Q&A: Former Secretary General of MATI ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim

Former Secretary General of Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim stepped down from his position in December 2012, having held the post for the last 15 years. Prior to his work at MATI, Sim held various positions within the tourism industry, even working at Television Maldives as the Chief of News and Current Affairs.

Luke Powell: The Tourism Ministry has put a lot of emphasis on achieving one million tourist arrivals for 2013, how important is this target and is this the right way to go about measuring success in the industry?

Sim Mohamed Ibrahim: There are many ways of measuring tourism. The most important of those measures is in terms of yield, as in what you have left after your expenses. I think there is a big challenge at the moment in this area. Despite resorts being very full, there are a few companies relying on Chinese tourists, and while tourists from China are good in the sense of keeping numbers up, in terms of yield, it’s not good.

It’s very expensive to run the resorts and I think we are not doing as well as we should be. Last year was not so good, we were able to keep the numbers fairly high but they were again mostly Chinese. It’s not really about the numbers, what we should have is average occupancy at good rates, however, we are finding that difficult to maintain as we now have to bring down the rates, offer discounts, and give special prices, to make up for the numbers being down.

The one million tourists mark is always good in terms of marketing and public relations as it is a nice big number. It keeps the momentum up and is very good psychology. But it’s not such a huge thing now.

LP: In your time at MATI, what developments did you oversee and were there ever any difficulties in carrying out your role?

SMI: My time was purely administrative. Our main concern at the time was trying to get the best deal for people who invested in the tourism industry and worked in the industry.

My main role was to try and keep people together and to push for common goals. We worked with the government and parliament, which was not easy. We found out that in parliament you have people from different parties and people with different viewpoints and motivations. It turned out that working with parliament was always difficult, whereas with the government it was easy.

With [former President Mohamed] Nasheed it was a lot easier to work, as he was someone very well known and familiar to us. He had his moments, he would sometimes stick to something and not let go, but usually we found we could negotiate and he in turn would talk to his cabinet and to his group we would be able to come to compromise.

LP: You said that working with parliament was not always so easy, what difficulties were there?

SMI: Some issues we couldn’t really agree on, some people wanted to ban alcohol from the country, but tourists drink it like water. It’s like us with coffee and tea. So how do you work with people like that? It becomes impossible.

Even with the economic issues, there are people who have the perspective that the people in the Tourism Ministry make too much money and that the government should be taking more from them.

They don’t really understand the workings of the ministry, running costs, investments costs and the facilitation of all these things. It’s like a normal business, but there is an idea in the country that the tourism ministry is rolling in the stuff. There are bills to pay, loans to pay and staff to pay, it’s very hard running tourism in this country.

LP: Would you say that attitude still exists? Earlier this year there was criticism from MATI over the decision to allocate just MVR 20 million from the 2013 budget for tourism promotion, when the tourism ministry had requested MVR 200 million.

SMI: There are people within parliament who think the tourism ministry is so rich they can fund their own advertising and promotion. It has been said, I can’t quote, but there are some who say that. But obviously it’s not true, people in the ministry are already financing quite a bit of it.

LP: Are there other difficulties faced by the tourism industry in the Maldives?

SMI: It is hard here because there is a lot of work and there is so much co-ordination. Everything has to be brought in, cleared by customs, taken to the resorts and then prepared.

The other difficulty is the management of human resources. A lot of young people in the country do not want to work in the tourism industry so you have this sole problem of finding Maldivians who want to work as opposed to people from overseas who want these jobs.

That doesn’t sit very well with the local population because the media is obviously employed by people who are not very happy with the tourism industry for using expatriates. All the money is going outside the country, when it should be going to Maldives.

Maldivians are not working in this industry because they are not given entitlements and privileges and because they think the industry is not paying all that much, but this is not true. It is just that the kind of work we have in the resorts has not yet become attractive to young Maldivians leaving school.

