Party backlash over 33% boost in electricity prices

The ruling Maldivian Demcratic Party (MDP) have expressed concern over the raised electricity prices in Male’.

“It has always been a vow of the MDP to lower living costs, however at the moment electricity prices are ridiculously high,” said MDP chairperson Mariya Didi.

MDP MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor explained the main issue was the change in the pricing scheme.

“On average, a household will use at least 300 to 350 units of electricity in a month,” he said.

STELCO, the state electric company, recently dramatically increased the price for the first 300 units of electricity. The first hundred units have risen from Rf1.60 to Rf2.25, while the second and third hundred units have risen from Rf .70 and Rf2.15 to Rf2.50 each.

That means the average monthly electricity bill for household has risen almost overnight from Rf545 ($US42) to Rf725 ($US56).

“Many people are assuming we are attacking the government, but we are just voicing the concerns of the people,” Hamid said.

Currently there is a Rf45 subsidy per head per day to help with the cost of electricity for households with monthly incomes of less than Rf9450 ($US735).

“We have to get rid of this mentality that if a house hold electricity bill is high, they are well off,” urged MDP MP Eva Abdulla. “We have to assume that it might just be 12 people living in that household, chipping in for the bill – this is the reality.”

The president’s office issued a statement claiming the government was listening to the concerned MPs.

“We can’t provide additional financial assistance to STELCO – if we did that we would have to start printing money, and this would devalue the ruffiyya,” said the president’s press secretary, Mohamed Zuhair.

Hamid agreed that the solution was not to print more money.

“If we were to print an additional Rf50 million, it would only raise inflation and we would have no control over prices,” he said.

“The MDP wants to increase the subsidy, but there are many issues we need to rethink,” he said. “The figures we are currently using to calculate eligibility for the subsidy is very outdated, so there is research underway to get a ground figure.”

Mariya noted that many eligible households were failing to claim the subsidy.

“We have conducted house-to-house research and found that many people do not have sufficient information about the subsidy and thus have not been filling out their subsidy forms,” she said.

Cutbacks

The government could only boost subsidies if it reduced its current spending, Eva claimed, renewing the government’s controversial calls to slim the administration by reducing the spend on civil servant salaries.

“The government needs to reduce the civil service – offices should only have the required number of employees for optimal performance. Only then will government spending be reduced,” she said.

Civil service spending must be kept “on hold” until the government’s income surpassed Rf7 billion, Hamid said.

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Govenment sells 20 percent of MWSC to Hitachi at same price

The ministry of finance has sold 20 percent of the Maldives Water and Sanitation Company (MWSC) to Japanese company Hitachi Plant Technology.

The deal was signed by Minister of Finance Ali Hashim and President of the Hitachi Company Masaharu Suvikawa in Male’ yesterday.

According to Fathmath Muaza, assistant director of the ministry of finance, the total sale was worth US$16 million, with 53400 shares sold at US$ 305.90 per share – the same price the government last bought them for.

Asked why the government has decided to sell part of a profitable business, Muaza said “At the end of 2008, the government had to buy back the shares it had with the Danish company [HOH Water Technology of Denmark] as per the [existing] joint venture agreement. All these years that company in Denmark held 24 per cent of the shares in MWSC.”

Mifzal Ahmed, investment advisor to the ministry of economic development, said Hitachi’s decision to purchase shares in MWSC shows that the foreign investment community regards the Maldives “as a very sound place to do business.”

” It also shows that large companies are interested in engaging with local companies to introduce new technologies, particularly environmentally friendly technologies, that will make a strong contribution to our goal of carbon neutrality by 2020,” Mifzal said.

“We are also confident that these technologies will result in a better quality of service to the people of the country at the most affordable price possible.”

Opposition

The government has previously come under fire for its privatisation plans.

In 2009, it was accused by the opposition DRP of using funds to the tune of US$20 million, allocated for tsunami relief on Meemu Kolhufushi and Thaa Madifushi, for purchasing the MWSC shares back from the Danish company.

