President appoints Hassan Ziyath as new auditor general

President Abdulla Yameen has today appointed Hassan Ziyath as the new auditor general within one hour of gaining parliamentary approval.

Ziyath – who received the consent of the parliament at around 1.30 pm – was handed the letter of appointment by President Yameen at a function held at the president’s office around 2.30pm.

The new auditor general won the approval of the Majlis, with 59 of the voting members from across the parties unanimously supporting his appointment.

The nomination of Ziyath for the post by President Yameen has aroused contoversy as his brother, Abdulla Ziyath was recently implicated in a US$6 million corruption scandal alongside  tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

In an audit report released on October 29, then auditor general Niyaz Ibrahim accused Abdulla Ziyath – Managing Director of state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) – of illegally pushing through a US$6 million loan from state funds to two private companies.

The audit report was signed on the same day that the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives brought an amendment to the Audit Act requiring the president to reappoint the auditor general within 30 days of the amendments have been approved.

Ziyath was nominated out of the four individuals who applied for the post, which holds an equivalent salary to the president’s – currently at MVR100,000 (US$6500).

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had ferociously opposed the amendments, stating that the bill would allow the incumbent to be discharged without following the constitutional provisions for impeachment.

MDP MP Rozaina Adam on November 3 said that the party would challenge the constitutionality of the amendment, though it was subsequently with 36 MPs voting in favor and 22 against.

Meanwhile, Niyaz – who had served only three years of his seven year long term – told local media that he would not apply for the post again, instead choosing to challenge the constitutionality of the amendments in the Supreme Court.

While speaking to Haveeru at the time, Niyaz said that he received threats and intimidation from the tourism minister after he started investigating the corruption scandal.

However, Adeeb condemned the report as politically motivated, and accused Niyaz of colluding with MP and former Deputy Speaker of Majlis Ahmed Nazim to discredit him after he refused to back Nazim for the Majlis Speakership in May.

Adeeb also expressed dismay at reports that Nazim had attempted to link him with the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

Related to this story

Brother of official implicated in MMPRC corruption scandal nominated for Auditor General

Majlis passes amendment allowing president to reappoint auditor general

Tourism Minister implicated in US$6million corruption scandal


US$6 green tax to be introduced from November 2015, says tourism minister

The new green tax for tourists will be introduced from November 2015 at a rate of US$6 per bed per night, Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb has revealed.

Speaking at a press conference held by the cabinet’s Economic Council today, Abeeb said that guest houses would be exempt from paying the new tax in order to reduce the impact on small and medium businesses.

“Since 2013 the guest house venture has been on the rise. We do not want to hinder the development of these businesses so we have decided to exempt guest houses from paying the tax,” said Adeeb, addressing concerns raised by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) earlier in the day.

The introduction of the new tax is to come 11 months after the abolition of the bed-tax, which will continue to be charged at US$8 a night until the end of this month.

Some resort owners have suggested that the combination of the bed tax with the rise in T-GST to 12 percent this month has affected bookings, though Adeeb today vowed there would be no further increases in T-GST during the government’s current term.

The T-GST rise came after urging from the IMF, which has suggested that the previous rate of 8 percent was low for a tourism industry as profitable as the Maldives’.

Adeeb said today that the council does not believe the green tax will hinder the demand from tourists – especially from Europe – who will become “champions” of the Maldivian environment by paying the tax.

2013 saw a record 1.3 million tourists spend just over  7 million bed nights in the country, although the country’s macro economic stability has remained a concern.

The tourism minister has previously said that revenue generated from the new levy would be spent on resolving the waste management issues in the greater Malé region – an issue made more pressing with the Economic Council’s recent termination of the Tatwa waste management contract.

Adeeb also revealed the council’s plans to remove import duty on construction material needed for the refurbishment of resorts, thereby stimulating resort development which he said would provide numerous employment opportunities for the youth.

President Abdulla Yameen last week announced that five new resorts would begin construction in 2015 in the northern atoll of Haa Dhaalu, which currently has none in operation.

Also speaking at the press conference, Minister at the President’s Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef said  the government was seeking to begin the re-development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport midway through next year.

“Beijing Urban Group and Maldives Airports Corporation Limited has finished the drawings of the airport and are in the process of submitting the proposal to China’s Exim bank in order to finance the project,” explained Shareef.

Shareef also re-iterated the government’s plans to start work on the proposed Malé-Hulhulé bridge in the year 2015, before opening the bridge in 2017.

