MDP elections bring down “Male’ supremacy”

Provisional results from Saturday’s ruling Maldivian Democratic Party elections point to two Adduans, Dr Ibrahim Didi and Alhan Fahmy, on the way to the two top posts of the party.

The latest “preliminary” results dated May 1 and posted on the MDP’s website show that former fisheries minister Dr Didi was leading with 9,048 votes for the post of party President, with 53 percent of votes. Special Envoy to the President, Ibrahim Hussein Zaki was showing as having obtained 7,546.

The post of Vice President seems more or less confirmed for MDP MP Alhan Fahmy who is leading with 10,171 votes. Transport Minister Mohamed Aslam who contested Fahmy got 5,985 votes and Hussain Adam 128 votes. The website says that “so far” 145 boxes have been counted, while 73 remain to be counted.

Though the MDP said it would try to announce the final results yesterday, some members have expressed discontent at the length of time being taken to announce the final results. Both Zaki and Aslam have conceded the results, according the MDP’s site.

Didi told a meeting of the MDP held last night at the Artificial Beach that he will immediately start the “homework” needed for President Nasheed to win in 2013. He praised Zaki for the graceful way he accepted defeat and Zaki in turn told the meeting that he will stay true to the party’s aspirations and that internal dissent “doesn’t mean internal rebellion”. The MDP will always stay united “in its lines”, Zaki said.

Alhan told the meeting that the party will now “speed ahead with full throttle” in getting to the destination envisioned by President Nasheed and that he will “win over 100,000 members” to the MDP. He praised Aslam for the graceful way he had also accepted defeat, and expressed his confidence in Aslam’s capabilities.

The election of two candidates from Addu, the only other region of Maldives with “city” status, will bring down the traditional Male’ supremacist attitudes which hinder a sense of social equality and have ultimately resulted in economic disparity.

“The Maldives’ ruling party being led by two Adduans should give out a strong message that this party is reform-minded and therefore will not tolerate intolerance and will strive towards national achievements based on merit, not on social status which does not necessarily come from merit,” an MDP official told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

“Furthermore, this also demonstrates to the Maldivian people that this party’s ordinary members are still reform-minded Maldivians and we have a self-cleansing democratic mechanism within the party that will ensure that the party is never hijacked by scrupulous opportunists.”

There was discontent among ordinary members of the MDP, which accuse its senior members of being “badly out of touch once they got into the government.”

“Today’s results should herald as a wake-up call to senior MDP leaders that ordinary members will not tolerate corruption,” an MDP activist, who was arrested more than once along with President Mohamed Nasheed during the party’s protests as the opposition before 2008, told Minivan News on condition of anonymity. The activist was referring to alleged corruption cases involving Zaki, a former tourism minister and SAARC Secretary General.

“The government now seems more concerned with running big-budget projects attracted by the business community through opportunists like Zaki, rather than implementing socio-economic programs that address the root causes of youth violence which occur today. Two years later, we have yet to see a ‘halfway house’ and inmates in Maafushi Prison continue to suffer torture and subhuman conditions.

“That could have gone a long way to solving many of the pressing current issues like abuse and gangsterism,” she said, adding that, “I was surprised when the President openly endorsed Zaki. But then I realised that ironically the MDP leaders in the government had more pressing concerns than party issues in order to find short-term ‘fixes’ from international sources so that the government could survive each popular vote, and continue its national reform program.”

Prior to the elections President Mohamed Nasheed said that the elections would demonstrate to the Maldivian people “how political parties should perform in a democracy.”

Alhough some people have left the MDP, the President said that the “real members” of the party would not leave just to follow a “personality cult.”

The presidential jab was apparently at the current main opposition, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), which has gone into disarray due to the return to active politics of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The move has resulted in the party splitting into two factions, one loyal to Gayoom and the other loyal to DRP leader Thasmeen Ali, who remains heavily in debt to the state and the target of corruption allegations. Gayoom’s “worst days” continue as he recently lost a landmark defamation suit launched against a Maldivian journalist.

DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf has meanwhile criticised the MDP’s elections, stating there was a “poor” voter turn-out according to the results of the ballot boxes which have been announced so far, but an MDP official retorted that the “45,000 people who voted in favor of the MDP in the February Local Council Elections speaks for itself.”


Cabinet to hold May 12 meeting in Addu

Cabinet yesterday decided to hold a community cabinet meeting in Addu City on May 12.

The concept of community cabinet meetings was introduced on November 30, 2010, with the stated aim of bringing government working closer to the people. The first cabinet meeting to be held outside Male’ was in Kulhudhufushi.

The President’s Office said the meeting in Addu would enable people to interact directly with the Cabinet, and receive public inputs into decision and policy-making, and understand public concerns on issues.
The President’s Office further noted that the ministers would travel to islands and hold meetings open for entire island communities in which the meetings are held.

The Community Cabinet meeting to be held in Addu City will be open for the people from Addu City as well as Fuahmulah, the Office added.

Community Cabinets are forms of community forums held in few other democracies to strengthen government-public relations.


The price of healthcare in the south

A team of retired Royal Air Force personnel are trying to raise money to help a small community in the Indian Ocean gain access to the vital healthcare they need to subsist. Inspired by this group’s determination to help this impoverished community in the Maldives – a land oft-associated with luxury – Donna Richardson travelled to the Addu region to uncover the real state of medical care on an island that used to enjoy free, first class medical care while the island was a Cold War staging post.

Because of its geography, it is easy to cover up the poverty-stricken side of the Maldives’s inhabited islands. The Maldives is seen as a luxury holiday resort destination, but in fact there is hardly a place where the contrasts between rich and poor are so pronounced. While millionaires sup their cocktails, the indigenous peoples barely scrape by on a dollar a day and many are priced out of the most basic medical care because of the rising cost of health.

The RAF have long left Addu Atoll (‘RAF Gan‘) in the Maldives where they were stationed during the 1970s, but for some servicemen such as Richard Houlston and Larry Dodds, Addu has remained close to his heart. Upon returning to the island during a memorial visit last March, he saw first hand how locals are suffering and denied access to even the most basic of medical care. He decided to see how he can help a community which he loves dearly. Along with a former colleague Phillip Small, they have been trying to establish a Gan Medical Fund to help to raise awareness of the issues the island faces, provide medical equipment, and eventually if there is enough funding when it takes off, to train the future generation of doctors.

When British Forces left the region, the hospital as well as the expertise and knowledge also vanished (allegedly the equipment all moved to Male), and with the establishment of a dictatorial government regime, Addu stepped ten steps back in terms of their medical facilities.

Based in the south of the country, Hithadhoo Regional Hospital (HRH) is the main public provincial health care facility providing curative public health services and is the only government hospital in the province. The hospital is located in the capital of the south atoll, in the furthest corner of Addu Atoll, and covers seven districts over two atolls. It serves 50,000 patients, including the inhabited islands of Hulhumeedhu and Fuvahmulah, but has only 50 beds.

Lack of funding, limited expertise and treatment for only those who can afford it – this is the picture of government health in Addu, but things are improving, according to the new director of the recently-formed Southern Healthcare Corporation Hussein Rasheed.

“The biggest challenges are most of all the lack of equipment, then patient load, then the quality of doctors, but we are changing things,” Hussein Rasheed said.

Now run under the 100 percent government-shared trust, the hospital also hopes to leverage revenue from the new national health insurance schemes to cover its costs and to help raise vital cash for the departments.

