at peak hours or on dry and humid days. Rauf said he expects electricity demand to be high on Independence Day, but stressed that only some areas will suffer power cuts, meaning most of the buildings in Malé will continue to be lit-up.

“The demand for electricity depends a lot on the weather. If we have wet cold weather then people would not use air-conditioners and electricity demand will be reduced,” he said.

It has been raining on and off in Malé this weekend, but July 26 is expected to be dry, according to weather forecasts.

Power cuts will last only one hour at high demand periods, and will be spread out in different areas of Malé, Rauf said. STELCO is yet to determine the cause of the generator failure.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark Independence Day, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and a football tournament in the atolls.

The government has not yet disclosed the full program for the day.

Several areas at Male’s waterfront have meanwhile been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Finance minister Abdulla Jihad previously told Minivan News the budget was MVR150 million (US$9.7million).

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Former presidents, Nasir and Gayoom, to be honored on Independence Day

Former presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom are to receive an honorary shield on the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence from the British on July 26.

Nasir, who served as the president of the Maldives from 1968 – 1978, is being honored for his role in securing independence for the Maldives. When the independence agreement was signed in 1965, he was prime minister of the Maldives.

Nasir died in exile in Singapore in 2008 at 82 years of age. His body was flown back to Malé where he received a state funeral.

Gayoom, who succeeded Nasir and served as the president from 1978 – 2008, is being honored for his role in maintaining the Maldives’ independence, the president’s office said today. He remains influential in Maldivian politics.

The government is planning to hold grand celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of independence, including a parade by the army and school bands, reopening public parks with water fountains, and an official function at the Usfasgandu area. More than 100 foreign dignitaries are expected to attend.

The government is yet to disclose the full program for the day. Several areas at Male’s waterfront have meanwhile been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the spokesperson at the president’s office, said President Abdulla Yameen had asked for updates on preparations at a cabinet meeting today.

“The President requested his minister’s to use all the government’s resources to hold the Independence Day celebrations,” he said.

A budget of MVR150million (US$9.7million) has been allocated for Independence Day activities.

The Supreme Court, the President’s Office, the foreign ministry, the Malé power plant and other government offices have been decked in lights for July 26. Plastic palms have been set up in some areas. Malé’s streets have also been decked in flags.

Deputy minister for home affairs Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem, who is in charge of the organizing the activities, told the press previously that a three-hour play will take place at the national stadium from 9pm to 12pm on the night of July 27.

The play will show different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present and depict the sacrifices of national heroes to maintain the country’s independence. It will also feature video projections.

The Minivan 50 or independence 50 office has awarded a contract to a British company called The Projection Studio to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Some 15 Maldivians have meanwhile undergone a 15-day training session in Addu City for a skydiving event on the night on June 27.

The skydivers will land at the national stadium using special parachutes manufactured with the national flag. The second part of the skydiving training is due to start in Malé today with Malaysian trainers.

Meanwhile, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef told the press earlier this week that more than a 1,000 people will attend the official function on July 26, including all Maldivian citizens born on July 26, 1965.

Shareef also dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the Independence Day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

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Rumors abound over PPM split on appointment of new vice president

Rumors once again swirled in Malé today that former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is opposed to his half-brother, President Abdulla Yameen, appointing the tourism minister as the new vice president. Gayoom, however, for a second time this week, denied favoring a particular candidate.

Newspaper Haveeru today said Gayoom had sent a text message to Yameen warning of negative public perception if the influential tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb is appointed vice president.

The president of 30 years promptly denied the rumor on Twitter, reiterating that the appointment of a deputy is the sole prerogative of the president. “I did not send a message to the President asking him to appoint or not appoint any person as Vice-President,” the PPM leader tweeted from Oman, where he has been sent as a special envoy of the president.

A vote on incumbent vice president Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s impeachment is expected next week.

Supporters are meanwhile continuing a social media campaign backing Adeeb for the position. The photo campaign has now gathered some 800 participants. But critics have questioned the need for a campaign noting the president is authorized to appoint whomever he desires to the post.

