Maldivian economy grew by 8.5 percent in 2014, says MMA

The Maldivian economy grew at 8.5 percent in 2014, the central bank has said. Growth was driven by a solid increase in tourist arrivals and the strong recovery of the construction sector.

The government’s fiscal performance in 2014, however, was weaker than anticipated due to shortfalls in revenue and overspending on recurrent expenses, the Maldives Monetary Authority said in its Annual Economic Review.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in March provided a much lower figure of five percent for economic growth, and highlighted the need for improved data collection on macroeconomic statistics.

According to the MMA, the government’s total debt reached 65 percent of GDP in 2014, while the fiscal deficit stood at MVR1.6billion or 3.4 percent of GDP, higher than the estimated MVR1.3billion or 2.8 percent.

The tax authority has meanwhile collected MVR951.3million (US$61.9million) in tax revenue in March. The figure is 2.7 percent higher than forecasted as several tourism companies had paid late land rents and fines after the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) froze the accounts of some 20 businesses in April.

MIRA has received MVR 5.61 billion (US$ 360 million) in revenue this year, an increase of 27.3 percent compared to 2014. The tax authority, however, did not state if revenue collection meets targets.

Robust growth

Some 1.2million tourists brought in an estimated US$2.6 billion to the Maldives in 2014. Arrivals grew by 7 percent and was largely driven by arrivals from China. European arrivals recorded a marginal growth due to a decline in Russian tourists.

The growth in bed nights stood at 4 percent – slight lower in magnitude than the growth in arrivals – reflecting the decline in average stay from 6.3 days in 2013 to 6.1 days in 2014. The downward trend in average stay, which has become more marked since 2009, is due to a shift in the composition of inbound tourist markets towards countries such as China, the MMA said

Meanwhile, total tourist revenue remained buoyant and grew by 13% (20% growth in 2013) to reach an estimated US$2.6 billion during 2014. The significant difference between the growth in revenue and bednights may reflect the increase in tourist expenditure on high-end services in the industry, the MMA said.

Airline movements by international carriers, such as Mega Maldives, Cathay Pacific and budget airlines such as Tiger Airways, also increased during the year, and facilitated the growth in tourist arrivals.

Three new resorts were opened, increasing total registered number of resorts in the Maldives to 112. Registered guesthouses reached a total of 216. Some 80 new guesthouses were registered at tourism ministry, but only a total of 95 in operation.

The construction sector bounced back from two consecutive years of negative growth. The revival was mainly due to the ease in obtaining construction materials after India waived restrictions on the export of stone aggregate to in March 2014. This allowed the resumption of large-scale public sector infrastructure projects and major housing projects, the MMA said.

The fisheries sector declined by 6 percent,  following a strong growth of 8 percent in 2013, due to a decline in fish catch, and also because of the significant dip in international tuna prices.

The fishing industry in the Maldives represents about one percent of GDP in 2014. It accounted for 10% of total employment in 2010. Export revenue from fish and fish products accounts for 47 percent of merchandise exports.

Poor fiscal performance 

The government collected some MVR14.5billion in revenue in 2014. But total revenue fell short of the target as some of the new revenue measures planned in the budget did not materialize.

The implementation of of a T-GST hike – from 8 percent to 12 percent – was delayed from July 2014 to November 2014; tourism tax, initially anticipated to be collected throughout the year was only collected from February to November.

There was a “considerable shortfall” from the lease period extension fee collected during the year. The lump-sum resort acquisition fee from the 12 new islands planned to be leased out for resort development did not materialize either.

As a result, total revenue was MVR351.0 million less than budgeted and amounted.

The total expenditure of MVR16.5 billion was slightly lower than budgeted, but only because the government stopped spending on development projects and redirected funds to financing recurrent expenditure.

In the banking sector, the main area of concern continued to be credit risk, as indicated by the high level of poor-quality loans. Non-performing loans “remain a concern with a ratio of 16 percent,” the MMA said.

Gross international reserves increased to US$614.7 million at the end of the year. Out of this, usable reserves accounted for US$143.9 million. The “marked expansion” owed to the improvement in foreign currency receipts of the government, the MMA said.




New law excludes migrant workers from Ramadan bonus

Amendments passed today to the Employment Act excludes Muslim migrant workers from a Ramadan bonus, but state employees will now receive an increased payout of MVR3,000 (US$194).

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed Ali had proposed changing the mandatory Ramadan bonus from one-third of the monthly salary to a flat rate of MVR3,000 for all Muslim workers in the Maldives.

The 2008 employment law previously entitled all Muslim workers in the Maldives to a sum no less than one-third of their monthly salary for the month of fasting, with a minimum of MVR2,000 (US$129) and a maximum of MVR10,000 (US$645).

But the amendments approved today leave it to the discretion of employers in both the public and private sectors to pay the Ramadan bonus to Muslim migrant workers. If employers opt to pay the bonus, expatriate workers must also be paid MVR3,000.

