Two men drown in Fiyori, one boat sinks in bad weather

Two men drowned in southern Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Fiyori in bad weather and a boat with a cargo of timber has sunk in Malé atoll today.

The metreology department predicts heavy rains, strong winds up to 45 miles per hour and rough seas across the Maldives for the next 24 hours.

A yellow alert, indicating tidal swells, severe thunderstorms, and winds between 30 and 40 miles per hour, has been issued for the central and southern atolls.

Hassan Shihab, 53, and Abdulla Daood, 60, drowned in the lagoon of Fiyori Island while fishing this morning. The two men had waded 450 meters away from the shoreline.

Both were strong swimmers, but the currents were too strong, the island council said.

A man on the shore got on a speedboat and went to pick the two up when he saw Shihab and Daood going under. By the time he reached the two, Daood was already dead. He could detect a faint pulse in Shihab’s body. But doctors pronounced both men dead at the island’s health post.

A 70-foot boat carrying timber and five crew members sank in northern Malé Atoll at about 2:00pm today.

The coastguard found the two Maldivians and three expatriate workers in a dinghy and have now brought the crew to Malé.

Another boat nearly sank near Baa Atoll Goedhoo island to the north east of Malé this morning. The 65-foot boat started taking on water at 8:30am causing its engine to stall.

The coastguard towed the boat to shore at noon.

The Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) has warned seafarers to be cautious, and urged boats not to take on excessive weight.

Heavy rain has caused flooding in four southern islands, and damaged crops in Gaaf Dhaal Vaadhoo.

MNDF officers are pumping out flood waters in Hoadhedhoo, Madaveli and Thinadhoo islands in Gaaf Dhaal atoll and in Fuvahmulah Island.


President’s office seeks new members for human rights watchdog

The president’s office has invited applications for membership of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) with a deadline of 3:00pm next Tuesday.

The five-year terms of three of the five members on the independent commission is due to expire in August.

The three members are HRCM president Mariyam Azra, vice president Ahmed Tholal, and Jeehan Mahmood.

Ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MPs have previously accused Tholal and Jeehan of bias towards the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The two have denied charges.

The PPM and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) control a comfortable majority in the parliament with 48 seats in the 85-member house.

Application and declaration forms are available on the president’s office website. The president will nominate selected individuals for parliamentary approval.

In September last year, the Supreme Court initiated suo moto proceedings against the HRCM and charged its members with undermining the constitution and sovereignty of the Maldives by spreading lies about the judiciary in its Universal Periodic Review submission to the UN Human Rights Council.

The HRCM, in its 2014 annual report, described the suo moto proceedings as the biggest challenge the watchdog has faced in its 11-year history.

The commission also noted that the Juvenile Court had accused them of making false allegations in a confidential report into a 15-year-old rape victim’s flogging sentence.

The Supreme Court and Juvenile Court’s charges affected the commission’s independence and ability to carry out its mandate, the report said.



‘Visit Maldives Year 2016’ campaign seeks record tourist arrivals

President Abdulla Yameen has launched the Visit Maldives Year 2016 campaign in a bid to increase tourist arrivals to the Maldives to 1.5million in 2016.

The campaign, organized by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), will run until the end of June 2016.

The government plans to hold an underwater festival, an international surfing event, a tree-planting programme and photography exhibitions in the Maldives and global locations as part of the campaign.

The Maldives will also host the renowned tourism fair, ITB Berlin, in March 2016, as part of the Vist Maldives Year campaign.

“I am confident that through this global campaign we can look forward to welcoming record numbers of holidaymakers to our beautiful shores in the Maldives,” President Yameen said.

The president launched the campaign’s logo and website at an ongoing UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) conference at the Bandos Island Resort yesterday.

He highlighted the importance of tourism in job creation, raising standards of living and growth of the construction, agriculture and handicrafts industries.

“There is no doubt the tourism sector’s contribution to the creation of jobs is unparalleled with any other sector. In fact, the benefits of tourism as a catalyst for job creation go a long way from a mere creation of employment in hotels, resorts and restaurants. Many ancillary businesses throughout the economy gain from tourism, including the retail sector, entertainment arena and transportation industry.”

The government has earmarked three locations for community based tourism development, the president said.