“The bridge survey team is almost done with the feasibility study and it will be submitting its reports to the Chinese Government who will then finance the bridge through grant-aid and low interest loans,” said Shareef.

Agreements to develop the INIA and to promote the Malé-Hulhulé bridge were signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Maldives as part of his South-Asian tour in September.

During his visit, President Xi also officially requested that the Maldives participate in China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Route, before journeying to India as part of his tour of the region.

Shareef concluded the press conference by commenting on what the governing Progressive Party of Maldives has described as attempts by the opposition to spread misinformation regarding comments made by the foreign minister on Sino-Indian discussions about the silk road project.

After Dunya Maumoon’s comments to the Majlis last week appeared to suggest that Indian had discussed joining the project with President Xi, the Indian government released a statement strongly denying such talks had occurred.

Shareef warned the MDP – which has today announced its intention to table a no-confidence motion against the foreign minister – that it would have to answer to the international community which had been informed of its attempts to sow discord.


Government decides to implement a ‘green tax’ on tourists

Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb has told local media that a bill detailing proposed ‘green tax’ for tourists will be sent to parliament this month.

“Levying this tax is necessary given Maldives’ fragile environment. Revenue generated from the tax will go into managing the waste from local resorts and other islands,” said Adeeb who also serves as the co- chair in the cabinet’s Economic Council.

The exact percentage to be levied will be decided after consultations with relevant stakeholders, he added.

Earlier this month, Adeeb said he would aim to resolve waste management issues within the next two years using state-owned companies, after announcing the termination of the deal with India based Tatva Global Renewable Energy.

Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad also spoke of the proposed green tax while submitting a record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget for parliamentary approval today.

Jihad noted that the tax will form part of revenue raising measures, which also include the addition of ten resorts to the current 112. The proposed changes are anticipated to raise MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) in new revenue.

Levies on the tourism industry – which accounts indirectly for up to 90 percent of the country’s GDP – formed a major part of proposed revenue raising measures in 2014.

An IMF-recommended hike on Tourism Goods and Service Tax (T-GST) from eight to 12 percent was approved by parliament in February and came into force last Saturday (November 1), prompting concerns from industry insiders.

Speaking to Minivan News today, former Managing Director of Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) Mohamed Matheen said that the budget issues could not be resolved without addressing the structural issues within the budget.

“The budget deficit cannot be resolved regardless of how the tax regime is set without addressing issues like the high recurrent expenditures of the government, which is a lot higher than the majority of the countries,” said Matheen.

One general manager from a prominent resort told Minivan News last weekend that bookings appeared to be down for November, with both guests and operators aware of the “double tax” as the T-GST increase combines with the bed tax – a measure also continued this year as a way to boost government coffers.

“November will be tough,” he explained. “Top end resorts will really feel this. There’s no way further increases could be stood.”

He also expressed concern that the resorts were being asked to carry the fiscal burden of the government’s failure to curb expenditure.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has also criticised the hike in the T-GST saying that it would cause immense difficulties to the general public.

“Now a [ticket] to a flight to Addu has gotten more expensive than a flight to Colombo. This is not, in any situation, how it should be priced,” Nasheed told local media.


President Yameen departs to two northern islands on an official visit

President Abdulla Yameen has travelled to Haa Alif Hoarafushi and Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuhfushi on an official visit today.

President Yameen is scheduled to officially launch the new sewerage system in at Hoarafushi and meet the citizens of Kulhudhuhfushi. He was accompanied on his visit by Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb.

While speaking to local news outlet Vnews, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said the president left on the official visit early this morning and is due to arrive back in the capital tomorrow.


Survey team for Malé-Hulhulé bridge arrives in Maldives

A Chinese survey team arrived in the Maldives today (October 25) to conduct a detailed survey for the Malé-Hulhulé  bridge project.

The team which was due to arrive on Thursday (October 23) and start the survey work yesterday is now believed to be starting work on the technical survey in the coming week.

The survey will determine the pier points for the proposed bridge which will link the capital island Malé with the airport island of Hulhulé.

Tourism Minister and Economic Council Co-Chair Ahmed Adeeb told Haveeru last week that the survey is to be completed in the time frame of four months and is conducted with the aid of the Chinese government amounting to US$4 Million.

Adeeb also said that the construction of the bridge, which Chinese President Xi Jinpeng has suggested be called the ‘China-Maldives friendship bridge’, is scheduled to start next year with aims of completion by 2017.


