President’s Office “not convincing” on abuse of workers’ rights: ITF

A letter from the President’s Office claiming to address the alleged rights abuses made by Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) management has been labelled “interesting, but not convincing” by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

The ITF previously raised concern over a lack of correspondence from the President’s Office, announcing earlier this month that it was calling on the government to intervene over “union intimidation”, or “face embarrassment wrought by widespread international solidarity action”.

The ITF sent two letters addressed to the President’s Office, the last of which was sent on October 29.

On Monday (November 19) the ITF received a letter from the President’s Office stating that the president had met with representatives from both the Maldives Ports Workers Union (MPWU) and the newly proposed Maldives Trade Union Congress, following the alleged labour rights violations.

Dated November 14, the letter further states: “The Maldives parliament has recently approved the eight conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The president is fully committed in promoting and protecting the rights of workers in the Maldives. The government will take the necessary steps to address the legitimate grievance of the Maldives Ports Workers Union (MPWU) and support the efforts of its members.”

In response to the letter, an ITF spokesperson told Minivan News: “We find it interesting, but not convincing. The MPWU informs us that the problems remain, and need to be addressed.”

President of MPWU Ibrahim Khaleel said that a meeting did take place with President Mohamed Waheed Hassan on November 7 to discuss matters relating to the allegations.

“The president said that he would address the issue, however two weeks have passed and there has been no sign of negotiation and I have had no contact with the President’s Office,” said Khaleel.

Minivan tried to contact President’s Office Spokesman Masood Imad, but could not get through at time of press.

MPL have previously denied all accusations of rights abuse, claiming that staff members in question were disciplined on the basis of “disobedience” and “punctuality”.

MPL CEO Mahdi Imad told Minivan News earlier this month that the company had responded to the ITF, which it said later “apologised” having raised the issue without checking facts.

However, the ITF has rubbished the claims, maintaining that it had so far had no reply from the MPL regarding the concerns. The global trade union dismissed the state-owned company’s assumption that it had “won us over”.

Whilst ITF received no response to the letters sent by the organisation’s general secretary, David Cockroft, it has since been learned that MPL did reply to an earlier letter sent from ITF’s Asia Pacific Office in India.

According to an ITF spokesperson, the Asia Pacific office did not consider MPL’s reply honest or useful, and instead referred the matter to London for further action.

In a letter obtained by Minivan News, originally addressed to ITF, MPL state that they were “extremely surprised” by the rights abuse claims stated in the ITF’s letter.

“We did inquire with the Maldives National Port Workers Union (MNPWU) which is a legally recognised union of any such complaints and they have categorically denied of any complaints they have made to any international body,” the letter read.

The MPWU accused MPL of forming the Maldives National Port Workers Union to shove aside the alleged violation of employee rights by the corporation.

The MNPWU was formed just five days after the MPL received a letter from the Asia Pacific Regional Office of ITF.

The letter concludes with a warning to ITF, stating: “Given the present political situation in Maldives, many such unfounded, unauthoured illegal so called associations and unions could be sending you more such letters, for [the purposes of] defaming the present government internationally.”

MPL CEO Mahdi told Minivan News earlier this month that the workers behind the allegations still had the options of taking their cases to the country’s employment tribunal to resolve any grievances that the company would then have to abide by.

Mahdi claimed that workers dismissed under previous MPL management in 2009 and 2010 had under similar circumstances been reinstated under his stewardship, as well as receiving compensation.

“These people who have been disciplined, they know a tribunal would not come out in their favour,” he said.

Mahdi also denied accusations that he operated MPL in a politically motivated manner, adding that the company was run in a “very technical” way.

“I will challenge anybody who says we are politically motivated, I believe no one has a bigger right than anyone else,” he added.

Mahdi alleged that one of the dismissed workers who had gone onto make accusations about political motivation had come into his own office and shouted at him, adding that billions of companies around the world would discipline such actions by staff of a senior representative.

“This is work disruption, no one is allowed to break work regulations like this. Belittling and scolding me when I’m on the street in public is OK. But here in the work place they must show me respect,” he said.

Earlier this year, sacked MPL employee and President of the MPWU, Ibrahim Khaleel, alleged that the MPL was trying to “fabricate the truth” about the violations of worker rights.

