JSC decision must be investigated by Parliament, urges member

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) decided last week to reappoint all current judges, regardless of whether they hold a previous conviction for a crime or a criminal breach of trust or bribery.

After the decision was made, member of the commission Aishath Velazinee spoke out against it, writing in her blog, “it is indeed a sad state of affairs, and an insult to all those honest judges whose integrity and good name is compromised by today’s decision.”

Today, Velazinee told Minivan News it might seem like “one mad woman screaming,” but insisted “the Majlis has to attend to this and demand a public inquiry. I can only bring it to public attention.”

She said “Parliament has failed to hold the JSC accountable,” and said she still “firmly believes” the composition of the commission presents a conflict of interest, leading to a vote that ultimately contradicting the purpose of the commission.

The JSC was created to reform the judiciary and investigate all judges, “and was asked to evaluate every single sitting judge appointed prior to the 2008 Constitution,” Velazinee said.

According to the Constitution, the nine-member commission must comprise of the speaker of parliament; an MP and a member of the public both appointed by Parliament; three judges, one from the Supreme Court, High Court and the trial courts; a private lawyer elected among licensed lawyers; the Chair of the Civil Service Commission (CSC); a person appointed by the President; and the Attorney General.

“The JSC was not functioning under the law of the Constitution, and not acting in the interest of the public,” said Velazinee, who is the President’s member on the Commission.

She suggested it be made up of a “cross-section of people in this country, who are educated and have an understanding of democracy.”

Last week’s decision was won by majority, with five votes in favour.

“They have decided Article 285 is symbolic,” Velazinee said, “it is a very simplistic view of democracy.”

Article 285 stipulates that the JSC shall determine before August 7, 2010 whether or not judges on the bench posses the qualifications specified by the Constitution.

Currently, there are seven judges found guilty of a criminal breach of trust; five with allegations of a criminal breach of trust; two are being prosecuted for an alleged breach of trust; one is on trial for sexual misconduct; two have been found guilty of sexual misconduct; one was found guilty for an offence which had a prescribed punishment in Islam; and another judge who has been accused of a criminal breach of trust, and found guilty of sexual misconduct.

That is a total of nineteen judges with a criminal history, most of which have not been tried in a court of law.

Velazinee said she was not given an opportunity to discuss or issue alternative proposals, even though she had been trying to bring attention to her argument for months. “Even the Superior Court Justice decided it was not worthy,” she added.

Parliament’s power

Parliament has the power to reverse or alter the JSC’s decision, “but now they’re in recess, too,” Velazinee said, noting probably nothing much can be done until the Majlis reconvenes in mid-June.

Adding to Velazinee’s concern, the JSC has only until 7 August of this year to submit any reforms and all cases on the judges. “And probably not even until the deadline,” she added.

She said although the president “would normally have a say” in this decision, “in the current political context, the president getting involved could do more harm.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said “there are legalities to be considered” because “the law does stipulate a clause on limitations,” which says that a judge, or an MP or a citizen, “can be absolved of a crime after five years” of being convicted.

He added “judges should be examples” and new regulations and legislation should be considered.

Zuhair said President Mohamed Nasheed “will adhere to the Constitution,” and there is “nothing to do until Parliament comes back.”

But, he added, a parliamentary committee could look into the issue extraordinarily, just like the National Security Committee is having a sitting this Wednesday.

Judges Abdulla Mohamed and Abdulla Didi did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

Attorney General Husnu Suood did not respond, either.


MNDF rescues Iranian vessel suspected hijacked

Maldives Coastguard rescued an Iranian fishing vessel in Maldivian territorial waters yesterday, discovering the crew had been deprived of water and food for several days.

Following reports of an Iranian fishing vessel which had drifted into Maldivian waters, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and coastguard began a search for the ship.

MNDF Major Abdul Raheem said the ship was found at around 4.40pm yesterday on the outskirts of Havadhu Atoll.

“They were having engine problems and drifted to the Maldives,” Major Raheem said. “We wanted to give assistance; they had no food or water.”

The twenty crew members, all of Iranian nationality, were also provided with medical assistance.

Major Raheem noted the crew were still in the Maldives. “Our government and Iran’s government are having negotiations to decide when they will be sent back.”

Of the reports that seven of the men found on the vessel were pirates who had highjacked the ship earlier, he said “we cannot say whether they are pirates. They had no identification on them.”

“We conducted a search and found no weapons in the ship,” he added.

