ACC defends report on airport privatisation deal as Sheikh Imran insinuates bribery from GMR

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has issued a press statement defending its investigative report of the airport privatisation deal signed by the previous government, harshly condemning “false and misleading” remarks by politicians of government-aligned parties.

On June 17, the ACC released a 61-page investigative report concluding that there was no corruption in the awarding of a concession agreement to a consortium of Indian infrastructure giant GMR and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) to develop and manage the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The report was met with strong criticism and bribery allegations from parties in the government coalition.

Insisting that the government’s stand would not change as a result of the ACC findings, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that “if there is a reasonable cause of doubt, this report can be contested by some parties.’

“Many people say here that the ACC Board is not an unbiased organisation. They say it is politically motivated,” he was quoted as saying.

Religious conservative Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran meanwhile described the report as “a slap in the people’s face” while President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Inthihaad Party (GIP) Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza accused ACC members of corruption.

In an appearance on pro-government private broadcaster DhiTV last night (June 23), Imran insinuated that ACC members accepted bribes from GMR offered through former Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay.

The ACC report was “a highly unprofessional, semi-technical and procedural review” that did not amount to either a proper investigation or an audit, Imran said, calling for “a full-fledged investigation.”

In November 2012, the current administration abruptly terminated the US$500 million contract with the GMR-led consortium, declared the concession agreement ‘void ab initio’ (invalid from the outset), and gave GMR seven days’ notice to leave the country.

The decision followed weeks of protest by a self-titled “National Movement” spearheaded by Sheikh Imran and senior government officials – born out of the unofficial December 23 coalition of eight political parties and an alliance of NGOs that rallied at a mass gathering to “defend Islam” in late 2011 – calling on the government to “reclaim” and nationalise the airport.

Last Friday, GMR filed a claim for US$1.4 billion in compensation from the Maldives at ongoing arbitration proceedings in Singapore over “wrongful termination” of the contract.

Meanwhile, former Attorney General Azima Shukoor, who headed the cabinet committee that advised termination of the contract, contended on DhiTV last week that the ACC report was “incomplete” as the commission had overlooked several key factors.

“Did they omit the factors deliberately or unknowingly or simply just overlooked them? But a lot of factors have been overlooked and omitted from the report. The state will suffer great losses because of it. Especially when the country is tied up in a judicial case,” she was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

ACC response

ACCIn its press release on Thursday (June 19), the ACC stated that its investigation was “not based on what politicians say at podiums and in the media.”

“Instead, the case was investigated based on relevant information collected for the investigation, documents and statements taken after questioning those involved in the case,” the ACC said, denying the allegations of undue influence on its members or staff.

The ACC statement added that the commission in concluding investigations adhered to article 25 of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act of 2008, and did not reach its conclusions “after considering the wishes of a particular politician.”

The commission noted that it had not responded to any political rhetoric targeting the ACC in the past, adding that all corruption investigations followed criminal justice procedures, the ACC Act and regulations under the law.

The statement explained that article 25(a)(2) of the Act required the commission to submit cases for prosecution if sufficient evidence to secure a conviction was gathered.

In the absence of evidence to prove corrupt dealings, article 25(a)(1) of the Act stipulates that the commission must declare that the case does not involve corruption.

The report made public last week contained information collected for the investigation, observations and the reasoning for reaching the conclusion “without any omissions or additions,” the ACC added.

“This is the first time that an investigative report of a case investigated by the commission has been made public like this,” the statement continued. “It was released that way to provide details of the case to the public as transparently as possible.”

The ACC further noted that in December 2012 the commission submitted a case to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) requesting criminal prosecution over the previous government’s decision to deduct a court-blocked Airport Development Charge (ADC) from concession fees owed to the state.

The ACC asked the PGO to seek reimbursement of MVR 353.8 million (US$22.9 million) from former MACL Chair Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem and former Finance Minister Mohamed Shihab over the alleged misuse of authority the commission contended had led to significant financial losses for the state.

Bribery allegations

Responding to remarks in local media last week by an unnamed ACC member alleging that Imran attempted to influence the outcome of the investigation, the Adhaalath Party President admitted on DhiTV last night that he met commission members while the “National Movement” protests were ongoing.