In a letter on July 12 to MPL CEO Mahdi Imad, Chairperson of the MPWU Ibrahim Khaleel said: “Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, it is now common within MPL to stop employees from expressing certain political views, and violate the Employment Act by unfairly dismissing employees and transferring employees to different departments without prior warning or explanation of any offence committed.”

Speaking to Minivan News earlier this month, Khaleel said the company mainly targeted employees who supported the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“They send people with cameras to MDP protests to check which MPL employees take part in the protests,” Khaleel said.

In addition to the four employees who have been dismissed at the time, 30 had initially been suspended and 10 have been transferred from their position at the Malé port to Thilafushi Island port, Khaleel claimed.


Contraception use in the Maldives still too low: UN Representative Andrew Cox

Contraception prevalence rates in the Maldives are still “too low”, United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Representative Andrew Cox has claimed.

Speaking at the launch of UNFPA’s State of World Population 2012 (SWOP) report, Cox said that while many aspects of family planning have greatly improved in the Maldives, contraceptive prevalence rates are lower in comparison to other countries of similar development rate and culture.

Figures revealed by Cox show that infant mortality in the Maldives has dropped from 63 deaths per 1000 births in 1986 to 11 per 1000 in 2009, and that a baby born in the Maldives today can expect to live for 74 years – more than 20 years older than a child born in 1980.

However, according to Cox contraceptive prevalence in the Maldives is considerably low in comparison to other comparable countries.

“The prevalence rate of contraception is too low, especially for a country like the Maldives. It is definitely something we need to work with the government on,” Cox told Minivan News.

Further figures revealed by Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen – who attended the launch to release the SWOP report – show that one in every four pregnancies in the Maldives were unplanned, while 16 percent were unwanted and a further ten percent mistimed.

Deen further stated that the family production unit at Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital’s (IGMH) records show 33 percent of women aged 23 had ‘out of wedlock’ pregnancies.

Deen gave his assurance that the government will be part of the development of family planning, adding that “[family planning] is a must”.

“Very often this type of information is easier for non-government organisations (NGOs) to pass on. We support the gender ministry and the health ministry, and if it comes to financial support we would help them.

“Family planning affects the whole economy in a positive way, so we would definitely be willing to help out,” Deen said.

The SWOP report, entitled ‘By Choice, Not by Chance: Family Planning, Human Rights and Development’, focuses on the need for family planning both globally and in the Maldives.

UNFPA’s role in Maldives began in the early 1980s with the launch of national programmes on family planning and population. Since then, four country programmes have been launched addressing issues around family planning.


Protesting that “disturbs public” against constitution: Attorney General files case

The Attorney General’s Office has submitted a case claiming that causing public disturbances in the name of political protest is against the constitution.

The case, submitted in September, requests the Supreme Court to rule that such protests are against some articles of the constitution.

This includes disturbing the public, using foul language, protesting in a manner that instills fear into the hearts of children and the elderly.

Deputy Leader of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Dr Abdullah Mausoom said that people should have the right to the protest, but argued that Maldivians also “don’t want their daily lives disrupted.”

“We have such polarised parties here that are from one extreme to the other, it is expected that people protest.

“However when it disrupts the lives of people, like how the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) camped in one of the parks for weeks, it’s not right,” Mausoom added.

Earlier this year, the MDP set up a protest camp in the surf point area of the city following former president Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial resignation.

In March, security forces cleared the area in response to the violence that had engulfed the city on the morning of the raid, a police spokesperson told Minivan News at the time.

Police alleged that people had been committing crimes and threatening police before retreating to the MDP camp. The MDP claimed the action was a clamp down on freedom of assembly.

Police completely cleared the tsunami monument camp after Attorney General Azima Shukoor told the press that the area belonged to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), and claimed that Male’ City Council did not have authority to give the area to the MDP.

In May, a second MDP camp at Usfasgandu was raided by police after a search warrant was obtained from the Criminal Court.

Reasons for the search as stated on the warrant included: “suspected criminal activity”, “damage to public property”, and “suspected black magic performed in the area”.

President’s Office Spokesman Masood Imad, told Minivan News that the government fully supports the right to protest, but it needs to be done in such a manner that does not negatively affect the lives of others.

He said: “A protest should be about changing something. A protest conducted in residential areas has nothing to do with parliament. Public protest and public nuisance are two very different things.”

The MDP meanwhile likened the move to Bahrain’s recent efforts to outlaw protesting.