But, Major Raheem noted, the vessel’s captain did say his crew had been taken by pirates six months ago. The ship’s owner, who is in Iran, has not had contact with the ship for six months.

The Major said there was no current investigation by the MNDF regarding the case.

MNDF Lieutenant Abdulla Ali said civil aviation craft were used for the search. He said the men were “still in that boat,” but the MNDF is providing them with food and water.

He said the negotiations with Iran were underway to send them back.

Lieutenant Ali added “we can’t say” whether seven of the men took over the ship, but confirmed that the captain of the vessel had said they were highjacked six months ago and the pirates were currently on board the ship.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Sheraton Full Moon begins community assistance project with Vilingili children’s home

Sheraton’s Full Moon Resort has begun a first-of-its-kind community project to help Kudakudhige Hiya children’s home in Vilingili.

Manager of Full Moon, Justin Malcolm, said the Sheraton family is “globally focused on giving back to the community” in every country.

He said they had been looking for a community project in the Maldives for about six months since last year. After looking at the children’s home, Malcolm said, he realised “it is exactly what we’re looking to do.”

Malcolm visited the home, which had been having staff shortages due to financial difficulties earlier this year. Another problem has been overcrowding.

He said there are children aged two months to fourteen years and “a fair little work needs to take place to make it feel like a homely environment.”

He said since “the government doesn’t have enough funds” to to further assist the centre, “and it ticked all the boxes,” management chose Vilingili orphanage as their target project.

workshop at Full Moon

He added they felt it was a great opportunity to do something “meaningful” and said “the goal is to make the kids’ lives a little brighter.”

The project is a “long-term partnership” between the resort and the Ministry of Health and Family. Full Moon is the first resort in the Maldives to start a community project with the government, Malcolm noted.

They will also be “updating the facilities” at the home and will be providing a General Practitioner and two dentists to “assess the kids’ health.” The dentists will come in twice a year for check ups and their stay will be sponsored by the resort.

Malcolm added the home does not have air conditioning, and Full Moon hopes to sponsor the installation of AC in the near future.

He said this is an “important time in the Maldives” and believes “we are making history” by sponsoring this project.

“I believe we’ve chosen the right project,” he added. “I don’t see why this can’t be a long-term partnership.”

The project was launched yesterday at the resort, where they had fun activities for the children as well as an environmental awareness campaign, which Malcolm feels “is equally important” for the children.

The launch was celebrated on National Family Day and Malcolm noted the kids had “so much fun.”

Deputy Minister of Health and Family, Mariya Ali, said “Sheraton came forward and were interested in a community assistance project to help Kudakudhige Hiya, and we welcomed it.”

She said although the contract has not been signed yet, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is being developed. She explained because the project will involve volunteers, they are drafting confidentiality agreements to ensure the children’s safety.

children at vilingili
Kids painting corals during the launching celebration

Mariya added the project would “strengthen civil society,” as Maldives is such a big tourist destination and this is creating a link between the tourism industry and the local community. “It’s important to make that link,” she noted.

She said the impact on the children’s lives would be “enriching” and added the project will help the home in many ways.

Besides assisting with maintenance, Sheraton will also be holding workshops both for staff and the children. One of them, Mariya noted, would focus on nutrition and preparation of age-appropriate food.

She also noted the two dentists who are being hired and the GP would be of huge assistance to the centre.

Mariya noted the US$20,000 the Chinese government pledged to the home earlier this month have now been transferred to the Ministry of Finance for processing, and as soon as it is finalised, the funds will be allocated.

She said they would mostly be used to upgrade security in the centre.

Mariya said there have been many recent calls from resorts wanting to offer assistance to the home, such as providing food, for instance.

“It’s been a very good response,” she said. “We are working very rapidly on this.”

A Pay-Pal account will also be set up soon and a new campaign will be launched next week.

Director of Kudakudhige Hiya, Ahmed Gazim, said there will be “much improvement” through the Sheraton’s programme. Additionally, he noted, the senior staff are also carrying out awareness programmes for the kids.

“It’s all slowly improving,” he said.


Maldives gets highest number of votes for Human Rights Council

The Maldives has been officially awarded a seat in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, receiving historic support from the UN General Assembly members.

The votes, which were cast on 13 May at the UN Headquarters in New York, revealed the Maldives came in at the top of the Asian group running for the Council.

The seat was also highly endorsed by a group of international NGOs, with UN Watch and Freedom House reporting that out of fourteen candidate countries from all regions, only five, including the Maldives, have human rights records that merit a seat in the Council.

