Gasim calls for “jihad” against “Nasheed’s antics”: local media

Leader of the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP), resort tycoon MP Gasim Ibrahim, has accusing former President Mohamed Nasheed of leading a “coup” against the Maldivian state, and called for a “jihad” to protect Maldivian society from “Nasheed’s antics”, local media has reported.

Speaking at the JP’s fourth anniversary ceremony yesterday, local newspaper Haveeru reported Gasim as saying the nation had fallen “victim” to Nasheed and his supporters, whom he accused of conducting “terrorist acts”.

“The time has come to undertake a Jihad in the name of Allah to protect our religion, culture and nation. Such a sacrifice must be made to restore peace and stability in the nation,” Gasim was quoted as saying.

MDP Spokesperson, MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, claimed Gasim’s calls for “jihad” were of “very serious” concern to the nation.

Gasim’s statement highlighted the “growing jihadist spirit” among senior government politicians linked to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whom he accused of promoting “extremist hate speech” against their political opposition.

“What we are seeing are some of Gayoom’s generals trying to stoke a jihadist sense of nationalism,” Ghafoor claimed. “This is a product of Gayoom’s rule.”

Gasim was not responding to calls at time of press.

JP Spokesperson Moosa Ramiz meanwhile said he had been asked to forward questions from media to the party’s president, Dr Ibrahim Didi. Dr Didi was not answering calls at time of press.

“Jihadist rhetoric”

Ghafoor contended that politically-motivated calls for “jihad”  had to be taken seriously, given that Gasim was not only a key financier of the December 23 coalition that criticised the Nasheed administration for “un-Islamic” policies such as diplomatic relations with Israel, but also the Vice Chairman of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI).

“Gasim is the main financier of the [religiously conservative] Adhaalath Party that came into the MDP’s coalition government [elected in 2008] through him,“ Ghafoor claimed. “We cannot take such comments from him with a grain of salt, given that he was one of the chief thugs of Gayoom’s regime.”

As well as leading the Jumhoree Party, Gasim is both a member of parliament and its representative on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – the judicial watchdog recently accused by the UN Human Rights Committee of being “seriously compromised”.

During the Maldives recent defence of its human rights record in Geneva, a panel member also raised the “troubling role of the judiciary at the centre of many of these [recent] developments.”

“The judiciary – which is admittedly in serious need of training and qualifications – is yet seemingly playing a role leading to the falling of governments,” he observed.

Gasim was also accused by the MDP of supporting the Adhaalath Party’s February 2010 protests against new regulations permitting the sale of alcohol and pork to foreign nationals at licensed hotels of more than 100 beds, on islands designated as ‘inhabited’ in the Maldives.

According to customs records for 2011, Gasim’s Villa Hotels chain – including the Royal, Paradise, Sun, and Holiday Island resorts, in 2011 imported approximately 121,234.51 litres of beer, 2048 litres of whiskey, 3684 litres of vodka and 219.96 kilograms of pork sausages, among other commodities restricted to islands classified as ‘uninhabited’ in the Maldives.

Political use of Islam

Ghafoor also raised concerns about rhetoric of present Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel, whose Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) this year published a pamphlet whilst in opposition entitled “President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians.”

Ghafoor alleged that allegations within the document – denied vehemently by Nasheed, and which leading to the controversial arrest of two senior DQP members including Dr Jameel – amounted to a work of extremist “hate speech”. The repeated dismissal of Dr Jameel’s case by Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, and the subsequently arrest and on the judge by Nasheed’s government on charges including political collusion, led to the downfall of the Nasheed administration in a police and military mutiny on February 7.

Ghafoor rejected the JP’s allegations that the MDP’s ongoing protests in the capital during the last few weeks – which have escalated at points into violent confrontations with police – were perceived as “acts of terrorism” by the public.

“This is something [our political opponents] have always thrown at us, to brand the MDP and its supporters as terrorists,” he said. “Though they brand us as un-Islamic, we have won election despite these sort of allegations,” he said. “I would also say that Nasheed has received numerous international awards, including the James Lawson Award for Achievement in the Practice of Nonviolent Action. We are an exemplary case of providing a peaceful political transition despite the country’s coup-ridden past. “


DRP issues statement in support of Thasmeen after criticism from Gayoom’s family

Members of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) are claimed to be throwing their weight behind current leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali after he last week came under criticism from the family of his predecessor and former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Press reports in the Maldivian media have continued to focus on the impacts of a DhiTV interview with Gayoom’s daughter Yumna Maumoon on Thursday, accusing Thasmeen of “spreading” autocratic rule.

