Civil Court injunction prevents government takeover of Alidhoo, Kudarah resorts

The Tourism Ministry has been prevented from taking control of resort properties operated by Yacht Tours Maldives under a Civil Court injunction issued yesterday (June 4), pending a final ruling on a long-running dispute over unpaid rent.

J Hotels and Resorts, a company owned by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Jabir, went to the Civil Court yesterday to contest the government’s right to reclaim the two resorts over allegations the company had failed to settle rent payments and fines totalling some US$7 million (MVR 107 million).

The company has claimed that the vast majority of the outstanding payment is the result of fines issued by the state during the ongoing payment dispute.

The government has sought to revoke the lease for Alidhoo Resort in Haa Alif Atoll and Kudarah Island Resort in South Alifu Atoll from J Hotels and Resorts’ parent company Yacht Tours Maldives since late last year.  The state had previously provided the operator a seven day period to hand over the properties.

However, Yacht Tours Maldives has continued to contest the government’s right to reclaim the land.

“Unlawful cancellation”

Yacht Tours Director Ibrahim Shiham said that the Civil Court injunction issued last night suspended what he alleged was the government’s “unlawful cancellation” of its lease for the two resorts until a ruling was made on the company’s dispute over rent payments.

Speaking to Minivan News, Shiham accused the government of trying to come on to the Kudarah resort property on Monday (June 3) without a court warrant to take back the property, alleging authorities had sought to create a “political drama” out of the case.

He claimed that authorities were refused entry by around “three or four people” on the island, despite local media reports citing a ministry source as claiming that around 50 people had attempted to block their arrival at the resort’s jetty area.

The Tourism Ministry has alleged to Sun Online that Yacht Tours had continuously failed to pay back the rent and fines in installments as previously agreed following the first termination notice.

Yacht Tours meanwhile claimed that uncertainty as a result of the Tourism Ministry’s actions had seen occupancy rates at Alidhoo Resort fall from over 60 per cent in recent weeks to just 11 percent yesterday due to cancelled bookings.

Shiham has alleged that company was being unfairly punished as a result of an “internal argument” between the Ministry of Tourism and the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) over whether to accept an advance payment previously paid by Yacht Tours to cover rent owed to authorities.

He added that under amendments made to tourism regulations back in 2011, a long-term US$1.5 million dollars (MVR 23 million) rent advance for the island of Watavarreha was no longer required to be paid all at once, making the company eligible for a repayment.

Earlier this year, Yacht Tours released documents and transcripts of official letters to media showing it had requested then Minister of Tourism Dr Mariyam Zulfa to transfer a refundable payment from the Watavarreha advance to cover payments owed for Kudarah and Alidhoo.

A follow-up letter, dated August 21, 2011, stated that according to the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA), the government owed the company US$1,115,374 (MVR 17,176,760).  At the same time, the company was said to owe a total amount of US$1,300,418 (MVR19.9 million) in charges for the three resorts to the state.

Shiham said that the Tourism Ministry under the previous government of former President Mohamed Nasheed had requested MIRA process the payment accordingly.

“However, MIRA did not wish to do this. This has become an internal argument that is nothing to do with us,” he said. “We believe the Tourism Ministry has the authority on this matter.”

Shiham added that as the payments were not related to service taxes that were required to be paid directly to MIRA, the matter of rent should be decided by the Tourism Ministry itself.

With the controversial change of government overnight on February 7, 2012, Yacht Tours has claimed that its agreement was further complicated, leading to MIRA filing a court case against the company.

Speaking to Minivan News this week, former Tourism Minister Dr Zulfa confirmed that Yacht Tours had previously requested the Finance Ministry use the advance payment for Watawarreha Island to cover rent payments for its other properties that were in arrears.

“As a matter of law, I advised the then Finance Minister Mr [Ahmed] Inaz that there was nothing barring such as adjustment since all the resort properties were under the same company name,” she said.

Dr Zulfa added that the company separately requested a refund on the funds paid for Watawarreha, despite the land tax legislation at the time being collected correctly by the government.  She added that the advance payment was designed to have been deducted by the government from payable rent.