“The MDP strongly condemns efforts to restrict freedom to assembly by the government. One of the most fundamental clauses in the new constitution is the right to protest and we are witnessing democratic gains fast slipping,” said MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

The AG office details that the activities detailed in their case breached the right to live, the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression, the right to form political parties, the right to assembly and the right to provide special protection to children and the elderly.

All Supreme Court judges will be on the bench presiding over this case. The hearing has now been scheduled for Monday.


President’s Office Spokesperson “stands by” comments against GMR, Indian High Commissioner

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza confirmed that he stands by his controversial comments made against Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay last week.

Speaking at a rally on November 9 calling for the government to “reclaim” Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) from Indian infrastructure giant GMR, Riza described Mulay as a “traitor and enemy of the Maldives and the Maldivian people”.

The remarks have since been widely reported by Indian media, sparking a diplomatic row and forcing the President’s Office to issue a statement distancing itself from the comments.

Riza also spoke at a rally last Friday, characterising the Indian media coverage of his remarks as a “success” and urging participants to persevere “until GMR leaves this country.”

Riza told Minivan News that the comments were made in his “personal capacity” rather than his “official capacity”, adding: “The comments were my personal opinion and I still stand by them.”

Members of parliament expressed concern over the remarks made by Riza, leading to a debate on the matter last Tuesday (November 13).

During the debate, MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) condemned the comments claiming they were made against diplomatic protocol and could affect bilateral relations with India.

Meanwhile, MDP MP Eva Abdulla alleged that the remarks made by Riza were not those of his own but were rather under “direct orders” from President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

The majority of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs attempted to defend Riza, and tried to switch the focus to High Commissioner Mulay.

In an apparent contradiction to its comments in parliament, the PPM on November 12 issued a statement dissociating the party from the “slanderous” allegations made against Mulay.

Meanwhile, PPM MP Abdul Azeez Jamaal Aboobakr defended Riza, stating that a person’s freedom cannot be limited because of his employment, and that Riza too had his freedom of speech.

Aboobakr also highlighted that Riza had at the beginning of Friday’s speech said that he was going to make the remarks not in his official capacity as the spokesperson, but in an individual capacity.

More recently the Indian Government has expressed concern over the “continuing political instability” of the Maldives.

A statement released by the Indian Government on November 17 also showed concern about the “anti-Indian protests” being staged in the country.

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik yesterday told Indian News Agency, Press Trust of India (PTI) that India need not be concerned with affairs in the Maldives.

Speaking about the GMR contract signed under the previous government, Waheed told PTI: “The agreement [to lease INIA to GMR] was signed by the previous government, and the circumstances leading to the stamping of the deal were questionable. Hence, this is not a problem that we have with GMR, but with a bad agreement.

“We have to pay GMR 1.5 million US dollars per month under the current arrangement of the agreement in operation, and that is beyond our capacity.”

The government’s financial liability in the airport deal – its most recent bill for the third quarter was US$2.2 million – is the result a of a civil court case filed by the now ruling-coalition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), during the Nasheed administration, which blocked GMR from levying an airport development charge (ADC) as stipulated in its concession agreement.

The Civil Court ruled in the DQP’s favour. Opting to honour the contract, the Nasheed administration instructed the company to deduct the ADC from its concession fees while it sought to appeal the matter.

The new government – which includes the DQP – inherited the problem following the downfall of Nasheed’s government on February 7. In the first quarter of 2012 the government received US$525,355 of an expected US$8.7 million, after the deduction of the ADC. That was followed by a US$1.5 million bill for the second quarter, after the ADC payable eclipsed the revenue due the government.

Combined with the third quarter payment due, the government now owes the airport developer US$3.7 million.

GMR has previously offered to compromise by exempting Maldivian nationals from paying the ADC, but claimed not to have received a response from the new government.

Protests continuing

Meanwhile political groups in the Maldives continue to stage protests against the GMR contract. The Indian infrastructure giant hasa said it is flexible about discussing issues within the framework of the agreement with the Maldives government.

A senior official of GMR told the Hindu Business Line: “We remain flexible within the framework of concession agreement…If they want to scrap the agreement, [in that case] we are finished.

“We have already invested more than $200 million. Our banks are watching. It is impossible for us to scrap and sit back.”

Meanwhile, the Maldives government has been asked by India to ensure the safety and security of its nationals in Maldives and “Indian interests” in the country in view of the ongoing anti-India demonstrations.