For some years now medical facilities for those living in Addu Atoll and its far-flung neighbour, Fuvahmulah, in Nyaviyani Atoll have been overstretched and in short supply. Many of the problems are hereditary. The aging 26-year-old hospital building is a relic of the Gayoom regime. It is in bad shape, with crumbling walls, unstable voltage, barely enough beds and no air-conditioning. Post operative patients swelter in temperatures akin to a sauna and the hospital is in desperate need of improvement. There are plans to build a new 100-bed hospital with a government loan and charity funding, but it will take a year to secure the funding and then to find a site.

Due to its previous funding constraints, HRH is currently understaffed and runs more like a general surgery practice found in most developed countries. Although it does have practically all the departments required to make it a hospital, most areas are understaffed and in need of vital equipment from donors and charities. As a public hospital it is appealing to charities and non governmental organisations to help it to serve its community and restore public confidence in its services.

At present there is still not enough basic equipment for the hospital to function. It was not even able to provide basic X-rays at the time we visited. Since the last one blew up due to faulty voltage in the building, a new X-ray machine was purchased but has stood in a box because of the risk of damaging the new equipment.

While HRH does have basic outpatient clinics including dental, ear nose and throat (ENT), gynecology, internal medicine, ophthalmology, orthopedics, paediatrics, reproductive health, diagnostics imaging services, and ultrasound scanning and physiotherapy services, there are not enough specialists to staff these departments or the right equipment to provide full services under these remits.

Previously most equipment was donated by NGOs and charities such as World Health Organisation, United Nations Children’s Fund, JICA and the Japanese as well as the Chinese and Australian governments. They have pledged to continue to work with the Ministry of Health and Family to procure equipment.

But the hospital urgently needs a CT scanner, MRI machine and incubators plus vital surgical instruments such a chest stapler and cannulas for performing tracheotomies. Each and every department needs more equipment.

Two rusty ambulances sit grounded on the parking lot. All gifted by various NGOs and nations, these vehicles need parts which are unavailable in the Maldives. One is a Japanese vehicle donated by the Japan Council of International Schools (JCIS) which requires expensive parts, and the other is a converted minibus with the seats relaxed to make room for stretchers.

Two more vehicles sit rusting in the garage. While these are in better shape they need parts and technicians to service them. The only functioning ambulance is an old ‘green goddess’ type vehicle gifted by the Australian government, which is used infrequently.

The Casualty and Accident and Emergency unit has just two beds. A serious road traffic victim was brought here just last week had to be transported to Male’ by Maldivian Air Taxi at his own cost. In cases such as this, if there are no seats, or medical insurance does not cover the patient, they simply cannot receive the vital care they need. It becomes a ‘pay and display’ system of healthcare.

Even the labour suite is ill-equipped for delivering babies. One small baby was fighting for his life in intensive care at the time of visiting. The infant’s parents said they could not afford the transportation to give birth in Male‘. The hospital urgently needs an incubator and does not even have a paediatric ventilator to aid distressed infants.

While the hospital does have an operating theatre with one operating room there are no specialist surgeons to perform vital operations and just two general surgeons.

Collectively this means that the hospital is unable to function to full capacity and the public is losing confidence in the medical care available in the atoll. While there is a surgical theatre, there are only two qualified general surgeons whose knowledge extends only to hernias and small operations.

These conditions and the need for basic equipment are urgent issues and the hospital is appealing for outside help and funding to solve these shortages.

A question of confidence

Another challenge the hospital faces isthe need to restore public confidence in its services. Facing huge waiting lists, patients with serious health conditions opt to travel to Male’ or India for treatment if they can afford it, and the hospital stays stuck in a rut. Yet these ‘health tourists’ face great perils amidst cases of organ trafficking and alleged substandard treatment in southern India.

A young girl from Hithadhoo told us how her family were forced to sell their car and personal possessions to pay for her mother to go to India for a leg operation. Her brother also has eye problems and needs to attend regular eye clinics, which the hospital does not yet have, although there are plans to introduce under the Madhana health scheme.

“My mother suffers from arthritis and rheumatism and needed to go to India for treatment,” she said.

