‘Namoona Dhoni’ case retracted by Prosecutor General’s Office

A senior official at the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office has revealed that the 2006 ‘Namoona Dhoni’ case, thought to have been re-opened earlier this month, has now been retracted.

“We decide not to continue with the charges and we have retracted the case,” said the official.

“We only found out the case was still still active when the Criminal Court scheduled the hearing. I  was under the impression that this case had been retracted and discontinued.”

A Criminal Court Media Official was quoted in local media as stating that it had received the charges from the PG’s Office at the start of this month.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) member Ameen Faisal, alongside former member Abbas Adil Riza were reportedly facing charges of disobeying a lawful order under section 88 of the penal code.

Seven other individuals were also reported to be facing charges in relation to the incident.

The PG Office official, however, stated that the retention of the case had been an “oversight” as the PG had previously opted to retract all cases for which it lacked constitutional authority.

“Before 2008 constitution, the government could make laws and issue guidelines for people to follow, and if they fail to follow them they could be prosecuted. One of the bases of this prosecution was that there was an announcement made by the Home Ministry.”

The official confirmed that the announcement in question was order for the fishing vessel ‘Namoona’ not to set-off from Addu in November 2006.

State prosecutors had claimed that authorities ordered the journey not to go ahead, arguing that the group intended to “unlawfully sow discord among the public and to disrupt the public order” by joining an MDP demonstration in the capital.

The journey had been prompted by the MDP National Council’s call for party supporters to travel to the capital in order to pressure autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to expedite the drafting of the new constitution.

“We can’t base our prosecution on a statement or an announcement made by the ministry. After the 2008 constitution, there was no basis to continue with the prosecution,” said the PG official.

The November 2006 incident involved the Namoona travelling from Addu to Male’ being forced to change course by the Coast Guard.

A press release from Amnesty International shortly after the incident raised concerns that the government was suppressing freedom of expression and assembly.

Investigating the Namoona Dhoni incident, Amnesty said: “A gunship reportedly came within several metres of the passenger boat causing big waves, which rocked the boat violently.”

“The gunship followed the boat and reportedly forced it to anchor near an uninhabited island.

According to reports, for a period of about eight hours the gunboat deliberately prevented the boat from reaching habitable islands to replenish its food supplies, which had run out. The passengers were then taken into custody.”


Government reopens 2006 ‘Namoona Dhoni’ case, filing criminal charges against two activists

The Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office has filed criminal charges against both the former Defense Minister Ameen Faisal and former President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza, over their involvement in the 2006 ‘Namoona Dhoni’ incident.

A Criminal Court Media Official was quoted in local media as stating that the court had received the charges from the PG’s Office seven days ago.

The infamous incident involved the expedition of pro-democracy activists from the country’s southernmost atoll in an attempt to join a national demonstration organised by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) during the final years of the Maumoon Abdul Gayoom regime.

Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives returned to power last month after his half-brother Abdulla Yameen defeated MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed in the presidential election.

According to local media, both Ameen Faisal and Abbas Adil Riza are facing the charge of disobeying a lawful order under section 88 of the penal code.

The state has also charged Ameen Faisal with obstructing a state employee from executing his duty under section 86 of the penal code.

Apart from Faisal and Riza, the state has also charged Ali Abdulla, Ibrahim Sabree, Mohamed Azmy, Abdulla Asrar, Ahmed Mohamed, Ahmed Didi – the Captain of Namoona Dhoni – and Shahuruzman Wafir – the owner of Namoona Dhoni – who had all been part of expedition.

Both Abbas Adil Riza and Ameen Faisal – who were pro-reform activists of then-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) at the time – were part the group which set off from Addu Atoll Maradhoo Island on November 6, 2006, to join the opposition-led demonstrations in Male’.

Faisal was president of the MDP’s Malé branch at the time of the incident.

The activists had planned to use the demonstrations to pressure then-government of Maldives thirty-year autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to speed up the drafting of the constitution.

The state prosecutors in the case claimed that on November 6, 2006, local authorities –  having come to learn of the expedition and the intention to join the anti-government demonstration, had sent a letter to Shahuruzman Wafir – the owner of Namoona Dhoni – ordering him not to embark on the journey.

The letter, according to the prosecution, had stated that “the government had come to learn” of the plot by the activists to set off to Male with the intention to “unlawfully sow discord among the public and to disrupt the public order and therefore orders Shahuruzman Wafir to not let his Dhoni to embark on the journey”.

Despite the letter ordering Shahuruzman Wafir to not allow anyone other that the regular fishermen that regularly used the vessel for fishing, the prosecutors claimed that Wafir had confessed to having accepted and cashed a cheque of MVR 10,000 given by the MDP’s Addu Atoll Office.

The famous ‘Namoona Dhoni’ incident

Despite the orders by the Maradhoo Island Office, the crew of Namoona Dhoni chose to depart to Male with the MDP activists.

The trip to Male was part of the MDP’s Addu wing’s collaboration with a previous resolution passed by the MDP’s National Council calling upon members from across the nation to gather in Male’ for the demonstrations.

Half-way through the journey, approximately three nautical miles away from Gaaf Alif Atoll Kolamaafushi Island, the Coast Guard intercepted the vessel and informed the crew to change its course to any island other than the capital.

Following the Coast Guard’s interception, the prosecution claimed that the Captain of Namoona Dhoni Ahmed Didi had demanded Ameen Faisal agree to an additional payment of MVR 150,000, should the journey be continued as according to the plan of activists.