The anti-GMR campaign, from which Riza’s comments stem from, has been increasing pressure on the government to annul the agreement.

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla – a leading figure in the anti-GMR activities – gave the government a six-day ultimatum to cancel the contract.

Despite the initial date having passed without any official conclusion, Sheikh Imran, speaking at the artificial beach on Friday (November 16) night, said: “The Maldivian President has heard our plea, [He] has said that he heeds and respects it, [He] needs some time to arrange a few things.

“Hence to give [him] some time even if the previously issued ultimatum is up. The work is being done in this manner. Hence to give some space and stay put.”

In light of this information, Sheikh Imran has said that the ultimatum has now been extended to November 30, adding: “Our patience will wear out at some point, after that point we will go for direct action. After November 30, we will go for direct action. We will not stay still.”


Liquor and drug island arrest like a “terrorist killing operation”: MP Abdulla Jabir

Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Jabir has spoken of the severe brutality he and others faced whilst being arrested on Thursday’s island raid, likening the actions of the police to that of “terrorists”.

A ‘special’ operation carried out on Thursday night concluded with the arrest of ten people on the island of Hodaidhoo in Haa Dhaal Atoll, a police statement read.

Police said they found large amounts of “suspected” drugs and alcohol upon searching the island with a court warrant.

Jabir, who has since been released from custody, told how the arrested group suffered at the hands of the police during the night-time raid.

“We had gone there to have dinner and spend the night on the island, but at about 4:00am, when most of the group were asleep, we were confronted by hundreds of police.

“They said we were drinking alcohol, so I asked them to show a warrant and they didn’t have one. They then started hitting and beating us, they wanted to kill us,” he alleged.

“This did not feel like a police operation, it felt like a terrorist killing operation and it should not be acceptable anywhere in the world,” Jabir told Minivan News.

Jabir said how members of the group were “ripped” out of bed, including a two-year-old child, before being arrested “face-down” on the sand.

“The child had to watch his parents being treated like animals in front of him, it was psychologically damaging,” Jabir claimed.

“[Police] beat us to the ground, put us face down and stood on our heads whilst we were handcuffed. We were treated like pieces of s**t,” Jabir added.

Those arrested included MDP’s international spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor (MDP), former SAARC Secretary General and Special Envoy to the former President, Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, former Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair and his wife Mariyam Faiz.

The others arrested were Jadhulla Jaleel, Hamdan Zaki, two Sri Lankan nationals named Raj Mohan and Anoor Bandaranayk, as well as a Bangladeshi named Suhail Rana.

Jabir explained that there was “no alcohol or any other illegal substances whatsoever” on the island, adding: “If we had been interested in alcohol, we could have gone to one of my resorts.”

“None of us have any interest in alcohol, we had gone to the island to have a picnic. As for hash oil, I don’t even know what that is,” Jabir said.

The arrests were made “based on information received by police intelligence,” police said. Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Haveeru that the suspects were arrested with alcohol and “hash oil”.

Jabir claimed that if any items were found, they would have been “planted” by the police.

“I don’t know who was behind this, but I will go to every length to find out who ordered this operation and see they are behind bars.

“I had heard about police brutality, but this was beyond my imagination. It felt like they wanted to kill Zaki and myself,” he added.

Following the arrests, the suspects were taken to Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll, and Zaki was hospitalised.

Former Human Resource Minister Hassan Latheef tweeted: “IH.Zaki was severely beaten by baton n handcuffed for hours before he was taken to Police. Marks r seen at his thigh n face.”

Former President Mohamed Nasheed also tweeted that he had spoken to the lawyers of Zaki and other MPs, who confirmed they had been beaten.

“Spoke to lawyers of Zaki & MPs. They have been beaten, ill-treated and no alcohol or drug was found in their position or from their rooms,” Nasheed said.

Parliament’s Privileges Committee held an emergency meeting on Friday following the arrests.

Section 202.D of Parliament’s rules of procedure states that MPs cannot be arrested while there is a no-confidence motion before parliament to impeach the president or remove a cabinet minister, judge or member of an independent commission from his or her post.

The Majlis secretariat released a statement on Friday afternoon stating that Speaker Abdulla Shahid had instructed police to abide by parliament’s rules of procedure after he was informed of the arrests.

Despite a police attempt to extend the detention periods, all suspects including the two MPs have now been released by the Kulhudhufushi Magistrate Court, with exception of Zaki’s son Hamdan Zaki and Jadhulla Jaleel after the court extended their detention for five days.