“She was very ill and needed treatment and we have lost faith in the hospital here in Hithadhoo so we decided to go to India where the treatment is better value for money.”

Travelling for medical treatments is a costly business. Patients must pay for the airfare, accommodation and treatment, but people believe that the care they receive overseas is better and so the cycle of health tourism continues.

One of the ways that Hithadhoo Regional Hospital wants to counter this health tourism is to introduce ‘telemedicine’, whereby customers can be confident that their results will be seen by qualified medical specialists from around the world, and also to introduce visiting surgeons and hold specialist surgery days.

Rasheed admitted: “People are not happy with the level of care. Right now we don’t meet the basic requirements so many people decide to go to Male’ for treatment and when they don’t see any difference in services, they go to India.”

He warned of the dangers of travelling abroad to India for treatment. The practice of medical tourism there is not regulated and patients organise the travel plans themselves.

“While there are many good quality doctors in India, there are also huge problems with cheating in India, particularly in the south,” he said. “Someone recently went to India for surgery and ended up having a kidney removed. Health tourism is a very risky business,” he added.

Another patient told how his father in-law has been regularly travelling to India to receive palliative care for lung cancer. Put simply, there is no care of this type available in the Maldives.

Until now talk of cancer has been taboo, although cancer and heart disease are some of the biggest killers in the Maldives. But with no oncology or cardio department, or even an ECG machine, many people are forced to travel farther afield to receive treatment. In the past, limited information has been available about preventative measures so many people die earlier than they should.

There is no palliative care in the islands and only limited care for cancer patients even in Male’, and no facilities to perform open heart surgery or brain surgery.

Rasheed himself is interested in studying more about cancer and its causes to help to inspire health promotion campaigns and attract more doctors to the region.

In its favour, HRH does have an ISO-certified laboratory which is fairly advanced and offers some patient services including intensive care units and neonatal intensive care departments.

The hospital is also working on its health promotion,  including child immunisation and growth monitoring, vector control, food hygiene and sanitation, disease surveillances and epidemic control, family planning, sexual transmitted disease clinic and turboculosis and leprosy control.

The hospitals’ three-year plan includes building a new hospital within a year, improving services in all areas, focusing on preventative health and education and introducing exchange programmes for doctors to visit the hospital and to partner with the private hospital in the region.

Rasheed said he has removed some of the ‘dead wood’ and de-motivated staff from HRH and replaced them with more high-energy staff. He hopes to turn the hospital’s reputation around in three years.

“When I took over the hospital here, we inherited a bad system, de-motivated staff and dated equipment,” he said. “In the past the doctors here were neglecting the needs of the patients. They knew they could do operations, but they were so de-motivated that they decided they could not do it and on many occasions we sent patients away,” he revealed.

These conditions and the need for basic equipment are urgent issues and the hospital is appealing for outside help and funding to solve these shortages.

There is also a need to distribute medicines for psychiatric patients, improving antenatal care and introducing an electronic record keeping system. At present patients with mental health issues are being released into the community without proper care and attention.

In addition, some elderly patients who have been abandoned by their families have taken up residence in the hospital.

However, things are starting to improve at the hospital after a change of management. Over the last three months since taking over the hospital trust, Rasheed has been making major strategic changes. In part this is due to a government reorganisation, which has placed all Maldivian hospitals under a new structure – which will operate more like a business, taking fees and charges from patients covered by the health insurance system.

“In the last couple of months we have managed to improve the level of confidence – for example, allocated a special day for general surgery where we have seen a couple of hernia patients, and we have been getting some good feedback. News spreads through word of mouth here,” he added.

With a limited budget to hire qualified doctors, the hospital is considering hiring visiting practitioners and surgeons. They are also appealing for the humanitarian services of voluntary, retired or semi-retired surgeons and specialist doctors to spend some time at the hospital in exchange for free accommodation, air fare and a share of commission from the profits gained from the operations they perform.