President Abdulla Yameen’s silence on the new appointment, rumors over Gayoom’s opposition and the “ISupportAdeeb4VP” campaign has triggered speculation that Adeeb’s appointment as the new deputy may not be as certain as it appeared in late June, when the Majlis passed a constitutional amendment that makes Adeeb eligible for the vice presidency.

The amendment sets new age-limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency. Adeeb is 33 years old and was previously ineligible as the constitution had said candidates must be above 35 years of age.

Soon afterwards, the tourism minister reprimanded Gayoom’s son, newly elected MP Ahmed Faris, for his absence from the vote.

Accusing Faris of letting Yameen down, Adeeb said in a text message in English: “You cannot differentiate youth or any segment with educated, non educated, poor and rich, beyfulhu [aristocrat] or non beyfulhu [non-aristocrat] etc.”

In a second text message, Adeeb told Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MPs that President Yameen must be allowed to rule without internal resistance. “I have witnessed how difficult it is for HEP Yameen to rule with many frictions, I think we need to discuss this at party level,” he wrote.

Faris’ absence triggered speculation that Gayoom opposed Jameel’s impeachment.

Soon after Haveeru published its article today, Adeeb’s supporters took to social media expressing support for his appointment as the new presidential deputy. “The vice presidency is not reserved for individuals of a particular clan. We must change this way of thinking and allow opportunities for the younger generation,” wrote PPM member Hussain Shinan.

Moosa Anwar, one of the organisers in the campaign told Minivan News today that “the number of people participating in the campaign shows how much support Adeeb has.”

“The current vice president has fled to London and is not doing his job. We are sure Adeeb will make a better VP than Jameel,” he said.

Jameel left to London abruptly the day after the constitutional amendment was passed in Majlis. A 14-day notice for him to answer charges in an impeachment motion submitted to parliament by the ruling party expired today without a written response.

Rumours also spread today about the government is clearing out the vice president’s residence Hilaaleege. However, the Maldives National Defence Force spokesperson denied the claims.

President Yameen is meanwhile yet to publicly comment either on the vice president’s impeachment or a favoured candidate for the post.

Speaking to Minivan News today, president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said that “only the president will know who he will appoint to the post, if the post becomes vacated for whatever reasons.”

Yameen is reportedly seeking to replace Jameel over incompetence and disloyalty. In a meeting with the PPM parliamentary group last week, Yameen reportedly showed MPs proof of Jameel’s correspondence with opposition politicians ahead of a mass anti-government protest on May 1. In the messages Jameel reportedly asked if the opposition will let him assume the presidency if Yameen is ousted.

The opposition says Yameen wants to replace Jameel because he is fatally ill and is seeking a more loyal deputy ahead of a major surgery.

Jameel was not available for comment at the time of going to press. In an interview with the New Indian Express, he had labeled his impeachment a constitutional coup and suggested that the international community must intervene.

The PPM has secured the opposition’s backing for the impeachment motion, which was submitted with 61 signatures. A two-thirds majority or 57 votes will be required to vote Jameel out of office.

The parliament has also amended its standing orders to fast track the vice president’s impeachment.

The opposition’s backing for the amendment was 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 currently engaged in talks to resolve a six-month long political crisis.

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Plastic palms placed on Malé streets in rush to prepare for independence day

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

Plastic palm trees have been placed on Malé’s streets and several areas at Male’s waterfront have been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Grand celebrations are expected on July 26 as the Maldives marks the golden jubilee of independence from the British.

The plastic palm trees will be strung with lights, says the home ministry.

Several masked men, which the opposition claims are rogue policemen, in October last year chopped down all of Malé City’s Areca palms. Jailed ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim claimed during a trial on weapons smuggling charges that he was framed after the fallout with the police and tourism minister over the cutting down of palm trees.

The government later prevented the Malé City Council from replanting the palms.

The presidential jetty on Malé’s waterfront has been dismantled, and barges with cranes have been brought in as soldiers work around the clock to finish the jetty within two weeks. The government insists the jetty will be completed, but says dignitaries for the official independence day function will be received at the T-jetty in front of the local market area, and not at the presidential jetty.