LP: What sort of work is available to them? Is there any other reason why they are not taking the jobs?

SMI: A resort in the Maldives is like a small town, so you have technical, engineering, maintenance, food production and public relations roles. They all exist on the island.

There is always this thing between the government, the public and the Tourism Ministry, whereby the government and the people seem to assume that the tourism ministry should be training its own people.

It’s difficult because many of us feel the education system in country should be geared towards teaching people to serve the economy and the country, and that should be through jobs available in the Maldives. For example, we checked the Ministry of Tourism once and there were perhaps a thousand jobs going.

What I am saying, is that the jobs are there, but we haven’t been able to tell the young people that there is an alternative in resorts where they can work. But there is something missing, it is not gelling.

Working in tourism is not part of the school curriculum. They teach travel and tourism, but that is not to do with running hotels and hospitality. They are linked, but they are not the same thing. These are some of the problems the industry faces in the country.

LP: How do you think the tourism industry as a whole in the Maldives is progressing?

SMI: I think the industry is going very well here. People who started this 40 years ago are still very involved and these guys have so much experience because they have worked every single day of their lives and know what’s going on and what’s needed.

People like Champa, his company has comes up with brilliant new concepts every time. Then there is Universal, they have a very high standard and a lot of their resorts are home-grown, places like Baros and Kurumba, these are local companies but they are able to compete with world standard brands. There is a lot of thinking going into that. People are not just sitting back and taking the money, they are planning where to go next.

LP: There have been some negative reports in local media regarding resort developments by Maldives Tourism Development Company (MTDC), what is your view on the firm?

SMI: MTDC was a very good project to start with, it was very good thinking because not everyone can be an entrepreneur or even a manager. There are people who just don’t have the skills or inclination to do that. MTDC was a brilliant idea where we can all have shares in the tourism industry.

The former chairman of MTDC ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef, when he took on something, he would complete it. Herethera Resort for example is the same distance as Sri Lanka is from us in Male’, 470 miles, yet he built that resort in just over a year. That was amazing.

However, when Nasheed came in, he obviously wanted to bring in new management, he knew these people but he misjudged the importance of somebody like Afeef there. When Nasheed removed him, the company made losses and it became worthless. It was such a brilliant thing, shattered. Nasheed has put people in there, the president has put people in there and these people have not been able to come up with any creative ideas.

If they bring in good management they might turn a profit, but right now it is terrible. It has to be resurrected and changed. Someone needs to be brought in who can see things strategically and has empathy for the people. See the company for what it is – a company for the people. But it is worthless at the moment, it needs to be revamped.

LP: What do you think the future holds for the tourism industry in the Maldives?

SMI: There is a trend moving towards people who are wanting to stay and see something different, rather than coming just for relaxation. People want to be involved in the community. It’s not going to be huge, but there are some people who want to do that, it’s a different kind of tourist.

The future of tourism in this country is immense. We have already started building rooms underwater. We already have clubs, dining rooms, and spas and very soon we will have entire bungalows underwater. However, the time it takes to get the Maldives and the cost of getting here is an issue for the future. If they build better planes, and find a way of reducing fuel costs that will be much better for the country, but this is not something we cannot predict.

LP: Why did you decide to leave MATI?

SMI: I needed a break, I had been there for 15 years and I needed to do something different. Being in tourism all these years I realised there is another aspect to tourism that has been totally ignored, and that is culture and environmental tourism. I thought it would be very interesting for me to start digging into this.

LP: Do you think that will be a new tourism market in the Maldives?

SMI: It will be a niche in the market. It might get a bit bigger when we start taking conservation seriously and the restoration of our historical sites – things like the old mosques and cemeteries. There is a lot of history in this country that we have not even tapped yet and that makes me very excited.

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“The current government is failing”: government-aligned PPM

The government has come under fire from Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) potential presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen, who has claimed institutions are both failing and corrupt.