Sole MDP councillor in Kolhufushi signs for PPM

Sole Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) councilor from Meemu atoll Kolhufushi Island Council, Shuaib Abdullah has signed for the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) today.

Shuaib signed at a ceremony held at the PPM campaign office in Malé which was attended by Tourism Minister and PPM vice President Ahmed Adeeb and Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

Speaking at the ceremony Shuaib said that he joined PPM because the only way to develop the island is by joining the government. He said that he made the decision while keeping the best interest of the inhabitants of Kolhufushi in mind.

An MVR35 million (US$2.27 million) power station was opened in Kolhufushi by the government and handed over to Fenaka coporation yesterday (October 14).

Speaking after the signing today, Adeeb said that the move was part of the party’s campaign to acquire one hundred thousand members and that it would not hold back in implementing the government’s manifesto.


Government and opposition play blame game over Addu attacks

Government and opposition figures have continued to trade accusations this week after the attacks on the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in Addu last weekend.

Speaking at a public ceremony today, Tourism Minister and Progressive Party of Maldives Vice President Ahmed Adeeb claimed that the opposition leadership was “torching buildings and inciting violence”, reported local media.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz has also been accused of suggesting the attacks were coordinated by the MDP, prompting an angry response from Addu’s MDP leadership.

Muaz, who was not responding to calls at the time of press, is reported in local media as saying that creating unrest is unacceptable and that damaging property is not the way to win the love of the public.

Friday’s MDP rally in Feydhoo was attacked by masked men before its headquarters in Hithadhoo were set on fire. The incidents followed a series of arson attacks on the party’s offices and the homes of its member, who have also received persistent death threats.

In a press statement on Monday (October 13), president of the MDP’s Addu City branch, Ahmed Adhuham, condemned Muaz’s allegations, calling them irresponsible and unacceptable coming from the President’s Office.

Meanwhile, MDP chairperson Ali Waheed said in a press conference today that the MDP feels the Home Ministry, alongside Maldives Police Service (MPS), is not doing enough to ensure the protection of the party after the clear threats received.

“We have received numerous threats and all of these threats have been reported to the relevant authorities however we have received a letter from the MPS stating that some of the cases relating threats against MDP have been filed without any investigation,” said Waheed.

Waheed also claimed that the attacks are being carried out by a third party which helped the government come to power but is now stronger than the government.

“I do not believe that a government – which has not been able to implement a single project benefiting the public while having majority in the parliament – would have the need to interfere and attack MDP rallies,” said Waheed.

The MDP has filed cases with independent commissions including Police Integrity Commission, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, and the Elections Commission.

Waheed said the party would not hesitate to involve foreign bodies if the threats were not adequately addressed by the MPS and Home Ministry.

Threats and Attacks

The MDP rally in Feydhoo last week was attacked by a group of masked individuals wielding wooden planks and rocks. 16 people were arrested before being released, with police citing a lack of evidence.

The ruling PPM was quick to condemn the attack, expressing concern that “such acts that harm political parties, public property, and lives”.

“All parties should have the opportunity to carry out political activities peacefully,” read a PPM press release.

Speaking in Fuvahmulah the day after the Addu attacks (October 11), MDP leader Mohamed Nasheed accused the PPM or senior government figures of being behind the attack. Nasheed’s residence in Addu was pelted with stones the following night.

The party’s main office in Malé was set on fire on September 25 after attacks on the two previous nights. Attempts were also made to set MDP parliament member Hamid Abdul Ghafoor’s house on fire.

MDP members and their families have received a large number of death threats from private numbers, with party spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy telling Minivan News last month that the threats had become too frequent to publicise adequately.

On October 5, Nasheed lodged a complaint at the UK Metropolitan Police Service regarding death threats he received while attending the Conservative Party conference.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union has previously described the government’s reaction to threats against elected officials as a test of the country’s democracy.

During a rally held last month in Malé, MDP MP and IPU member Eva Abdulla received a message threatening a suicide attack at the next MDP gathering. The message threatened to kill of MDP members, vowing to ‘fight to the last drop of blood’.

Waheed revealed at the press conference that an MDP rally will be held on October 25 at the carnival area in Malé, saying that MDP will not back down in the face of such threats.


New MVR5,000 pension disbursed today, says pensions office

The Maldives Pension Administration Office has today disbursed the revised MVR5000 pension to 16,120 elderly people.

The benefit has been raised from its previous level of MVR2,300 by the government after President Abdulla Yameen made the pledge during his election campaign.

