MDP seeking public opinion over party reform

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has invited its members and the general public to submit suggestions and ideas for reforming and restructuring the party in the wake of electoral defeats in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

The party’s national council last week voted to form a three-member committee to study a reform paper (Dhivehi) submitted by a group of members and collect opinions and ideas for reform.

At a press conference on Thursday, the committee – comprised of MDP Youth Wing Leader Aminath Shauna along with Ali Niyaz and Ahmed Mujthaba – announced that it would be accepting suggestions for a two-week period.

Party members were invited to submit a form (Dhivehi) either to the party office or [email protected]

Alternately, members could use the #tellmdp hashtag of social media or visit the secretariat office in Malé between 11:00pm and 1:00pm and 3:00pm and 4:00pm on weekdays to share their views in person.

Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Youth Wing Leader Shauna assured members that the committee would not censor or amend any suggestions.

At the end of the two-week period, she said, the committee would compile a report and submit it to the national council.

Shauna noted that the committee also welcomed opinions and ideas from members of the general public who were not registered MDP members.

Niyaz explained that while some suggestions could be approved by the national council by adopting resolutions, other reforms would have to be passed at the next national congress.

The national council decided last week to hold the party’s congress on June 6 and 7. The last congress took place in October 2010.

Among the ideas shared on social media so far, supporters have suggested clearly delineating the role of the chairperson and president or abolishing one of the posts, strengthening the administration of internal elections and primaries to ensure fairness and transparency, improving engagement with the media and increasing involvement of youth.

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Violence escalates in Malé as police clash with MDP protesters

The Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protests in Malé escalated into violence over the weekend, with police and protesters sustaining injuries, arrests of demonstrators, intimidation of reporters, attacks on police, torching of police vehicles and vandalism of several businesses.

The MDP has vowed to continue street protests from July 8 until President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration is brought to an end. The party alleges President Mohamed Nasheed was deposed in a coup d’état on February 7 and has called for early elections.

Police arrested more than 65 protesters over the weekend, including the MDP Youth Wing President Aminath Shauna on Friday evening, and President Nasheed’s former legal advisor Hisaan Hussein on Saturday evening.

Shauna was released by the Supreme Court on Saturday at 9:00pm, after Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed ruled that she not take part in protests for 21 days.

On Thursday night Minivan News observed dozens of policemen with riot gear and batons charging at protesters gathered at the junction of Chaandhanee and Fareedhee streets at approximately 1:00am. Protesters had heckled police and refused repeated police orders to disperse from the area. Some had also thrown empty water bottles at police.

A Minivan News reporter was among the crowd that ran before the police into the Sultan Park near the protest area. Pavement stones were flying in the park, but it was not clear who was throwing them. The crowd then gathered at the Chaandhanee and Majeedhee Magu junction afterwards. Minivan News saw a truck full of policemen driving through the streets at high speed, and individual policemen threatening and taunting protesters.

In a statement on Friday, police said MDP’s protests on Thursday night had turned into “riots” with protesters attacking law enforcement officers with chilli-infused water and pavement stones. A police officer was diagnosed with retrograde amnesia after being hit on the head, police claim.

The MDP have meanwhile accused President Waheed’s administration of systematically undermining civil and political rights, stating that police had “baton-charged demonstrators, used pepper spray and reportedly fired rubber bullets at unarmed protesters.”

Those arrested also included two disabled women, the MDP said.

“Demonstrators were always within demonstrating area set by regulation when police violently dispersed the crowd,” the MDP claimed. Police also attacked and beat President Nasheed’s former Human Rights Ambassador Mohamed “Go-go” Latheef and Malé Mayor “Maizan” Ali Manik, the party claimed.

The protest continues at the Chaandhanee Magu and Fareedhee Magu junction at the time of press.

Zero tolerance, say police

In a statement on Friday, police claimed protesters had attacked nine law enforcement officers “while a group of MDP activists brutally beating other security personnel and hitting his head has sent the officer into a retrograde amnesia.”

According to police, officers repeatedly asked the protesters to disperse from the area after midnight, but protesters threw glass pebbles and heavy lead balls at the police. The police were then forced to show “zero tolerance” to control the “atrocity” against them, the statement read.

Protesters attacked police media personnel, beat and threw a 45-year old man into the sea, broke the window panes of two shops, snatched seven mobile-radio sets and attacked several police officers, the police claimed.

In the attacks on the police, several police vehicles were damaged and one was set on fire, police added.

“The mob went on savaging the Male’ City streets, attacked another police officer and damaged his police motor bike near Masjid-Al-Zikra, a mosque in Majeedhee magu close to the junction. The mob also throwing pave stones to a police vehicle broke its window panes near the Le’cute’ shop, and a few yards east to the central junction on Majeedhee Magu scorched another motor bike,” the statement read.

Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz on Twitter on Friday said he had instructed the Operation Commander to take necessary action to minimise injuries to police officers. Police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef explained Riyaz’s statement to local media Sun Online as meaning an instruction to take action to disperse protests at the first sign of violence.

Meanwhile, the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) on Thursday evening conducted breathalyzer tests on police on duty after protesters alleged police on duty were intoxicated. The test results were negative.

“Rights in full retreat”

The MDP has condemned police attacks on its MPs, journalists and protesters. MDP members have posted photos on social media depicting bruises and bloody cuts allegedly caused by the police.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Gafoor said “civil and political rights are in full retreat. The police are responsible for daily human rights violations but nobody is ever prosecuted for these crimes – impunity has become the norm.”

