Maldives to cut net carbon emissions ‘100%’ by 2020, pledges president

The Maldives has informed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that it will reduce its net carbon emissions by 100% before 2020.

This is not a total reduction of emissions but rather a statement of carbon neutrality. The president’s pledge to the UNFCCC following the Copenhagen Accord is currently the most ambitious emissions reduction target to be submitted by any country.

Deputy Environment Minister Dr Mohamed Shareef acknowledged that the promise to reduce net emissions by 100% was misleading.

“That would seem that a country would not produce any CO2 at all. This is possible in the long term, but at a great cost,” he said.

“Airplanes will land, sea vessels will use diesel; what the government actually means is that they will offset their carbon emissions.”

Dr Shareef explained that carbon neutrality meant a country offsetting at least half its emissions by using renewable energy sources.

The president said the country was working with renewable energy providers to install wind turbines and solar panels, and would request technological and financial support to implement its ambitions to become carbon neutral.

“New technologies allow us to both develop and maintain a healthy environment. It is time mankind moves into the Green Age,” the president urged.

“Climate change threatens us all. If we don’t act now, we will lose the rainforests, lose the coral reefs and, potentially, lose human civilization itself.”


Staff disgruntled as MTCC closes Feydhoo office

The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) closed the company’s Addu Mulaku regional office in Seenu Feydhoo, leaving many employees redundant.

MTCC closed the office after the government handed over ferry services for the region to MVK Maldives Pvt Ltd, which commenced services from 1 January.

But many employees from the Feydhoo office feel their terminations have been handled unfairly, holding a demonstration and refusing to allow MTCC to take assets from the office.

An employee who did not wished to be named said “We did not want them to take any of the things back to Male’ until our full salaries and compensation has been paid.

“However, it’s a private party that’s transporting the goods back to Male’ so we don’t want to cause any more trouble. They have already loaded everything onto a boat, and there isn’t much we can do to stop it.”

Many employees said an MTCC official from Male’ had met them at the end of last year and promised a three month termination notice.

“He said we would get three months, as well as holiday and medical pay, but a week after he left we received one month’s notice,” the employee said.

“We have a written document, but it doesn’t have the MTCC stamp on it so we can’t use it in court.”

The staffed also claimed they had received a much smaller amount than that promised.

Another staff member who was made redundant said “how can I describe how I’m feeling? I have a family to look after. It’s very difficult now.”

A disgruntled employee said he had been forced to beg around the island.

“I am doing odd jobs here and there – it’s very hard to find work these days,” he said.

Ahmed Zareef, the manager of the Feydhoo office, said that the MTCC manager who promised three months’ notice hadn’t given anything official, “It was just his word.”

“The notice said employees should receive Rf3000 (US$233) but many have recieved Rf1900 (US$147). It’s a big loss for these men, they have families to take care of.”

Asked what would happen to him, Zareef replied “I will lose my job as well. I was offered an MTCC job in Male’, but how can I live in Male’ on a basic salary when the living expenses are so high there?”

MTCC response

Ahmed Zaki, another MTCC manager, said that the company follows employment regulations set by the government.

“The employment regulations state that all employees who have been with the company between one to five years will get a one month notice,” he said.

“The stories of an official from Male’ saying three months are hard to believe. He would not have said that.”

“All employees were given opportunities in MTCC in other regions,” Zaki added.

“We have also been talking to the employees for a few months prior to the termination notices, telling them about the possibility of the Feydhoo office closing.”


STO cargo ship held in Indian port

A cargo ship belonging the State Trading Organisation (STO) is being held in an Indian port.

The ship was loaded with 44,000 sacks of rice to be brought to Male’.

Ismail Shakir, director general for the ministry of economic development said “The report we have received from the STO is that the ship is being held because the rice they got was not meant to be exported.”

Ismail Sadiq of STO confirmed the report. “The ship belongs to us and so does the rice.”

Sadiq also reassured the public that “The supply of rice will not be affected by this incident.”


Police testify against president’s office staff member over drugs charge

Two policewomen have testified in court against the deputy under secretary of the President’s Office, Aishath Eeman, after she was arrested on drugs related charge.

The police testified that Eeman refused to give them a urine sample when she was brought into the police station on suspected drug possession in December 2009.

Constable Mahdhoodhaa Saleem told the court that Eeman was requested to give a urine sample three different times, but she had refused.

Constable Thalia Ali also said she asked Eeman for a urine sample, and explained that the procedure was that the person would only give the sample if they wanted to.

When judge Abdulla Mohamed heard this, he said that giving the sample was a person’s own choice and that an accusation could’t be made just because someone refused to do something out of choice.