Faisal finally agreed to pay the demanded sum when the vessel had entered the outer seas of Thaa Atoll near the Kimbidhoo Island, claimed the prosecution. Furthermore, the prosecutors also claimed that  Abbas and other activists had pressured the captain to continue the journey regardless of the orders given by the Coast Guard.

After some confrontations between the activists and Coast Guard officials, the Namoona Dhoni was brought under Coast Guard custody in the morning of November 8, 2006.

The incident was widely reported by then opposition-aligned newspapers as a ‘brutal seizure by the Coast Guard’  though the allegations were denied by the officials.

Prosecutors also alleged that Abbas, at the time of Coast Guard interception, had given false alarms and reports about the seizure of the vessel.

According to local media reports at the time, 44 people were aboard the vessel during the time of incident, including three women.

Charges were pressed against Faisal, Abbas, and others even in 2007, but were later dropped by the PG.

Whilst Faisal is still an active MDP member, Abbas has since defected from the party, becoming a vocal critic of the post-2008 MDP government.

Abbas went onto serve as President’s Office Spokesman for Nasheed’s successor Dr Mohamed Waheed before sparking a diplomatic incident with criticism of Indian High Commissioner D.M. Mulay in 2012, after which he moved into a position with the Finance Ministry.

Correction: The previous version of this article described Ameen Faisal as having headed the activist group – an unsubstantiated claim which Faisal himself denies. Minivan News regrets the error.


MDP launches youth policy: ‘Entertainment without fear’

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on Friday launched its youth, sports and entertainment policy, dubbed ‘Majaa Kurun Birakaa Nula’: ‘entertainment without fear’.

Despite the wet weather, the party’s presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed along with senior party members and hundreds of supporters gathered at the Raalhugandu area Male in yellow athletic attire.

Senior party members followed Nasheed’s lead in taking part in several sport activities organised in the area, including futsal, volleyball, table tennis, baton racing and bodyboarding.

Speaking at the function to inaugurate the policy, the former President promised more sports facilities and technical assistance for athletes in a future MDP-led government, while also promising that during his five year term the government would facilitate more public participation in sports.

According to Nasheed, the policy also includes the renovation and maintenance of football grounds in the Maldives.

Young people represent a potential election-swinging demographic in the September 7 Presidential Election. With 65 percent of the population were already aged under 30 at the time of the 2006 census, the number of eligible voters have 15 percent since 2008’s presidential election. The MDP has traditionally enjoyed strong support from young people, although prior to its February 7 ousting was challenged by rising political apathy among younger voters.

“We need to put our efforts into empowering the young people of this country. If we isolate them and let them fall apart, there is no way we can bring about much needed development of the country,” Nasheed said at the policy launch, promising “renewed-hope” for the young generation: “This is not simply a sports policy, it is also an entertainment policy.”

The MDP’s entertainment election promises include developing 40 turf stadiums throughout the country, development of high standard stadiums with modern-day training facilities, netball courts and courts for ‘Bashi’ – a traditional sport played by many women – across 60 islands.

“We will also develop the current national sports building as an ‘associations’ house’. In this Associations House, local sports associations will be given space to set up their administrative offices, while accommodation and boarding facilities will also be developed for international athletes and teams who visit the country,” he said.

Nasheed – who heads the country’s single largest political party both in terms of membership and parliamentary representation – also announced the development of a ‘sports resort’ – a sports-themed holiday resort specially designed to host famous international football clubs and other sports personalities who wish spend their off-season vacation in the country.

The said resort, Nasheed promised, would have quality in-house training facilities, practice grounds and gymnasiums for such teams.

Other plans include investment in youth development and skills development under the guidance of a National Sports Institute, and the establishment of a sports school.

“We will open the opportunity to develop a sports school through public-private partnership (PPP). We would also establish a special pension scheme for athletes who represent the country abroad as part of their retirement support,” Nasheed promised.

Responding to sarcastic remarks over the policy from his political opponents, Nasheed assured young people that the Special Operations (SO) officers of the police – known for their rough handling of MDP protests – would not be allowed to barge in and “ruin the fun”.

“Young people will decide what songs they wish to dance to,” Nasheed told the ecstatic young crowd.

Nasheed “a monster”, MDP “promoting homosexuality”: rival parties

The announcement of the MDP’s youth policy fueled harsh criticism from Nasheed’s opponents. Government-aligned parties currently backing the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan were quick to launch attacks on the policy.

While addressing a small campaign rally, the business tycoon and presidential hopeful Gasim Ibrahim – who also heads the Jumhoree Party (JP) – described Nasheed as a “monster” who had gone “crazy” with his “crazy talks to fool the people”.

Dismissing the MDP’s youth policy, Gasim challenged Nasheed’s academic qualifications and described him a ‘Jaahil’ (ignorant) who could not read the cover of the constitution.

“He doesn’t understand what the law says, so a crazy person like him may say that he would give the opportunity for people to limitlessly entertain themselves. Look, it is not something Allah has given us human beings,” Gasim said.

The business tycoon – who finished the last presidential election in fourth place – claimed Nasheed had done every “despicable act ever to be found in the world”.

“He thinks we, the people, are fools to believe such rubbish. Actually, he seriously may think that we are fools. He has now got the mindset of a monster,” said the resort owner.

Former Spokesperson for President Waheed and current spokesperson for his Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP), Abbas Adil Riza, joined Gasim in denouncing the policy but had a different interpretation.