Speaking at a rally on February 7 to mark the anniversary of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s removal from power, Yameen called for President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik to “set things right”, adding that the current government had come to a halt.

Despite PPM being part of the current government coalition, local media reported Yameen as criticising a number of issues he claimed the government was responsible for.

“What we’re seeing today, and it is with sadness I say this, is the current government failing. The institutions are now incapable,” Sun Online quoted Yameen as saying.

Yameen, who is the half-brother of former autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, further claimed that Maldivians will not believe they have achieved democracy unless laws are properly implemented by the government, local media reported.

“Major crimes are being committed on the streets. Rights are being invaded and violated. We want a clean, bold and a just government. A government with our support.

“Unless laws are being implemented, the Maldivians won’t believe that they have achieved democracy. They won’t believe a dictatorial rule had ended. We don’t see a difference,” local newspaper Haveeru quoted Yameen as saying.

Yameen’s comments come less than one month after the PPM appointed former 30-year ruler Gayoom – who many claim ran the country as a dictator – as its party President.

The PPM presidential candidate further criticised foreign interference with internal issues in the Maldives, claiming that the government was making it possible for foreign parties to do so.

“Foreign countries are interfering with internal issues of the Maldives to a greater extent than we’re comfortable with. The government is giving them that opportunity,” Yameen was quoted as saying in local media.

Yameen’s critical remarks were met with backlash yesterday (February 8), including from the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

DRP Parliamentary Group Deputy Leader Abdullah Mausoom told local media the PPM was willing to take credit for the government’s success, but distanced itself when the government faced criticism.

“If the government achieves something, they’d say it was them, they want to be the ones who sustain the government. But if the government is being harmed in any way, they are not part of it. If the government gets recognised for something, they take credit for it,” he told Sun Online.

Mausoom said that PPM had obstructed the government on two occasions, expressing concern that the party still continues to criticise the government despite the challenges faced due to the obstructions.

Speaking to local media, he said that whilst the budget is the most important part of providing public services, the PPM and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had reduced it by MVR 2 million, and that it would not be “wise” to criticise the difficulties this may cause.

Furthermore, Mausoom claimed that the Executive Oversight Committee (EOC) – currently investigating the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report – is held by a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) majority and that this was facilitated by the PPM.

Mausoom said that the former Parliamentary Leader of the People’s Alliance – Abdulla Yameen – had given up the party’s spot in the EOC when he joined the PPM, giving the MDP a majority.

President’s Spokesperson Masood Imad, and Dhivehi Quamee Party Leader Hassan Saeed were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Jumhoree Party (JP) Spokesman Moosa Ramiz said he needed to discuss Yameen’s comments with the JP’s leader, resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, before giving the party’s official view. Minivan News was awaiting his response at time of press.

Cracks are starting to appear: MDP

Speaking to Minivan News today (February 9), MDP Spokesman Hamed Abdul Ghafoor said Yameen was “expressing discontent” within the government’s ranks, and that cracks were beginning to appear within the coalition.

“There are two issues that seem to disturb them at the moment. The EOC coming up with evidence supporting that there was a coup, and the other being President Nasheed’s court case.

“It is looking like they are also trying to get Nasheed out of the [Presidential elections] race,” Ghafoor said.

In regard to the EOC’s investigation into the CoNI report, Yameen was quoted as saying during Thursday’s rally that the investigation was “determinably illegal” and that it was being spearheaded Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

The investigation by the Executive Oversight Committee has so far seen senior military and police intelligence figures give evidence alleging that the transfer of power on February 7 “had all the hallmarks of a coup d’etat”, whilst claiming that the final CoNI report published last year had not reflected their input.

Speaking at the rally, Yameen said the government had no legal obligation to cooperate with the EOC in regard to the CoNI investigation, local media reported.

“As Parliamentary Group Leader of PPM, I have told the President that the government does not have to cooperate with the Majlis Committee investigating CoNI Report. The executive shall run according to the legal instruction of the Attorney General and not a Majlis Committee.