The Republic Square has meanwhile been closed off for months for renovations and a brand new water fountain.

The official celebrations will not be held at the Republic Square, but at the Usfasgandu area on Malé’s southeast corner, the president’s office has said. The Usfasgandu is traditionally used by the opposition for its activities.

Renovations began this week at the Usfasgandu area. Cranes are at work leveling the area, while workers are putting up new walls.

“All of the planned renovations will be completed by July 26,” said Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s office spokesperson.

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The government has not yet disclosed the program for the day. Officials have previously said that the government will hold an official function, soldiers and school students will hold a parade, and official games will be held at the national stadium.

Renovations are also underway at several parks and public monuments in the city. Malé’s streets and the smoke stacks at the power plant have been decked in green, red and white national flags.

An army spokesperson also said all renovation work is on schedule. If not, soldiers may be brought out to complete work. But there is no such indication yet, he said. The army is only in charge of the official jetty at present.

Mohamed ‘Mundu’ Hussein Shareef, the presidential affairs minister, last night dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the independence day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

He refused to disclose the total amount allocated for independence day, but finance minister Abdulla Jihad last week told Minivan News the budget was MVR150million (US$9.7million).

The Anti- Corruption Commission began a review last week after receiving complaints of lucrative projects being awarded to private companies without a bidding process.

The Minivan 50 office awarded a restaurant New Port with an MVR1million catering contract and a British company called The Projection Studio with a contract to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

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President’s office minister Abdulla Ameen resigns

President’s office minister Abdulla Ameen has resigned from the government.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said Ameen submitted his letter of resignation yesterday.

The former minister “did not state a particular reason for the resignation in the letter,” Muaz said in a tweet today.

Ameen is a close ally of Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who is facing impeachment by the parliament.

Ameen is also facing corruption charges after the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) forwarded a case against the minister to the prosecutor general’s office. Ameen is accused of writing off a fine to a company over delays in the Thimarafushi regional airport project.

The company had failed to complete the airport within the agreed upon period.

Corruption charges have not been filed at court yet.

Vice president Jameel’s cousin, former youth minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, was also sacked from the cabinet last month.

A 14-day notice for Jameel to answer charges expires today. The impeachment process is expected to begin next week and the vice president has said he intends to respond to parliament in writing.

MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) have secured 61 signatures for 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 had previously labelled his imminent impeachment as a “constitutional coup” and urged the international community to intervene.

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

Adeeb has accused Jameel of planning a coup d’etat with the opposition.

“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.

The parliament last month passed an amendment with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set the new age limits of 30-65 years for 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 was 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 currently engaged in talks to resolve a six-month long political crisis.

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Corruption alleged in use of MVR150m budget for independence day

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is investigating corruption in the home ministry’s use of an MVR150million (US$9.7million) budget allotted for independence day activities. The ministry is accused of awarding lucrative projects to private companies without a bidding process.

The Maldives will mark 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

An office set up under the home ministry has awarded a restaurant New Port with a MVR1million catering contract and a British company called The Projection Studio with a contract to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Several monuments, public parks and the official jetty are also under renovation. A civil society group has been given a professional fee of MVR1million to make a replica of a historic boat.

President Abdulla Yameen has meanwhile bought a brand new luxury yacht worth US$4million for the independence day celebrations.

“The ACC formed a special committee to investigate the office on its own initiative after receiving complaints,” said assistant director Hassan Manik.

However, the head of the Minivan 50 (independence 50) office and deputy home minister Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem denied corruption and said: “Instead of opening a public bidding process we are approaching local and foreign companies with relevant expertise and awarding the contract to the cheapest option with a special permit from the finance ministry.”

He also told Minivan News the ACC was overseeing the office’s transactions on their invitation.

Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad confirmed the provision of a special permit for the Minivan 50 office to “hand out some of the projects.”

While Saleem had refused to disclose the budget of allocated to independence day celebrations, Jihad confirmed to Minivan News that the figure amounted to MVR150 million.

Saleem insisted that the private companies were not profiting off of independence day activities, but that they were only charging a “professional fee.”