The report said only the Maldives, Guatemala, Spain, Switzerland and Poland have a worthy human rights record, while the remaining nine countries have either “questionable” or “unqualified” records.

The seat had already been secured after Iran withdrew its candidature last month, leaving four countries–Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar and the Maldives–running for four seats.

But the unprecedented support from Member States show the “enormous respect for the Maldives, its government, its people, its national human rights institution, and the work that we have all been doing to strengthen the respect for human rights,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

He said “we topped the whole list. It was the highest number of votes ever on the Council.”

Dr Shaheed told Minivan News last month he believed the Maldives would be number one in the rankings.

Speaking in New York, Dr Shaheed said “this is a proud day for the Maldives,” adding that “five years ago we were a human rights pariah, today our bid to secure a Council seat has won almost universal support from UN Member States.”

Dr Shaheed added he was “delighted” the seat was won on merit; “today the world’s governments and human rights NGOs have joined together to recognise and endorse the enormous strides that the Maldives has taken in the realm of human rights.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said President Mohamed Nasheed was “very happy” about the seat in the Council, “especially because Maldives was elected with a very high award.”

He said he believes the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) “should become strengthened on this kind of endorsement.”

Zuhair added “human rights issues in the Maldives will be more highlighted” and said the votes show “international recognition of the Maldivian government in human rights issues.”

Speaking to Minivan News last month, President of the HRCM, Ahmed Saleem, said winning the seat was “a very good opportunity for the government to realise [they have] to make necessary changes.”

He added membership in the Council should improve human rights in the country “because the government also will have to act very positively now, there has to be room for improvement in the way the government reacts to human rights issues.”

Saleem noted he was “very delighted” the Maldives won a seat in the Council, as it “reflects well on us, as well.”

Human Rights Council

Seats for the Human Rights Council are voted upon by all forty-seven Member States of the Council, and seats are awarded with over 51% of votes, cast on secret ballots, by the General Assembly.

The Maldives secured 185 votes out of 192 Member States, making it the highest number of votes for a state in any region. Coming in second was Thailand, with 182 votes.

The Council, working out of the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva, is responsible for promoting human rights, addressing violations of human rights and promoting the effective coordination within the UN system.

This is the first time the Maldives has won a seat in a major UN body. The country will serve a three-year term. Countries are not eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.


CSC and political appointees: Pay cuts (Part II)

In part two of our comparisons between salaries of political appointees and civil servants, Minivan News examines the pay cuts initiated last year, parliament and the government’s promotion of state-owned companies.

The figures reported by Minivan News yesterday represented the fixed salaries of both political appointees and civil servants. The pay cuts made to salaries last October meant a 20 percent reduction for political appointees and a 15 percent reduction to civil servants’ salaries.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuahir, said starting on 13 May 2010, civil servants and political appointees will get a 7 percent reimbursement from the government, which will go into a pension fund.

“Meaning those who had a 15 percent reduction will now only have an 8 percent reduction,” Zuhair noted.

Most members of the civil service are in the middle management services, who earn anywhere from Rf 7,680 to Rf 10,106 after the pay cuts. This rank includes directors, senior technical officers and deputy and assistant directors.

The wages of Permanent Secretaries have also been queried, as they are civil servants working for political appointees. They are not in the regular structure but are linked to deputy ministers.

Their fixed salaries were originally of Rf 20,500 plus Rf 15,000 for allowances. After the 20 percent pay cut which started in October 2009, they now earn a total of Rf 28,400 a month. This makes permanent secretaries the highest paid members of the civil service, followed by professors who now earn Rf 20,280 after the pay cuts.

Civil servants and political appointees

The figures obtained by Minivan News show the highest number of political appointees are island councillors, with 168 across the country. After the pay cuts, they are making Rf 9,600. In total, the government is spending Rf 1,612,800 per month on island councillor’s salaries alone.

The figures also show that 35 state ministers and 55 deputy ministers are currently working for the government. State ministers are currently being paid Rf 37,600 a month, while deputy ministers get  Rf 28,400 per month, after the 20 percent salary reductions.

Together, the wages for state and deputy ministers add up to Rf 2,878,000 per month.

Despite Parliament’s decision to pass the decentralisation bill without the provinces act, and the government’s promise to reduce political appointees, former Utility Development Director at the President’s Office, Ahmed Nasheed, was appointed Deputy Minister of State for the South-Central Province yesterday.

