MPs express concern over Addu airport bidding process, while AIA MD Shahid denies corruption allegations

Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader, MP, and chairman of the Villa Group of businesses, Gasim Ibrahim, denied in parliament today that he had spoken against the sale of shares of Addu International Airport (AIA) with the intention of buying shares himself. He claimed he had done so “in the best interests of Addu and the country.”

“If Gasim wanted shares, Gasim would have bid for them,” Gasim said in response to some MPs, who had alleged he was himself interested in buying the shares.

Referring to his offer in his letter to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to reclaim land for the project free of charge “using my own dredger, employees and machinery with the government only providing oil,” Gasim said that the costs of the work would come up to US$7 million.

“I am very concerned that they have gone ahead and sold the shares without even considering the offer of free aid of this size,” Gasim said.

Gasim further stated that although he did want to see the Addu airport developed, the shares had not been sold in the right manner, adding “things won’t go very well” due to how the shares had been given away.

JP MP Alhan Fahmy echoed Gasim’s statement that he, too, wished to see the Addu airport developed, but that he was concerned with how the sale of shares had been carried out. Fahmy said that 30 percent of shares being sold off for MVR 60 million (US$3.89 million) was “nothing but daylight robbery”.

“The shares have been sold far too cheaply. Our problem is that they’ve done this while there are many other ways obtain the funds needed for development,” Fahmy explained.

A number of MPs from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) stated that the party supported the concept of privatisation, adding that the development of the Addu airport was originally an MDP initiated plan. They, too, however, expressed concerns over how the bidding process had been carried out.

MDP Parliamentary Group’s Deputy Leader Ali Waheed criticised Gasim Ibrahim for his “lack of conviction” when speaking about the issue in parliament.

Waheed said that Gasim had not dared to criticise the government even after it had sold the shares, despite Gasim’s allegations that major corruption had been involved in the deal.

Referring to Gasim’s common name “Buruma” (‘drill’), Waheed said, “There is no use for a drill without electricity”, alleging that the JP leader had been “too cowardly” to even speak of the issue openly during today’s parliamentary session.

“Cowards need not contest in the coming presidential elections,” Waheed further declared.

Gan Airport development to start in January: Shahid

MD of AIA and STO Shahid Ali said in a press briefing on Monday that the Addu Airport development work is set to begin in January.

Ali said that the pre-bid meetings had been held with the three shortlisted contractors and that the bids were scheduled to be submitted by November 28.

The development plans include an extension of the runway, repairing of the apron, placing an extra layer of tar on the runway and setting up a sea plane base.

He also stated that contrary to general speculation, the airport had not been “sold”, but rather shares from the company AIA that had been sold to KASA Holdings.

He also refuted allegations of corruption, saying that KASA Holdings had been given higher priority since it was a local company and that all proceedings had gone through the bidding process in a matter which was completely free of any corruption.

“It is often said now that 30 percent of the airport has been sold to a private party. The truth is that 100 percent of the land of Gan, the infrastructure of the airport and its facilities are with the government, because Gan Airport Ltd is a company which is 100 percent owned by the government. So all the assets are owned by them. Then this company has leased the airport to AIA for 50 years,” Ali explained.

Ali said that therefore it was clear that selling 30 percent of the shares of AIA, a joint company formed by the Gan Airport Ltd, STO and the Maldives Airports Company Ltd, was not a sale of the airport itself.

Leave politics aside

Addu City council has released a statement welcoming the signing of the contract which they said would lead to the development of the Addu airport.

The statement further notes “the importance of leaving politics aside and for the good of citizens in letting the venture bring positive changes to Addu’s economy.”

Meanwhile, MDP released a statement on Monday urging “not to let political feuds, political needs and power play interfere in important work directly related to the development of Addu City citizens, and generally all Maldivian citizens.”

The statement also condemned Gasim’s threats against Shahid Ali, stating “This party calls on political leaders to refrain from making unlawful threats through the greed for power and political wants.”

In a uncommon move, 18 citizens from Addu held a press conference on Monday, speaking in support of the Addu airport development.