DRP spokesman Ibrahim Shareef said “I don’t think this is a good idea at all, this money should have been used for the tsunami relief effort. Under the joint venture agreement, there is a buy back option for the Danish company, we didn’t have to buy back all the shares.”

Shareef said he thought the biggest problem with the deal was that all the shares were sold at the same price that the government bought them for.

“If they sold it at a premium it might have been a different story, and there wasn’t even an initial public offering.”

Transparency

Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party, DQP, said he felt the deal was not transparent enough, had no regards for the impending privatisation bill, and questioned why the company was not open for public purchase.

“I don’t see the necessity of selling 20 per cent of a profitable company for US$16 million.”

Jameel said the deal seemed rushed and due to the lack of transparency, said he held a “strong suspicion [that there were] underhand deals”.

In addition, he said, “why was the deal rushed in a recessionary period as we would have got a better price if we had waited a few months?”

In response to these accusations, Mohamed Zuhair, the president’s press secretary, said “DQP is obviously an opposition party and they would refute governtment policy. We deny all allegations that the process is not transparent.”

Zuhair siad that the whole process was monitored through the privatisation committee, public private partnership, Invest Maldives and the ministry of finance.

Previously, the government sold seven percent of its shares in Dhiraagu to Cable and Wireess for US$ 40 million, a deal which was heavily criticised as many felt the deal was largely under valued.

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Drifting speedboat rescued at sea

A speedboat that ran out of fuel and was drifting with the currents in Baraveli Kandu last night has been rescued by MNDF Nothern Area Command.

The boat was travelling from Raa Alifushi to Lhaviyani Hinnavaru carrying six people and a child. According to MNDF they left Alifushi around 10:45 pm.

The speedboat,  ‘Zaako’, belonged to Mohamed Ismail of Lhaviyani Hinnavaru, Jambuge, and ran out of fuel around 1.40 am.

The MNDF dispatched a coast guard launch to find the stricken vessel, eventually discovering it at 3:00 am, two miles west from Lhaviyani Madivaru.

The speed boat was towed into Lhaviyani Hinnavaru harbour at 3:40 am, and all on board were reported to be fine.

Speaking to Minivan News about the incident, Lieutenant Abdul Ali of the MNDF said such incidents were becoming “more and more common.”

“Those in charge [of vessels] hould realise how long the journey will take, and if ensure they have sufficient amounts of fuel,” he said.  “It is important to be cautious before travelling at sea.”

When asked about what actions the coastguard had taken to try and reduce the number of incidents, Ali claimed the authority continuously gives advice and holds many awareness programs.

MNDF urged all sea travllers to contact the nearest MNDF area command if an incident should occur, or if that number is not known, to dial the toll free emergency number 191.

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The rise and fall of the Maldivian shipping fleet

Maldivians and the ocean have always gone hand-in-hand. Maldivians have always been good seamen, and the country’s sea-going culture has always been strong.

During President Nasir’s rule, Maldives Shipping Limited (MSL) was one of the region’s leading shipping companies.

Under the leadership of Ali Umar Maniku and the late Ali Hussein Didi, the company prospered as the flag carrier of the Maldives.

During the 50s and 60s, the MSL had a fleet of almost 60 ships. Many of these were ancient vessels, but due to the hard work of their crews were kept running at very high standards.

“There wasn’t a day when a port in Colombo, Bombay, Karachi, the Gulf or the Red sea had at least five MSL ships,” says a shipping analyst and former captain of a MSL vessel.

“All MSL ships in those days had the red white and green colours of the Maldivian flag painted as stripes onto the funnel; it was a very prestigious company.”

Maldivian seamen were recognised and sought after by international companies for their work ethic, despite being paid very basic salaries.

The MSL fleet was maintained due to the hard work of the many seamen – their diligence kept the ageing ships in excellent condition: “There wasn’t a moment when they wouldn’t be painting a hull.”

These were the glory days of the Maldivian shipping industry. Ships were running profitably and making a huge contribution to the Maldivian economy.

