DRP will “categorically” not support withdrawal from Commonwealth: Shareef

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza has given assurances that the government coalition of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan remained strong, despite a differing of opinions between pro-government parties regarding the bill proposing the Maldives’ withdrawal from the Commonwealth.

“The coalition is strong, there are no issues with that. It shows that even on issues on which we disagree, we can work together. That’s what being in a coalition is all about,” said Abbas.

“Nasheed’s coalition split within 21 days – we are already passed this date. There are no long term issues,” he added.

A bill to withdraw the Maldives from the Commonwealth was submitted to the Majlis on April 29 and has been labelled in the local media as “not responsible” by the leader of coalition member Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

Speaking with local newspaper Haveeru, Thasmeen criticised the decision not to consult with other parties within the coalition. The bill was submitted by Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Ilham and Dhivehi Qaumee Party, also a part of the coalition, (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed.

Deputy leader of the DRP, Ibrahim Shareef, today said that the party was in general support of the government: “But we cannot give in where the party’s core values are at stake.”

“We will try to run the ministries allocated to us and will support the government on matters we agree upon. On matters we disagree we will vote against,” he said.

When asked about the core values that divide the PPM from the DRP, Shareef said that he was unsure of the specific values of the PPM.

He said that the core values of the DRP were an open economic policy, private enterprise, equality and justice, democracy and the protection of law for everyone equally.

Leader of the DQP and Special Advisor to President Waheed, Dr Hassan Saeed, wrote an opinion piece for Haveeru on April 26 entitled: “Voters need to know what the party stands for”.

In the article he wrote: “We need political parties with clear political platforms. But before this we need to understand where those policies come from. What are the values that underpin them?”

He argued that clearer differentiation between parties would enable voters to make informed choices. Otherwise, Dr Saeed argued that voters fall back on reasons such as personality politics.

He argued that this was “the most dangerous because it can lead to a crude populism where big personalities attempt to outbid each other with unkeepable promises.”

The PPM, headed by the former President of thirty years Maumoon Gayoom, was formed in October 2011 following acrimonious divisions within the DRP. Gayoom had previously announced his retirement from politics but has become increasingly active in 2012.

The decision to forward the bill followed comments by Gayoom criticising the recent Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) statement. The statement criticised the government’s apparent failure to establish an impartial body to investigate the events that led to Nasheed’s resignation. It also repeated prior calls for fresh elections to end conjecture over the legitimacy of the current government.

Days before the submission of the withdrawal bill to parliament, Gayoom was reported as having questioned the necessity of the Maldives’ Commonwealth membership.

Gayoom became the Maldives’ third President in 1978 and the country joined the Commonwealth in 1982.

Gayoom was reported by Haveeru, however, to have argued that the nature of the body had changed since that time, resulting in a situation that no longer benefitted smaller nations.

“The actions of the Commonwealth have changed since then, to a point where we now have to have a rethink about the whole situation. That’s how much the world has changed now,” he claimed.

Gayoom’s said his comments were also based on the fact that the country had never itself been a former colony unlike neighbours such as India and Sri Lanka.

Earlier in the month, on the eve of the CMAG meeting, Gayoom warned PPM supporters that the country must be wary of foreign attempts to “intervene in our internal affairs”.

A PPM MP spoke to Minivan News following the announcement of the bill, saying: “From my view it is not something that has been discussed within the PPM yet,” the MP said yesterday.

“I have previously expressed my concern that [leaving the Commonwealth] is not the best way to solve this issue. It is not really a choice we can take,” said the MP who wish to remain unnamed.

The DRP’s Ibrahim Shareef said that DRP’s united stance was, “Categorically, we would not support a withdrawal from the Commonwealth.”


Government launches civil education program to promote values of “civilised society”

Following the launch of the government’s civic education programme today, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has said a “special campaign” was needed to address a dearth of civic values that are often overlooked when pursuing societal or economic gains.

“There is a general erosion of values and discipline among young people. We are one society, one nation, one religion. We subscribe to certain values as a civilised society,” said Jameel.

“This has been the key to surviving as a small society. There is a worrying trend in politics that we can’t sit down together,” he added.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan is reported to have said that the principles of democracy had been decimated to a point at which the true meaning of the word had been lost.

President’s Office spokesman Abbas Adil Riza explained the president’s desire to spread the message that democracy is an ongoing process. Abbas explained the president’s message that the process is continuous and did not end in 2008 after the nation’s first multiparty elections.

The programme was inspired by a paper submitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the cabinet. It will be coordinated between the Home Ministry, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

The programme’s main aims are listed as follows: creating a peaceful environment, strengthening civil society, creating awareness on the right to information, creating awareness on human rights, rehabilitating inmates, making the police more responsible, and making the public more responsible.

Summarising, Abbas said: “It is about educating people on the services of the police, schools, on the responsibilities of teachers and to create awareness of the rights of the individual.”

Abbas said that the Ministry of Education will be involved in bringing civic education into the curriculum and also that the programme will work to raise awareness of the rights and responsibilities of the police and non-governmental bodies.

This education drive comes as the Waheed government faces continued pressure domestically and internationally to legitimise itself democratically after a controversial transition from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-led government under Mohamed Nasheed to a coalition of former opposition parties under the new president.

Dr Waheed argues that his move from the vice-president’s office was in accordance with the constitution, while Nasheed claims that the circumstances under which he resigned need to be investigated.  Nasheed has also called for fresh presidential elections to be held by this year at the latest to ascertain Waheed’s democratic mandate to rule.

Peaceful communities

The government’s proposed education programme will place a premium on the development of safe communities and will implement neighbourhood watch campaigns in local communities.