Speaking on the government-aligned television station DhiTV, Riza alleged the MDP was trying to “promote illicit activities such as homosexuality and sodomy” under the façade of its youth policy.

The current state minister of finance – who formally worked with the MDP but left after failing to win a party ticket to contest in 2009 parliamentary elections – said Maldivians had long been having “fun without fear” and claimed MDP re-emphasising the concept could be interpreted as pledging to “facilitate such devious acts”.

Meanwhile, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – headed by Maldives’ former autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – claimed the youth policy was a tactic by the MDP to “win the votes of 15,000 or so drug addicts”.

PPM Spokesperson MP Ahmed Mahloof told local media authorities should take serious concern over what Nasheed was planning to do should he come to power.

“Our society is facing huge problems due to narcotic abuse, and then Nasheed comes out and says that in his government the young people can ‘enjoy without fear’,” Mahloof said.

He also said that policies such as ‘entertainment without fear’ gave the impression the party was trying to promote drugs and substance abuse.

“That is why we need to seriously think what type of entertainment or enjoyment they are allowing in the country,” he said.

Mahloof promised that his party would provide “better solutions” for youth.

Enjoy responsibly

Responding to the criticism, former Minister of Youth and Sports during Nasheed’s presidency, Hassan Latheef, told Minivan News that MDP’s policy did not promote breaking laws and anti-Islamic behavior.

“Maybe for Abbas Adil Riza having fun is simply a group of men getting together for a dance wearing excessively thin white sarongs. We are saying that entertainment can be carried out within the boundaries of the law and Islam. We are not promoting drug abuse or homosexuality at all,” Latheef said.

He explained that a seven year old who goes to play with others among their age and interacts with society produces better results at school than a boy who is not allowed to go out but is given video games at home.

Latheef said young people were subjected to derogatory treatment by police simply because of their appearance, and that the MDP was trying to remove the fear that had been cast upon youth during the 30 year reign of Gayoom.

“Like the President said, we will not let the police ruin the fun for young people. We will not let the young people be discriminated against like that. What we are saying is that the government should facilitate development and entertainment for young people,” he added. “This is a solution to a lot of problems we now face in the society.”

“Entertainment without fear does not mean letting our kids smoke or allow them to take drugs. It is simply freeing them from fear, and that doesn’t mean we are giving them the chance to break the law,” he added.

Despite the criticism, the policy has received strong support across social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook, with the hash tags #BirakaNula and #Majakurun associated with the title of the policy quickly gaining popularity among the Maldivian twitter community.


Reports Thasmeen to be appointed Waheed’s running mate unconfirmed

Local media has reported that Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali will be appointed President Mohamed Waheed’s running mate next Monday, however the parties have yet to confirm the decision.

“We’re getting ready for the day. We will officially begin our campaign that day,” a senior official from one of the coalition parties told Haveeru.

Despite the growing speculation surrounding Thasmeen’s candidacy, Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) and DRP have not made any official announcements.

“So far I have not received confirmation. There is speculation, but these are rumours only, I cannot confirm,” GIP Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News today (June 4).

DRP Deputy Leader MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom refused to comment on the matter.

Following an inaugural rally of President Waheed’s coalition held May 24, local media reported that Thasmeen was likely to become Dr Waheed’s running mate.

A senior member of the coalition told local news website CNM that Thasmeen’s appointment was “almost finalised” and other coalition parties had no objections.

In May, the government-aligned DRP announced it would be joining the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) in a coalition backing President Waheed.

Both the DQP and GIP are small political parties currently facing potential dissolution for lacking the minimum requirement of 10,000 members as stipulated in the recently passed Political Parties Act.

Coup parties consolidating: MDP

“Our concern is the involvement of Waheed and Thasmeen in the coup. That is the disturbing thing for us. We are now seeing the active coup participants come together,” Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News today.

“Thasmeen was at police headquarters [on February 7] seen hugging Gasim [Ibrahim], [Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) leader and current presidential advisor Dr Hassan] Saeed, [recently sacked Home Minister Dr Mohamed] Jameel and other non MPs,” said Ghafoor.

“The coup parties are consolidating themselves into one opposition party to defend themselves,” he continued. “We suspect [Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Presidential candidate MP Abdulla] Yameen will have to follow suit.”

“It is disappointing that the alternative to the PPM, which we hoped [would be the DRP], has double crossed their members,” Ghafoor said.

“The cost to the party is that Thasmeen as lost some of the most valuable DRP MPs and there are no guarantees [he and Waheed will win the presidential elections],” he noted. “Thasmeen has really divided a promising party, he has not done them any favors.”

“We always had some hope the DRP would make a coalition with MDP and [in return] we would forget about [their role in] the coup,” he lamented.

“Come next week the situation could change, it’s very fickle,” Ghafoor concluded.

Any two can become a company: PPM

“Most probably [Waheed] may appoint Thasmeen, it’s a foregone conclusion, he has no other choice,” PPM MP and Campaign Media Manager Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News today.

“It will have no impact on the election. Any two people can become a company,” Nihan said.

“In terms of members and political participation PPM and MDP are the only two proven parties,” he added.

Nihan estimated that PPM currently has between 31,000 and 32,000 members, while current DRP members are not active or do not realise they are still registered with the party.

Nihan also refuted Ghafoor’s allegations that “coup parties are consolidating to defend themselves and Yameen will have to follow suit”.

“On 7 February 2012, what has happened, happened. The MDP still believes it was a coup, however PPM does not. The transition was fine, the CoNI was fine,” said Nihan.