The amendment bill was proposed to equalise the Ramadan allowance as staff in higher paying jobs receive a significantly higher bonus.

The Dhuvafaru MPs’ bill was also changed to exempt the private sector from the new rule for a year.

Private businesses will have to pay the MVR3,000 bonus to Maldivian employees for next year’s Ramadan.

The bill was passed unanimously with 60 votes in favour at today’s sitting of parliament. Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs also voted in favour of the bill.

During today’s debate, some MDP MP objected to excluding Muslim migrant workers from receiving the allowance.

MP Eva Abdulla contended that the move amounts to “discrimination” against foreign workers, noting that the majority of Bangladeshi workers in the Maldives were Muslims.

On social media, Human Rights Commission of Maldives vice president Ahmed Tholal also said that excluding expatriate Muslims “goes against the principles of non-discrimination and equality.”

Several pro-government MPs, however, defended the changes, arguing that expatriates are not entitled to the same benefits as the local population in most other countries.

There are some 124,000 migrant workers in the Maldives. A sizeable percentage comes from Muslim-majority Bangladesh. 

PPM MP Jameel Usman’s proposal to make the Ramadan bonus to expatriates discretionary was passed unanimously with 55 votes in favour.  

MDP MP Mohamed Abdul Kareem had proposed paying MVR5,000 as the Ramadan bonus for all Maldivian employees, but his amendment was defeated 42-13 during today’s sitting.

During the debate on the amendments last week, both pro-government and opposition MPs expressed concern with private businesses having to raise additional funds to pay the mandatory MVR3,000 with Ramadan just over a week away. 

MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, announced plans to equalise the Ramadan bonus last month. 

Nihan said at the time that MVR36 million (US$2.3million) in extra funding would be needed to increase the Ramadan allowance for all state employees. The current budget for Ramadan allowance stands at MVR92 million (US$5.9million).

Statistics published by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) shows almost half of the country’s 24,742 civil servants are paid less than MVR4,999 (US$ 324) a month. 


Health Protection Agency issues alert on spread of dengue and viral fever

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has issued an alert warning of the spread of dengue and viral fever in Malé and the atolls.

The HPA said its statistics show an increase in the incidence of mosquito-borne dengue fever and advised precautionary measures to control mosquito breeding during the rainy season.

The agency also advised ensuring cleanliness and seeking medical assistance if a fever persists for more than three days.

Last year, the health ministry said dengue fever has become endemic in the Maldives since 2004 with annual outbreaks.


Government relocates university classes to MES building

The president’s office has decided to temporarily relocate classes of the Maldives National University (MNU) from the old Jamaaludheen building to the MES building.

In February, the government gave the university until June 14 to vacate the Jamaludheen building after the housing ministry declared the building structurally unsafe. But the MNU and its students union expressed concern over the lack of an alternate site.

The Jamaludheen building houses several faculties and is used by more than 1,300 students.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said on social media today that the MNU has not undertaken efforts to vacate the building despite repeated requests and ample opportunity.

With the deadline four days away, Muaz said the president decided to relocate classes to the old MES building to prevent disruption of students’ education.

The authorities will begin efforts to clear out the building on June 14, he said.

The MES building was vacated after the eviction of Mandhu College last week.



Police officer in charge of Dhoonidhoo put detainees to work

A police officer, who was in charge of the Dhoonidhoo Island remand center, has been accused of putting several detainees to work, pocketing funds and giving special treatment to several suspects arrested in serious crimes.

Sub- Inspector of police Mujathaba Zahir is accused of letting several suspects out of their cells and letting them roam around the island, the Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) has said.

He accommodated several in special barracks with a television, and allowed them to eat with police officers at the mess room.

Some suspects were let out of their cells even though the police had not completed investigations.

Some detainees were made to work on a warehouse for the Police Cooperative Society (Polco). Mujthaba also had detainees extract toddy from coconut palms and made coconut sugar, which he then sold on the market.

The sales were not documented, the ACC said.

Mujthaba also obtained money and gifts from several companies contracted for work on Dhoonidhoo, including a catering company, in the guise of improving services on the island. But there is no account of how funds were spent, the ACC said.

He is also accused of providing unlawful benefits to those he put to work. But he is also accused of taking MVR10,000 (US$645) earned by some detainees in the guise of buying a fishing net from India. He never returned the money.

The anti- corruption watchdog’s investigation revealed five other officers at Dhoonidhoo had assisted Mujathaba with the unlawful activities. The ACC has also recommended disciplinary action against two more senior officers for failing to put a stop Mujathaba’s activities.

Mujathaba is also accused of listing several contract workers on Dhoonidhoo as police officers and billing the police for their food.

During the ACC investigation, Mujthaba claimed he acted with the blessings of his superiors and for the benefit of the remand center. But the police have denied authorizing any of Mujthaba’s actions.

