Government seeks to write off fines for illegal parking

The parliament today accepted for consideration amendments to the 2009 land transport law to write off outstanding fines for illegal parking.

Earlier this month, President Abdulla Yameen pledged to write off fines accumulated for traffic violations and illegal parking.

Following a preliminary debate, the government-sponsored legislation was accepted unanimously with 67 votes in favour and sent to committee for further review.

During today’s debate, several MPs said illegal parking has become commonplace in the capital after the president’s announcement. Motorcycles are parked outside homes, mosques, and hospitals, the MPs said.

The traffic situation in Malè is out of control and extensive revisions should be made to the law to tackle the problem, MPs contended.

Opposition MP Ahmed ‘ADK’ Nashid suggested issuing ‘certificates of entitlement’ after assessing whether a vehicle owner has the parking capacity and introducing ‘pay parking’ services.

The amendments propose leaving it to the discretion of the police to impound vehicles from parking zones after a week and either destroy or auction vehicles if owners do not come forward in 15 days.

If passed, the amendments would also exempt disabled persons from paying traffic fines or annual fees for their vehicles.

The traffic police would still be authorised at their discretion to impose fines for illegal parking, impound vehicles, and dock points from driving licenses.

Speaking at a function with youth supporters on June 6, President Yameen observed that the fines for some motorcycles impounded at the tow yard has reached up to MVR80,000 (US$5,188), which most youth were unable to afford.

“We have submitted a bill to the People’s Majlis to write off debt or arrears built up like this. So from the day this bill passes, those youth will no longer be in debt,” he declared.

According to a 2011 report by the Environment Protection Agency, one in six residents of the capital own a motorcycle.


Maldives becomes founding member of Asian infrastructure bank

The Maldives signed articles of agreement today to establish the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as one of 57 prospective founding members.

Finance minister Abdulla Jihad signed the agreement at a ceremony held this morning at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

The AIIB was created in October to fund Asian energy, transport and infrastructure projects and rival the Western-dominated World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

Following the signing ceremony, Maldives ambassador to China Mohamed Faisal said the bank will become “an important global financial institution.”

Arif Hilmy, an advisor to the finance minister, will reportedly represent the Maldives on the bank’s board.

Representatives from 50 of the 57 founding members also signed articles of agreement today, which determines each members’ share and contribution to capital.

The UK, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia, and Brazil are among AIIB founding members, but Japan and the US are opposed to the bank.

The US had questioned standards at the new institution and tried to dissuade allies from joining.

The bank is due to begin operations later this year with a capital of US$100 billion. With 30.4 percent, China is the largest shareholder, followed by India (15 percent) and Russia (6.5 percent).

China also has effective veto power over the bank’s decisions with its more than 25 percent voting share.

During a recent visit to China, President Abdulla Yameen said Sino-Maldives bilateral relations are at an “all-time high” with the establishment of a cooperative partnership between the countries last year.


Maldives calls for action against Israeli leaders

The Maldives called on the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel during its military offensive in Gaza last year and urged “prompt action to be taken against Israel and its leaders.”

The Maldives made the call in a statement delivered at the 29th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at an interactive dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict.

“The Maldives also noted with deep regret the complete non-cooperation of Israel with the Commission, where the Israeli Government did not allow the Commission to enter the territories,” the foreign ministry said in a statement today.

“The Maldives condemned the well planned attacks, which were carried out during very specific times, such as ‘iftar’ and ‘suhoor’ – the Ramadan meal times, which maximised the number of civilian casualties.”

The Maldives also called on Israel to “respect the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine to self-determination and statehood.”

The foreign ministry explained that the United Nations Human Rights Council considers the plight and situation of human rights of the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, under item seven of its agenda, “which faces resistance from the United States of America and some Western States.”

“The Maldives has on every occasion reiterated its strong position that Agenda Item 7 should continue, as long as the occupation continues,” the foreign ministry said.

In August last year, the Maldivian media organised a ‘Help Gaza’ telethon and raised a record MVR29.4 million (US$1.91 million). The funds have since been used by the International Federation of Red Crescent (IFRC) to construct 100 housing units in Gaza for displaced Palestinian families.


PPM candidates win six council by-elections by default

Candidates from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) have won six out of nine council by-elections scheduled for August 1 after no other candidates stood for the vacant island and atoll council seats.

The six seats include the Meemu Dhiggaru constituency atoll council seat, and one seat from the Kaafu Maafushi, Vaavu Felidhoo, Haa Alif Muraidhoo, Thaa Madifushi, and Shaviyani Kanditheemu island councils.

