Incidents of February 7 “past us, over”: President Waheed

The controversial transfer of power on February 7 is “past us” and the Maldives will soon have “peace and harmony”, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan told a rally on Ihavandhoo in Haa Alif Atoll.

“I believe the incident of February 7 is past us now. That incident is over now. The people who were unhappy about it are getting weaker and fewer. It is all fading away now,” Dr Waheed said. “Therefore, God willing, very soon we will see a united people working together.”

Speaking at the rally during his trip to the atoll over the weekend, the President said although he was informed of the possibility of facing some opposition from the people, the only sound he had heard was of a very warm welcome from the islanders.

Speaking at the rally in Ihavandhoo, President Waheed expressed his satisfaction with the current state of the country.

“Now the people of the Maldives enjoy freedom and protection of their rights more than ever before in this country,” Dr Waheed said.

“One thing I am really proud of is that nobody will be arrested any more for saying anything about the government or the President,” he added.

A total of 29 people were arrested during the unrest following the President’s visit to Haa Alif atoll. Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that 15 of the arrested were still under police custody.

Police replaced opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) flags around the harbour area with national flags before the President’s arrival, Haneef noted.

During his tour of Haa Alif Atoll, President Waheed also visited the Dhihdhoo island. Dhihdhoo Councilor Ahmed Jameel told newspaper Haveeru that 100 meters surrounding the island jetty was closed off with police tape prior to the arrival of President.

According to Haveeru, the island’s council said the President was to meet supporters of pro-government political parties inside the cordoned off area and that no island councilors had been allowed inside.

President Waheed’s supporters were also subjected to comprehensive screening before meeting the President, the council claimed.

Sub-Inspector Haneef confirmed to Minivan News that five people including two island councilors were arrested prior to the President’s visit on June 2, for “disrupting peace and breaking accepted social standards in the public.”

During his speech, President Waheed claimed that elements of the MDP had “unusual, undemocratic, and uncivilised” ideas, however “we must not worry about them at all as they are very few in number.”

“We have a perfect democracy in the Maldives now. If members from the only political party that has a different ideology from us calmed down and started working with us, we would have peace and harmony in this country. There wouldn’t be a single person who would create havoc in the country,” he claimed.


Maldivian cultural dances to be held at Expo 2012, South Korea

The Maldives will be represented through cultural dances on the big stage at Expo 2012 in South Korea.

An estimated 10 million people from around the world are expected to visit the three-month Expo held in South Korea’s coastal city of Yeosu.

The slogan for this year’s Expo is “The Living Ocean and Coast.” The Maldives’ slogan under this theme is “99% ocean, 1% sand, 100% Maldives”. The Maldives pavillion is designed depicting beautiful underwater scenery and Maldivian culture.

The main focus of the Expo 2012 is on the importance of preserving marine and coastal environments. The exhibition will offer a “golden opportunity for resolving imminent ocean-related problems facing developing countries,” according to the Expo 2012’s official website.

“The Maldives will use the opportunity to gain maximum exposure to potential tourists to the country, in line with the Government’s target of attracting one million tourists to Maldives this year,” said Senior Marketing Officer of the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC), Fathmath Raheel.

Raheel said the MMPRC has invited local parties interested in selling Maldivian souveniers at the Korean Expo.

“Selling souveniers and authentic Maldivian products will be a very good way to inform people about the Maldives. We will provide assistance to any groups interested in doing this with their own funds at the expo,” Raheel told Minivan News.

The Maldives participation is sponsored by the government of South Korea.

In addition to the cultural dances performed at the Maldives pavillion as well as on the Expo stage, a one-day seminar on the travel trade will be held.

Each of the 104 participating countries will celebrate the National Day of their countries at the Expo. The Maldives’ National Day event will be held on June 4.

South Korea is among the top 10 countries in tourist arrivals to Maldives this year, with 6554 visitors arriving from January to April – growth of 20.9 percent on the same period last year.

“The South Korea market is expected to perform extremely well this year,” the MMPRC observed in its April report. “There is possibility of direct flights from South Korea to the Maldives which would further boost the market.”

Last year the country contributed 2.7 percent of tourist arrivals to Maldives.


Former shark fishermen learn farming and aquaculture at M&S-sponsored workshop

Mohamed Rauf is a father of three from Kanditheemu in Shaviyani Atoll. Like most fishermen in his island, he took up shark fishing as a means to provide for his family.