The guesthouse island project aims to involve small and medium businesses in the lucrative tourism industry without encroaching on inhabited islands.

The project, launched in June 2014, envisioned the development of a 21,00 bed resort in Laamu Atoll Thumburi. The MMPRC changed the project to Baresdhoo in the same atoll last month.

He also pledged to provide sovereign guarantees for resort development loans with an interest rate less than four percent.

The policy is aimed at kick starting stalled development on some 60 islands leased for tourism, the government has previously said. The government has also cut import duty on construction materials for the resort development.

Speaking to the press yesterday, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb said tourism growth is expected to slow this year due to a decline in Russian arrivals. However, he said the Maldives is on track to achieve the goal of 1.4million arrivals this year.

The Maldives marked the arrival of one million tourists in 2013.

In March, travel and tourism publication TTG Asia reported that Maldivian resorts were offering up to a 30 percent discount in prices to attract more arrivals.

Tour operators have also complained over ad-hoc increases in tourism sector taxes, including a hike in TGST from eight to 12 percent in November 2014 and a new green tax of US$6 per tourist in November 2014.

Airport service tax was also raised from US$18 to US$25 in July 2014 for visitors leaving the country.

Adeeb said there was room for more growth in the tourism sector, and said the parliament’s decision to increase resort lease periods to 99 years as an important step.

The UNWTO secretary general, Taleb Rifai, noted the growth in Chinese arrivals to the Maldives and spoke of the need to cater to Eastern tourists and older tourists.

The tourism ministry last month leased Thaa Atoll Kalhufahalafushi to China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) to develop a Chinese-friendly resort in the Maldives.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives tripled from about 100,000 in 2010 to more than 300,000 last year.

With a total of 363,626 arrivals in 2014, Chinese tourists accounted for nearly one-third of arrivals with a 30 percent market share, representing the single biggest source market for tourists to the Maldives.

The Indian minister for tourism Dr Mahesh Sharma, meanwhile, pledged to increase arrivals from India to the Maldives.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) manifesto pledges to establish 50 resorts in the Maldives in its five-year term and award resort shares to Maldivians working in the tourism sector.

Adeeb has previously said the government will introduce a model for resort workers to obtain shares in resorts by the end of the year.

The government has also pledged to develop uninhabited island, Ismehelaareha in southern Addu atoll, as a resort to improve the southern economy.

Adeeb has also said he plans to transfer the authority to permit guesthouses from the tourism ministry to local councils


Criminal court releases murder suspect

The criminal court has released a defendant on trial for the murder of 16-year-old Mohamed Arham in May 2012 from police custody.

According to local media, the case was transferred from judge Muhthaz Fahmy to judge Abdulla Didi last week.

Judge Didi reportedly ordered the release of Athif Rasheed, from Maafanu Scenery View in Malé, after a hearing of the murder trial today.

Arham, a grade nine student at the Dharumavantha School, was found dead in the Lorenzo park in Malé on May 30, 2012. He died of multiple stab wounds to the neck, back, and chest.

Rasheed was charged with murder along with three other suspects and had been kept in pre-trial detention since his arrest. The trial began in November 2012.


MIRA warns of impersonators collecting information from taxpayers

The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) has warned of impersonators collecting information from shops and other taxpayers.

In a public announcement today, MIRA said its staff will show identification passes when they visit taxpayers and advised businesses against imparting any information to impersonators.

The tax authority also urged the public to alert the authorities of any persons falsely claiming to be a MIRA employee.



Imran appeals pre-trial detention order

The president of Adhaalath Party, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, has appealed a criminal court ruling to keep him in police custody until the end of a terrorism trial.

Imran is charged with terrorism along with Jumhooree Party’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and its council member Sobah Rasheed. The three are accused of inciting violence at a historic antigovernment protest on May 1.

At the case’s first hearing on Tuesday, state prosecutors cited a secret police intelligence report, and claimed Imran was a threat to society. They requested the three-judge panel detain Imran until the end of his trial.

Defence lawyers requested Imran be kept under house arrest, noting the high court had last week overturned a May 17 criminal court order and transferred Imran from police custody to house arrest because of his diabetes.

Judges Abdul Bari Yoosuf, Abdulla Didi and Sujau Usman rejected the request.