The citizens welcomed the selling of shares to KASA Holdings, stating that it was not a sale of the airport itself. They further said that the citizens of Addu were happy that although the airport has so far remained the same, development work is scheduled to begin early next year.


Hithadhoo Court orders removal of SAARC monuments on religious grounds

Following two months of theft and vandalism, Hithadhoo Court Magistrate Abdullah Farooq has ordered the removal of monuments gifted by the SAARC nations at the 2011 SAARC Summit “Building Bridges” held in Addu City.

This week, Addu City Council removed Bhutan’s monument – a wooden sign – following a demand from demonstrators at the nation-wide opposition-sponsored ‘Defend Islam’ protest on December 23 to that effect.

The council reported that the police surveillance necessary to preserve the monuments  in the current political climate had become unreasonable.

Certain interpretations of the Quran prohibit images of living beings. The Maldives Constitution, itself based on Islamic Shariah, states that no action which violates Islam can be upheld by the courts.

Farooq identified the monuments as “idols of worship” used by non- Muslims which could allow for the growth of other religions in the Maldives.

Farooq further argued that the monuments conflict with the regulations within the Religious Unity Act and were accepted into the country unlawfully according to the Contraband Act.

“No one has the authority to import anything prohibited under the law”, he said in the court ruling. Farooq has requested the Prosecutor General to take legal action against those responsible for setting up the monuments in Addu.

The monuments were unveiled by the leaders of Bangladesh, Pakistian, India, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to commemorate the Maldives’ hosting of the SAARC Summit. The evening prior to Pakistan’s unveiling ceremony, its monument was knocked from its pedestal by protestors.

Although individuals were not detained over the matter the Islamic Ministry issued statements claiming that the monument’s illustration of the history of the Indus valley civilisation and a bust of Pakistan’s founder Mohamed Ali Jinah were idolatrous, and requested the government to remove those SAARC monuments which conflicted with Islam.

Addu City Council returned the monument to its mount prior to the ceremony, however it was subsequently set on fire by demonstrators when religious Adhaalath Party issued a statement claiming that “no Maldivian of sound mind” would allow idols or iconography of other religions to be erected in the country.

Opposition parties including Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) voiced their support for the vandals, and the ensuing months Sri Lanka’s monument of its national lion was decapitated, Nepal’s monument stolen and Afghanistan’s miniature minaret of Jam was sunk in a nearby harbor.

The Pakistani monument was “part of efforts by adversaries of Islam to turn the faith that Maldivians embraced 900 years ago upside down,” the party said at the time.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Hussein Rasheed pointed public opinion to the historical value of Pakistan’s monument.

“The Pakistan monument showed how Pakistan became an Islamic country from its Buddhist origins,’’ Rasheed has previously stated, noting that, ‘’Although the monument does not contradict Islam, it should not be kept there if Maldivian citizens do not want it to be there.’’

Removal of the contentious monuments was one of the five demands of the December 23 protesters, who also demanded that the government prohibit Israeli airlines from operating in the Maldives.

Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair observed at the time that taking down the monuments would diplomatically be very difficult for the government, “especially when it was handed to us by another Islamic country”, however he said the decision belonged to Addu City Council.

Following the removal of Bhutan’s monument three days ago, Addu City Councillor Hussein Hilmee said the council had sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry requesting that it inform SAARC member countries that it was taking the monuments down.

Deputy Sri Lankan High Commissioner Shaanthi Sudusinghe said at the time, “We have requested that if [the government] is unable to preserve the monument that they hand it over to us.”


MP Ali Waheed requests Addu to remove monuments

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Thoddu MP Ali Waheed has requested Addu Mayor Abdulla Sodiq to remove the monuments given by SAARC member countries during this year’s summit, held in Addu.

Of the seven monuments given in memoriam of the event four have been vandalised or stolen; only those from Bhutan, India and Bangladesh remain untouched.

Following the theft of Nepal’s monument, Sodig said the council was considering moving the remaining monuments to an enclosed, secure location.

Waheed’s request comes on the heels of a similar demand voiced by a coalition of religious groups and opposition parties at the “Defend Islam” protest on December 23.