“[Parliament Speaker] Abdulla Shahid is now investigating the CoNI Report, and I wonder what he has in mind to do. On behalf of PPM, I would emphatically say that they are undertaking an illegal work. They cannot do it”, Sun Online reported Yameen as saying.

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No “definitive answer” from US delegation over government’s failure to act on CoNI recommendations: MDP

The US delegation who visited the Maldives last week gave no “definitive answer” to political issues raised by former President Mohamed Nasheed, the party has said.

The delegation, consisting of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Moore, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Vikram Singh and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jane Zimmerman, met with the former president on Thursday (January 31).

According to local media, Nasheed informed the delegates that the present government had failed to act upon the recommendations made in the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report, claiming there had been a “lack of effort” to reform the judiciary.

However, MDP Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the US delegation were unable to answer the issues raised by Nasheed, and that their interest was focused on the implementation of free and fair elections later this year.

“The issue was a difficult question for them and we could not get a straight answer. Their purpose was to highlight the importance of implementing free and fair elections over here, but we wanted to find out how aligned they were with other issues,” Ghafoor added.

According to local media, the US delegation was set to meet various political parties and senior government officials to discuss the current political situation in the Maldives.

Issues including labour laws and the protection of worker’s rights were also a topic of discussion between Nasheed and the delegates, local media reported.

James R Moore is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs since September 2010, and previously the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Colombo from 2006 to 2009.

Jane B Zimmerman is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, responsible for South and Central Asia, the Western Hemisphere, and International Religious Freedom.

Vikram J Singh is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.

Singh also serves as the principal adviser to senior leadership within the Department of Defence for all policy matters pertaining to development and implementation of defence strategies and plans for the region.

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Stalled hotel development costing MVR 24 million annually: MTDC

Over MVR 24 million (US$1.5 million) is being lost annually by the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) on a stagnant hotel development in Uligamu in Haa Alif Atoll, it has been revealed.

MTDC Managing Director Mohamed Matheen told Minivan News that the corporation had been making losses on the City Hotel development after construction was halted half way into the project in 2010.

Matheen revealed that along with the City Hotel project – which had cost MVR 120 million (US$ 7.8 million) to develop it to its present state – MTDC’s Herethera Resort had also made a MVR 386 million (US$25 million) loss.

The land for City Hotel was leased to MTDC by the government on February 27, 2007, after which construction on the 100-bed hotel began. According to the 2010 annual report by MTDC, the project was halted after just 40 percent of the development had been completed.

“There have been certain issues to contend with in the project’s development. We have had some difficulties in attracting investors because of the US$1.5 million land rent and problems with the possibility of serving alcohol on the island.

“The previous board of directors had decided to terminate the contract as the land rent is costing too much. However I have made a lot of progress in trying to change that, and City Hotel can be completed by the end of this year,” Matheen claimed.

According to the MTDC website, the Maldives government has leased nine islands to the company “at a rate substantially below the market rate”. MTDC’s 2008 annual report stated that the company has over 21,000 shareholders making it one of the largest public companies in the Maldives.

In November last year, shareholders of MTDC expressed concern after the company failed to pay dividends for three consecutive years while also recording a net loss for the first time in 2011, local media reported.

Minivan News visited the City Hotel development last month with a surveyor who had worked and lived on the site in 2009.

Minivan News witnessed that the entire development, including the inside of staff and residential quarters, had become overgrown with vegetation. Assorted earth-moving machinery was idle and in disrepair.

The MTDC Managing Director stated that MVR 80,000 (US$5,181) per month – MVR 960,000 (US$ 62,176) per year – is currently being spent on the “upkeep” of the development.

“We have 14 people looking after this facility, but it seems they are not able to keep the overgrowth down.