Opposition politician, charged with terrorism, seeks asylum

An opposition politician who was charged with terrorism this week has sought asylum in a foreign country.

In a video message published on You Tube last night, Jumhooree Party (JP) council member Sobah Rasheed said he has obtained asylum in an unspecified foreign country, to avoid prosecution by President Abdulla Yameen’s adminsitration.

“I am currently abroad, under a foreign government’s protection. I have come here to further serve the Maldivian people. I had to come here to avoid being a sacrifice to Yameen’s tyranny, because I can only further serve the Maldivian people if I make this move.”

Sobah, the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim are accused of inciting violence at a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

If convicted under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act, the three face between 10 and 15 years in jail.

Nearly 20,000 protesters took to the streets on May Day, demanding the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, whose arrests sparked the ongoing political crisis.

Sobah pledged to launch an international campaign seeking sanctions against President Yameen’s government. He said he will inform the international community of Yameen’s tyranny, corruption and prosecution of political leaders, as well as the businesses who prop up the government.

“I will especially highlight the politically motivated trials conducted by the authoritarian, evil and corrupt judges in the criminal court, in partnership with Yameen and [the tourism minister] Adeeb, and the bribes these judges have taken.”

He also said he would reveal details of those who murdered ruling party MP Afrasheem Ali in 2012.

Sobah pledged to continue his campaign until the government releases Nasheed and Nazim from jail, and stops targeting JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses.

Sheikh Imran has denied charges at a first hearing on Sunday.

Sobah and Ameen’s trials were set to begin on Sunday, but were cancelled as they are out of the country.

Gasim has been in Bangkok since late April. The criminal court has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Gasim for a charge of funding the May Day protest.

The tax authority in May froze Gasim’s Villa Group’s accounts claiming the company owed the government US$90.4million in unpaid rent, fees and fines.

Gasim insists the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed was also arrested on May 1, but the PG office has reportedly not made a decision on prosecuting the former MP.

The terrorism charges follow President Yameen’s invitation for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties. Imran, Ameen, and Ali Waheed are among the representatives of their respective parties.

The May Day demonstration was the largest anti-government protest in Maldivian history. Riot police cracked down on the demonstration with tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges after protesters attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square at dusk.

Nearly 200 people were arrested and scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes.

The terrorism charges against Sheikh Imran also comes after President Yameen threatened to prosecute the religious conservative party’s leader over allegations linking the president to the murder of Dr.Afrasheem.

The opposition has called for a third mass protest on June 12.


PPM MP proposes removing Malé city council’s powers

The parliament today accepted for consideration a bill that would authorise President Abdulla Yameen to determine the public services to be provided by the opposition-majority Malé city council.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim’s revisions to the decentralisation law states that municipal services the president decides not to assign to the council will be transferred to government ministries.

If the amendment bill is passed, the president must determine the powers and responsibilities of the council within a month in consultation with his cabinet.

During today’s sitting of parliament, MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) heavily criticised the proposed changes, contending that it would “destroy” the decentralisation system and reduce the city council to an “administrative desk at the president’s office.”

The current administration is using its parliamentary majority to consolidate all powers of the state with the executive and paving the way for “autocratic rule,” the opposition MPs said.

But Waheed said the changes were necessary due to the council’s alleged corruption and behaviour as “a separate government”.

Other PPM MPs accused the council of obstructing the government’s efforts to develop the capital and focusing primarily on the MDP’s activities.

Pro-government MPs said the council had failed to solve the city’s garbage and flooding problems, but opposition MPs said the government had not granted the funds necessary to fulfil the council’s responsibilities.

Waheed’s bill follows the housing ministry evicting the council from the city hall building last month. In a long-running struggle, the housing ministry had also taken over management of Malé City’s public spaces, parks, harbours, cemeteries, and roads from the city council.

The MDP had won a majority of seats in the Malé and Addu City councils in both the February 2011 and January 2015 local council elections.

MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, parliamentary group leader of the MDP, said the amendments are contrary to the spirt of the 2008 constitution.

The changes would undermine the concept of separation of powers and decentralised administration envisioned in the constitution, he said.

Following preliminary debate, the amendment bill was accepted for consideration with 33 votes in favour, 15 against, and sent to the national committee for further review.

The People’s Majlis convened today for its second session of the year after a one-month recess.