“We have been hanging around and giving our strong support to Waheed to better the country and take care of the people,” he explained. “It is still difficult to find basic services on the islands and we want to make things better.”

However, Nihan alleged that Waheed’s administration is now firing PPM members from various government positions – such as former Home Minister Jameel – and appointing his own supporters in their place, as well as giving them high salaries in exchange for votes in the presidential election.

“The PPM has been sidelined. It is a misconception we should have to follow. They should back off because PPM has strength,” declared Nihan.

2012 police headquarters celebration

Local television station Raajje TV aired a video clip on in March 2012 showing senior then-opposition figures inside police headquarters on February 7, prior to the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

In the video, Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim makes a comment thanking Allah that former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned before the use of military force.

Thasmeen Ali, shown standing directly in front of Gasim at the time, told Minivan News that he does not recollect Gasim’s statement. “It was very loud,” Thasmeen said.

The video clip depicts former opposition leaders at the time celebrating inside the police head quarters, exchanging hugs, and shouting “Allah Akbar” and “Thank Allah” shortly before Nasheed’s public television resignation of February 7.

According to Raaje Tv’s timeline of the video, inside the Police HQ, current Police Commissioner, Abdulla Riyaz tells the gathered group — which includes Thasmeen, Saeed, former Home Minister and current PPM Vice Presidential running mate Dr Mohamed Jameel, current State Minister for Islamic Affairs Mohamed Didi, current Deputy Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed, current Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Samad, current Minister of State for Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Shameem, Fonadhoo MP Ali Saleem, and the Adhaalath Party’s Asadullah Shafee — that he has now shared the mutinying police’s demands with the opposition leaders and asks them to give the police a response.


Ministers slam Nasheed for “bluffing” over guesthouse commitments

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s pledge to expand guest house tourism in the country has been strongly criticised by senior government figures, who accuse him of lacking sincerity and “bluffing” over his commitments to mid-market tourism.

State Minister for Finance Abbas Adil Riza and Minister for Tourism Ahmed Adheeb both this week slammed Nasheed, claiming guesthouse bed numbers more than doubled last year after President Dr Mohamed Waheed came to power.

The ministers, who represent the government-aligned Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) and  the Progressive Party of Maldives respectively, also criticised Nasheed over previous remarks he made in international media calling for a boycott of the country’s tourism sector.

However, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has claimed that after reintroducing the guesthouse concept to the Maldives during its administration, the party’s latest manifesto gave further importance to growing mid-market tourism.  The MDP claims such growth will be vital to tackling what it called a “total disconnect” between the lucrative island resort model and local people.

With the inclusion of development of small and medium businesses – particularly in the emerging guesthouse sector – in a “mini-manifesto” drawn up by the MDP, mid-market tourism has emerged as a key potential issue for elections in September 2013.

Bed numbers

Speaking to Minivan News, Abbas Adil Riza accused Nasheed of lying in regards to his commitments to mid-market tourism development, criticising him for a wider failure to protect small and medium businesses in the country.

“My concern is that Nasheed is bluffing. Between 2009 to 2011, there were 16 new guest houses built,” he said, claiming these properties amounted to some 180 tourism beds.

Abbas said that in 2012 alone, the number of guesthouse beds available to tourists in the country had almost doubled as a result of programs implemented by the Waheed government to provide smaller-scale loans leading to 37 guest houses being developed.

“During Nasheed’s administration, outsiders were given public land and there was no funding supplied,” he said. “After February 7, we gave small-scale loans to 37 individuals.”

Abbas also accused former President Nasheed of failing to support small and medium enterprises and local industry in general.

He added that small and medium scale businesses had to be set up in harmony with local culture and traditions, particularly on small islands.

“He can’t just say that he is the champion of these things,” Abbas added.

Boycott concerns

Traditional holiday staples for large numbers of tourists coming to the Maldives, including being able to wear bikinis and drinking alcohol, are not permitted by law on local islands that are classed as being inhabited.

Speaking to local media, both Abbas and Tourism Minister Adheeb have hit out at claims by the MDP published in international media last year calling for travellers to boycott Maldives tourism.

Adheeb told Sun Online that Nasheed had not made sense by previously calling for the promotion of guest houses in the build up to this year’s presidential election after calling for a boycott last year.

“President Nasheed had made a global call to boycott Maldives tourism, and now he is calling to promote guest house businesses, targeted at Maldives tourism. This does not make sense,” he was quoted as saying.

Nasheed last year called for a tourism boycott of the Maldives, as he continued to question the legitimacy of the government of President Waheeed – his former vice president.

However, these calls were soon dropped by Nasheed and supporters of the now opposition MDP.

The Ministry of Tourism last year fell short of its stated aim of welcoming one million visitors to the country during 2012, citing difficulties resulting from media coverage of political turmoil following the change of government that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed to office.

However, authorities in the country have since pledged to surpass the one million visitor goal in 2013, claiming late last year that the “hard days” were over for tourism in the country following 2012′s political turmoil.

Despite this stance, as part of a so-called silent protest at this year’s ITB event, anti-government campaigners distributed leaflets entitled ‘the cloudy side of life‘ – a play on the country’s official ‘Sunny Side of Life’ tourism slogan to draw attention to alleged human rights violations under the new government.

“Paradigm shift”

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor responded that Nasheed’s government had sought to reintroduce and expand guest houses in the Maldives – a development the party claimed was needed to bring a “paradigm shift” in general thinking and economic development in the Maldives.