The MDP has condemned the arrest of its Youth Wing President Aminath Shauna, and claims the arrest was “highly targeted.”

Police have denied any political motive behind Shauna’s arrest and said she was charged with obstruction of police duty.

Shauna’s arrest has meanwhile sparked international media attention with an online petition and a Twitter campaign calling for her release. A professor at Westminster College in the US state of Missouri has asked President Barack Obama to seek Shauna’s release. Shauna graduated from Westminster College in 2008.

“I fear for her safety and her life. I call on President Obama to demand her immediate release from prison and to grant her political asylum in the United States. She is the victim of political repression,” Professor of Political Science John Langton told newspapers the Fulton Sun and the Kansas City Star.

Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed released Shauna at 9:00 pm on Saturday evening on the condition that she does not take part in protests for 21 days.

Reporters attacked

Reporters of private television station Raajje TV, which broadcasts live coverage of MDP protests, told Minivan News they had to stop coverage after receiving death threats at around 4:00am on Friday.

Cameraman Ibrahim Riyaz said police had been verbally abusive towards him and journalist Zaidhullah Shabeen all night.

“When protesters set fire to the motorbike, a police officer came looking for us. Then we heard other police officers in riot gear say, ‘let’s beat them, destroy them and the station,’” he said.

Raajje TV reports its cameraman Mohamed Shanoon fell unconscious after being baton-charged and suffered a collarbone injury on Wednesday night.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed concern over attacks on journalists from police and protesters. Private television station DhiTV’s presenter Mohamed Ameeth was mobbed by protesters on Wednesday evening.

Friday

Violence was relatively low on Friday night. Nineteen people were arrested, and police said they had dispersed protesters at 2:00am “without the use of force.”

However, protesters told Minivan News police in trucks had driven at them at high speeds causing protesters to scatter.

“We were afraid they would run us over,” protester Ahmed Yasmin said.

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Government to annul provincial health and utility corporations, centralise services

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said the government intends to annul 30 government companies, including the provincial health and utility companies, in order to streamline government policy and improve service delivery.

The seven provincial utility companies—charged with providing electricity, gas, water and sanitation services—will be annulled and brought under one central umbrella corporation.

Furthermore, the seven provincial health corporations will be dissolved and health services will now be provided through the Health Ministry and the Centre for Community Health.

Riza said the provincial companies had failed to deliver services and that ousted President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration had set up separate utility and health corporations in each of the seven provinces only to award salaries to Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activists.

Nasheed’s former Policy Undersecretary Aminath Shauna said the act represented a “move back to Gayoom’s policies”, and defeated the purpose of decentralisation. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled the Maldives from 1978- 2008.

“Malldives’ geographical fragmentation means one central board or company will find it impossible to effectively monitor and deliver services in an equitable manner,” Shauna said.

“They want to re-establish a relationship of dependency between the islands and Malé. Their intent in this is to consolidate power. Islanders will once again have to come to Malé and beg for services,” she added.

Effective Service Delivery

Speaking to Minivan News, Shauna said Nasheed’s administration had pursued a policy of corporatisation at provincial level in order to decentralise and improve service delivery.

“We have already experienced the disadvantages of centralising services; it made service delivery slow and led to corruption. Corporations were instituted because utility companies were not run on a business model. Island electricity providers often came to the finance ministry asking for debt relief. We wanted to eliminate this dependency. Corporatisation also creates reliable services and creates economies of scale,” Shauna said.

In response Abbas said the provincial companies had failed to deliver services.

“These companies could not manage their capital. In 2010 alone, Rf 800 million (US$52 million) was spent on supporting the salaries of so-called corporations,” Abbas said. The companies did not share common polices and operated on very different models, he claimed.

Although the provincial companies will be terminated, the operational units at province and island levels would continue to exist.

“This is centralised coordination to streamline policy. The operational units at provincial and island levels will continue to exist and the staff will retain their jobs,” he said.

“What we are doing is eliminating political boards. There were 30 separate boards before. Some boards had as many as 15 board members, and they were all political appointees. The former government did this in order to grant party activists salaries,” he alleged.

“When you eliminate political boards, service delivery will in fact be faster. If you look at the health records, we are slipping back and we believe this happened because service delivery was not efficient or effective,” he claimed.

However, Shauna said Nasheed’s “ultimate aim was to make these companies public companies and fully independent. They were state sponsored until they could find their own feet.”

Some companies had been more successful than others, Shauna admitted. For instance, the Southern Utilities Ltd – serving Addu and Fuamulah Atolls – had contracted Biwater International Ltd in 2010 to build six seawater reverse osmosis desalination plants to provide potable water. The contract is valued at US$42 million. The Southern Utilties Ltd had also handled all roadwork and landscaping for the 2011 SAARC Summit held in Addu atoll.

“All of the companies were improving gradually. They were finding their own feet, and contracting partners through public private partnerships. Our vision was for the government to step out of service delivery and play a monitoring role,” Shauna said.

Decentralisation

A second benefit of the centralisation of utility and health services is that the policy would empower local councils, Riza told Minivan News.

“Decentralisation means administrative decentralisation through elected councils. It does not mean making corporations. Now the ministry will be working very closely with the councils, where tasks will be delegated to councils, whereas corporations can and did override councils before,” Riza said.

In response Shauna said the spirit of decentralisation was to decentralise service delivery and to promote greater accountability.

“When you have regional companies, you have service providers working closely with the public. These companies will have to face the public everyday and this improves accountability,” Shauna said.

“How can a central authority with a limited number of people provide equitable services to the entire country? A few people deciding for the entire country does not help the people,” Shauna said.

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