For three years Rauf’s family depended on selling sharks to local buyers until the government of the Maldives imposed a nationwide shark fishing ban, bringing a halt to his income from shark fishing.

In March 2010, the government banned all types of shark fishing within its territorial waters, which covers about 90,000 square kilometres, technically making it the largest shark sanctuary in the world at the time. A trade ban on all shark products was imposed in July 2011.

Rauf is just one of the estimated 200 shark fishermen whose livelihood was affected following the ban.

Although the government in March 2010 said it would provide the fishermen with financial support and retraining, Rauf had to wait two years for any action on the matter. Last week, his hopes were finally raised.

‘Alternative livelihoods for former shark fishermen’ is a training workshop funded by UK retailer Marks & Spencer, focusing on farming and aquaculture training. The workshop was held last week for former shark fishermen and their families from the islands of Kulhudhuffushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll and Kan’ditheemu and Goidhoo in Shaviyani Atoll.

Seamarc Pvt Ltd, an environmental consultancy in the Maldives, coordinated the workshop in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture and New England Seafood.

Environmental consultant at Seamarc, Marie Saleem, said the workshop was conducted by experts from the Hanimaadhoo Agriculture Centre and Marine Research Centre, and was a great success.

“The workshop served as an inspiration to people – they have being asking for this since 2010. Now they realise they can really do things like hydroponics and agriculture on the islands,” Saleem said.

The farming course focused on home gardening and hydroponic techniques. Participants learned to cultivate different crops including chilli, watermelon and papaya. Participants also acquired knowledge on common pest and disease control related to these crops.

The aquaculture course focused on different species of aquaculture including food fish, clown fish, grouper, pearl, seaweed and sea cucumber cultivation. A lecture on the commercial aspects of mariculture was also given by the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Corporation (MIFCO).

The Hanimaadhoo Agriculture Centre will conduct a further, more in-depth agricultural training course later this year. The three-month course and another two-week long training on aquaculture planned for the year are expected to equip the participants with more hands-on experience.

“It was more of an introductory workshop this time. We really hope participants will continue with the other workshops that are coming up,” Saleem added.

Rauf, who has now achieved a certificate from the workshop, agreed that further workshops, especially in aquaculture, would be helpful.

“The workshop was great. We learned a lot of new things. But I am only confident with the farming techniques so far. Another workshop in aquaculture will be very useful,” he said.


Government condemns obstruction of ACC investigation, calls on Civil Service Commission to investigate

The government has condemned the obstruction of an Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) investigation into the Immigration department, after immigration staff allegedly locked the investigators in a room, and called on the Civil Service Commission to investigate.

Speaking to Minivan News, President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said the government believed it is very important for the Civil Service Commission to look into the matter in order to prevent future obstructions to investigations by civil servants.

The offices of the Department of Immigration and Emigration were raided on Thursday by ACC officials with police assistance. The anti-corruption authority seized 75 laptops from the immigration offices, which it alleged had been provided to staff by Nexbis. Immigration staff told local media the laptops were part of the project being rolled out by the security firm.

The ACC accused immigration staff of obstructing and intimidating ACC officials during their investigation of the department, and said it would file a case.

The Nexbis contract – a 20-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement to upgrade the Maldives’ border control security system – was signed with Nexbis during the previous administration by President Mohamed Waheed’s brother in-law Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, who served as the Controller of Immigration and Emigration at the time.

The day after the concessionaire contract was signed, the ACC announced it had received “a serious complaint” regarding “technical details” of the bid, and issued an injunction pending an investigation into the agreement citing “instances and opportunities” where corruption may have occurred.

The ACC in December 2011 forwarded cases of corruption against Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim and former Director General of Finance Ministry, Saamee Ageel to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PG) .

The ACC alleged the pair had abused their authority for undue financial gain in giving the US$39 million Border Control System project to Malaysia’s Nexbis Limited.

Ilyas was reappointed as the Controller of Immigration and Emigration in February after President Waheed came to power. However, the President on Thursday transferred Ilyas Hussain to the Defense Ministry as the Nexbis case intensified, following the ACC’s raid.

“The President decided to transfer Ilyas as he is under investigation in an alleged corruption case,” confirmed Riza. “It is in the best interest of the situation as his name is everywhere these days.”