After 40 years of concentrating primarily on exclusive island-based resort tourism, Hamid accused former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom during his 30 years of power of creating a “total disconnect” between local people and the country’s famous high-end tourism product.

“They local people Islamic rhetoric while talking something very different to tourists,” he claimed.

Pointing to the ‘mini-manifesto’ released by the MDP in the build up to this year’s elections, Hamid claimed that was capacity for an additional 600,00 tourists to travel to the Maldives annually, yet there was not enough options to accommodate them.

“All across this country, you see that many islands are ready for [middle-market tourism]. There are impressive cafes. People who have worked in the tourism industry are setting up businesses based on their experiences,” he said. “Tourism is very much a business we know and some of these places are quite sophisticated.”

As part of the MDP’s election pledge, Hamid claimed that some MVR120 million was set to be pledged as part of a policy to provide “seed money” to help establish guest houses and supporting industries.

He said that guest houses have always been a central policy of the MDP to support national development.

By comparison, Hamid claimed that before coming to power, the previous government under former President Gayoom had tried to paint tourism on local islands as “haraam” to discourage interest and investment.

He claimed such a strategy was overseen by certain resort owners and tourism magnates alleged by the MDP to being central in bringing the present government to power on February 7, 2012.  Nasheed himself resigned following a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

Both Nasheed and the MDP have continued to contend that the transfer of power was a “coup d’etat”, despite the findings of a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) last year.

Responding to the party’s previous reported support for a tourism boycott, MP Hamid claimed the party had always committed itself to what it called selective boycotts – rather than calling for tourists to outright reject the destination.

“We are not saying that all resort operators are bad. But some of them were directly involved in the coup and have sought to exploit their positions,” he said.

Hamid denied the party had sought to boycott the industry outright, claiming instead to be targeting resort owners that he alleged ran their businesses unethically in the style of “cartels”.

Nasheed’s tourism potential

Just last month, in an open-editorial piece reprinted in Minivan News, former President Nasheed claimed that only 50 people directly profited from the resort industry in the Maldives, limiting what he claimed were a wealth of economic and social policies.

“What the average Maldivian wants is basic. We want a way to increase our income. We want to broaden our narrow financial horizons through development.

It is not that we lack this capacity to develop. We have plentiful natural resources. If we settle for the current economic status quo, believing that what we have now is the limit to what we are entitled to, it will mean that our true wealth potential remains untapped,” he wrote at the time.

“What the MDP and I have always pointed out is this basic fact: we want to develop. To upgrade beyond the current status quo. The ordinary Maldivian’s complaint is that of poverty, of financial anxiety. We want a wallet with the wads; we want to realise that financial progress is possible. The political office is a place that should offer solutions to these complaints. This is its responsibility and obligation.”

Meanwhile, an island owner involved in the country’s burgeoning mid-market holiday sector last week slammed new regulations imposing financial restrictions on tourism joint venture projects with the government, claiming the legislation outright excludes small and medium-scale investors.


Abbas Adil Riza appointed spokesperson for President’s party

Former President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza has been appointed as spokespersons for the Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP), headed by current President Dr Waheed Hassan Manik.

Sun Online reported that Abbas had joined the party last month.

Abbas courted controversy in his previous position after he made disparaging comments Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay during at a pro-government rally against Indian infrastructure giant GMR, describing him as a “traitor and enemy of the Maldives and the Maldivian people”.

The government later distanced itself Abbas’s comments, and he was made State Minister of Finance.


State Minister for Finance Abbas Adil Riza labels parliament as “terrorist organization”

State Minister for Finance and steering committee member of the self-titled “National Movement” Abbas Adil Riza has labelled parliament as a “terrorist organization”, claiming the Maldives’ legislature has failed to work in the best interest of country.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Riza claimed that parliament was continuously failing to respect the sentiments of the public and that the “National Movement” sought to hold a referendum on the institution.

“The Maldives constitution clearly states that the power of the state is derived from the people and would remain with the people, so the National Movement representing the people are using our right to express our concerns over the parliament,” he said.

The National Movement announced earlier this week that a planned public referendum on parliament would be used to assess the public view towards the country’s legislature. During a press conference held Tuesday (December 25), senior figures of the movement claimed that they planned to hold the public ballot on January 25, 2013.

Riza clarified today that the vote would be carried out by the members of the National Movement, confirming that it would not be a public referendum taken by the government or any other state institution.

“Our members will conduct the ballot. We are formulating committees that would coordinate the vote in the islands. This referendum has no connection with the government or any other state institution,” he explained.

Riza added that the National Movement, led by the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) and senior government officials, did not wish to dissolve parliament, but instead try to show the world a true reflection of the public’s attitude towards parliament.

“After voting, if the vote shows that people do not have confidence in the parliament someone may take the issue to the Supreme Court. But we are not planning to do that. We only want the world to know the truth,” he said.

According to fellow “National Movement” member Sobah Rasheed, a decision was yet to be taken on how the proposed referendum would be conducted, with further announcements expected at a later date.

The vote would help reveal whether the public had the confidence in their parliamentarians or not, Sobah claimed at the time.

“We are trying to conduct the vote in the most cost efficient, but yet transparent manner that would increase the public confidence on the fairness of the vote,” he told the press.

“National Movement” Vice President and State Minister for Home Affairs Abdulla Mohamed has previously claimed that its campaign to “reform Majlis (Parliament)” was not targeted at the entire 77 sitting MPs.  He also dismissed accusations that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik was behind the movement.