“With another seven to eight million dollars this development would be complete. It won’t cost us much to remove the overgrowth and the rooms were already completed to their rafters. It would involve minor repairs,” Matheen added.

According to the former surveyor – speaking on condition of anonymity –  construction was halted due to external pressures from conservative religious groups regarding the sale of alcohol on an inhabited island.

Asked about this issue, Matheen said discussions had taken place with native islands , however they were “divided” on the issue of alcohol sale.

“The bread and butter of the Maldives is definitely tourism. We are maintaining [Maldivians’] livelihood through tourism, and tourists want different products other than just sun and sand.

“Ninety-nine percent of tourists are drinkers, they are not coming here for many activities, and they are coming for relaxation and peace of mind. We have to cater to their needs,” Matheen added.

A committee formed by Uligamu islanders had submitted a court case regarding the halted development, according to Matheen.

“The island committee is not happy. They also think the development is controlled by the government when the majority is controlled by public shareholders. The government is not a major shareholder.

“The case is a pressure tactic. They think we have the money and they think we are purposefully not building here. They don’t accept the reality of the situation,” Matheen added.

In January 2012, local media reported that five people have been arrested in a youth-led demonstration at Uligamu against MTDC.

The protestors had demanded a reason as to why the development of the City Hotel had ceased, according to local media reports.

Matheen said that he was attempting to reduce the land rent costs as stipulated in the Tourism Act and that a new survey report of Uligamu is to be submitted this year.

US$25 million loss in Herethera Resort

Herethera resort – owned and operated by MTDC – was also said to have made a US$25 million loss following a series of “logistical issues”, Matheen said.

“We had pumped US$53 million into Herethera, however we are paying US$2 million in land lease and our operating costs are nearly 17 percent higher than resorts in the Male’ area because of location being so far away.

“When I took over this role in July, we did not have a single booking at the resort. Now we are fully booked until February 17,” Matheen said.

The MTDC Managing Director revealed that while no other resorts owned by MTDC are currently working at a loss, he admitted that because of the locations of the properties in the far south and far north, there were certain infrastructure issues.

Last month the bidding period for the management or purchase of Herethera Resort was been extended for the third time by the MTDC.

The company has not stated why the bidding period prior to this one ceased, but in previous instances the company said it had to cancel bids due to a lack of interest from potential investors.

ONYX, a company from Thailand, managed the resort until February 2012.

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India and US were never going to donate border control system: Immigration Controller

Controller of Immigration Dr Mohamed Ali has dismissed claims that India and the US had proposed to donate a border control system to the Maldives.

According to local media, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had previously stated that India and the US had proposed to set up a border control system free of charge.

The current border control system project contract has been awarded to the Malaysian company Nexbis for a period of 22 years by the previous government, however last month parliament voted unanimously to terminate the agreement over allegations of “foul play”.

Speaking on Television Maldives (TVM), Ali said the Foreign Ministry had confirmed that neither America nor India had proposed to donate the border control system.

“No country has proposed such a system free of charge. I have written to the Foreign Ministry last week and have got it in writing. They said that no country has made such an offer,” Ali was quoted as saying in Sun Online.

According to Ali, the Maldives is currently using US$2.3 million worth of passport reading machines installed in 2003. However the machines are incapable of reading the required software, so Nexbis had won a bid to upgrade the current system.

“The meaning of border control is that, when a foreigner enters the country, we are able know his whereabouts, know when he checks out of one hotel and checks into another, and know how long the person has stayed so that all this will be notified to MIRA, and whatever taxes the person owes can be duly collected.

“For the construction worker, we need to know who brought him into the country, and the site where he is currently working. [The system] has to provide all this,” Sun Online quoted Ali as saying.

Last week the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stalled the handover of 8000 passports to their respective High Commissions claiming that details regarding the owners’ whereabouts still needed to be obtained by immigration authorities.

State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed said the Foreign Ministry would only deliver the passports to the respective consular authorities once immigration clarified the location of the owners, a task described as “huge” and “difficult” by Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali.