The ACC was not responding at time of press.


Challenges to climate change governance: Transparency Maldives

A lack of consolidated institutions for climate governance poses key challenges to the Maldives’ effort to save the country from dangers of climate change.

One of the lowest-lying countries in the world, with an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, the Maldives is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise.

In international climate negotiations, as a developing country and a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Maldives has been a vocal advocate for strong mitigation and adaptation strategies against climate change.

The country has also been a recipient of large amounts of funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, under both bilateral and multilateral funding schemes.

According to a preliminary report on Climate Governance Integrity by Transparency Maldives, approximately US$160.5 million dollars is currently being spent on various projects through externally funded grants and loans.

However, the report stated that according to the Government, management of mitigation and adaptation projects has proven to be a difficult task as a result of limitations in human resources, institutional capacity, and local expertise in the field.

According to the report, the Maldives “lacks a comprehensible overall institutional framework and comprehensive policy for addressing climate change”.

The report stated that institutional rivalry and unclear mandates have resulted in confusion within institutions, in situations where one project is dealt with by two or more different institutions.

As as example, Transparency Maldives highlighted the Scaling up of Renewable Energy Projects (SREP). The project was initially planned and formulated by the Ministry of Housing and Environment (MHE) but was later handed over to the newly established Renewable Energy Investment Office (REIO) at the Ministry of Economic Development.

Challenges to climate governance include institutional mandates being in a “constant flux” in a transitional democracy, according to the report.

It noted that the former government appointed two presidential advisors – Mike Mason, an expert on renewable energy, carbon finance, and offsetting, and Mark Lynus, an environment activist and journalist – on climate change related policies, “both of whom resigned following the change of power on February 7. No new advisors have been appointed to date.”

The National Planning Council (NPC) under the Department of National Planning (DNP), one of the main bodies overseeing climate change projects, had ceased functioning following February 7 and was awaiting reform, the report noted.

The other major body providing expert advice on adaptation and mitigation efforts, including achieving carbon neutrality by 2020, was the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), a 15 member body chaired by President Mohamed Waheed while he was Vice President. The report noted that in 2011 the CCAC only met twice, “even though they initially planned to meet every fortnight according to the government press statement [at the time].”

Speaking to Minivan News, Senior Project Coordinator at Transparency Maldives Azim Zahir said, “New institutions have being created and the mandates are constantly changing. The change of administration in February is likely to affect consolidation as well.”

Another major challenge to climate governance is the absense of a comprehensive database on climate change projects in the Maldives, Zahir said.

“There is not a single institution that has a complete database on climate projects. It is very difficult to gather information and this makes it harder to incorporate anti-corruption safeguards,” Zahir added.

Last year, the NGO stated that it was vital to strengthen the governance structure of the country to properly manage climate change funding in order to meet mitigation and adaptation targets.

The Maldives rose slightly to rank 134 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2011, a mild improvement on 2010 when the Maldives was ranked 143th – below Zimbabwe.

Project Director of Transparency Maldives, Aiman Rasheed, said at the time that the ranking could not be compared year-to-year, especially in the Maldives where there were only a three sources used to determine the index (India has six).

“Corruption in the Maldives is grand corruption, unlike neighbouring countries where much of it is petty corruption,” Rasheed said. “In the Maldives there is corruption across the judiciary, parliament and members of the executive, all of it interlinked, and a systemic failure of the systems in place to address this. That why we score so low.”


Maldives only South Asian country to record tourism decline in Jan-Feb: MATI

The Maldives was the sole South Asian country not have seen an increase in tourist arrivals in the first two months of the year, according to the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI).

In a statement, MATI said that all other South Asian countries that published tourism statistics had recorded significant increases, with India at the top of the list with an increase of 40,000 tourists in Jan-Feb.

Sri Lanka experienced 27 percent growth in tourist arrivals. Tourist arrivals to the Maldives dropped by five percent during the same period.

According to Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) statistics, Asia-Pacific is the fastest growing tourist region in the world, with South East Asia showing the highest increases, closely followed by South Asia.

The Maldives’ number one tourism market – China – declined substantially in February and March after charter flights were cancelled due to political turmoil.

The market recovered in April with the restoration of these flights, with Chinese arrivals showing a 3.5 percent increase compared to the same period last year, after a massive 34.8 percent decline  in February. The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) has predicted substantial growth in June-July.