His wages bring the figure up to Rf 2,906,400 each month.

Government-owned companies

Another point of contention has been the creation of government-owned companies which have been transferred from the civil service, such as the Malé Health Services Corporation.

Those who are critical of the salary cuts for civil servants have argued the government is still technically paying the wages of those working in these companies, which means government expenditure on wages has not reduced.

Zuhair said the creation of these companies was not only to reduce the civil service, but “it is also a more practical model.”

He said these companies are “self-sufficient and depend on earnings as a commercially viable business,” and are now relying more on Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) than on government subsidies.

Zuhair noted although many state-owned companies such as STELCO were receiving government subsidies in the past, new policies mean they will not be subsidised any more. “MNBC salaries were given out based on revenue,” he added.


MPs are currently earning Rf 62,500 a month, and are among the few sectors paid by the state who did not take a pay cut last year.

Parliamentary sittings take place three days a week, and there are three Parliament sessions a year. The sessions are held for three months and are followed by a one-month break.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Hoarafushi, Ahmed Rasheed, said he would not support a reduction to MPs’ salary cuts because he is always helping his constituents by giving them money of his salary. “I am not using a single rufiyah from my salary,” he said. “Last month, I spent Rf 134,600 for my island’s people. When you look at it like that, 62,500 is not much.”

Rasheed said this money was used mostly for medical purposes, including bills from IGMH and even air fares to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

He said people from his island “are very poor, and right now they don’t know what to do.”

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP for Galolhu South, Ahmed Mahlouf, said if the economic situation was really that bad, “then yes, of course we would agree with lowering our salaries.” But, he said, “DRP and other opposition MPs don’t believe that the salary of any servant should be reduced.”

He said “Maldives is not going through such a bad economic stage,” adding that “even during the tsunami salaries weren’t reduced.”

Mahlouf said no one’s salaries should have been reduced, and “if we agreed to reduce it, it would mean we agree with the economic situation being that bad. That is why we are fighting for their rights.”


CSC and political appointees: what they get paid (Part I)

Eight months after civil servants got their first pay cut, the political situation has deteriorated with law suits between the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Ministry of Finance.

President Mohamed Nasheed promised to reduce government expenditure, primarily by reducing the civil service and increasing privatisation in the country, and several privatisation partnerships are seeing the transfer of posts from the civil service to government-owned institutions.

Many opposed to the civil servant salary cuts have speculated about the amount paid to political appointees, arguing that it is unfair to cut civil servant salaries while paying large salaries and allowances to appointees. Minivan News has obtained the figures from both sides for the sake of comparison.

The civil service VS political appointees

The Maldivian government is currently spending approximately Rf 5 billion on civil servant salaries per year, approximately 74 percent of the Rf 6.8 billion budget. There are over 29,000 civil servants in the Maldives, comprising almost 10 percent of the population.

Documents obtained by Minivan News show that comparatively the government spends approximately Rf 173 million on the salaries of 354 political appointees per year, and around Rf 75.8 million on salaries for 77 MPs each year.

Labourers earn Rf 4,100 a month with the civil service, the lowest paying job in the CSC. The lowest paying job for political appointees is that of island councillors, who make Rf 12,000 a month.

The highest paying job under the CSC is that of a professor, with earnings of Rf 25,350 a month. Excluding the president and vice president, who earn Rf 100,000 and Rf 75,000 a month respectively, cabinet ministers earn Rf 57,500 a month.

The special envoy for science and technology, for example, earns Rf 45,000 a month, while an assistant professor under the CSC makes Rf 20,920 a month.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said although political appointees get a higher salary, civil servants have better job security “since they have unlimited tenure.”

On the other hand, he said, political appointees can serve a maximum of ten years in their post, “unless they keep jumping parties,” since a government can only hold two five-year terms.

“A political appointee will fall with the government,” Zuhair added. “But a civil servant can serve for forty, fifty years.”

He said political appointees also have a more authoritative role than civil servants, justifying a higher salary: “If they are not in an authoritative role, how can they be effective?”

Zuhair said political appointees comprise less than two percent of the civil service, and they are the ones “who supervise and ensure the civil servants do their jobs.” Hence, they deserve a higher salary, he added.

Additionally, he said, not all political appointees are “appointed. Some of them are elected.”

One of President Nasheed’s campaign promises was reducing the “top-heavy” government by reducing the number of political appointees, and according to Zuhair, there are fewer political appointees under this government than the previous one.