According to Abdulla, the campaign was carried out to urge the authorities to take actions against MPs found not to pay tax, as well as those who have committed several criminal offences.

“The movement is run for the benefit of this country. While this movement is in the best interest of the nation, it may perhaps be detrimental to the president. But if the damage incurred by the president is lesser than the benefit that the country gets, then our purpose is served. Similarly if this movement benefits the whole nation more than the damage to parliament, our purpose is served,” Abdulla said.


The “National Movement” has continued of late to criticise parliament, claiming it was not working in the best interest of the people.

Earlier in November, Abbas Adil Riza – then serving as a President’s Office spokesperson – warned that the “National Movement” would “break up” the parliament, should it go forward with no-confidence motion against President Waheed and his Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim.  The Supreme Court had at the time issued an injunction against parliament holding such votes.

Riza also directed harsh criticism towards Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid, dismissing his decision to “challenge” the Supreme Court’s ruling as a “cowardly act”.

“Unless Shahid immediately ceases his efforts to violate the constitution while holding the post of Speaker of Parliament, the National Movement will ensure that this comes to a stop,” he said at the time.

Parliament officials had earlier stated that Defence Minister Nazim had been given the required 14-day notice by Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

Responding to Riza’s comments at the time, Majlis Deputy Speaker and People’s Alliance (PA) MP Ahmed Nazim rejected claims parliament had challenged the Supreme Court’s injunction.  Nazim noted that parliament had given all those facing no confidence votes a full 14 days notice as stated by the law.

“We believe there is still time for Supreme Court to lift the temporary injunction, and I believe they will not see this as the parliament challenging the court. After 14 days, the motion will be put up on the agenda for discussion by party leaders. If the injunction remains then there is a possibility for party leaders to challenge the court,” Nazim told Minivan News at the time.

“A rather irrelevant group” – MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor

Responding to Riza’s remarks, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that he did not believe that the “National Movement” was a force of the people, but rather an irrelevant group craving media attention.

“I don’t think any MP would wish to even comment on the remarks made by these people. We are ashamed of them. These people do not represent the people. Look at the number of people attending their rallies,” he said.

Ghafoor claimed that even though parliament did not generally take into account the remarks made during the rallies held by the movement, they may consider action at a later date on the grounds of national security.

“If they are planning to attack the parliament or threaten the national security, then perhaps the parliament may look into it, but other than that they are not much of a force. I believe if there happens to be a time where they attempt to attack parliament, then the police and military would obviously not let that happen,” he added.

Ghafoor also accused the “National Movement” of not being a registered organization, alleging a possible conflict of interest in the Registrar of Clubs and Societies Abdulla Mohamed speaking as one of its members..

“The whole outfit is void ab initio,” he said

PPM discontinues its support

Meanwhile, the government-aligned former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), a key supporter of the movement, has decided to part ways with the National Movement claiming that it was “moving in another direction”.

“I question today whether this campaign under the name of national movement is sincere or not,” PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof said in parliament.

“I’m saying this because during the GMR issue, we said repeatedly that after that we should raise the issue of Nexbis [border control project]. But after that we saw them raise the issue of the People’s Majlis.”

Mahloof added that a speaker at a national movement rally on Sunday night “used obscene language” to attack PPM Parliamentary Group Leader MP Abdulla Yameen.

The speaker in question accused MP Yameen of “threatening” the Adhaalath Party, during a rally held Sunday (December 23) to celebrate the first anniversary of the December 23 “mega-protest.”

Local media reported that the remarks led to heated exchanges between the speaker and PPM supporters, a number of whom left the area in protest.

In his speech following the incident, Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, a senior leader of the Adhaalath Party, spoke in defence of MP Yameen and urged speakers to respect political leaders.

The National Movement was formed by several government aligned political parties and a coalition of NGOs to oppose the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) development being run by GMR.

The movement initially began as 23 December alliance, which held an enmasse demonstration to oppose certain policies of the President Mohamed Nasheed.  The protest was held just months before Nasheed resigned from office, later alleging he had been made to do so under “duress”.

The movement is headed by the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP). AP Leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla is portrayed as the figure head of the movement.


State Finance Minister warns National Movement will “break up” parliament

Minister of State for Finance Abbas Adil Riza has accused Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid of “challenging” the Supreme Court after he tabled a no-confidence motion despite an injunction from the court.

Riza’s comments follow parliament’s announcement last week that a no-confidence motion against Defence Minster Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim has been tabled despite a Supreme Court injunction ordering parliament to halt all pending no-confidence votes.

Speaking at the artificial beach on Monday (December 17) Riza, who is also a National Movement Steering Committee member, said that Shahid’s decision to “challenge” the Supreme Court was a “cowardly act”.

“Unless Shahid immediately ceases his efforts to violate the constitution while holding the post of Speaker of Parliament, the National Movement will ensure that this comes to a stop,” local media reported Riza as saying.

Furthermore, Riza warned that should the parliament try to violate the constitution, the National Movement will “break up” the parliament.

Last week, the People’s Majlis secretariat revealed that Defence Minister Nazim has been given the required 14-day notice and his ministry also duly informed by Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

Repsonding to Riza’s comments, Majlis Deputy Speaker and fellow PA MP Ahmed Nazim said that the Parliament has not challenged the Supreme Court’s injunction, noting that it has given the full 14 days notice to the court as per stated by the law.