After some confusion over the introduction of the increase this month, the pensions office today confirmed that new amount had now been successfully handed out.

The government had already allocated MVR470 million (US$ 30.5 million) in the state budget for the MVR2,300 allowance (US$149). These funds will now be invested in the retirement pension fund or in financial instruments such as T-bills in order to generate the monthly MVR5000 stipend, Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb has said.

While the government maintains this to be a sustainable model of financing the increase in pensions, critics have argued that, with a MVR1.3 billion (US$84.3 million) deficit budget, the move will plunge the country further into debt.


Convicted drug kingpin leaves for Sri Lanka

The ringleader of a nationwide drug network convicted and jailed in November departed to Sri Lanka last night, ostensibly for medical treatment, local media has learned.

Ibrahim Shafaz Abdul Razzaq, 32, of Maafanu Lonumidhilige, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and fined MVR75,000 (US$4,860) after being found guilty of drug trafficking.

According to newspaper Haveeru, the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) was not informed of a date for the inmate’s return. Shafaz was not accompanied by an MCS officer, the local daily reported.

Opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reported that a “reliable source” claimed Shafaz was not listed in the immigration control system as a convict when he boarded the midnight flight with his family.

Raajje TV also alleged that Shafaz was allowed to leave the country on orders from Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Responding to the allegation, Adeeb told Minivan News today that as tourism minister he did not have “a say in the decisions by the independent institution formed by the law called Maldives Correctional Service.”

“Raajje TV is a very irresponsible media directing all the allegations towards me politically,” the deputy leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) said.

MCS officials could not be reached for comment today.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz was meanwhile unable to confirm for Raajje TV whether Shafaz was among 24 convicts whose sentences were commuted by President Abdulla Yameen last month.

President Yameen commuted the sentences of persons banished, serving jail sentences or under house arrest “with conditions.”

In the final days of his administration, former President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan also commuted the sentences of 35 convicts under authority granted by the Clemency Act.

Individuals convicted of murder, terrorism, a crime with a punishment (hadd) prescribed in Islamic Shariah, disturbing the peace – including attacking or threatening a security officer or vandalising public property – child abuse, rape, homosexuality, and drug trafficking involving an amount more than four grams were not eligible for clemency, the President’s Office said last month.

Details of the convicts, the conditions for granting clemency and the reduced sentences were not disclosed on either occasion.

Article 115 of the constitution states that the president has the authority “to grant pardons or reductions of sentence as provided by law, to persons convicted of a criminal offence who have no further right of appeal.”

“Operation Challenge”

Shafaz was arrested on June 24, 2011 with 896 grams of heroin from a rented apartment in a building owned by PPM MP Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem.

Former head of the Drug Enforcement Department (DED), Superintendent Mohamed Jinah, told the press at the time that police raided Henveiru Fashan based on intelligence information gathered in the two-year long “Operation Challenge.”

Jihah labeled Shafaz a high-profile drug dealer suspected of smuggling and supplying drugs since 2006.

The traffickers had been using an authorised money exchanger called A J Emporium to transfer funds to Sri Lanka, Jinah revealed.

The drugs were believed to have been smuggled via Sri Lankan Airlines.

Jinah claimed that the network smuggled drugs worth MVR1.3 million (US$84,306) to the Maldives between February and April 2011.

Police also discovered that Shafaz had bought a shop named ‘Charm’ for MVR150,000 (US$9700) that was sold in June 2011 for MVR200,000 (US$12,970).

Moreover, Shafaz was renting three apartments in Male’ and owned a tailor shop bought for MVR200,000 (US$13,000), a shop in Kaafu Atoll Maafushi, and a Suzuki Swift car worth MVR180,000 (US$11,673), later sold for MVR170,000 (US$11,025).

As Shafaz was not in the room with the drugs at the time of the raid and his fingerprints were not found on the confiscated drugs, the Criminal Court ruled last year that there was not enough evidence to convict Shafaz on one count of the drug charges.

However, he was found guilty on the second count based on recorded phone conversations and financial transactions with a contact in Colombo, believed to be the supplier.

Three of Shafaz’s accomplices who were caught with the opiates and packing equipment – Ismail Shaheem, Mohamed Meead and Anas Anees – were meanwhile found guilty of possession and trafficking and sentenced to ten years in prison.

In a speech a few days after the drug bust, former President Mohamed Nasheed said he found it “quite shocking [that] 800 packets of heroin a night were getting sealed in the house of an honourable member of parliament.”