Minivan News reported in April last year there had been 440 political appointees under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government, and at the time, there were 538 political appointees under President Nasheed’s government.

Zuhair told Minivan News today that when the civil service was created in 2007, the former government transferred many of its appointees to posts in the civil service “so in case they lost the election, they still have many people with them.”

He added the former government was “not counting right” and their numbers “weren’t technically correct,” as they had everyone, including muezzins, working for them as political appointees.

In mid-March 2010, Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed requested a list of political appointees and their salaries from the Ministry of Finance, to clarify exactly how many appointees were working under the government.

Another of President Nasheed’s promises was to reduce the civil service and thus reduce government expenditure. The health sector is one of the first industries to go through this transition.

Member of the CSC, Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, said there have been many posts which have been abolished from the CSC and transferred to independent institutions, such as TV Maldives and and newly formed Maldives Health Services Corporation.

“The number of civil servants will be less now,” Fahmy said, “but the question is, how do you define public service?”


Work permit deposits for expats to be made to Finance Ministry

Deposits made by foreign nationals wishing to work in the Maldives must now be paid to the Ministry of Finance and not the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Controller of Immigration Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, said there was no act regarding deposits before, and they were simply kept by the Ministry of Human Resources.

He noted the transfer to the Finance Ministry was “to make administration easier.”

The deposits are required by the government from all foreign nationals applying for a work permit in the Maldives and must be secured before entering the country, an issue that has caused consternation among employers seeking to employ foreign workers.

Chief at the work visa section of the immigration department, Hassan Khaleel, said the amounts were decided by taking into consideration expenses in case the worker needs to be repatriated.

These expenses include the cost of air-fair back to the worker’s home country, accommodation for a few days in custody, food and transport, and medication if needed.

Minister of Human Resources Youth and Sports, Hassan Lateef, said the transfer of the deposits to the Finance Ministry had been a “cabinet decision,” but noted nothing else has changed in the laws and regulations concerning the deposits.

He said the employer must pay the deposit to the ministry and can also claim it back once the worker has gone back to his or her respective country.

Lateef said the money will be used “in case the employer, or the government, wants to send the employee back to their country, or if he or she is admitted into hospital.”

He said the money would not gain any interest and if it is not collected or used, it will “sit in the Finance Ministry” and be “kept safely.”

Indian nationals pay the least, with deposits of Rf 3,500 (US$272). Sri Lankans must pay Rf 4,000 (US$311) and Bangladeshis Rf 8,000 (US$623). The highest deposit required is for Ecuadorian nationals who must pay Rf 49,000 (US$3,813).

A full list of the deposits for each country can be downloaded here.


China donates over US$20 million in financial assistance

The Chinese government has made two generous donations to the Maldives in the past week, adding to over US$20 million in aid.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, confirmed the Chinese government has granted 50 million Chinese Yuan (US$20 million) in aid plus US$20,000 to go directly to Kudakudhige Hiya children’s home in Vilingili.

The shelter has been experiencing staff shortages recently due to financial difficulties.

Zuhair said the bulk of the money would be allocated towards helping the Maldives “overcome the challenges of the global economic recession,” specifically in infrastructure, sewerage and utilities, roads and climate change adaptation.

He noted the money had not been officially allocated yet and would be looked into shortly.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, said the money had not yet been officially granted and it was “premature to talk about it” until the final figures came from the Chinese government.

Spokesman Mr Lieu at the Chinese embassy to the Maldives in Colombo confirmed the figure of 50 million Chinese Yuan and added, “the Chinese government has tried its best to help its friend.”

The Chinese government also assisted with the construction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with the National Museum, which is still under construction.

The money for the Vilingili orphanage was announced by Honourary Consul to the Maldives in Shanghai, Yang Guisheng. The donation was received by First Lady Laila Ali while on an official trip to China last week.

The first lady thanked Guisheng for the generous donation and said the assistance was much needed for a centre like Kudakudhige Hiya.

Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali said the funds ”will really help” the centre, and will be prioritised towards “enforcing security in the building.”


Pollution in water surrounding Malé poses serious health risks, warn doctors

Sewerage and contaminants infiltrating the water and reefs around Malé have been a concern for many years, but as the population grows, so does the amount of sewerage going into the water, and the health and environmental risks this could pose are spiralling.

Business Development Manager at the Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC), Hassan Saeed, said waste in Malé is simply “disposed into the sea.”

