Government to reclaim property awarded to ferry service providers

The government is seeking to reclaim properties provided to companies awarded contracts by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed in order to establish regional transport networks, President Abdulla Yameen said last night.

Speaking at campaign launching ceremonies for two Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) parliamentary candidates, President Yameen contended that the transport networks had “failed” across the country.

“The network is at a halt in all areas. It is functioning in just two areas. In one of those areas it is a private sector party providing the service. The system has been very much weakened,” he said.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government awarded 200 plots of lands under its transport network agreements to the companies contracted to provide ferry services, Yameen noted, claiming that the bidding process was riddled with corruption.

“For islands given to develop resort, on average we are talking about an annual income of US$30 million. If we consider the total income of a resort we are talking about US$30 million dollars. Out of these 200 plots, a lot were given for resort development. All of them have now been sold,” he said.

While the public-private partnership project “in itself was good,” Yameen contended that it was the most wasteful and corrupt programme carried out by the MDP government.

The programme was intended to unduly benefit certain parties by awarding public property and funds, Yameen added, describing it as the worst such “in Maldivian history”.

“So the work we have to do is taking back such properties that can be beneficial to the public [and undo] the action of a group who claimed that there was corruption in the past and that they would stop it,” he said.

Of the two functioning transport networks at present, Yameen noted that ferry service was currently provided by the government-owned Koodoo Fisheries Company in Gaaf Alif and Gaaf Dhaalu atolls.

In October 2012, the MDP-controlled Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Council accused the previous company of ceasing ferry services and asked the transport ministry to cancel the agreement.

Yameen meanwhile vowed that there would not be a corruption case under his administration that would reach the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

“During our five years, God willing you won’t hear of anything that could reach the ACC,” he said, adding that the commission was investigating allegations of corruption “from all sectors” during the MDP’s three years in government.

The government was also seeking to reclaim large plots of land in the capital awarded by the previous government to the MDP-controlled Malé City Council, Yameen said.

However, he added that reclaiming some properties might be difficult even through litigation as estate transactions were advanced in some cases.

PPM campaign

Speaking at the campaign launching event for the PPM’s candidate for the Hulhuhenveiru constituency, Hassan Ziyath, Yameen said he was pleased that “capable and educated youth” were contesting the upcoming parliamentary elections on behalf of the governing Progressive Coalition.

The cabinet was also composed of competent young technocrats, he added, who were working “day and night” with a team committed to implementing the PPM manifesto.

In the campaign launching event for the PPM’s mid-Henveiru constituency candidate, former journalist and television presenter Aishath Leeza, Yameen criticised parliament for failing to approve his nominee for the vacant Prosecutor General post as well as his nominee for the Elections Commission (EC).

The resignation of former EC member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed in October 2013 left a vacancy in the five-member independent commission.

Yameen also criticised parliament for failing to pass legislation such as the penal code, the evidence bill, and the criminal procedures code, which were essential for strengthening the criminal justice system.

The president vowed to establish “a safe and peaceful environment” for citizens in all inhabited islands of the country.

While the government was taking measures to “deter crime,” Yameen said the issue was related to “education of youth.”

He noted that the current administration has introduced Arabic and Quran classes in most schools in the country.

Plans were in the pipeline to introduce civic education and social science subjects in secondary education later this year, he revealed.

“The purpose of including these [subjects] is to provide information to children on how to confront or reconcile upsetting matters that you face within a family or society,” Yameen said, stressing the importance of policies propagated by the state to “maintain Islamic principles.”


Journalists association condemns death threats against TVM presenter

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has condemned death threats against state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) Deputy Editor Aishath Leeza Laurella.

The presenter had been the subject of criticism from certain political groups over the past week after a series of programmes  interviewing the candidates of next month’s presidential election.

After the ‘siyaasath’ (policy) show’s inaugural interview with Jumhoree Party (JP)  candidate Ibrahim Gasim, party officials accused the presenter of attempting to “demean” its candidate.

In a statement issued today, the MJA said that giving death threats because of the questions asked by a journalist or television presenter is not acceptable and slammed it as an act to terminate press freedom in the country.

The MJA called on the police to hasten the investigation of the case and stated that the interviews with the presidential candidates represented important work done by the media.

Police media officials today told Minivan News that a case was filed with police by Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) alleging that a group of people were plotting an attack on Leeza, posing a threat to her life.

The official explained that the investigation of the case was ongoing and that no arrests had yet been made. He declined to provide further information beyond this.

TVM is scheduled to televise a four-way presidential debate on September 1. Gasim’s JP yesterday confirmed that their candidate would be taking part, after suggestions he was considering a boycott of the station.

Press Freedom

In February this year, Leeza and a second TVM journalist were hospitalised after being hit by projectiles containing some kind of irritant which local media reported to be paint thinner.

On the same evening, Ibrahim ‘Aswad’  Waheed – a reporter for private broadcaster Raajje TV – was left in a critical condition after being badly beaten by two men using iron bars in Male’.

In mid-2012, controversial blogger Hilath Rasheed had his throat slashed in an alleyway on Chandhanee Magu.

Rasheed was initially given a five percent chance of survival, but later recovered. He has since fled the country. No arrests were made in the case.

The Maldives plummeted to 103rd in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2013, a fall of 30 places and a return to pre-2008 levels.

The Paris-based organisation included ‘extremist religious groups’ in the Maldives in its ‘Predators of Freedom of Information’ report for 2013.

The 2013 report accused “leaders and members of fanatical groups in the Maldives” of “intimidating media organisations and bloggers and threatening them with physical harm in order to force them to exercise self-censorship.”

TVM was itself the scene of violence during the chaos surrounding former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation on February 7, 2012. The gates of the station – known as the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) prior to the transfer of power – were broken down by rampaging security forces.

“A policeman shouted that we [MNBC] have brought enough of what government wanted. Now its time for them to broadcast what they want,” recalled one staff member.

The employee said that they were then ordered to patch through the Villa Television (VTV) channel, owned by JP leader Gasim. The nation then watched VTV on the state television’s frequency before the feed was cut off and came back on, re-branded as TVM.

VTV soon became the victim of further violence as opponents of current president, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, attacked the station’s studios during unrest surrounding the attempted re-opening of parliament.