The deputy minister said the activities had been planned after a public consultation. The home ministry had called for proposals in 2014 and held a public forum this year to discuss proposals. “The celebration activities were decided by the public,” he said.

The home ministry has held a mandatory parade for all students, a swim between capital Malé and suburb Villingili and slaughtered 150 goats for the golden jubilee of independence.

 

 

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Family requests Nazim’s transfer from jail to house arrest

The family of former defense minister Mohamed Nazim has requested his transfer from prison to house arrest with an appeal filed over the 11-year-jail term on weapons smuggling charges stalled indefinitely at the High Court.

Nazim’s brother, Adam Azim, said the family has written to home minister requesting the transfer. The appeal was stalled after the Supreme Court suddenly transferred two judges on the five-judge-panel to a newly created appellate branch in the south.

Nazim maintains he was framed by rogue police officers who planted the pistol and three bullets in his apartment during a midnight raid.

The trial was criticized for apparent lack of due process. Appeal hearings were set to conclude within a week in late-June. The transfer of judges was made in the middle of the appeal on June 23.

Nazim’s trial coincided with the terrorism trial of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The opposition leader was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the military detention of a judge during his tenure. The pair’s imprisonment sparked a political crisis with daily protests.

With mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest. Talks have now commenced between the government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The MDP has requested Nazim be transferred to house arrest to allow political reconciliation. The largest opposition party has also requested the government withdraw terrorism charges against the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

Imran was charged with inciting violence at a historic anti-government protest on May 1. The Adhaalath Party allied with the MDP in March after President Abdulla Yameen told Imran he had no power to release Nazim.

Home minister Umar Naseer told the press on Sunday that the government is open to exploring avenues to release jailed politicians and withdrawing charges. The government will present a paper at a third meeting on Wednesday night.

While there has been progress on government’s talks with the MDP and the Jumhooree Party, talks with the Adhaalath Party has been stalled, with the party insisting Imran should represent it at talks.

Ibrahim Muaz, the president’s office spokesperson, said the Adhaalath Party cannot present demands before sitting for talks. “There cannot be demands to start the discussions. Decisions can only made after discussing at the table.”

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Efforts to put Maldives on CMAG agenda unsuccessful, says foreign ministry

The Maldives is not on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) despite “efforts made by some of the most powerful countries in the Commonwealth to place the Maldives on the group’s agenda and harm the nation,” the foreign ministry has said.

Some Commonwealth members have been pushing for the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm to assess alleged violations of the organisation’s principles by the Maldives following the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Dunya Maumoon gave a briefing to the CMAG Ministers today about the political situation in the Maldives and reiterated that there is no serious or persistent violation of Commonwealth political values in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.

It added that Dunya also stressed “the progress that the government has achieved in defusing political tensions in the country” and assured the Maldives’ commitment to “constructively engage with the Commonwealth”.

Signs of an end to a six-month long political crisis are emerging. Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment to allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

At a second meeting between representatives of the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party last night, home minister Umar Naseer said the government is open to exploring avenues to release jailed politicians and withdraw charges against opposition supporters.

Foreign minister Dunya said last week that  the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership in the Commonwealth” if the country is placed on the CMAG agenda for a second time.

Meanwhile, former foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has said that the CMAG only granted the Maldives further time to “sort out [the] mess Maldives is in.”

The UN special rapporteur on Iran also said that the group will convene again after the UN working group on arbitrary detention declares Nasheed’s imprisonment unlawful.

The opposition leader was found guilty of terrorism in March over the military’s detention of a judge during his tenure. The 19-day terrorism trial was criticised by foreign governments, the UN, and international human rights organisations over its apparent lack of due process.

The former president’s international legal team filed a petition at the UN working group in late April. The government has been asked to respond before the first week of July.

In a conversation last week with Commonwealth’s secretary general Kamalesh Sharma, Dunya said there are no serious violations in the Maldives and criticised Sharma’s alleged failure to follow due process before considering action.

The MDP meanwhile called on the Maldivian government to “stop being so arrogant.”

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

CMAG agenda

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

But 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.

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.

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 exerting undue influence in the Commonwealth as a donor country.

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