Fall of a fleet

However during the 80s, MSL ran into hardship. Most of the fleet consisted of bulk carriers, while container ships were fast becoming the preferred vessel for many shipping companies.

MSL was unable to keep up with the fast moving modern shipping industry, and its ageing vessels had finally reached their last port.

Many blame the fall of the MSL on the government at the time, for not investing enough in such a vital sector.

In a recent interview with Dhi FM, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said “When I became president, the shipping that existed had started to decline… in the reign of the president before me, during Ibrahim Nasir’s time, vessels that were shipwrecked were salvaged and repaired for use. Then very old boats, as old as 20 or 25 years, were bought to create the shipping line.”

“What came next was the change to container shipping. We didn’t have [it] at the time. When it changed to container shipping, we had to find bigger boats that could fit containers. We didn’t have the capacity for it.”

However, many other parties believe this isn’t the case.

The shipping analyst told Minivan News that “If private parties could succeed in the shipping industry, I don’t see any reason why the flag carrier of the nation couldn’t succeed. The fleet was outdated, and the focus was not on the number of ships anymore, rather the total tonnage.”

Mismanagement?

Many people believe that the fall of the MSL was due to mismanagement and negligence.

In the 80’s, all vessels of the MSL were under the same company name, and all were under one insurance company.

In 1983, this particular insurance company went bankrupt and many MSL ships began to be impounded at ports.

This happened whenever an insurance claim was made against them – even if a ship did not have a claim against them, all sailed under the same company and were stopped for being a sister ship.

This most probably led to the fall of MSL.

What followed was an attempt to modernise the fleet. All the ships were renamed and each sailed under a different company.

MSL was renamed Maldives National Shipping Management Limited, MNSML, and the fleet size decreased. The size of the ships did begin to increase, but these ships were mostly still bulk carriers even though container shipping was becoming popular.

Today MNSML is known as MNSL, and opereates a modest fleet of three ships. The potential for growth is still there, as the Maldives still lies in the middle of a popular shipping route.

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Sheereen’s body put in suitcase for transport by taxi

Following the death of Mariyam Sheereen her body was put into a small suitcase and transported to a construction site by taxi cab, the Maldives Police Service have claimed.

“We have found the suitcase and there is evidence in there that shows it once held Sheereen’s body,” Inspector Hamdhoon Rasheed told a press conference late today.

“The taxi driver had no knowledge that he was carrying a body in his boot.”

Thirty year-old Sheereen, of Laamu Gan, was found dead in a construction site in Male’ on 3 January by a Bangladeshi labourer.

“We can confirm that the body was found 36 hours after death, but we don’t believe she was [in the construction site] for that time,” Rasheed said.

Asked how the 4 foot 9 inch Sheereen could have fitted into the 2.5 foot long suitcase, Rasheed replied that “there were no bones broken in her body, but our investigations have shown that after death it is possible to fit a body into a small suitcase such as this.”

The Maldives Police Service have also confirmed that the man arrested in relation to the death of Mariyam Sheereen death was her boyfriend, 30 year-old Mohamed Najah of Laamu Kalhaidhoo, Ocean Villa (pictured).

Rasheed said that Najah was maintaining his innocence and was cooperating with police.

Police are still investigating the case and no other suspects have been arrested so far.

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Give released inmates a chance, says DPRS director general

The Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) has launched a rehabilitation program for the recently released inmates who were serving time for minor drug offences.

A special ceremony was held today to launch the program which was attended by many of the parents and participants of the program.

The State Minster for Home Affairs, Ahmed Adhil, said this was the first phase in a program designed to reintegrate the former inmates back into society.

“As part of the program we will instill religious spirit, change attitudes and behaviours, teach them how to solve everyday problems and prepare them to move back into society,” he claimed.

The first part of the program started today, with a lecture on religious spirit and education by Sheik Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim Rasheed of Madrasathul Arabiyya.

The program is set to run for a minimum of three months, but the ministry has said it will try and extend it to six.

“We realise that some families are considering taking their sons overseas for treatment at their own cost, and as a ministry we will do all we can to make this possible,” Adhil continued.