In the last month, the hospital hired a new Maldivian surgeon, a former classmate of Rasheed, who has performed basic operations. Just the other week they performed two hernia operations and feedback from the local community has been quite positive, according to Rasheed.

The two surgeons, Dr Fuammi Moustaffa and Abdulla Adsa, admitted that they were limited to small cases because of lack of equipment. Their remit includes appendicitis, hernia operations, cyst and gall bladder removal.
“We want to do more, but we don’t have the equipment or the specialists to perform other operations,” admitted Dr Moustaffa.

In January, the Israeli Eyes from Zion charity visited the hospital and removed cataracts from patients. There are plans for more visiting practitioners over the next few months.

Due to increasing demand for tertiary services in the provinces, with more funding it is planned to develop a specialised service centre for trauma treatment and the development of their service portfolio, as well as to improve provision of quality health care services.

The areas that they want to focus on include advanced diagnostic services such as MRI, telemedicine and treatment of kidney/renal conditions (including dialysis services) and establishing a provincial Emergency Medical Service (EMS) to international standards.

The hospital needs full time paramedics, fully-fledged ambulances, development of intensive care services and the development of a provincial medical emergency coordination centre.

Meanwhile, there is a private hospital called IDMC (run by the Simdi group) aimed at paying customers and those under the Madhana health scheme, such as civil servants. This hospital, run by Mariyam Shakeela, a former Hithadhoo resident, aims to provide first class medical care, but also requires more doctors to propel it to national standards. The hospital is currently campaigning to become an NGO called the Hawwa Trust to help alleviate some of HRH’s problems.

Eventually, once the basics are in place, Addu wants to develop medical tourism to attract patients to the Maldives. But for now this ambitious plan is limited until they come up to scratch on the other areas which are seriously lacking.

Donna Richardson is a freelance travel writer based in the Maldives.

For more information on Hithadhoo Regional Hospital visit


Addu “tailor-made for the lazy tropical cyclist”: UK Telegraph

Once described as a place of “harrowing tranquillity” where “grown men weep with sheer geographical frustration”, Addu is now a secret speck of heaven, tailor-made for the lazy tropical cyclist, writes Nigel Tisdall in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

“Spared the worst ravages of the bleaching that has dulled the coral in other parts of the Maldives, the seabed here is bejewelled with flashes of blue, green and purple. As the sun gains strength, the lagoon surrounding me fills with an immense calm. It is 82F (28C) and you know it’s going to be another classic day of clear blue skies, sensational snorkelling trips, siestas on the daybed, then dinner on the beach with rows of candles decorating the sand.

“So far, so very high-end Maldives – except that down here in Addu, the southernmost atoll in this 500-mile island chain, the holiday experience is refreshingly different. Traditionally, a trip to the Maldives has meant flying into the capital, Malé, then bouncing onwards as fast as possible to one of almost a hundred small and luxurious lily-pads that ceaselessly vie with one another to offer the most indulgent experiences.

“Some islands are so small you can walk round them in 10 minutes, others proffer ridiculously OTT amenities such as an underwater restaurant, pretentious afternoon teas and wine cellars with bottles costing up to £38,000. Invariably there is a niggling fear that a week in the Maldives, however much you are in love, could well leave you feeling trapped, bored and overcharged.”

Full story


Government opens office in Addu

President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday inaugurated the government’s South Province Office in Addu City.

During the ceremony to open the office, which will be the government’s administrative and representative office in the atoll, Nasheed said that the government expected to complete all development projects already planned for the city by the end of its term.

He also said the government would seek to increase the GDP of the new city from Rf 2 billion (US$135 million) to Rf 4 billion (US$270 million).


AG Office appeals to overturn Civil Court’s ruling on Addu City Council

The Attorney General’s office has appealed at the High Court to overturn a Civil Court ruling that the criteria established by the Local Government Authority to determine cities are invalid.

The High Court of the Maldives said that the case was now in the High Court but it had not yet scheduled the hearing.