Comment: The Maldives cannot represent climate leadership with an autocrat at the helm

This article is by former president Mohamed Nasheed’s climate advisor Mark Lynas. It was originally published in The Guardian. Republished with permission. 

Lynas has authored several books on climate change, including Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet. 

This week sees governments meeting in Bonn, Germany for the last negotiating session in advance of November’s UN meeting on climate change in Paris – billed as the best chance in a generation for a worldwide treaty to tackle global warming.

The omens are better than for many years. The political landscape was changed dramatically by last November’s China-US emissions deal. With the world’s two biggest emitters covered, other pledges have been arriving thick and fast: the task for Paris will be to forge them into a global agreement with legal force.

The other major issue under discussion in Bonn is finance, in particular how the commitment to providing developing countries $100bn (£65bn) a year by 2020 for climate adaptation and mitigation can be funded. One of the strongest and most morally charged voices in this arena is the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), who are most vulnerable to sea level rise and other climate impacts. But this is where the problems start.

The chair of Aosis is currently the Maldives, a country of hundreds of coral atolls, none of them more than a metre above sea level. The Maldives shot to global attention in 2009, when its charismatic president Mohamed Nasheed held an underwater cabinet meeting to raise awareness of his nation’s plight, and laterpledged to make his country the world’s first carbon neutral state.

Nasheed personally took on the might of China and the US in the climactic closed-door heads of state meeting in Copenhagen in 2009. He then defended the deal from the conference floor when other world leaders had already jetted home, salvaging some positives from a process that was otherwise headed towards total collapse. (I was climate adviser to President Nasheed during that time.)

However, the Maldives is no longer represented by Nasheed,who was ousted in a coup in 2012 and later lost a rigged presidential election to the half brother of the former dictator. Nasheed was recently arrested, tried and sentenced to 13 years in prison following a politically-motivated trial Amnesty International decried as a “travesty of justice”. He is currently languishing in an unsanitary jail with highly restricted access to medical care, legal representation or visits from his wife and young children.

The Maldives’ new autocratic leadership has gutted the country’s democratic institutions and imprisoned every political opposition leader. The authoritarian president Abdullah Yameen has ditched the carbon neutral pledge and plans instead to drill for oil in the Maldives’ pristine coral-fringed waters. Yet this is the voice, as chair of Aosis, now supposedly representing the moral force of small island states at the international climate negotiations.

Having some of the most vulnerable countries in the world representated by authoritarian regimes presents the world with a dilemma. Should demands from these countries for billions of dollars’ worth of climate aid be heeded, when minimum standards of good governance are ignored and human rights are trampled?

In the Maldives, Yameen’s ministers have been accused of links with international gangsters and drug-dealers. Corruption is endemic, while journalists have been threatened, beaten and disappeared. Islamic extremism, meanwhile, is thriving, with hundreds of Maldivians reportedly traveling to Syria to join Islamic State.

The problem was recognised by Nasheed when in office. Sharing his concerns over the possible channeling of western climate aid through corrupt governments in developing countries, he said: “The money is rarely spent on what it should be. Even that which isn’t stolen is spent on the wrong thing. The contract is given to a minister’s relative, rather than to a reputable company.”

This is not a call to reduce the amount of aid pledged in Paris: the $100bn target has been agreed and should be met. But there is surely now a strong case for setting up procedures to enforce minimum standards of accountability for countries aiming to draw from these funds. There are plenty of Aosis members and other vulnerable nations that respect democracy, human rights and good governance, from Barbados to Cape Verde to Samoa.

These countries should be first in the queue, while nations like the Maldives that slip backwards into autocracy and corruption should be excluded from accessing climate finance support. In the meantime, Aosis should come to its senses and realise that it is damaging the interests of small island states worldwide to have its collective voice represented by a regime that crushes democracy and imprisons opposition leaders.

Human rights and climate change cannot be traded off against each other. It is because human rights and dignity are accepted as universal values that there is a moral case for climate finance in the first place – to address the injustice of those suffering the worst climate impacts not being those who bear the most responsibility for global warming.

Morality is a double-edged sword – if you behave unjustly yourself you forfeit any claim to moral leadership. That is why the Maldives cannot represent climate leadership while an aspiring dictator remains at the helm.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]