Minivan News spends 15 Minutes with Adduvas editor Aishath Velezinee about her decision to expose parliamentarians and regime officials who took soft loans from President Gayoom.
In a press release last Thursday by spokesperson Mohamed Hussein Shareef (sent only to pro-regime dailies) the government denied any wrong-doing, claiming the soft loans reduced bribery and corruption among MPs and officials.
In a thirteen-point rebuttal, Shareef claimed that loans schemes are made available to staff working in government institutions in many countries. He said Adduvasâ€™ exposure of the soft loans scheme was â€œdisrespectfulâ€ to the dignity of the individuals involved.
â€œTo take a loan is not a crime. It is also not theft. Banks also give out loans. Money given out as loans is money that has to be returned. And as a private individual it is not revealed who has taken out the loan, nor are the figures of such loans revealed to the public. To protect the dignity of individuals it is a universal human right. Hence, to violate a financial right is a violation of that individualâ€™s right,â€ he said.
â€œIt is not apparent that Adduvas has given to the public the relevant information regarding the loan schemes. It is also evident that no attempt was made to inform regarding the mortgaging of properties, the conditions under which the loans were granted, not the way this scheme is operated and for what reasons.
â€œEnough information regarding the loans was already available so there was no need to give and further details,â€ Shareef stated.
Speaking to Minivan News, Velezinee defended Adduvasâ€™ decision to publish the soft loans exposÃ©.
â€œI cannot understand why, if the privacy issue did not arise when the finance minister revealed in parliament details of loans given from account 2003 [payments to pro-regime newspapers], why privacy should be an issue when information is made public with reference to account number 2060 [payments to pro-regime MPs and officials],â€ she said.
Velezinee said she was not worried about her wellbeing and the wellbeing of the magazine for having raised such a sensitive issue. â€œWhen we first published, I didnâ€™t know what might happen next. After two weeks they [the government] came up with this statement, probably after pressure from heavy-weights in the government who are mentioned in the article. I didnâ€™t feel threatened by the statement. I think it is silly at this late stage for them to come out with this statement. They should have reacted at the beginning if they had a problem, not after two weeks.â€
â€œGetting this information was unexpected. It landed in my lap. It was being kept quiet by the government. We picked Majlis members who had received loans who were sitting in the Peopleâ€™s Majlis. Why were they given loans at this time? Also, presidential office staff and the Commissioner of Police [were given loans] and they have not paid back a single cent. Adam Zahir got the second loan just after the 2003 Maafushi Jail shootings. When he was being investigated, he was given Rf. 2 million. Why?
â€œThere is a lot more information that we have. The governmentâ€™s statement said that in all other countries governmentâ€™s give people loans. But, if this is a public service why are loans at 6% interest it not available to the general public, who have to take bank loans out at a rate of 12% interest. Why arenâ€™t these loans available to the rest of us?
When asked what her thoughts were on the recent announcement that military personnel are banned from reading Minivan, Fiyes and Adduvas, Velezinee said the announcement was unconstitutional.
â€œIt is an attempt by the military to undermine the constitution by prohibiting freedom of expression. I sent a letter to the Minister of Information and copied it to the Attorney-General and the Defence Minister. The militaryâ€™s letter claimed that Minivan, Fiyes and Adduvas are trying to bring down the government, which is completely false. If it was the case, this country has laws to close media down so why are we still publishing? We have heard before that detainees are banned from reading Adduvas, we took that matter up in our letter too.
Velezinee was asked if she believed the governmentâ€™s claims to support press freedom.
â€œI would love to believe â€˜New Maldivesâ€™. This young blood, they are trying to mingle with the people, in cafÃ©s and tea houses. They are talking reform but we are not seeing this in practice. New Maldives is talking about freedoms but others, such as the military and police, are acting against people enjoying these freedoms.â€
â€œThere is a big discrepancy between what one person in the cabinet is saying and what others are doing. Is it that there is a new Maldives and an old Maldives inside the cabinet? Are there splits inside the cabinet? Some Ministers are talking about this reform, while their colleagues are doing something different.â€