“We believe there is still time for Supreme Court to lift the temporary injunction, and I believe they will not see this as the parliament challenging the court.

“After 14 days, the motion will be put up on the agenda for discussion by party leaders. If the injunction remains then there is a possibility for party leaders to challenge the court,” Nazim told Minivan News.

Article 101(a) of the constitution states, “At least fourteen days notice of the debate in the People’s Majlis concerning a motion under article (a) shall be given to the concerned member of the cabinet, and he shall have the right to defend himself in the sittings of the People’s Majlis, both orally and in writing.”

When asked if there was concern from parliament over Riza’s comments, Nazim revealed that the institution as a whole did not feel threatened, however there had been “concern” expressed by individual parliamentary members.

“The institution is protected by the constitution and we have protection from the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), however at least one individual has told us he feels threatened and believes that security needs to be increased.

Abbas Adil Riza was not responding to calls at time of press.

On December 3, parliament voted 41-34 to approve amendments to the parliamentary rules of procedure to conduct no-confidence votes to impeach the President and remove cabinet members through secret ballot.

MPs of the government-aligned Jumhooree Party (JP) and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) joined the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to vote the amendment through.

The no-confidence motion against Defence Minister Nazim was submitted by the MDP earlier this month on the grounds that he misused his authority as acting Transport Minister by using the military to influence termination of commercial contracts.

No-confidence motion against Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed

Meanwhile, a no-confidence motion has again been submitted against Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel today (November 17).

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) submitted the same motion to parliament on a previous occasion, but withdrew it at the last minute after the voting was scheduled for parliament.

An MP told local media that this latest motion was submitted with 17 signatures including the signatures of MDP MPs, however this has yet to be officially confirmed.


Comment: Maldives battle-lines getting redrawn?

With the Jumhoree Party (JP) voting in Parliament unlike the rest of the partners in the government, and President Mohammed Waheed Hassan sacking one more of its Ministers, battle-lines seem to be getting redrawn in the Maldives all over again.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) lost the vote for secret-ballot on no-confidence motions – one is now pending against President Waheed – by 34-39 with two absentees in the 77-member house, including the Speaker, but the JP decision has exposed the chinks in the government’s armour that had remained underneath until now.

In a way, the early JP decision to vote for secret-ballot may have triggered the current political crisis, independent also of the anti-GMR protests that are centered on the Indian developer-concessionaire for the Male international airport. The sacking of JP Transport Minister Ahamed Shamheed the previous week has been followed by that of State Minister for Gender, Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed.

Minister Saeed had appeared with her husband and JP parliamentarian Abdulla Jabir at a weekend news conference, condemning his arrest on charges of alcohol-consumption, and alleged roughing-up, consequent hurt and humiliation at the hands of the police. Jabir was not alone in all this.

Simultaneously, President Waheed seems to have put on hold the JP’s new nominee for Transport Minister. Ameen Ibrahim is a vice-president of the party and chairman of the VTV of the Villa Group, owned in turn by JP founder, Gasim Ibrahim. He was named to succeed Shamheed after President Waheed stood his ground on not restoring the latter. Simultaneously, however, President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza, one of the recent entrants, quit the JP, protesting against the party’s vote on the secret-ballot.

What make the current developments interesting is the presidential aspirations of JP’s Gasim Ibrahim. He was among the first serious contenders for the presidency to announce his candidature in the elections that are due in 2013. Having bagged over 15 per cent of the popular-vote in the first-ever multi-party, direct elections to the presidency in 2008, Ibrahim is believed to command a ‘committed vote-bank’, which he transferred to MDP’s Nasheed in the second run-off round, thus contributing to the latter’s victory. With the nation purportedly poised for an equally keen contest the next time too, the current political developments have the potential to advance the presidential poll date, as desired and demanded by the MDP, ever since President Nasheed quit office on February 7.

Avoidable embarrassment

Despite winning the vote against secret-ballot on anticipated lines, the government faced avoidable embarrassment in Parliament when a member charged President Waheed and his aides with influencing him to “vote in a particular way” on the issue of secret-ballot. Ali Azim is one of the two MPs against whom the civil court had cancelled summons earlier in the day on Monday, for non-payment of dues to the state-run Bank of Maldives (BoM). Under the Maldivian law, proclaimed debtors cannot continue as MPs until they had cleared their dues – and at times have to get re-elected after their seats are declared vacant.

The government has promptly and predictably denied Azim’s charge. It is unclear if the MP intends moving a breach of privilege motion against all those whom he had named inside the house as influencing him to vote in a ‘particular way’ on the secret-ballot.

Media reports on his parliamentary expose, if one, did not mention any substantial evidence to prove his point. For now, the charge lends credence to the opposition MDP’s charge that the government was using all means to influence and/or intimidate MPs. If there are more on the treasury benches, as claimed, they are yet to speak up – or, act otherwise on issues of concern to the government.

‘Anti-GMR, not anti-India’

On a parallel track, which may have been side-lined to an extent by the more immediate political developments inside and outside Parliament, a junior Minister claimed that the on-going anti-GMR protests should not be construed as anti-India protests. In a pointed reference to the Indian concerns expressed by the Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi recently, State Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Ahmed Shameem, claimed that the issue related to a company owned by ‘some Indians’ but was registered in another country and did not pay taxes to India.

The issue thus did not relate to India or the Indian Government, the Minister said.

“No demonstrations have been held in Maldives against India. No anti-India sentiments were expressed in any of the demonstrations held… India should not, therefore, be worried over a non-existent matter.”