“I did advise Mr Jabir to submit the matter to court for a legal determination if he felt that the advance payment was rendered unfair and I think he duly did,” she said. “I hope it is clear that the government of President Nasheed did not agree to the refund, but merely advised that an adjustment in rent across all resort-properties leased to Yacht Tours regardless of what island such advance was paid for was possible, because of course they were leased to the same company.”

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was not responding to calls from the Minivan News at  time of press. Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was out of the country.

Termination notice

Minister Adheeb earlier this year rejected allegations that the Tourism Ministry was singling out certain resort operators in terms of treatment, adding that each property was required to pay rent or face receiving a termination notice.

Adheeb claimed that when he first took up his position following February’s controversial transfer of power, there were 12 resorts found to be not paying rent at the time.

“We are not tolerating resorts who do not pay rent, any operating resort has to pay. Those who are not paying already have the termination notice. This culture has to go, by the end of this year all resorts will be paying and it will become a more stable industry,” he said at the time.

At a press conference held on December 31, 2012, Adheeb said that resort operator Yacht Tours had been sent termination notices for both Alidhoo and Kudarah resorts, with a seven day period for handover.

He added that while the ministry had come to a payment system agreement with a number of other companies, Yacht Tours had sent no official written communication in regard to the payment of outstanding rents.

The claims were later rejected by Yacht Tours, which in turn alleged that the ministry had failed to respond to its correspondence on the matter of rent payments, leading it to take legal action to resolve the dispute.


Foreign staff at Alidhoo Resort allegedly unpaid for six months: “No complaints with my Ministry,” says Human Rights Minister

Staff at Alidhoo Resort in Haa Alif Atoll have not been paid for up to six months in some cases, sources in the resort have alleged to Minivan News.

According to information from Tourism Employees’ Association of the Maldives (TEAM), corroborated by sources at the resort, the Alidhoo’s management have not paid the resort’s 125 expatriate staff  for six months, while the 85 local employees have not been paid since May.

Alidhoo is run by J Hotel & Resorts, a company owned by current Deputy Leader of the Jumhoree Party, MP Abdullah Jabir, the husband of newly-appointed Minister of Human Rights, Dhiyana Saeed.

Also according to the resort source, the resort has also been deducting seven percent from every staff’ member’s salary for the state pension scheme, but have allegedly failed to deposit this money in their pension accounts.

Staff have gone on strike on three previous occasions over the salary issue, but have been met with harsh penalties including the dismissal of those staffs involved in the strikes. Staff at resort reported that the occupancy was currently eight percent.

Staff went on strike last year shortly before Ramadan, claiming non-payment of wages.

“It is almost the end of this month and Ramadan is coming up – we have to send money to our families back on the islands and we are really broke,” said a staff member working in the resort at the time.

He also alleged that allowances for the staffs working in the resort had not been paid for the last three months, including service charges and overtime.

The company at the time stated that the delay in payment of the wages was because Jabir, the company’s chairman, was not in the Maldives at the time. Jabir told Minivan News at the time that “The payments were delayed because I was not here.”

A few days later, the resort made a decision to sack 12 staff members following the strike over unpaid wages. Following the dismissals, Jabir told Minivan News, “Don’t ever call me about this again.”

Minivan News tried contacting Jabir today, but did not respond at time of press.


Speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity, a staff member today told Minivan News that they were “helpless”. Expatriate staffs in particular had been “forced to remain silent” as their employment was at stake, the source said.

“Every time we go to the management, they say they would pay next week – but it never materialises. Now it has been a month,” he said.

The staff member also confirmed that pension money was regularly deducted but had not been deposited into their pension accounts for the previous five months.

“The last deposit made to our pension account was on January 2012. I personally checked with the Pension Administration Office and that was what they told me,” he said.

The staff member further said that the resort’s bed occupancy had not risen above eight percent for the last two months. This, he said, had dissuaded staff from further strike action “because if we stage a strike we know it is going to be us who will suffer at the end of the day,” he said.

Asked if the staff has contacted the relevant authorities for assistance, he claimed that the process was “long and too risky”.

The General Manager of the Resort, Mr Jadullah, denied the allegations stating that the resort was paying its staff regularly, and told staff to “come and collect it”.