Imran said he met ACC members after learning of efforts by GMR to bribe politicians through the former Indian High Commissioner Mulay.

Mulay also requested meetings with Imran himself on numerous occasions “through some of our ministers and even by directly calling our office,” he claimed.

Upon hearing of meetings between Mulay and ACC members, Imran said the leaders of the “National Movement” met commission members to “advise against accepting bribes.”

“[ACC members] said, ‘how can we go near that? we have sworn an oath,'” Imran said.

He claimed the ACC members told him that “the roots go deep” in the GMR deal and that former President Nasheed “completed the deal in Singapore.”

ACC members informed Imran that bribes from GMR was deposited to bank accounts in countries near Singapore, he claimed, while the commission members provided assurances that “everything would be made clear” once the investigative report was made public.

Imran said he would reveal further details of the “National Movement’s” meeting with ACC members if the commission responded to the allegations.

“In any case, we were working to liberate the airport on behalf of religion and the nation,” he said, adding that the government eventually decided to terminate the agreement without waiting for the ACC report.

As a result of pressure from the protests, he continued, the government was convinced it was not in the national interest to persist with the contract.

Imran also insinuated that the ACC would receive a portion of the US$1.4 billion compensation figure claimed by GMR.

State Minister for Home Affairs Abdulla Mohamed, who was part of the protests against GMR, meanwhile argued that the ACC releasing its report a few days before an arbitration hearing could not be “a coincidence.”

“Do we really have to comply with a court order from a Singaporean court?” he asked.

He contended that the Maldivian government would not have to compensate GMR despite a decision in favour of the consortium at the ongoing arbitration proceedings.

“Also, we can appeal such a judgment in Maldivian courts, can’t we? That’s not prohibited by Maldivian law. There’s no obstacle to that. So this is not something that the public should be concerned about at all,” he said.


Naifaru islanders protest council’s alleged invalidation of preaching license

Islanders of Naifaru in Lhaviyani Atoll gathered in front of the island council office to protest today after the island council invalidated all preaching licenses issued by the Islamic Ministry.

An islander told Minivan News that the council announced Thursday that all preaching licenses issued by the Islamic Ministry had been invalidated and scholars who wish to preach or give religious lectures would have to seek permission from the council.

“That is definitely a decision made against Sheikh Ibrahim Rasheed,” he claimed. “We know that because there is this one councilor named Mohamed Ali – who was a former fisherman and who does not have any educational background – holds a personal grudge against the Sheikh, this is his doing.”

He further claimed that the councilor had recently sent a letter to the Islamic Ministry complaining that the Sheikh has been showing young children pornographic pictures containing instructions for performing sexual intercourse.

“Today we gathered near the council office to meet with the councilors and a delegation of us met with them and the councilors have now withdrawn the decision,” he said. “We had 50 islanders gathered near the council, we are all very disappointed because the Sheikhs have said they will not preach unless they gave the permission, Sheikhs said it was obligatory to obey leaders.”

He said that islanders viewed the decision of the council as an attempt to prevent scholars from preaching.

However Naifaru Island Council Chair Ahmed Hussein claimed that the Adhaalath Party’s Naifaru Wing had politicised the issue to attack the council.

“We issued a notice to avoid usage of assets in the mosques, such as mics, speakers without the permission of the council,” Hussain said. “We did not say that all the licenses issued by the Islamic Ministry were invalidated.”

Hussain added that the councilors of the island were always available to the public but the protesters had issued false press releases and distributed flyers through the island to incite hatred against councillors.

“If they had an issue why had they not come to us and discuss it, we are on the same island and we are always available,” he said.

He explained that during the meeting with the delegation from protesters today, the council made it clear that licenses were not invalidated and that the notice was made regarding use of equipment at the mosque without permission.


Adhaalath claims tourists openly drinking alcohol, wearing bikinis on Hulhumale’ beach

The Adhaalath Party has complained that tourists have been wearing improper clothing and consuming alcohol on Hulhumale’ beach in public, and that the area was becoming “a place where Maldivian families cannot visit.”