“It is the only way they can bring down crime rates,” said Abbas. At today’s launch, President Waheed emphasised the importance of just punishment for those found guilty of crimes.

Home Minister Jameel stated that the programme was intended to address “escalating crime trends,” mentioning “crimes among juveniles” in particular.

Statistics of crimes logged by the Maldives Police Service (MPS) in the first quarter of 2012 appear to show a rise in the level of vandalism.  This rise -81 percent – was found to be particularly high when compared with the same period in 2011, while robbery and vandalism had risen 41 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

The statistics, available on the MPS website also suggested a fall in the rates of assault (9.9 percent) and drug offences (35 percent).

The rehabilitation of prisoners, one of the programmes main areas, is a topic that has come under scrutiny recently after Jameel announced the termination of the Second Chance Programme.

He argued at the time that the programme had been implemented for political reasons and the Nasheed government has used it “to release unqualified criminals under political influence and without any clear procedure”

The scheme involved the early release of prisoners should they attend programmes to promote reintegration, increase their employment opportunities, and prevent the likelihood of re-offending.

With regards to the current civil education programme, Jameel said that convicts “should not be alienated from society. While serving sentences they should be rehabilitated.”


Nasheed playing up extremism for political gain: President’s spokesperson

Government Spokesman Abbas Adil Riza has told Haveeru that former President Nasheed is trying to portray the Maldives as “a second Afghanistan”.

Abbas accused Nasheed of sensationalising the problems in the Maldives to gain political support abroad.

“Most people in the current administration had received their higher studies from western countries. The Maldivian education system had been based upon Cambridge education. The statements he is making to the western audience stating that Maldivians are religious extremists is based on his greed for power. Nasheed wants to accomplish what he wants no matter how much Maldives is to suffer,” Riza told Haveeru.

Nasheed has spoken to both the Wahington Post and the Indian Express on the subject of radical Islam in recent days. He also told the Washington Post that he feared that the return of a repressive regime may radicalise dissidents.


IMF will work with us to reduce expenditure, says President’s Office

Government spokesman Abbas Adil Riza said today that the IMF is willing to work closely with the government, after a delegation from the organisation arrived in Male’.

Abbas said that as the government’s current policy is to reduce expenditure, it will require assistance from the IMF.

“The IMF wants to re-engage with the Maldives. The main reason the Maldives was suspended from receiving the funds that were destined for the country was because the former administration could not meet the requirements of the IMF,” Abbas was reported as saying in local media.

“The result of the discussions held with the IMF and this government would be an acquirement of extra $20 million from the IMF. It will be settled in a month or so,” he said.

Abbas denied that the meeting was initiated by the government: “Given that the Maldives is a member of the IMF meetings may be held at any time, so they’re not here due to an initiative taken by the government.”

The previous government’s discussions with the IMF became deadlocked after the government was unable to comply with the group’s borrowing requirements conditions concerning deficit reduction.

During his recent inaugural address to the People’s Majlis, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan commented on the current state of the economy.

“Estimates for 2012 indicate that the debt component of the current account in our Balance of Payments will increase by 11 per cent as compared to 2011,” stated the president. “With respect to GDP, debt of our current account will go up to 28 per cent. This figure in 2011 was 26 per cent. The main reason for this rise is the expectation that imports will increase, resulting in an increase in expenditure for these imports.”

Government expenditure outstripped revenue  by 20 percent between January and September last year, claimed the Ministry of Finance and Treasury.

The budget deficit, which stood at just 1.9 percent of the economy in 2004, expanded to 7.3 percent in 2006 and ballooned to 23.9 percent in 2007, according to the IMF.

The fiscal deficit exploded on the back of a 400 percent increase in the government’s wage bill between 2004 and 2009, with tremendous growth between 2007 and 2009.

On paper, the government increased average salaries from Rf3000 to Rf11,000 and boosted the size of the civil service from 24,000 to 32,000 people – 11 percent of the total population of the country – doubling government spending from 35 percent of GDP to 60 percent from 2004 to 2006.

In a 2010 World Bank report headed ‘How did the Maldives get into this situation?’, it was noted that “the origin of the crisis is very clear… the wage bill for public sector employees grew dramatically in a very short time.”

According to the World Bank, a 66 percent increase in salaries and allowances for government employees between 2006 and 2008 was “by far the highest increase in compensation over a three year period to government employees of any country in the world.”

After declaring “significant policy slippages”, in particular the government’s failure to curtail spending,the IMF felt it necessary to delay some the Maldives’ funding in 2010.

After the Nasheed government struggled to reduce expenditure due to political constraints, in particular the Civil Service Commission, it introduced a tourism goods and services tax (TGST) in order for the local economy to benefit from the lucrative but often removed tourism economy.

The World Bank’s annual ‘Doing Business’ report for 2010 saw the Maldives’ ‘ease of doing business’ ranking fall from 71 to 87, and identified no ‘business-friendly’ reforms.

The Ministry of Education has recently announced a freeze on all Public Private Partnership (PPP), which were originally intended to remove financial burdens from the government, after raising questions over the legality of the tender processes.

Following the recent inaugural speech of President Waheed, his spokesman Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News that the current government would not be looking to increase the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (TGST) but pledged that the government would seek to “live within in its own means.”


President intends to remain at Hileaage

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza has told local media that the President has no plans to move into the post’s official residence, Muleaage.

Abbas was keen to point out that the president’s reception last week was held at Mulee’aage due to pragmatic reasons concerning space.

“The President does not wish to shift his official residence. He resided at Hileaage when he was the Deputy President, and he wishes to continue to live there even as President,” Abbas told Sun Online.

Abbas is also reported as having said the President does not wish to live in a large palace whilst his people could not do the same.