The Civil Court delivered the verdict day before yesterday after the case was filed in the court by Hassan Nasir of Hulhudhoo, a citizen of Addu Atoll.

In response to the allegations in the trials conducted in Civil Court the state argued that the Decentralisation Act does not say that the presence of all the members of the Local Government Authority are required when making a decision.

However, the judges ruled that the Local Government Authority was a national institution, and therefore its work was to be conducted similar to how other institutions were conducted.

The first time President Mohamed Nasheed declared Addu Atoll a city, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) filed the case in Civil Court, citing a law that a Local Government Authority shall be established to make a city, and the Local Government Authority shall also establish a criteria to determine cities and determine whether the subject atoll metthe requirements.

The Court then ruled in favor of DQP and ruled that president did not have the authority to declare Addu Atoll a city without completing the procedure mentioned in the Decentralisation Act.

The day after, President Nasheed established a Local Government Authority consisting solely of Home Minister Hassan Afeef. Afeef established the criteria and determined that Addu Atoll mets the requirements to become a city. The president then declared Addu a city for the second time in January this year.

With four days before Addu was to hold its City Council elections for the first time, the Civil Court ruled that the Local Government Authority’s criteria was invalid and the Elections Commission was forced to cancel the City Council elections.


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.


Addu Atoll to become ‘city island’

Addu Atoll is to be considered a single administrative island to be developed as a city, following the outcome of the public referendum on Saturday, President Mohamed Nasheed announced yesterday.

Speaking to press at the President’s Office, Nasheed said that after official discussions with the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), the parties agreed to jointly propose amendments to the Decentralisation Act, based on the results of the referendum, and list administrative constituencies by October 17.

“When the islands are announced, there will be a major change to the largest atoll in the south, Addu Atoll” he said. “In my view, the results of the referendum showed very clearly that citizens of the atoll want to develop as a city. So we will designate Addu Atoll as one city island. Addu Atoll is an island with the districts Hithadhoo, Maradhoo-Feydhoo, Maradhoo, Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo.”

Instead of an atoll office, he continued, the southernmost atoll will have a municipality run by an elected municipal 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’.

President Nasheed denied that the results and the low turnout was a failure of the government, as small islands rejected the government proposal for administrative consolidation with larger islands.

“In a democracy, if an election is seen as useless, there’s nothing I have to say about that,” he said.

Moreover, Nasheed argued that establishing a nationwide transport network was the government’s policy on population consolidation, as outlined in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) manifesto, as opposed to “taking a population and settling them in another island.”

While the referendum revealed that small islands did not want to “lose their identity”, Nasheed said that a secret ballot was needed to determine the views of the electorate as he routinely received petitions from islanders requesting relocation.

According to official results, of 26,676 people who participated in the referendum, 8,402 voted in favour of the proposal while 16,695 voted against it.

However, of the six islands in Addu Atoll where voting took place, citizens of Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Maradhoo-Feydhoo and Hulhudhoo endorsed the proposal, while islanders of Feydhoo and Meedhoo rejected it.


SAARC Summit – new road and convention centre for Addu atoll

The hosting of the next SAARC Summit in southern Maldives is the subject of government consultations in Male, according to reports claiming that senior government officials, the State Minister for South Province Mohamed Naseer, and citizens of the southern province have attended the meetings.

The construction of a convention centre in Addu atoll, and a new road, were also discussed.

People attending the meetings believed that it would be better if the convention centre could be built so it could be converted into a single hall once the SAARC Summit is over.

The Summit budget is expected to be US$10 million, and the government of Maldives hopes it will be raised from friendly countries and donors, says the President’s Office press secretary Zuhair. The government has begun fundraising for the event, he added.

“We have already got some kind of assistance from donors which could be utilised for the SAARC Summit. When these donations are connected with the projects for the Summit, we hope that the total budget for the meeting can be reduced,” says Zuhair.