“Those claims over unpaid wages are not true. We have been paying the wages on a regular basis, but there may be some staff who have not come to collect their salaries,” he told Minivan News. “We have asked those staff to collect their salaries before the end of this month,” he said.

Asked about the alleged failure to deposit staff pension money, he said that the resort’s Male’ office was responsible and said he had “asked them in writing to provide the details of the deposits.”

“Organise, fight and win”, says TEAM

Mauroof Zakir, President of Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM), told Minivan News that the group had been advising staff on the island after being made aware of the issue.

“This has been happening in that resort for years. In 2009 and 2010 there was a strike regarding unpaid wages and it succeeded in 2010, but after 2011’s strike, the management sacked 12 employees,” he said.

“We are saying that the employees need to organise themselves: they must organise first, and then fight and win,” said Zakir.

Zakir said that TEAM was limited in its capacity to help due to a lack of resources and funding. However he said that TEAM was handling 35 cases currently in several courts and labor tribunals.

He raised concerns regarding the rise of unfair dismissals across the country, and said that even this year so far there had been around 48 such dismissals of employees due to low bed occupancy rates.

Asked about the reasons for the increase, he said, “The biggest reason why the number of unfair dismissals have gone up is because the decisions and orders of the labor tribunal are not enforced. As a result, it encourages resorts to easily sack staff.”

Human Rights Minister reluctant to comment

Human Rights Minister Dhiyana Saeed – the wife of J Hotel’s owner and chairman – said no complaints had been made to her ministry and that therefore she did not want to comment.

Asked for the government’s opinion on the matter of employee exploitation, she repeated her comment.

“I do not want to take the initiative and make a comment on the matter because there are no such reports or complaints submitted to my ministry,” she said.

President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), Mariyam Azra, told Minivan News that the commission would only look into such issues once they had been reported.

Asked if HRCM was advocating the rights of employees, and initiating actions to resolve such matters, she said she would look into the matter and call back. She had not responded at time of press.

HRCM member Jeehan Mahmood told Minivan News that labor exploitation was the number one complaint filed with the commission.

“Sometimes some expatriate workers are forced to work for 11 or 12 months and are not paid or given the required vacation periods. We believe that if it goes on for this long, it’s forced labour,” she said.

Mahmood said that cases in which expatriate workers had worked for 11 or 12 months without pay because they had no other option and were unable to return home, amounted to slavery.


Alidhoo resort staff on strike over unpaid wages

Maldivian staff working at Alidhoo Resort in Haa Alifu Atoll have declared themselves on strike claiming that the management of the resort had not paid them salary for last month.

The resort is operated by Yacht Tours, owned by local businessman and former MP Abdulla Jabir.

“It is almost the end of this month and Ramadan is coming up – we have to send money to our families back on the islands and we are really broke,” said a staff member working in the resort.

He claimed allowances of the staffs working in the resort had not been paid for the last three months, including service charge and overtime.

“Last week we spoke with the management about our salaries and they said we will be paid today, and today they said they will pay us next Monday,” he said. “Now we are not very confident with this management so we have decided to continue this strike until they pay us.”

The management first told staff that the payments were delayed because the chairman of the company was not in the Maldives, he continued.

“When he came back, they said the banks were not giving money to the resorts – how can we believe them now?” the staff member said.

He claimed that expatriates working on the island had not received their salaries for the past three months.

“They want to join us in the strike but they fear that they might be fired and sent back to their countries,” he said, adding that the expats were supporting the strike although they were not physically involved.

Vice President of Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News that TEAM was not officially involved in the strike.

“TEAM has decided not to participate in any strike that is conducted without informing TEAM prior to the commencement of the strike,” Mauroof said. “However, we have given Alidhoo staff instructions.”

Mauroof said TEAM made the decision in a recent meeting because “whenever the strike reaches an uncontrollable status, that’s when the staff see TEAM, and when it reaches that situation it is very hard for us to solve the issues.”

Chairman of Yatch Tours Abdulla Jabir told Minivan News that the delay was caused because he was not in town.

“It will be arranged sometime today,” he said. “The payments were delayed because I was not here.”