The ACC has recommend the Prosecutor General’s Office charge Mujthaba with three counts of abuse of authority and one count of depriving the state of monetary benefit.

The watchdog has recommended that Mujthaba’s accomplices – chief station inspector Abu Bakr Ali, station inspector Abdulla Waheed, superintendent Hussein Rasheed, Sargent Athif Naeem and chief station inspector Maumoon Jaufar – be prosecuted for abusing their powers.

The ACC has also advised the police to take disciplinary action against two officers in charge of POLCO – chief superintendent Abul Rahman Yusuf and Inspector Ilyas Rasheed.

In November last year, the Maldives Police Service revealed that 23 officers were deemed unsuitable to perform their job as officers of the law and fired.

While 257 complaints were lodged against police officers, disciplinary actions were taken against 115 officers.

In May last year, a police officer was arrested while attempting to smuggle drugs into Malé custodial detention center.


Concern over Sheikh Imran and Nasheed’s health

Concern is growing over the health of opposition leaders in custody. The Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla’s family have said the government is attempting to weaken him physically and psychologically, while under police custody.

Meanwhile, ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyers say he is being denied access to specialist medical attention despite recommendations from doctors.

He is serving a 13-year jail sentence on a terrorism conviction, relating to the detention of a judge during his tenure.

The opposition leader’s lawyers said doctors at the Maafushi Jail health center and at a Malé military clinic in May recommended that he get a MRI scan. But the government has not authorized the scan, lawyers said in a statement today.

Nasheed’s lawyers also said they were denied their weekly visit with Nasheed today.

“The government suddenly cancelled this visit today without any rationale, via a phone call to the lawyers. Since President Nasheed’s transfer to Maafushi, his access to lawyers have been restricted by the government,” the statement said.

Sheikh Imran is also charged under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act, but with threatening to harm police officers and inciting violence at a historic anti-government protest on May 1. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The criminal court last week ordered police to hold Imran in pre-trial detention until the conclusion of his terrorism trial.

Imran was brought to the AMDC clinic in Malé today. He was also taken to see a doctor the previous day and on the night of June 7 as well.

Imran was suffering from body aches as he was forced to sleep on a small bunk in a warm, mosquito-infested cell, the family member told CNM. The cell has a fan but the electricity is periodically cut off, the family member claimed.

Imran was first arrested on the night of May 1 and held in remand detention for 26 days. Hours before the criminal court ordered his release on May 27, the High Court overturned the criminal court’s May 17 ruling to keep Imran in police custody for 10 days.

The appellate court ordered his transfer to house arrest, noting that Imran has diabetes and that tests conducted following his arrest showed high levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and urine acidity.

A doctor had also recommended that Imran should not sleep on hard surfaces due to a spinal injury.

Minivan News is awaiting a response from the home ministry.


President nominates former ruling party MP to human rights watchdog

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated former MP Shifaq Mufeed ‘Histo,’ Aishath Afreen Mohamed, and Aminath Eenas to the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM).

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the three nominees have been sent to the parliament for approval.

Mufeed represented the mid-Fuvahmulah constituency as a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP in the 16th People’s Majlis. He joined the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in May 2012, several weeks after the ousting of the MDP government on February 7, 2012.

In July 2013, Mufeed quit the PPM and joined the Jumhooree Party and backed its candidate Gasim Ibrahim in the 2013 presidential election.

He did not seek re-election in the May 2014 parliamentary elections and went back to the PPM in March 2015.

Afreen is a former HRCM staff member and the wife of PPM Fares-Maathoda MP Hussain Mohamed Latheef. Eenas works at the gender department.

Some 33 interested candidates submitted applications to the president’s office before a 3:00pm deadline yesterday.

The president’s office invited applications last week as the five-year terms of three members are due to expire in August.

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

PPM MPs have previously accused Tholal and Jeehan of bias towards the opposition MDP, an accusation the pair deny.

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

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.


President Yameen departs to China

President Abdulla Yameen departed for China this morning to attend the 3rd China-South Asia Exposition, and the 23rd Kunming Import and Export Commodities Fair.

The president was accompanied by president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef, economic development minister Mohamed Saeed, and “numerous company heads representing the Maldivian business community”, according to the president’s office.

Local media reported earlier this week that the president is scheduled to give a keynote speech at the joint opening of the events.

Leaders of the eight SAARC countries and Saudi Arabia will attend the fairs.

President Yameen made an official state visit to China in August last year while Chinese President Xi Jinpeng’s official visit the following month marked the first time a Chinese president visited the Maldives.

The Maldives is meanwhile planning to hold an investment forum in China’s capital Beijing in September.

“Beijing will be a perfect place for Maldivian businesses to promote their businesses and networking,” minister Mohamed Saeed said in a tweet.

President Yameen’s departure comes ahead of a third mass protest planned by the opposition for June 12 over the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other opposition politicians.