Haveeru has reported that the party has sided with Thasmeen, although none of the MPs have publicly criticised the party’s ‘Honorary Leader’.

Yumna Maumoon said Thursday evening that DRP members were concerned that Thasmeen was ruling the party dictatorially, as well as failing to properly oppose the government of President Mohamed Nasheed.

The criticisms have added further weight to a split within the party down factional lines between various MPs.

In a statement, the DRP said that all policy decisions adopted by the party were made by majority decision agreed upon by an internal council.

“Therefore, the leader is required to execute any decision made by the council. This party does not believe that this is part of spreading the leader’s dictatorial ways within the party,” the statement read. “This party also does not believe that the leader should follow the instructions of a specific person in such a way that it contradicts with the spirit of the charter.”

DRP MP Rozaina Adam told Minivan News that according to the party’s rules, former President Gayoom’s position as ‘Honorary Leader’ and did not give him a say in the political running of the party.

“The political leader of the party is Thasmeen. He is the one who is legally responsible for the actions of the party. It is the DRP Council that votes on a course of action, not former President Gayoom,” Rozaina said.

She speculated that much of the tension within the party revolved around the Council’s decision last year to send former Deputy Leader Umar Naseer to the party’s disciplinary committee, which made the decision to remove Naseer from the DRP.

“It was the Council that voted to send Umar Naseer to the disciplinary committee, which made a decision regarding the issue, not Thasmeen himself,” Rozaina said, adding that it was doubtful whether Thasmeen even had the authority to change the decision of the committee.

The DRP had a review committee, Rozaina said, “but Umar did not even apply for that. Instead he went and complained like a little boy to Mr Gayoom, to try and get him to change the decision.”

A split was looking inevitable, she suggested.

“Right now it looks like we are heading towards that. A lot of members in the Gayoom faction have been talking about creating a new party. It probably will split – I don’t see us getting along or working together.”

Even in the event of a split, Rozaina said it was unlikely that the opposition’s parliamentary majority would be threatened. While there were five DRP MPs on Gayoom’s side, both sides were still working against the ruling MDP, she said.

The Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), led by former Attorney General Hassan Saeed, has already joined Thasmeen’s side of the DRP as a new coalition partner.

Rozaina said the party’s other coalition partner, the People’s Alliance, had been leaning in support of Gayoom’s side.

“There’s been a lot of rumours that [PA Leader and half brother of Gayoom] Abdulla Yameen is behind all this, and that this is something he has been planning from within,” Rozaina suggested.

DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom told Minivan News that while he had no comment on any specific allegations, he was “very happy” with the democratic processes within the party.

“Every decision is made in a democratic manner,” he said.

Speaking to Minivan News last month, DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said that the current antagonism between factions loyal to Thasmeen and dismissed former Deputy Leader Umar Naseer had made the party very susceptible to rumour and damaging gossip.

However, he said at the time that the party would remain unified and that gossip that the party could be split into individual political groups loyal to either Thasmeen, Gayoom or other MPs was inaccurate.

However, the party has continued to be rocked by reports of literal infighting with DRP MP Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef claiming in February that factions within the party were trying to “stifle freedom of expression” in a bid to seize leadership.

Reports of factions within the DRP have circulated since Naseer’s departure last December, leading to violent confrontations at an official party meeting held the same month that required police intervention after the dismissed deputy leader attempted to gain entry to the event.

The disturbance was linked to a growing war of words between Thasmeen and Naseer, with the latter still choosing to campaign with his former party ahead of local month’s local council elections alongside Gayoom himself.

Various MPs including Thasmeen, Ahmed Mahlouf and dismissed former Deputy Leader Umar Naseer were unavailable for comment when contacted by Minivan News at the time of going to press.


Many successful candidates unclear on new responsibilities and mandates, says Thasmeen

Many successful candidates in the local council election remained unaware of their new responsibilities, or even the mandate of a local council, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has said.

“It is a fact that candidates from many parties including ours may not be clear on their responsibilities and mandates,” Thasmeen told Minivan News.

At present though, the DRP leader said that the party’s key priority was to set out timelines and policy on how local councils would operate, and how they would collaborate with parliament – something he said there were few details of at present.

“We don’t have any details on when the local councils will begin their work, and there are many issues that need to be finalised,” said the opposition party leader. “For example, how will these councils interact with the government?”