Zaki is currently undergoing treatment at ADK hospital after being flown to Male’ this morning.

It has been alleged by the MDP that the arrests were a politically-motivated attempt to disrupt parliament ahead of a no confidence motion against President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

Following the arrests, Nasheed alleged in a tweet that the arrests were made the same day Waheed had “threatened” parliament during a speech on Kinolhas in Raa Atoll.

“Less than 24 hours after my former deputy threatened the parliament, police have arrested MP Hamid, Jabir and my press secretary. They must be freed immediately,” Nasheed said.

The island of Hodaidhoo was leased to Yacht Tours for resort development in January 2003. According to Haveeru, it was previously inhabited but the population was relocated to Haa Dhaal Hanimadhoo in 1997. MP Jabir is Chairman of Yacht Tours.


Dismissed minister must be reinstated if President wants to sustain coalition: JP’s Alhan Fahmy

Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Alhan Fahmy has warned that dismissed Transport Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed must be reinstated in order to retain the ruling coalition.

Dr Shamheed was removed from his cabinet post after he extended the Maamigili Airport lease to JP leader Gasim Ibrahim for 99 years.

In a press conference held on Tuesday (November 13) the JP stated it requested President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik reinstate Shamheed before Sunday.

Fahmy told Minivan News that he believes Shamheed should be reinstated if “Dr Waheed wants  to sustain the national unity government.”

“I don’t believe [Waheed] was unaware of the decision [to dismiss Dr Shamheed], and it is of his own irresponsibility if he says so,” Fahmy said.

“A minister shall not be dismissed under the existing political situation unless it is associated with proper reasoning.”

Speaking at the press conference on Tuesday, Fahmy said Waheed met Gasim on Monday night and what he had to say implied that the President was “not fully aware of how [the dismissal] happened.”

After looking into the dismissal, Alhan said the JP believed it was done “without a legal basis” as the JP minister had not breached any laws or official procedures but was sacked “as a result of what the minister did to implement a decision made by the government.”

“Therefore, as we believe that this happened because the President was somewhat confused or misinformed, and after making certain of all the processes that were followed with regard to [the dismissal], the Jumhoree Party has asked the President to reinstate Dr Shamheed to the cabinet before next Sunday,” Fahmy said.

The government’s actions in sacking the minister provided opportunity to level corruption allegations against the JP’s presidential candidate and were “highly damaging” to the party, the MP for Feydhoo added.

A statement from JP last week said the party would take “necessary action” following an inquiry, expressing “serious concern” with statements in the media by officials from the President’s Office regarding Shamheed’s dismissal.

Minivan tried to contact President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad, but he was not responding at time of press.

Controversy has surrounded the sacked minister following allegations that Shamheed was dismissed because of his opposition to the recent sale of a stake in the Addu International Airport Company Ltd (AIA).

The unnamed JP official, who made the allegations speaking to Villa TV, said that Shameed was removed to allow Champa Afeef – a tourism tycoon who recently bought a 30 percent stake in Addu airport – to control the airport project.

The JP official said the sacking of Shameed was intended to divert attention away from the Addu airport sale.

Following his sudden dismissal, Shamheed claimed he had been sacked following his criticism of some decisions made by the government.

“I continued to criticise President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik over the Nexbis issue. Attorney General insists that the project cannot go on. Home Minister has to be responsible for the Immigration Department. Home Minister had ordered to stop the project. But the project went on. I have voiced my discontent over several such issues. We have all seen the result of that,” Shamheed told Haveeru Online.

Shamheed refused to comment on the current situation when called by Minivan News.

Maamigili airport had originally been leased to Gasim’s Villa Group for 30 years, and according to JP, the decision to extend the lease by Shamheed had been unanimously approved by the government’s Economic Committee on November 1.

In addition to Shamheed, the Economic Committee consists of Minister of Finance Abdulla Jihad and Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu, Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

Shamheed, in a quote from newspaper Haveeru, said: “Documents to extend the lease of Maamigili Airport for 99 years were sent to the transport ministry by [former President Mohamed] Nasheed’s government. But the current government delayed the matter. The present government only endorsed the decision. It was decided by the NPC [National Planning Council] during the former government.”

More recently however, Haveeru Online learned that Shamheed had announced the extension of the airport’s lease before the ministerial cabinet had sanctioned it.