Addu City Council Hussein Hilmee reported that a group of 20 to 30 individuals had gathered in Addu on Friday to watch the televised coverage of the protests in Male’.

The Islamic Ministry has also voiced concerns, and opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) reported the Customs department to the police for allowing the monuments to enter the country.

Speaking in parliament today, Waheed said the demand has wide public support and that respecting it is not a defeat within democracy, reports Haveeru.


Addu City Council to receive second largest council budget in 2012

Addu City Council will receive Rf69.3 million (US$4.5 million) from the proposed 2012 State Budget, second only to Male’ City Council which is allocated Rf140.5 million. (US$9.5 million).

Local councils will receive Rf1.1 billion from next year’s proposed state budget of Rf14 billion.

Councils will also receive Rf42.6 million to run pre-schools under their remit.

At Rf762 million employee expenses is the most costly item on the list. The functioning of council secretariats has been allocated Rf294 million.


Addu accepts bids for convention centre management and hotel

Addu City Council will be accepting bids for the lease of land to design, build and operate a minimum 100-room city hotel in association with the newly-constructed convention center.

The City Council has also made the task of operating and maintaining the convention center available to public tendering.

Documents will be available at Addu City Council Secretariat starting on 30 October through 9 November.

Maldivian parties may purchase the bidding documents for Rf2000, and foreign companies will be charged US$300 for the papers.

The city council will hold a pre-bid meeting on 16 November at 2 pm.

Bidding parties are invited to the bid opening on 15 December.


Opposition’s vote to increase city councillors economic sabotage, claims government

The government has hit out at opposition parliamentarians it alleges have actively sought to sabotage its attempts to reduce the state budget by voting for amendments that will double the number of city councillors currently serving in the country.

The criticisms were made after amendments to the country’s Decentralisation Act were passed yesterday in the Majlis, doubling the number of people elected to each city council.  The amendments have served to create eleven additional seats on Male’ City Council, which will increase to 22 representatives, while Addu City Council will have 12 elected councillors as a result.

Opposition politicians claim that the amendments have been made to try and bring more equity to the representation of city council members when compared to their island and atoll counterparts also appointed during the country’s first local council elections in February.

According to Haveeru, the amendments forwarded by South Hithadhoo MP Hassan Latheef were passed by 36 votes in favour, while 33 votes went against the bill – reportedly mainly from Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members loyal to the government.

Back in February’s local council elections, where one councillor was appointed to each city constituency, results showed that the MDP had taken the majority of city seats despite losing out on an overall seat majority to the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) who claimed significantly more island and atoll councils.

Considering this vote, Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News today that aside from capitalising on the availability of the additional city council seats in the country, he believed opposition parties favoured the bill in order to sabotage cost cutting measures.

“From the outset [of the decentralisation process], the government has been of the position that the total number of councillors should be kept down as much as possible,” he said. “We at the beginning suggested that the total number of councillors should be no more than 220, yet opposition parties like the DRP wanted more.”

According to Zuhair, as part of its pledge to limit numbers, the government established seven national offices in an attempt to coordinate national developments within a decentralised Maldives and support the efforts of those elected to oversee projects in their constituencies.

Although Zuhair did not object to the councillors themselves, he claimed continued increases in their numbers represented a significant budgetary issue, particularly after parliament had agreed upon the final number of representatives before February’s elections.

“The government is actively working to reduce civil service wages as it is being constantly asked by groups such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We have offered to pay people to leave their jobs, yet all this is being undone,” Zuhair claimed. “The DRP hopes to capitilise on the formation of eleven more seats from city councils, where it is not really represented [after losing the city seats in the local council election].”

DRP Spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef rejected Zuhair’s allegations, claiming opposition support for the amendments to the number of city councillors was to make “a fairer and more equitable system” in comparison to the number of elected members on island councils. Shareef added that the vote did not necessarily represent an attempt to set back budgetary reform.