Parties across the political spectrum would be required to provide “support structures” such as technical training to try prepare individual council members for decentralised governance, he explained.

Thasmeen added that he was ultimately satisfied with the party’s performance in the election, and believed it was on track to obtain at least 50 percent of all council seats as the results of more ballots became known.

“The council elections have been a good victory, our forecasts now show that perhaps we can obtain 60 percent of the total vote with the MDP at around 35 percent,” he said.

In light of the DRP’s performance at the polls, former president and the party’s honorary leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom hosted a “Welcome to Blue Maldives” celebration yesterday together with ousted Deputy Leader Umar Naseer. However Thasmeen said that “as a party we have made the decision to not formally hold a victory party as we have work to do relating to local councils.”

Thasmeen said that while the opposition party’s 2013 presidential campaign would be very different to the local council elections, it did provide stepping stones for the way ahead.

Meanwhile, reports of factions forming within the DRP between supporters of Thasmeen and dismissed former DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer do not appear to be going away.

Umar Naseer today forwarded reports of the alleged resignation of Dr Mohamed Saud, Thasmen’s recently appointed Advisor on Human Resources after taking part in a DRP victory rally.

Thasmeen said he had been unable to confirm the reports with Dr Saud at time of press, and was unable to disclose any more details on the allegations until his office had spoken with the advisor.

The ruling party was similarly upbeat about the results of the election. A senior government source, also an MDP member, told Minivan News that “traditionally, governments usually get a kicking in midterm elections.”

“We’re still analysing the results but we won the population centres and it looks like we’ll be ahead in the popular vote. We won Male’, Addu, Kulhufushi and Thinadhoo – in Fuvahmulah it was more split,” the source said.

“We got 25 percent in the presidential election, 33 percent in the parliamentary election – I think we could see 40 percent in this election, if not higher.”

Transparency Maldives has meanwhile expressed concern at the amount of “subtle” campaigning conducted inside and outside the polling areas.

Transparency’s spokesperson Aiman Rasheed said that “nearly all observers” had noticed this taking place.

“The EC has said it was not able to find really experienced officials and ended up relying on some very young people, particularly on the islands,” he said. “There was a lot of intimidation of polling officials.”

There were also some issues with assisted voting, Rasheed added, with elected officials inconsistent in allowing assisted votes. Inconsistency had also been observed in declaring ballots invalid, he said.

Despite these observations, Rasheed said the election “was credible and very transparent in the way it was conducted.”

He did note issues with media outlets struggling to provide balanced coverage in the lead-up to the vote, “which is when many people make their decisions”.

“MNBC said it was trying but opposition parties were boycotting them, while DhiTV and VTV said the same thing about the ruling party. The state media also said its budget had been slashed. A lot of journalists have also come up and told us their editorial policy on paper was different from how things really worked.”


Nexbis to seek legal redress for “irreparable damage to reputation and brand name”

Mobile security solutions vendor Nexbis has announced it will be taking legal action against parties in the Maldives, claiming that speculation over corruption was “politically motivated” in nature and had “wrought irreparable damage to Nexbis’ reputation and brand name.”

“Although we understand that the recent media frenzy and speculation of corruption are politically motivated in nature and not directly related to Nexbis, it has had an indirect impact on our reputation and brand name,” the company said in a statement provided to Minivan News.

“Nexbis’ shareholders own and manage multi-trillion dollar assets globally and will not jeopardise their reputation for an investment return,” the company stated.

The Malaysian-based technology firm signed a concessionaire contract with the Department of Immigration in October 2010, to install an advanced border control system that is had said would collect and store biometric data on expatriate workers and eliminate abuse of (easily forged) paper documentation.

The government has struggled to tackle the problem of foreign worker exploitation. There are believed to be 100,000 foreign workers in the country – almost a third of the country’s total population – but no data is available on how many are illegal.

International agencies have taken a dim view of the problem, most notably the US State Department, which last year placed the Maldives on its tier two watch-list for human trafficking. Minivan News reported in August 2010 that the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers alone was an industry was worth at least US$43.8 million a year, rivaling fishing as a source of foreign exchange.

Following the signing ceremony with Nexbis, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) announced it had received “a serious complaint” regarding “technical details” of the bid, and issued an injunction pending an investigation into the agreement.

“On the very day we signed the contract, barely hours, maybe minutes later, the ACC had drafted a letter saying there were suspicions of corruption involved with the decision,” Minivan News was told by an Immigration Department source, who asked not to be identified.