By-elections will take place for vacant seats on the Haa Alif Dhidhoo, Haa Dhaal Naivaidhoo, and Noonu Hebadhoo island councils on August 1 between independent candidates and ruling party candidates.

The by-elections were triggered by the resignation of several island and atoll councillors.

In April, the ruling party was accused of vote buying after handing over air-conditioners to a school in Raa Atoll Alifushi, shortly before an island council by-election.

The opposition had also accused  the PPM of vote-buying and bribery in the Dhiggaru constituency parliamentary by-election earlier this month after the donation of x-ray machines and air conditioning units to the constituency.

President Abdulla Yameen had also pledged to provide a 140 kilo-watt power generator for Dhiggaru and urged constituents to vote for Faris to ensure development.


Parliament approves three new ministers

The parliament today approved President Abdulla Yameen’s appointments of Iruthisham Adam as health minister, Ahmed Zuhoor as youth and sports minister, and Dr Ahmed Ziyad as Islamic minister.

All three nominees were approved unanimously with 66 votes in favour. Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs also voted to confirm the appointments.

In a cabinet reshuffle in late May, President Yameen dismissed then-youth minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, replaced him with then-health minister Ahmed Zuhoor, and promoted then-deputy gender minister Iruthisham Adam to the health minister.

The parliament has meanwhile also approved Dr Mohamed Asim, from Henveiru Vaijeheyge in Malé, as the new Maldivian ambassador to Bangladesh.

Asim’s nomination was approved with 67 votes in favour. He had previously served as ambassador to Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.


Feasibility study underway for iHavan project

US-based Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has launched the first phase of the iHavan project feasibility study.

Economic development minister Mohamed Saeed said yesterday that a team of specialists from BCG has started the “traffic-modelling” for the project, which he said is one of seven components to be completed in three months.

The government hired BCG as a project consultant in November last year.

Saeed told Haveeru that the American company will conduct a detailed study to determine how the components proposed by the government could be developed. The company will consult with boat building, bunkering, and docking companies, he said.

“Then we will know how a cruise terminal, bunkering, and docking can be developed in the Ihavandhippolhu seven degree channel,” he was quoted as saying.

The Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project (iHavan) envisions the development of a special economic zone (SEZ) with relaxed regulations and tax incentives in the Maldives’ northernmost atoll.

The project involves the development of a transhipment port, an airport, offshore docking and bunkering facilities, an export processing zone, real estate businesses, and tourism facilities.

The iHavan project is also one of the government’s five ‘mega projects’ launched at an investment forum in Singapore last year. Earlier this month, a group of Saudi Arabian investors reportedly visited Ihavandhippolhu.

The Saudi Arabian government has also provided US$1 million as grant aid to finance the feasibility project.

Saeed has previously said that he Maldives could capitalise on its strategic location and the “trillions of dollars” worth of trade that passes through the seven degree channel.

The project also proposes to take advantage of more than 30 large cities which lie within a 4000km radius of the atoll as an export processing zones established in iHavan will enjoy duty free access to 1.7 billion people under the South Asian region the South Asian Free Trade Arrangement (SAFTA).

In March, the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Dubai Ports World to relocate the central commercial port from Malé to the industrial island of Thilafushi and develop the port as a free trade zone.

The government said at the time that a joint venture agreement will be signed with the global marine terminal operator in a month, but negotiations appear to have stalled.

The opposition has criticised the government’s failure to attract significant foreign investment despite assurances with the passage of the SEZ Act in August last year.

The government estimates that it will collect US $100 million in acquisition fees from the SEZs by August 2015.

Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb told Minivan News in April that the government is “looking for serious investors,” noting that the minimum investment for a SEZ stands at US$ 150 million.

“I think we will meet budget targets. Some investors are prepared to pay a US $100 million acquisition fee on a single project,” he said.

The first SEZ project is likely to be the Thilafushi port project with Dubai Ports World, Adeeb said, followed by the iHavan project.


Supreme Court bans clubs and associations within judiciary

The Supreme Court has prohibited employees of the judiciary from forming clubs and associations.

In an open letter released today, the apex court said staff at courts can organise fraternal or social activities after informing the department of judicial administration (DJA), but forming clubs or associations is not permitted.

“It is not permitted to create a club or association under any name in any court,” reads the letter signed by Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed.

In February, the Supreme Court issued a circular stating that the judiciary’s staff could only form associations or clubs in accordance with a policy set by the Supreme Court and that their activities must be overseen by the Supreme Court-controlled DJA.

The circular was issued hours an annual inter-court futsal tournament called the ‘Judiciary Cup’ began in Malè.

Participants of the tournament told Minivan News at the time that they went ahead after deciding that the circular would only apply to future activities.