Elaborating, Minister Shameem said, “We have no issues with India. We have no issues with any Indian citizens in Maldives, and likewise we have no issues with any of the employees of GMR. The issue is with the agreement made by the former Government (of President Nasheed) with GMR. All we want is to annul that agreement.”

Miadhu quoted Minister Shameem as also saying that they had clarified the position even in the Friday night’s rally of the National Alliance. He recalled that religion-centric Adhalathth Party leader “Sheikh Imran and others stated this very clearly. They clarified that there is no threat to any Indian citizen in Maldives”. As may be recalled, the protestors have resorted to a combination of religion and patriotism to target GMR, continuing from where they had left the ‘December 23 Movement’ after the February 7 resignation of President Nasheed.

Tirade against envoy continues

Minister Shameem went on to claim that the Indian government had been misinformed of the reality of the situation by people in the Maldives. He urged the Indian government to seek authentic information about the situation in the Maldives directly without contacting any third party.

Minister Shameem belongs to President Waheed’s Gaumee Itthihaad Party (GIP), and it is unclear why the response to the Indian MEA’s statement should come from someone not attached to the Maldivian Foreign Ministry.

Almost simultaneously, Minvian News confirmed that President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza stood by his controversial statement that Indian High Commissioner Dyaneshwar Mulay was a “traitor to Maldives, and corrupt”.

The opposition MDP had earlier taken the issue to parliament, with members claiming that the comments were against diplomatic protocol and could affect bilateral relations with India. MDP parliamentarian Eva Abdulla alleged that the remarks made by Riza were not those of his own but were rather made under “direct orders” of President Waheed, as Minivan News reported.

Riza got not-so-unexpected support from Abdul Azeez Jamaal Aboobakr, MP belonging to the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), founded by former President Maumoon Abdul the the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), founded by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The PPM is the single largest political group supporting the Waheed government in parliament, and Aboobakr said that a person’s freedom cannot be limited because of his employment. He told parliament that Riza too had his freedom of speech – and recalled that the latter had prefaced his public utterances on High Commissioner Mulay as his personal views.

According to Minivan News, the majority of PPM members in parliament attempted to defend Riza, and tried to switch the focus onto the Indian envoy. However, in an apparent contradiction to its comments in parliament, the PPM on November 12 issued a statement dissociating the party from the ‘slanderous’ allegations made against High Commissioner Mulay, Minivan News said further. Earlier, the President’s Office too had distanced himself from Riza’s statement.

In the past, PPM leaders had spoken about the need for re-negotiating the GMR agreement, not ousting them from the airport construction-cum-concession contract. The party’s position on the issue is unclear. So is the current position of the Dhivehi Raayathunge Party (DRP), another of the Government parties originally founded by President Gayoom, and from which he is estranged now.

Over the previous weeks, DRP leader Thasmeen Ali and other leaders have spoken against the moves to oust GMR, but have not been heard of since. On the crucial secret-ballot issue the DRP, like the PPM, voted with the government and against the MDP amendment.

‘India need not be concerned…’

At the same time, in what read like a loaded statement, Minivan News quoted President Waheed’s interview to the news agency, Press Trust of India (PTI), that New Delhi “need not be concerned with affairs in the Maldives”. He claimed further that “this is not a problem that we have with GMR, but with a bad agreement… We have to pay GMR US$1.5 million per month under the current arrangement of the agreement in operation, and that is beyond our capacity”.

The reference was to the erstwhile MDP-led government of President Nasheed offering to compensate GMR for the loss of revenue, after a local court struck off the original provision for levying $25 entry fee for Maldivians using the Male airport. Ironically most government parties today, barring President Waheed’s GIP, were in the opposition at the time the GMR contract was signed – and had opposed it through political, legislative and legal means.

Otherwise too, President Waheed may have a point, when he says the government is strapped for cash to pay GMR every month. Tourism had sustained economic development up to a point, but for growing with the growth, the nation needs large investments in the infrastructure sector in particular. The skewed governmental revenue-model from the resort-centric tourism industry is incapable of sustaining the economy. This is also the crux of the fiscal problem that the Nasheed government inherited and left behind – after attempting to address wide-ranging economic reforms, which came with the IMF-driven austerity measures, affecting the common man as much as the large pool of public servants.

Against this background, the Waheed government may not have any answers to the question of much larger repayments that may become necessary if the GMR agreement were to be annulled, as being sought by street-protestors in Maldives, and the international arbitrators in Singapore, whom GMR has approached under the agreement for redress, rule in its favour. Of equal concern should be the unwillingness of other overseas investors to put their money in Maldives, a nation until now known for easy repatriation procedures that had attracted funding for the resort industry in the first place.

The alternative could be that Maldives has already identified an external underwriter, now lurking in the side-lines, to either pay-off or buy-out GMR, or have other weapons in its arsenal to avoid/minimise those payments.

The Adhaalath Party, which had set a November 15 deadline for the government to take-over the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) from GMR has extended the same till the month-end.

For its part, GMR has reiterated its willingness to re-negotiate the position under the existing agreement. Yet, it is unclear if the Maldivian government is willing to re-negotiate the deal as ruling combine leaders used to say from time to time, or would have the time, energy and inclination to do so, and that domestic political developments of the kind flagged by the JP vote on the secret-ballot and allied issues would not overtake the same.

To the extent, the GMR issue and the political crisis could overlap in more ways than one, and more often than anticipated, with consequences for the nation and its near-exclusive import-driven economy.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

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