The sale and consumption of alcohol is banned on inhabited islands. Resorts – and the airport hotel at Hulhule’ – are classified as ‘uninhabited’. As a result, the hedonistic concept of Western resort tourism has been able to peacefully coexist with the more conservative Islamic population on local islands. But the promotion of mid-market ‘guest house’ tourism on inhabited islands such as Hulhumale’ blurs the separation between the two.

“People who own beach front houses have developed guest houses in the area, and as a result tourists coming to the guest houses have started to use the Hulhumale’ beach they would aresort beach,’’ said the Adhaalath Party in statement. “They have been in the beach wearing clothes that do not properly cover their body, and are swimming likewise.’’

The Adhaalath Party cited “a reliable source” as claiming that tourists have been “putting up umbrellas and consuming alcohol under them on Hulhumale’ beach.”

The Party said that such things “should not occur on any of the inhabited islands of the Maldives.”

“It is not permissible under the law, religion or on social grounds,’’ said the party. ‘’It violates many rights of the Maldivians who visits the beach, when they see nudity and alcohol consumption.”

The party also said that it was “a serious issue” and that the concerned authorities should try and resolve.

Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim, acknowledged that such occurrences would be a challenge for mid-market tourism in the Maldives.

“The way it is currently structured is that alcohol is banned and there is a dress code for inhabited islands. Unless the regulations are changed – and I’m not saying they should be relaxed – tourist areas will need to be separated from local areas. In Male’ people cannot drink alcohol openly and nobody wears bikinis – it isn’t a problem.”

Ibrahim suggested that unless there were demarcated tourist areas, “there will always be these kinds of issues. It’s not an Adhaalath party issue or necessarily a religious issue – Western tourist dress is very different from traditional Maldivian dress.”

Separate tourist areas on inhabited islands would also be for the benefit of tourists’ privacy, he suggested. “They should be able to have a holiday in the Maldives, but they need privacy.”

Tourists, he agreed, should also be made more aware of Maldivian cultural traditions.

A UK national who lived in Hulhumale’ for a year until recently said she had not heard of foreigners living in Hulhumale’ using the beach in such a manner. But there were many new boutique hotel and guest house developments being constructed along the beach and there had been, she said, one instance of police being called after several tourists were seeing wearing bikinis “on a quiet corner of the beach.”

“Two foreign girls were also reported to police for wearing bikinis on the beach, but when police arrived they were wearing boardshorts and shirts,” she said.


MDP now the largest political party, says Elections Commission

The Elections Commission has announced that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has overtaken the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) to become the largest political party in the country.

President of the Elections Commission Fuad Thaufeeq said the MDP is now the largest political party with 31,171 members, narrowly overtaking the DRP’s 30,775 members.

Fuad noted that there was a possibility the DRP would regain its position once another 2000 membership forms were processed.

DRP Secretary General and MP Abdulla Mausoom claimed the EC had not included the forms of 2400 DRP members in the list it had released.

”We want to believe that EC is an independent commission,” Mausoom said, ”but sometimes questions arise about them.”

DRP MP Ali Waheed accused the the commission of failing to include DRP members, claiming it was influenced by the ruling party.

”We are visiting the atolls this weekend,” he said, ”and during that  visit we will reveal what action we plan to take.”

Fuad rejected the allegations as false information.

”We cannot be influenced by any party,” he said, noting that the commission did not support or depend on any political party. In a previous interview with Minivan News, Fuad has noted that sometimes existing members seeking to join other political parties failed to realise they had to leave their current party before applying.

MDP MP Alhan Fahmy said the DRP’s claims the EC was being influenced were “regrettable”.

”Everyone must respect the independent commission,” he said, ”and when things do not go the way [DRP] planned it is unfair to say the commission was influenced.”

Alhan said when he joined MDP, “many DRP members followed.”

Umar Naseer said he respected the EC and did not believe it was being influenced, but suggested DRP’s membership would top MDP when the new membership statistics settled this week.

By the numbers

After the two major parties, the third largest party in the Maldives is the  Jumhooree party with 7565 members, followed by the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) with 5359 members and the  Adhaalath party with 5163. Former President of the IDP Umar Naseer is currently attempting to dissolve the IDP, however the EC has ruled against this decision.

The People’s Alliance (PA) has the least number of members at 3107, below the Dhivehi Qaumy Party (DQP)’s 3480 members.