However the Italian and UK markets reported substantial declines in April, with arrivals plunging 27 percent and 20 percent respectively compared to April 2011.  These losses were partially offset by an increase in German, Swiss and Russian arrivals.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the PATA statistics applied to arrivals so far this year. The PATA figures were for the first two months of the year. Minivan News apologises for any confusion caused.


Police arrest two for sexual misconduct, during raid on “New Age” beauty salon

Police on Wednesday night arrested a 26-year-old woman and a 40-year-old man suspected of sexual misconduct, after raiding a beauty salon in Male’.

The two were arrested in suspicion of engaging in sexual activities inside a room at the “New Age” beauty salon located on the first floor of “Blue Lake” lodge in Maafannu.

The arrests were made in an operation conducted by the Serious and Organised Crime Department of Maldives Police Service (MPS) following intelligence information received by the police, the MPS claimed.

The case is under investigation by the Serious and Organised Crime Department of MPS.

Shutting down brothels masquerading as spas and massage parlors was a key demand of a ‘mega protest’ on December 23 organised by eight political parties and religious NGOs to ‘Defend Islam’ against the allegedly liberal policies of the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government.

The Dhivehi Qaumy Party (DQP) in June 2011 accused the Nasheed administration of “keeping its eyes closed” on the issue, despite prostitution being haram under Islam. The DQP alleged the Nasheed government was not prioritising Islam in the country.

Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed claimed the ministry possessed a list of suspected brothels in inhabited islands, “most of which have already been shut down.”

Seven beauty salons had been closed down by police since the controversial transfer of power on February 7.

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla had claimed during the December 23 demonstration that there were over 60 brothels in the Male’ alone, double the number of mosques in the capital.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs earlier this week had said it was formulating rules and guidelines for registering and operating alternative medicine centres, spas and beauty salons to prevent the use of such establishments as a front for prostitution.

The new regulations, to be drafted by a technical committee comprising of representatives from police and relevant ministries, would expand the role of the Islamic Ministry in monitoring the businesses, according to the Islamic Ministry.

In April police claimed to have smashed a Bangladeshi prostitution ring as part of the crackdown.

The suspects – four female and three male – were apprehended during raids by police officers inside Ranfaunu house, based in the Mahchangolhi ward of Male’ on April 9.

Officers reported that although the house looked as if it was built for residential purposes, a reception was found inside and a bell was placed on the staircase.

Inspector Dhaudh claimed that the bell situated on the staircase was suspected as functioning as a warning device used to signal people inside of possible danger.

In June 2011, Sun Magazine was criticised by the Maldives Media Council (MMC) for publishing an undercover account of Male’s illegal brothel scene, dubbed ‘Operation Sunset’, which reportedly involved three Sun journalists visiting massage parlours in Male’ and soliciting sex from the women in an attempt to expose illegal brothels operating in the capital.

The publication subsequently issued a statement apologising for the article’s “lack of professionalism”. However Editor Sinan Ali told Minivan News he was “really proud” of the journalists involved and what they had reported.

“As the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has said, this kind of reporting is new to the community and we need to get used to it,” Ali said.


National Museum vandalism case forwarded to PG

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has forwarded a case to the Prosecutor General against four persons suspected of destroying historical artifacts in February at the Maldives National Museum.

Around 35 exhibits — mostly images and carvings of Buddha  — were destroyed when half a dozen men stormed into the museum amid the political chaos of February 7, and ransacked a collection of coral and lime figures. They included a 1.5-foot-wide representation of the Buddha’s head – one of the most historically significant pieces at the museum.

The vandals destroyed “99 percent” of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic artifacts from before the 12th century – most of them beyond repair – according to the museum director Ali Waheed.

An official at the museum told Minivan News following the incident that the group “deliberately targeted the Buddhist relics and ruins of monasteries exhibited in the pre-Islamic collection, destroying most items beyond repair.”

“This is not like a glass we use at home that can be replaced by buying a new one from a shop. These are originals from our ancestors’ time. These cannot be replaced ever again,” the official said.

The vandalism was reminiscent of the Taliban’s demolition of the great carved Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in early 2001 and raised fears that extremists were gaining ground in the Maldives, the New York Times reported in February.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that no information could be revealed at this time regarding the identity of the four suspects. A number were detained at the scene following the incident, however no formal arrests were made at the time.

Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz said on Wednesday that a decision on the case will be made within the next 15 days.

The attack on the museum came on the same day President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in an alleged coup d’etat following weeks of anti-government protests.

In the weeks leading up to Nasheed’s controversial resignation, religious and other opposition parties accused him of undermining Islam in the country and being influenced by Jews and Christians.

Nasheed’s government clashed regularly with religious parties now linked to the government, over issues that included not condemning United Nations Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay for her suggestion that flogging be abolished as a punishment for extra-marital sex, and any operating agreement with Israeli national carrier El Al Airlines.

AFP reported former President Mohamed Nasheed as saying that the vandals included Islamist hardliners who had attacked the museum because they believed some of the statues inside were “idolatrous”.

The monuments gifted by the South Asian countries to the Maldives ahead of the 17th summit of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation SAARC, hosted in Addu city were also denounced as idolatrous monuments and vandalised, including the monument gifted by Pakistan.

Removal of the contentious monuments was one of the five demands of the December 23 protesters, including religious groups and opposition, who also demanded that the government prohibit Israeli airlines from operating in the Maldives.

After coming to power, the ruling coalition withdrew the demands in the Majlis.


PPM strikes back against DRP’s criticism of government

Vice President of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Umar Naseer has alleged to local media that Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)’s recent criticism of the government was due to their intention to leave the ruling coalition.

Speaking to newspaper Haveeru, Naseer accused DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali of trying to “get things done in his favor” through the present government.

“The DRP is seeking to get a sovereign guarantee to pay off Thasmeen’s debts. As soon as they know it can’t happen, they will break away from the coalition”, Naseer claimed.

DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef denied Naseer’s allegations and said Thasmeen had no debts under his name.

He further accused Naseer of continuously attempting to defame Thasmeen.

“Umar accused Thasmeen and Abdulla Shahid of being involved in the [awarding of the airport] to GMR . If that is so, why aren’t they investigating the matter now that they are in the government? There is never any truth to what [Umar Naseer] says,” Shareef said.

Naseer claimed that PPM deserved more positions in the current government than the DRP, as PPM had played the “most important role” in the transfer of power in February.

“Ninety-nine percent of the anti-government protesters were from PPM. 99 percent of the injured were from PPM. Our members sacrificed the most to change the government. And DRP does not deserve to get an equal number of government positions as PPM,” Naseer said.

Naseer’s comments follow Monday’s press conference by the DRP criticising certain government officials and describing them as incompetent.

During the press conference, Shareef claimed the Foreign Ministry had inaccurately portrayed the real situation in the Maldives, and had falsely claimed that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) had sided with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Misconceptions in the international community surrounding the transfer of power represented a failure on behalf of the Ministry, Haveeru reported Shareef as saying.

In response, Naseer accused the DRP of trying to win a parliamentary majority by forming a coalition with the MDP.

However, speaking to Minivan News, DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom said that despite some concerns the party had regarding the current government’s policies, it had no intention of leaving the coalition until the next presidential elections.

Asked about any possible consequences clashes between the DRP and PPM – the two largest parties in the ruling coalition – would have on the functioning of the unity government and political stability in the country, Dr Mausoom said the cross-party strife had “nothing to do with the functioning of the government”.

Furthermore, “imagining” that the DRP would leave the coalition and join the MDP was “irresponsible journalism”, he said, adding that the DRP would continue to support President Waheed’s administration until the next election.

The PPM was formed last year following an acrimonious split with the DRP, after the party’s disciplinary committee evicted Naseer from the party. Naseer claimed he had been thrown out of the party for protesting against the MDP, while the DRP leadership contended that he had been holding protests without the party’s consent.

In December 2010, following Naseer’s departure from the party, a DRP event ended in a factional brawl.

A meeting came to blows after Naseer, the party’s Deputy Leader prior to his dismissal by the party’s disciplinary committee, and his supporters gatecrashed the venue.

The meeting was held in celebration of a Supreme Court ruling, which saw seven cabinet ministers departing their posts after their reappointments were disapproved by the opposition-majority parliament.

In February 2011, police evacuated Shareef from DRP headquarters after the spokesperson was attacked by a crowd of Naseer’s supporters.