However the state prosecutor said that the judge had misunderstood, and that Constable Thaila had used the right of the police to request a urine sample.

Eeman’s defense team meanwhile said that Eeman could refuse giving a urine sample as part of her right to remain silent.

The policewomen’s testimony conflicted in the time Eeman was reportedly brought in. Constable Mahdhoodhaa said Eaman was brought to the station around 6:00pm in the evening, while Constable Thaila said Eeman was brought to the station between 9:00pm and 12:00pm.

Speaking on behalf of the president’s office, Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said Eeman was “technically on leave at the moment. We are providing legal assistance for her through the president’s office.”

Zuhair said the case was being conducted by the judicial system, “so even if the person is from the president’s office they must be investigated.”

The Deputy Prosecutor General Shameem said that despite the high profile of the defendant prosecutor general’s office was not giving the case any special attention and was treating it “like any other normal case.”

The trial is continuing.


Hospital charges to remain stable despite Apollo deal, pledges health ministry

The ministry of health has pledged that hospital charges will remain stable at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), even though it is to managed by private company Apollo Hospital Group.

Health Minister Dr Aminath Jameel said the hospital remained a state asset “and we have only handed the management of the hospital over to Apollo.”

The minister also said that IGMH would be turned into a teaching hospital, which would provide training for nurses and paramedics in line with the government’s aim of ensuring at least 80 per cent of hospital staff are Maldivian within 15 years. Currently 60 per cent of the hospital’s nursing staff are foreign.

The health ministry acknowledged that IGMH was not at the standard that a tertiary hospital should be.

“Even though it’s hard to accept, we don’t have the capacity within the country to bring the hospital up to standard. We needed help from a foreign party,” Jameel said.

A situational analysis of the hospital will be conducted in the first three months of new management, after which a work plan will be submitted to the government.”

“We want the hospital to have a good management team to oversee the daily management of services,” Jameel said.

She also offered reassurances that Maldivian jobs would not be lost as part of this deal, and that the agreement was within the Maldivian employment act.

The current ratio at IGMH is three foreign staff for every Maldivian, a statistic Jameel said the ministry hoped to reverse.

Where’s the money?

The ministry paints the deal as very good for the Maldives on paper. But what does Apollo stand to gain?

Zubair Mohamed, CEO of IGMH said the deal with Apollo “wasn’t done to make a profit, but to provide good health care.”

Asked if how Apollo would be able to make a return on their US$20 million investment in the dilapidated Male’ hospital, Zubair said money “was a combined investment made by Apollo, the Indian government and the Maldives – not to be recovered, but to motivate the hospital.”

The benefits would be quickly realised, he said, “and after the first five years, IGMH will have the capacity to train doctors on the job as general practitioners.”

Zubair also said that having a high standard of hospital would open up possibilities for medical tourism, a lucrative sub-sector of the tourism industry in countries like Thailand.

“Having a good hospital means doors are opened for things like wellness tourism and palative care. Even tourists can comfortably have a medical check-up,” Zubair said.


Maldives to ease trade barriers with India

The government will ease trade barriers with India to promote trade between the two countries and accelerate foreign investment. Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed is currently leading a delegation in India to facilitate trade.

Indian financial newspaper Business Standard claimed Indian companies, including Tata, Suzlon, GMR, Apollo Hospitals and Oberoi, could invest as much as US$1 billion in the Maldives and significantly boost the country’s economy.

The Standard also reported that the Maldives foreign ministry will increase the leasing periods for resort development to 50 years and reduce the base rent in a bid to promote foreign investment in the hospitality sector.

Ahmed Naseem, state minister for foreign affairs said “many items that are traded between countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) will have tariffs eased on them, and this will make trade between the countries easier.”

Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Dnyaneshwar Mulay, said such a move would benefit the Maldivian economy.

“The lower tariffs will make exports and imports cheaper and make the market more competitive,” he said, adding that such a deal would also encourage the Maldives to increase its own exports.


President Nasheed returns home after overseas trip

President Nasheed has returned to Male’ after concluding his trip to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and India.

The president’s first stop was at Abu Dabi to attend the World Future Energy Summit.

In his address the President said that the change needed to combat climate change was radical, “although we do not possess all the technologies” to do so.

Nasheed emphasised that countries and companies who led the change through their capacity for innovation would be the winners of the century.

He claimed countries would need to learn to live within planetary boundaries, and further added that by the end of the century, “the entire world needs to go carbon neutral.”

The president also told the summit that the Copenhagen accord would need to be strengthened, and that in its current form would not prevent catastrophic climate change.