In December last year, parliament voted unanimously to instruct the government to terminate the border control project agreement with Nexbis.

All 74 MPs in attendance voted in favour of the Finance Committee recommendation following a probe into the potential financial burden placed on the state as a result of the deal.

Presenting the Finance Committee report to the floor, Committee Chair MP Ahmed Nazim explained that the “main problem” flagged by the ACC was that the tender had not been made in accordance with the documents from the National Planning Council that authorised the project.

The documents were changed to favour the chosen party and facilitate the deal, Nazim said, which the ACC considered an act of corruption.

Nexbis is “systematically denying” any allegations of corruption, according to a company source, adding that if there was any foul play within the contract “we were unaware of it”.

Earlier this month, Vice President for Nexbis Nafies Aziz told Minivan News that “intelligence” received by the company suggested groups backing the country’s lucrative human trafficking industry could be seeking to stymie the introduction of its border control system to undermine national security controls.

Meanwhile, a source with knowledge of the present immigration and border control system said that should parliament’s termination decision be upheld, the Immigration Department would be returning to “a pen and paper system” for monitoring arrivals to the country.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs inaugurated an initiative targeted at raising awareness of the issue of human trafficking in the Maldives at the beginning of January.

The Maldives has come under strong criticism internationally in recent years for the prevalence of human trafficking, and the country has appeared on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking three years in a row.

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Maldivian and Indian officials deny reported agreement to address “consular issues”

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Indian and Maldivian authorities have both denied media reports that an agreement has been reached on relaxing visa restrictions for Maldivians entering India.

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives today said it has not been made aware of any new agreements with Maldives authorities over amending visa restrictions, despite discussions continuing between the two nations to address “consular concerns”.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali also stressed that he was unaware of any official agreement being made to address the concerns raised by Indian officials.

Local media reported today that the Maldives had “agreed” to conditions set out by India in order to relax the conditions recently imposed on Maldivian nationals wishing to obtain a visa.

A spokesperson for the High Commission confirmed to Minivan News that discussions were being held with the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address respective concerns raised by both nations.

The Indian High Commission maintained that these discussions with Maldivian officials were “not about conditions”, but rather working to address concerns held by both sides.

“We have a long and cordial relationship with the Maldives that is not based on conditions,” a source at the commission said.

State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed, speaking during parliament’s Government Accountability Committee on Monday (January 28), said cabinet had decided to find a resolution to issues put forward by India.

“[India] had asked to resolve seven issues. Mostly they highlighted the issues faced by the 30,000 Indians in the Maldives,” he said.

“After the discussions at the President’s Office, we are currently trying to solve these issues,” Hassan was quoted as saying in local media.

During the committee meeting, Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla said Indian government officials had hinted at the relaxation of the present visa restrictions should the Maldives government agree to extradite its Indian prisoners.

“We have received various signals that the visa issue can be resolved if an agreement can be reached over the Indian prisoners in Maldives,” Samad told local media.

“Moreover, when the Indian media reports on the Indian prisoners in our jails, the officials in the Maldives High Commission in India face various pressures.”

Speaking during India’s Republic Day ceremony in Male’ on Friday, Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar M Mulay pointedly conveyed greetings “to those Indian expatriates who are in Maldivian jails”.

Amd rising diplomatic tensions with its neighbour, Maldivian nationals have found themselves queuing outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ to obtain medical and other visas for travel to India.

Consular issues

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives said among the concerns raised with the government were 11 consular issues relating to the treatment of Indian expatriates in the Maldives.

These included discrimination against Indian expatriates, the keeping of passports of Indian nationals by employers and government agencies, and the exploitation of Indian workers.

“Discussions on addressing these matters are ongoing and we do hope to find resolutions from both sides soon,” said a spokesperson for the commission.