A tweet from government spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza on the day of Shamheed’s dismissal read: “Transport Minister Dr Shamheed has been relieved from his duties today. Defence Minister Nazim will be the care taker until replaced by JP.”

He added that the cabinet seat will be reserved for the JP, currently the third largest party in terms of membership in the ruling coalition.

Minivan News was informed by Riza that the decision to extend the lease has not yet been reversed.

Following Shamheed’s dismissal, Dr Shamheed told Sun Online he believed he was sacked for difference of opinion with the President on a number of issues, including his opposition to the sale of the AIA stake and the agreement with Nexbis to install a border control system.

On November 5, Dr Shamheed tweeted that there was “no justification” for the valuation of an asset worth US$150 million for US$13 million.


Anti-GMR armada heads to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport for seaborne rally

The anti-GMR campaign took to the seas on Monday afternoon in an effort to increase pressure on the government to “reclaim” Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) from Indian infrastructure giant GMR.

A seaborne armada of about 15 dhonis carrying flags and banners circled the airport as part of an ongoing campaign to annul the contract signed between the former government and GMR to manage and develop a new terminal at INIA.

State Home Minister Abdulla Mohamed told Haveeru that 50,000 people have signed the petition put together by a group of NGOs seeking to annul the agreement and nationalise the airport.

In response to the large number of boats circling the airport, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) increased its seaborne presence to counter the rally, using coastguard vessels to block the entrance to the airport harbour.

MNDF Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News: We had no major concern yesterday, we did not increase our military presence at the airport itself, instead we wanted to make sure that no one [from the protest] could enter the airport area from the sea.”

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla told Haveeru the protesters had no intention of disembarking at the airport and that the purpose of the rally was to “observe airport operations in the area”.

Last week Sheikh Imran gave the government a six-day ultimatum to annul the GMR agreement (by November 15).

Former Minister of Economic Development Mahmood Razee said recent actions protesting the GMR agreement, such as Monday’s rally, risked putting off future foreign investors.

“This is the largest single investment the Maldives has seen, and if GMR do leave, it means that other investors who have previously expressed interest, or who may look to invest in the future, will be put off,” he warned.

“[Annulling the agreement] will also affect tourism, as the capacity we have to accommodate tourists at the airport is already very limited.

“Any further growth cannot be accommodated with the current airport facilities, and if GMR pull out, the government does not have the money to accommodate tourism growth.”

The demonstrators are calling for the government to terminate the agreement with GMR – a 25-year concession agreement to develop and manage the airport, and overhaul the existing terminal while a new one is constructed on the other side of the island. The agreement represents the largest case of foreign investment in the Maldives.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, whose government approved the deal in 2010, this month slammed statements over the “reclaiming” of the airport from GMR. Nasheed claimed such comments were “highly irresponsible”, stating that such words from the government could cause irreparable damage to the country.

The present government has continued to press to “re-nationalise” the airport, with the country’s Deputy Tourism Minister confirming to Indian media in September that the administration would not “rule out the possibility of cancelling the award [to GMR]”.

Several other Indian companies operating in the Maldives have expressed concern over political interference that they say is derailing their substantial investments in the country.

Officials involved in the Apex Realty housing development project – a joint venture between developers SG18 and Indian super-conglomerate TATA – told India’s Business Standard publication that the government was attempting to take over the site in Male’ given to the company, with the intention of building a new Supreme Court.

The Adhaalath Party has recently stepped up efforts to oppose the upholding of the airport deal. A number of gatherings in the capital Male’ and a petition sent to the government have all been part of the party’s efforts.

Also against the GMR deal is the government-aligned DQP, whose leader Dr Hassan Saeed serves as special advisor to President Waheed, as well as being his party’s presidential candidate.

Last month, Dr Saeed launched a book concluding that the only option for “reclaiming the airport from GMR” is to invalidate or cancel the concession agreement.

Should the GMR deal be annulled, Sheik Imran has previously predicted there would be “some unrest and damage”, but urged people to come out and support the calls for nationalisation.

According to Imran, his rejection was not based on animosity towards India, as the GMR issue was “only a disagreement between the Maldivian government and a private company”. He expressed his hope that the Indian government would not get involved in the matter.


Hoarafushi has “returned to normal” after last month’s flooding

Families displaced by last month’s flooding of Hoarafushi have been able to return home following a relief effort by the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC).