He said at the moment there is no governing law that prohibits sewerage from being dumped into sea, and it is just being discharged at 50-100 metres below the surface.

Saeed said the seweage is not treated before being discharged, but is collected from households and then directed to the sea.

“So far it’s safe,” Saeed said. “We are discharging it into deep water and the currents take it away from the island.”

He said the MWSC has tested the waters near the swimming tract and artificial beach, and the Ministry of Health has also done independent studies.

He noted that the discharge pipes near the swimming areas have been extended up to 600 metres in length, to ensure they are taken further away from swimmers. “We have tested near the tract and we have found it is safe in that area,” he said.

The issue of safety had been raised before, he said, and added the government is looking into investing in treating the water.

“We are also ready to do that, the treatment of sewage,” he said, “but total investment is very high. We might have to ask the public to pay for it, it’s very costly.”

Saeed explained a lot of land space was needed for a water treatment plant and would require a high investment. He noted the project could also be carried out on a barge, if necessary, but said the cost for that would probably be higher than doing it on land.

“If we have to do it in a floating area, then we will need a lot of investment,” he added.

Garbage around Malé harbour
Garbage around Malé harbour

Medical concerns

Dr Abdul Azeez Yousuf from Malé Health Services Corporation said pollution in the water is a concern, since it is “a question of considerable contamination” and added there is “not an easy solution” to the problem.

He noted that since it’s not just sewerage in the water, but also many chemicals, it could cause many diseases, including ear and throat infections diarrhoeal diseases.

Dr Yousuf said the government had looked into the issue in the past and “have done some damage minimising” to improve the state of the water in the artificial beach and swimming tract.

The biggest problem, Dr Yousuf said, are all the boats in the harbour. “They don’t have proper sewerage disposal,” he said. “It goes straight into the sea.”

Medical doctor at the Central Clinic in Malé, Dr Ahmed Razee, said he has treated cases of gastro-enteritis caused by infections from the water.

“I am able to say very emphatically that yes, people can develop gastro-enteritis from swimming in Malé lagoon,” Dr Razee said.

He noted that “theoretically, the possibility [of getting gastro-enteritis] is very much real,” and “in medicine what we say is if something is possible, it will happen.”

But he added that “as far as the local population is concerned, and people who are continuing to go swimming, even if there was an infection, they would probably all have immunity to it, most of the common organisms.”

He explained it’s like traveller’s diarrhoea, “because you’re not [as vulnerable] to the germs that are in your surroundings.”

Dr Razee said the more “ominous thing is the presence of typhoid in the water and enteric organisms.” He said although enteric typhoid has been almost “wiped out” in Malé, “we do see some sporadic cases.”

He noted though, due to constant travelling between the Maldives and neighbouring Sri Lanka and India, “we cannot definitely say that the few cases we have seen have been locally infected.”

People get typhoid fever from contaminated water, Dr Razee explained, and noted it is a “bacteria which is excreted in the stool, so where the stool goes, the bacteria goes”.

He said “the waters are polluted with bacteria” that could cause digestive infections, and was mostly due to the boats in the customs area of Malé.

“There are a lot of boats which are more or less permanently moored there, and they are using the sea as a toilet,” he said. Additionally, “the sewage that is treated in Malé is not treated to eliminate bacteria, so it’s almost raw sewage, in an unrecognisable form, that is being let out into the sea.”

Dr Ramzee was considerably angry at those working in sewerage disposal. “These people are making so much profit, where is their social responsibility?”

“They, as professionals and scientists, know they are not doing what they are supposed to be scientifically doing,” he said, adding “it is the responsibility of the sewage company to ensure they do not pollute the water. They make millions of dollars out of these poor folks.”

Media Coordinator for Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) Zeenath Ali Habib said “we haven’t got any cases regarding the matter” and it is “not a concern” for the hospital.

Environmental impact

fish feeding off sewerage which is discharged every half an hour
Fish feeding off sewerage vented from a Male outlet

Ali Rilwan from environmental NGO Bluepeace says his organisation is “concerned with the contamination from sewage” seeping into the coral around Malé reef.

Rilwan said “there are all sort of things” contaminating the water, including heavy metals. The contaminants are reaching Malé reef from five outlets, he said, noting that “the reef is decaying.”

Another major concern is these contaminants reaching people through the food chain; if the fish get infected, people who eat it could also be infected.

Photographs courtesy of bluepeacemaldives.org