Indian authorities late last month said tightened restrictions imposed at the time on providing medical visas to Maldivians were a “signal” for the country’s government to address concerns about the nation’s treatment of migrant workers.

The Maldives has been on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking three years in a row, only narrowly avoiding tier 3 in 2011 due to promises by the former government to resolve the matter.

A lapsed police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives in July 2011 uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.

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Aasandha director claims service not suspended in India’s Amrita hospital

The Amrita Institute of Technology Hospital in Kochi, India has not suspended Aasandha health care services despite reports in local media to the contrary, the scheme’s managing director has stated.

Local media reported yesterday (January 28) that services offered under the universal health care scheme Aasandha had been suspended due to unpaid bills for treatment provided to Maldivians by Amrita hospital.

However, Aasandha Managing Director Mohamed Niyaz told Minivan News today that services had not been suspended.  Niyaz said that Aasandha was instead having to control patient admittance to keep in line with the credit limit recently imposed by the hospital.

“Because of the large number of patients who went to receive treatment at the hospital in December last year and delays in paying those bills, Amrita hospital put a credit limit on the treatment they can offer that is paid for by Aasandha,” he explained.

“We are now controlling the number of patients we are admitting to the hospital in order for Aasandha to not go over the imposed credit limit,” Niyaz said.

An official from Amrita hospital told Minivan News that while it is still treating patients who are covered by Aasandha, there had been a period of four days earlier this month where it stopped admitting patients due to unpaid bills.

“There is a total of 7 million rupees (US$ 130,536) outstanding in payment to be made by Aasandha through Hospital Professional Liability (HPL) insurance, who we deal with.

“We ceased treating outpatients covered by Aasandha for four days, but HPL then paid part of the bill and so we resumed our services,” the hospital official told Minivan News.

The credit cap imposed on Aasandha by Amrita hospital was introduced to match a similar credit cap applied to all other health insurance companies who work with the hospital, the hospital official said.

“Originally we had a special agreement with Aasandha whereby they had no credit cap on the treatment we could provide. However our Financial Controller has now introduced it because it is the same as other insurance companies we deal with,” the hospital official added.

“Even now Aasandha’s credit cap is a lot higher than the other insurance companies. We have a great relationship with the Maldives and we treat our Maldivian patients as our own.”

According to Niyaz, patient treatment is currently being prioritised on a case-by-case basis in order for the service they are receiving to not be “compromised”.

In regard to bill payment, Niyaz claimed there had been a number of factors as to why the money had not been paid to Amrita hospital.

“It takes two to four weeks for the treatment bills to come through after a patient has been discharged from the hospital and then we have to pay for the treatment in US dollars,” he said.

“It takes a further two weeks for us to secure the dollars as we have to buy at a bank rate. We are trying to find ways to work around this problem at the moment.”

During December – a “peak” period for Maldivians wishing to seek medical treatment -Niyaz said there had been some issues receiving money from the Finance Ministry in order to pay the bills.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Niyaz revealed that Aasandha had experienced similar issues at a hospital in Colombo and three other hospitals in India, but that these have all been resolved.

Free health care of up to MVR 100,000 (US$ 6,476) was initially available to citizens under Aasandha. Changes to the system were made by the government in August last year, after concerns the scheme would run out of money.

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Adhaalath Party denies supporters physically attacked by MDP

Adhaalath Party representative Hussain Wafeer has denied allegations that Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters “physically attacked” its members on the island of Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll last week.

The comments were made after local media reported that a crowd of “violent thugs” – led by an unnamed MDP councillor – attempted to attack Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla during a visit to the island.

An unnamed source from Thulhaadhoo previously told the Sun Online news service that the attackers threw stones at the visitors, injuring several people during the incident.

Despite the claims, Wafeer told Minivan News today that while the gathered crowd did not physically attack anyone during the visit, sand was thrown at Adhaalath party representatives.