Disgraced ex CSC chair to be appointed high commissioner to Malaysia

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated the disgraced former chairperson of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) as the new high commissioner to Malaysia.

Mohamed Fahmy Hassan was removed from the CSC by parliament in 2012 after he was found to have sexually harassed a female staff member, but the Supreme Court had blocked the dismissal as “unconstitutional.”

Upon assuming office in November 2013, President Yameen appointed Fahmy as the deputy high commissioner to Malaysia.

In late May, the foreign ministry recalled former high commissioner Mohamed Fayaz from Malaysia saying he had failed to “adequately promote Maldives’ foreign policy interests in Malaysia.”

Fahmy was nominated for parliamentary approval today. The parliament will vote on the appointment following evaluation of the nominee by the national security committee.

The Supreme Court overruling parliament’s dismissal of Fahmy had meanwhile led to both Fahmy and his replacement Fathimath Reeni Abdul Sattar arriving for work.

The CSC eventually blocked Fahmy from accessing its offices in September 2013. A source said Fahmy’s fingerprint access was rescinded after the former commissioner continued to come to the office for a few minutes every day.

Fahmy was alleged to have called a female staff member over to him, taken her hand and asked her to stand in front of him so that others in the office could not see, and caressed her stomach saying ”it won’t do for a beautiful single woman like you to get fat.”

According to local media, the woman told her family about the incident, who then called Fahmy. Fahmy then sent her a text message apologising for the incident, reportedly stating, ”I work very closely with everyone. But I have learned my lesson this time.”

In response to the allegations, Fahmy told Minivan News previously that the female staff member had made up the allegation after she learned she had not won a scholarship to Singapore offered by the CSC.

Correction: this article previously said that President Yameen had appointed Fahmy as high commissioner to Malaysia. This is incorrect. The president had only nominated Fahmy’s name.


Vice President told to return home, answer charges

President Abdulla Yameen has asked vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed to cut short an unauthorised trip to London and return to the Maldives.

A Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP told Minivan News today that the president asked Jameel to return and answer to the ruling party’s parliamentary group over his imminent impeachment.

But president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has said that “the president did not in any way ask the vice president to return to the Maldives.”

Muaz was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Dr Jameel left to Sri Lanka last week after President Yameen authorised a medical leave.

The senior PPM MP said Jameel was due to return two days ago, but instead departed for the UK without informing the president’s office.

“We have tried contacting him repeatedly to ask him to meet with the parliamentary group. But he has not responded. We are trying to bring our problems to him and trying to find a mutual solution,” said the PPM MP.

An anonymous senior government official has meanwhile told Haveeru that Jameel phoned President Yameen yesterday and asked for an extended leave of absence.

However, the president reportedly told his deputy that he could take a holiday after answering to the PPM parliamentary group.

Meanwhile, the parliament today approved changes to its rules of procedure to fast-track the process of impeaching the vice president.

The new rules state the parliament can vote on removing the vice president without an investigation. The rules previously stated that a committee must investigate allegations against the vice president before a vote.

The amendment to the standing orders was passed with 52 votes in favour and 14 against.

Several opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Nazim voted in favour of the change.

The PPM and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) are preparing to file a no-confidence motion against Jameel this week.

A two-third majority or 57 votes will be needed to remove the vice president. The ruling coalition controls 48 seats in the 85-member house and appears to have secured the opposition’s backing.

Five MPs each from the JP and MDP have signed the no-confidence motion, the PPM has said.

The vice president must be given a 14-day notice ahead of the parliamentary debate on the resolution, according to the constitution.

Pro-government MPs have publicly accused Jameel of incompetence and disloyalty. PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan said pro-government MPs are unhappy with Jameel over his alleged failure to defend the government during an opposition mass protest in the capital Malé in May 1.

The ruling coalition is seeking to replace Jameel with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Some opposition politicians have claimed President Yameen is fatally ill and wants a more loyal deputy ahead of a life-threatening surgery, but Nihan has dismissed rumours over the president’s health.

PPM MP Mohamed Musthafa and MDA MP Mohamed Ismail meanwhile condemned the vice president’s departure on social media yesterday.

Musthafa said that the president did not authorise Jameel’s trip while Ismail said the vice president had “fled” the country.

Ismail said in a Facebook post today that Jameel’s exit lends credence to the allegations against him.

He suggested that Jameel was planning to bring the Maldives into disrepute in interviews with international media outlets.

Last week, the parliament passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming multi-party consensus to lower the age limit for the presidency from 35 to 30 years. Adeeb is now 33.

The opposition’s backing for the constitutional amendment was widely perceived to be part of a deal made in exchange for jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.