Twenty-four inhabited islands were reported to have been affected by the heavy rain, with Hoarafushi in Haa Alif Atoll deemed by the NDMC as the most severely affected.

According to Hoarafushi Island Council Chair Ahmed Mauroof, up to 95 houses were flooded in the area, affecting an “estimated 600 people.”

The NDMC has been working to restore normality on the islands since the flooding. Disaster Management Centre Project Officer, Hisan Hassan, said: “Everyone has been returned to their homes, and I have heard from a councillor on the island that it has returned to normal now.

“Some families are still expecting some aid relief, as many foods, electrical and personal items were destroyed in the floods.”

An initial figure of MVR 10 million (US$648,000) had been made available from a contingency component in the national budget to provide relief to the damaged islands.

A government spokesperson confirmed that a report on the damage has been published.

Joint efforts from the island council, the island’s youth, police, the MNDF, officials of the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) and staff from the nearby Manafaru resort helped to put up sandbags, move furniture and to pump water from clogged up roads.

The floods started with heavy rain in the late afternoon on Monday October 29, causing flooding of up to five feet, according to police. The rains lasted non-stop until dawn on Tuesday.

Other islands affected by the rising waters, including Haa Alif Baarah and Haa Dhall Hanimadhoo were also assisted by the MNDF Northern Area Command.

Speaking to Minivan News last month, Mauroof said: “The cost of damage caused by flooding is expected to rise to millions.

“We formed the task force because our aim is to recover from this as quickly as possible.”

The severe weather had been linked to low pressure from cyclone Nilam, over the Bay of Bengal.


Coral reefs begin to recover in the Maldives

Scientists have witnessed a “promising” recovery in the coral reefs around the Maldives, a recent survey has revealed.

The results show that some reefs now have more live coral cover than before the catastrophic El Niño bleaching event in 1998, which killed 95 percent of the country’s reefs – a key attraction for foreign tourists.

The project was set up by international conservation non-profit organisation Biosphere Expeditions. Scientists from the UK-based Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and the Maldives Marine Research Centre (MRC) surveyed areas known to have suffered from heavy bleaching.

The reef check conducted in September showed that many badly damaged reefs have recovered to populations in excess of 60 percent live coral. On one site, the survey team found there was more coral cover now than there was in 1997.

The latest findings follow a severe case of coral bleaching in 2010, when the MRC reported a resurgence of coral bleaching following a prolonged sea temperature rise.

The project found that the isolated, offshore and cleaner waters of the Maldives appeared to offer better conditions for coral recovery – contrasting findings published from the Great Barrier Reef, which noted that coral cover had  reduced by more than 50 percent in the last 27 years.

Lead scientist for the project, MCS Biodiversity Officer Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, said: “Although our surveys aren’t as comprehensive in scale and number as those from the Great Barrier Reef, we have witnessed a promising recovery in the reefs we’ve visited.

“The number of chronic impacts to the reefs of the Maldives are fewer than those to the Great Barrier Reef, and that has probably resulted in this more positive response to the initial bleaching event die-off in the sites we visited in Ari Atoll.”

The focus of this year’s project was to undertake reef check surveys in areas first surveyed before and during the El Niño bleaching in 1998.

Meaning ‘little boy’ in Spanish, El Niño is a phenomenon which damaged more than 95 per cent of the Maldives’ reefs following three months of unusually high seawater temperatures that year.

Even the slightest rise in water temperature can put stress on the coral, causing it to lose its colour and turn white, before eventually dying.

Coral bleaching was named as one of the three main causes of coral death, along with outbreaks of coral-eating starfish and damage from major storms.

Despite the findings, Dr Solandt warned conservationists and stakeholders in the Maldives that they cannot afford to be complacent.

“There is over-fishing of large predatory fish and further ocean warming events on the horizon, and some of the reefs nearer to Male’ appear not to have recovered as extensively as those further afield,” he added.

Founder and Executive Director of Biosphere Expeditions Dr Matthias Hammer said that whatever the current state of the Maldive’s reefs, the future outlook was important.

“Even though the Maldive’s reefs are generally in waters of excellent purity from man-made pollutants and are seldom hit by coral-damaging storms or attacks by coral eating starfish, the consistently high sea temperatures, averaging 29 degrees Celsius, around the Maldives could lead to bleaching once again if temperatures reach over 30 degrees for any length of time,”  he noted.

Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela was not responding at time of press.