“The addition of these councilors will not be a strain on the [state] budget. The president has himself clearly stated that he has no intention to reduce the civil service bill, rather he will try to generate income through taxes,” he said. “The possible expansion of the state budget is a concern. But we do not believe the government has sufficient plans to reduce it.”


Supreme Court elections decision clears path for Addu City – Dr Sawad

A Supreme Court decision to allow the election of a municipal council to serve within Addu has effectively ruled in favour of government plans to provide city status to the southerly atoll, Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad has said.

Dr Sawad said that the last minute decision taken yesterday by the Supreme Court to repeal an earlier Civil Court ruling disallowing Addu Atoll to hold city status was final and would not face the scrutiny of any additional appeals after today’s polling.

Elections set to appoint a council to serve a newly formed Addu City were cancelled by the Elections Commission earlier this week by the Civil Court, after it invalidated the criteria established by the Local Government Authority to determine cities.

Dr Sawad said that the Supreme Court had now effectively ruled in favour of the government’s aim to have Addu Atoll recognised as a city.

Haveeru reported that the five Supreme Court judges unanimously ruled that the Civil Court decision to invalid the city criteria had the potential to create conflict in Maldivian society, as well as violate the legal rights of candidates contesting the election in Addu.

Following the Supreme Court order, Elections Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq recalled an earlier decision to cancel the election in Addu – however it still remains unknown as to how the confusion impacted voter turnout.

The Supreme Court decision was met with criticism from Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), who claimed that the party had been severely hindered by the short notice given to participants for the elections.

“It was clearly announced [the Addu elections] would not be today,” he said. “[The decision to hold them] has given the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) an advantage due to their larger finances. We should have had more time to allow constituents to return.”

Thasmeen said that the party would reluctantly follow the ruling of the Supreme Court nonetheless.


No delay for Addu City Council elections, says Elections Commission

The Elections Commission has announced that it has decided to hold Addu City Council elections on February 5 along with the Local Council Elections for all other islands, after expressing concern last week that the Civil Court’s overturning of the President’s declaration would have delayed it by two weeks.

President Nasheed last week declared Addu a city for the second time, after the Civil Court ruled in favour of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) that his first declaration was invalid due to a procedural issue.

The court ruled that the Local Government Authority (LGA) – currently consisting solely of Home Minister Hassan Afeef – had not determined the criteria for a city. The LGA published the criteria in the government gazette and the President declared Addu a city for the second time, however the EC warned last week that this obliged it to repeat the voter registration procedure for Addu.

“The Commission has decided to go ahead with the elections [for Addu] because the President announced that he competed the incomplete procedure on January 10,’’ said the Commission. “According to the law, the the City Council elections can be held in Addu.’’

The Civil Court case was originally filed by Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) deputy leader Imad Solih, sparking hundreds of Adduans and activists to protest outside the home of DQP leader Dr Hassan Saeed – himself a prominent Adduan.


Protesters call for DQP to be abolished, after Civil Court overturns Addu City Council ruling

A group of protesters last night gathered outside the residence of Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) leader Dr Hassan Saeed, demonstrating against the party’s support of a Civil Court ruling preventing Addu Atoll being granted status as a city.

Saeed himself is a prominent Adduan, however the case in the Civil Court was filed by the DQP’s Deputy Leader of DQP Imad Solih. The party argued that President Mohamed Nasheed did not have the authority to declare Addu a city council.

With over 30,000 inhabitants, Addu Atoll is the second largest population centre in the country. However, as much as 60 percent of some islands currently reside in the capital Male’.

Most of the protesters claimed to be from Addu, however Minivan News also observed many Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters at the protest, including MPs Alhan Fahmy, Ilyas Labeeb and Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed.

Protesters burned an effigy of DQP Deputy leader Imad Solih, and called for the party to be abolished.

Riot police attended the area and blocked the road, however, confrontations between riot police and protesters occurred when protesters attempted to breakthrough police lines.

Police arrested some of the protesters and protesters shouted at the police accusing them of torturing peaceful protesters.

The local media have reported that similar protests were held at Addu, in Hithadhoo near the island office, led by people who supported the City Council idea of the government.

Hassan Saeed had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.

Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad has said he will appeal the ruling.