Nexbis shares immediately dropped 6.3 percent on the back of the ACC’s announcement.

Last week, facing political pressure ahead of the local council elections, President Mohamed Nasheed upheld the ACC’s request that the roll-out of the technology be postponed.

The ‘stop-work’ order amounts to an indefinite hold on the project, with little optimism for a quick outcome. The ACC has not completed an investigation since 2008.

In its statement, Nexbis noted that the system and related technologies to be installed in the Maldives “have been implemented in over 100 locations worldwide including the Americas, Europe and Asia and comply with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and other international standards.

“Nexbis is an international company with strict internal policies that conform to International Anti-Corruption laws and strictly enforce the policy. All Nexbis staff have strict government security clearance to carry out national security projects.”

The company stated that it was invited along with other Malaysian companies to invest in the Maldives during a government road show, and was shortlisted for the Immigration Border Control System (MIBCS) tender after making an expression of interest in February 2010, together with several other companies.

“Subsequent to that, Nexbis together with the other shortlisted companies were invited to respond to the RFP (request for proposal),” the company stated. “Nexbis followed the strict and transparent submission and evaluation process requirement of the government of Maldives and emerged as the successful bidder for the project in a public opening of the bid together with all the other bidders.”

Those bidders, Nexbis said, were informed that they would be subject to both a technical evaluation by the Immigration Department and an independent financial evaluation by both the Ministry of Finance and the Tender Board.

“The contract negotiations involved lawyers from the Attorney General’s office, Immigration, as well as the Ministry of Finance prior to a unanimous conclusion by all parties and final sign off by the Attorney General’s office of the Government of Maldives,” Nexbis stated.

On October 17, 2010, Nexbis signed a concession agreement with the Department of Immigration to implement an Immigration Border Control System (MIBCS) under a BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) arrangement. This allowed the system to be installed at no upfront cost to the government, while Nexbis would levy a fee on work visas issued over the lifespan of the agreement.

The concessionaire contract, Nexbis noted, “is legally binding and Nexbis will exhaust all avenues to ensure that its interest is protected in this matter.”

“Nexbis’ international lawyers have been building a libel and defamation case since the media frenzy to enable legal proceedings against certain individuals and institutions that have wrought irreparable damage to Nexbis’ reputation and brand name,” the company stated.

“In addition, we will be suing for compensation for collateral and consequential damages that arise as a result of direct or indirect implied allegations by individuals or institutions. We have gathered significant and indisputable information to mount a successful case and will be taking action.”

Mohamed Zuhair, Press Secretary for President Mohamed Nasheed, said “I agree that this is a negative development, and that Nexbis should consider going to court seeking redress [for the] delays.”

“The ACC has only said that there were ‘instances and opportunities’ where corruption could have occurred, but said they were not sure if it did happen and issued an injunction.”

The President, Zuhair emphasised, had “simply stated that he will cooperate with the ACC”, and “has not insinuated that corruption is involved [in the Nexbis deal].”

He added that the country’s independent institutions – and its judiciary – had been formed during an opposition majority.

“For all the government’s good intentions, the independent institutions have yet to do anything to accelerate the government’s efforts to provide prosperity for the public,” he claimed.

Zuhair pressed for patience, noting that “it is difficult for the government at the timebeing, during local council elections. These are problems not unique to the Maldives, and foreign investors should take heart in the democratic process we have brought in. On a good day, the ACC is in favour of foreign investment.”

He acknowledged the scope of the problem that the agreement was intended to address.

“Expatriate workers get hit twice – they pay agents in the country of origin, then come and pay an agent here, or even the employer. It is illegal and it has been going on for 30 years – there is now an ingrained culture [in the Maldives] of taking advantage of the hiring of expatriate workers to make money from them.”

“I am confident justice will prevail,” he added.

Minister of Economic Development Mahmoud Razee acknowledged that the situation with Nexbis was “unwelcome”, but said the Ministry “believes investors conduct due diligence on political risks in an emerging democracy with a lot of fluidity.”

“The government of the Maldives will continue to promote democracy and stabilise the economy to attract investors,” he said.

Nexbis appeared less convinced, and warned of potential ramifications to foreign investment in the Maldives should investors become collateral damage in local politicking.

“The ultimate collateral damage will be to the Maldivian public in the long term as international investors will shy away from the country unless commitments made are honored,” the company said.

“A single default in the government’s commitment will have a long and lasting effect including a significant re-rating of the investment risk of the country.”

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was not returning calls despite numerous attempts over several days.