“A huge responsibility has been bestowed on the parents. Without them we could not have started this program.”

Adhil also said that all participants would be subject to random drug tests.

Director General of the DPRS Mohamed Rasheed told the former inmates that “no matter what we say, it’s the parents who will influence you the most, that is why we have sent you back to them.”

Rasheed also highlighted that the program had been heavily criticised by many opposing groups, and that it was important for all participating members not to let themselves and the DPRS down.

Public outcry was sparked when news of the rehabilitation program was made public, with many linking it to a recent crime wave.

“No one we have brought to Male’ has yet been accused of any crimes,” said Rasheed. “It is important for the public not to point fingers until police formally charge someone.”

One of the most difficult obstacles the participants will face is acceptance back into society, he said.

“Many employers will not give people like this a second chance, and this is something we have to change – there can be no discrimination.”

There are currently 62 former inmates enrolled in this program, with more than 150 still awaiting clearance.

“The current criteria to be accepted into this program is that the offender must have no pending files at the prosecutor general’s office, and must have been in possession of three grams or less of narcotics when arrested,” said Adhil.

Speaking on the public concern about the inmates being in Male’, Adhil noted that “we are keeping close tabs on all the participants, and once a day, every day, we check to see if they are home.”

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Police arrest drug dealers in southern atolls

Police have arrested two men suspected of being among the most prolific drug dealers in the Gaaf Dhaal and Faumulaku regions.

Both men were in possession of narcotics when the arrests were made. Police said the arrests followed an operation conducted by a team from Male’ to track and apprehend major players in the drug industry.

The Gaaf Dhaal dealer was arrested on 1 January on Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo. The Faumulaku man was arrested on 4 January.

Both are currently under police custody while the case is being investigated.

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UNDP pumps $9.3 million into climate change adaptation

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has begun recruiting staff for a $9.3 million climate change adaption project in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Transport.

The UNDP’s “vision” was to have “a community enabled deal which addresses climate change impact,” said Mohamed Inaz, the UNDP’s assistant resident representative of environment and energy.

“Currently the ministry is in the process of recruiting. They need project staff who can address and implement the different issues,” he said.

The four year project, which was signed early in December and will run until March 2014, is intended to  “integrate climate change risks into resilient island planning in the Maldives”. The project is the result was the result of a national adaptation program of action (NAPA) study completed in 2008, which attempted to identify activities that would assist a country to adapt to climate change.

According to the UNDP, the main focus of this project was to integrate climate change risk into sustainable human development and reduce the country’s vulnerability.

“We want risk assessment across all areas such as land use planning and decentralisation, and we also want to improve the meteorological service to provide more up-to-date data specific to the Maldives,” Inaz said.

While the ministry will implement the project, the UNDP noted that it would be closely monitored.

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Two-time escaped convict apprehended on ‘Garbage Island’

Police have apprehended an escaped convict from Maafushi jail, who escaped midway through last year.

Abdulla Ali Maniku from Bahaaruge Haa Alif Molhadhoo had been on the run since 17 June 2009.

The 37 year-old was originally arrested and charged for his part in the clashes between religious extremists and security forces on Alif Alif Himandhoo on 7 October 2007.

Police said Maniku also escaped from the jail early last year, when he was caught in Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo. While being transported back to Male’ he again gave the authorities the slip by jumping into the ocean near the island of Vaavu Felidhoo.

He was recaptured on 4 January on Kaafu Thilafushi, a heavily industrialised island seven kilometres west of Male’ known colloquially as ‘Garbage Island’.

In 2007, the government cracked down on religious extremism after a home-made bomb exploded in front of Sultan Park in Male’ on 1 October. The attack injured 12 tourists.

After the attack, police arrested ten suspects. A week later, more than 100 security personal searched the island of Himandhoo for people suspected to be linked with the attack.

The police and many of Himandhoo’s residents clashed violently, leaving many injured on both sides. More than 50 people were arrested and taken to Male’ for questioning.

Ali Maniku is currently being held by the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS).

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