“The vast majority of world leaders are determined to strengthen the Copenhagen Accord,” he said.

When that happened, he said, “market failures” would be corrected and carbon pollution would be properly penalised.

“To my mind, the smart money is green,” said Nasheed.

The summit billed itself as the the world’s platform for sustainable future energy solutions, providing “an ideal networking event for industry leaders, investors, scientists, specialists, policymakers and researchers to discuss the challenges of rising energy demand and actions to achieve a cleaner and more sustainable future for the world.”


In Bahrain, the President held meetings with senior government officials as well as with the banking, investment, and finance sectors in Bahrain.

Nasheed met Talal Al Zain, CEO of Bahrain Sovereign Wealth Fund,Dr Esam Abdulla Yousif Fakhro, Chairman of Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and, Mr Easam Yousif Janahi, Chairman of First Energy Bank and Gulf Finance House.

The meetings centred on the business and investment opportunities available in the Maldives. Discussions were also held on forging cooperation between Maldives fishing industry and Bahrain fishing companies.


In Chennai, India, Nasheed attended the Partnership Summit 2010 organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Nasheed addressed the summit and said “the government was looking for investors for public sector investment programmes, particularly in utilities and other infrastructure projects.”

President Nasheed also visited a wind turbine manufacturing facility in Vengal near Chennai, India.

“The evolution of wind turbine technology means it is now easy to generate electricity even at low wind speeds,” he said.

“This opens up significant opportunities to set up wind parks in newer locations,” he added.

The president was also present at the signing ceremony when the Government of Maldives signed an agreement with Apollo Hospitals to manage Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’.

“We have immense faith in Apollo Hospitals and the pioneering spirit of the group,” he said.

“Under the able leadership of the visionary Dr Reddy, we are certain that IGMH and the Maldives will emerge as a global healthcare destination,” the president said.


Apollo Hospital Group to run IGMH in privatisation deal

The ministry of health and family has announced a 15 year agreement with Apollo Hospital Group to manage Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’.

The deal was signed on behalf of the government by Health Minister Dr Aminath Jameel and Dr Preetha Reddy, who represented Apollo Hospital Group.

Apollo estimates it will need to spend US$25 million to bring the hospital up to global standards, according to the  Economic Times, an Indian newspaper.

A statement released by the ministry claimed the objective of the deal is to improve health services while keeping prices stable.

Apollo Hospital Group was first established in 1983, and is now considered the third largest private healthcare provider in the world. The company currently administrates 8,000 beds and has plans to reach 15,000 beds, reports the Economic Times.

Apollo is expected to make an assessment of the hospital’s needs in the first three months, and plans to offer orthopedics, cardiology, gastro, neurology and acute care and trauma specialities in the first phase of the privatisation deal. The hospital will set up and operate a cardiology unit within the year, the health ministry added.

Chairman of the privatisation committee Mahmood Razee said one of the first changes to be made by Apollo would be to management.

“The major issue was that the management structure [at IGMH] was not working properly, this led to high costs and some services and medicines not being available. The overall qaulity of service went down,” he said.

“Over the next three months there will be structural changes to management changes at IGMH, and an evaluation plan will be submitted as well. Apollo group gives IGMH the advantage of economies of scale, which will lower the overall running costs.”

The hospital’s new management group has also revealed its intentions to make 80% of its employees Maldivian over a 15 year period, although it was unclear as to how this would be achieved given the lack of medical higher education facilities in the country.

Another objective the ministry noted was to ensure that all employees are treated within the correct employment regulations set by the government.

Razee noted that the deal was not part of the government’s public-private partnership scheme.

A doctor working at IGMH said staff were unable to comment on the deal “because we haven’t been officially informed yet. All the information we have received has come through the media.”


President reiterates commitment to electricity subsidies

The president has revealed the government will further subsidise electricity bills to cushion people in Male’ from rising energy costs.

Speaking in his weekly radio address, President Mohamed Nasheed acknowledged that many households in Male’ were having difficulty with the new electricity prices.

“Our estimate is that about 3000 households struggle to pay their bills. Therefore, the government has decided to provide them with more support,” he said.

President Nasheed also stated that more people were being made aware about the application process for subsidies.

STELCO, the state electricity company, recently dramatically increased the price for the first 300 units of electricity. In response, a group MPs from the ruling government’s own party came forward to urge the government to do something.

The government has said previously that it will broaden eligibility for subsidies, noting that the current eligibility criteria was based on data collected in 1997.

Under that data, the poverty line is considered Rf 21 (US$1.50) a day. The president said that a new survey was under way.