Wafeer refused to speculate on whether the crowd were true MDP members, or whether an MDP Councillor had been involved in the alleged attack.

“They were waving MDP flags, so we can assume they were MDP, but we didn’t recognise any of the members so we can’t say they were MDP,” Wafeer added.

An official from within Thulhaadhoo Island Council – speaking on condition of anonymity – said that the crowd who greeted the Adhaalath Party officials was both a mix of MDP and anti-MDP supporters. The council source said it was not certain who had thrown sand at Sheikh Imran.

“Some of local women on the island witnessed a Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) councillor throwing sand and causing the trouble, while some people said it was the MDP supporters,” the council official claimed.

“After an hour the riot police showed up and arrested the island President, a councillor and some MDP supporters.”

Adhaalath Party Leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Following the incident, a senior MDP MP told Minivan News that he had received death threats via telephone from unknown callers whom he believed to be members of the Adhaalath Party.

According to Sun Online, the police have arrested a number of individuals allegedly involved in the incident, including an MDP councillor.

Verbal abuse

Following an MDP protest held in Male’ on Friday (January 25),the Adhaalath Party alleged that demonstrators had verbally abused its supporters and vandalised promotional materials at a membership drive held at a school.

The party also claimed MDP protesters ripped up the party’s banners at the school, which were temporarily put up as part of the membership drive.

Responding to the allegations at the time, MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that while the party did not encourage such behaviour towards government-aligned parties, he said he would not be surprised if some supporters had ripped up banners during the protest.

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Queues return to Indian High Commission as Maldivians seek Indian visas

Queues have started to form outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ as people seek to obtain Indian visas.

Earlier this month the Foreign Ministry decided to hand back all Indian visa application operations to the Indian High Commission following a “decline” in visa requests.

However, local media reported that Maldivians began to queue outside the High Commission building at 11:00pm on January 26 after having their visa applications rejected for various reasons.

Despite media reports, an official in the Indian High Commission denied there had been overnight queuing outside the commission building.

“Some people had come in the morning a little early so there may have been a slight queue then, but was no overnight queuing. If a problem does arise we will find a solution,” the high commission official told Minivan News.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from the Foreign Ministry at time of press.

In his address during Indian Republic Day celebrations in Male’ on Friday, Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay said India offered its assurances “that no Maldivian would ever be denied visa to India and we will work very closely with the Maldivian authorities to resolve all the outstanding issues in a spirit of cooperation and good will. ”

Last month, Maldivians were forced to queue outside the Indian High Commission – in some cases overnight – to obtain medical visas in order to travel to India.

To alleviate the issue, the Foreign Ministry launched an SMS system that alerted individuals when it was their turn to have their visas processed.

However, following a decline in visa requests this month, Maldivians wishing to obtain tokens for their Indian visas to be processed will now have to use the Indian High Commission building as before, as the Foreign Ministry is no longer providing the service.

A spokesman from the Foreign Ministry told Minivan News earlier this month that should the demand for visas increase, the ministry will take measures to ensure all visas are processed.

“If there is a requirement we will consult the Indian High Commission. It is currently issuing 53 tokens per day and we think that is working fine for now,” he said. “We will ensure that Maldivians get their visas.”

The Indian High Commission has claimed the tightened restrictions were in line with a bilateral agreement signed back in 1979 and its appropriation by Maldivian authorities in the intervening years.

A source within the Indian High Commission, speaking to Minivan News in December last year, contended that all visas given to Maldivians for travel to India were provided free of charge – a courtesy he claimed was not extended to Indian citizens coming to the Maldives for work.

The commission spokesperson added that the introduction of the tighter regulations was imposed as a clear “signal” from Indian authorities that the concerns it had over practices in the Maldives such as the confiscation of passports of migrant workers, needed to be brought to an end.

Last week, the High Commission presented journalists with a list of 11 consular grievances, including discrimination and mistreatment of its expatriates and the routine withholding of passports by government departments.

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