Week in review: April 13 – 19

The disposal of around 120 animals confiscated from people’s homes stole the headlines this week, amid confusion as to why the decision to destroy the animals was made, and by which institution.

As part of a joint operation conducted on Saturday (April 12), relevant government authorities instructed police to confiscate all pets suspected of having been illegally imported.

These animals were promptly destroyed by the MNDF, while the fate of the slow loris – endangered in more ways than one – remained unclear as interested adoptees continued to face financial and bureaucratic obstacles.

Bureaucratic obstacles continued to hinder President Abdulla Yameen’s attempts to place his nephew in the role of Prosecutor General as the Majlis failed to return enough votes to approve Maumoon Hameed’s nomination.

Home Minister Umar Naseer this week lamented the ‘oversized democracy inherited by the government, suggesting bureaucracy was thwarting his anti-drug camaign.

The government’s attempts to centralise control of the nation’s mosques through amendments to the Religious Unity Act met with greater successful as the president ratified the changes shortly before departing to Japan on an official state visit.

Prior to boarding the plane to Tokyo, Yameen told the press that he had been unable – and unwilling – to meet the demands of Indian company GMR for an out-of-court settlement regarding the terminated airport development deal.

It was revealed that the government will now await the outcome of the arbitration proceedings, expected within the next two months after hearings concluded this week.

Yameen’s trip to east Asia saw the Japanese government thanked for its generous history of developmental assistance in the Maldives as well an open invitation for private investors to continue the tradition.

Back on the home front, President Yameen acknowledged that the distribution of government positions among coalition partners had generated some tension, after rumblings of discontent from coalition leader Gasim Ibrahim.

No such discontent was found in a survey conducted by the Tourism Ministry this month which found 98 percent of tourists would recommend the Maldives as a holiday destination.

Eighty percent of those surveyed reported having holidayed within an hour of the capital Malé, a trend Addu City Council hopes to change with the establishment of a guest house promotion board in the country’s southernmost atoll.

The heavy concentration of tourists in Kaafu atoll brought the opposite response from Malé City Council, who passed a resolution opposing the development of Kuda Bandos – the only local picnic island available to the overcrowded capital’s residents.

Meanwhile, the Department of Heritage hopes to draw the attention of visitors to the Maldives’ cultural treasures, organising an exhibition of the country’s coral mosques as attempts to make UNESCO’s world heritage list continue.

The Ministry of Environment maintained that the country’s natural heritage can still be preserved if the world commits to a 1.5°C cap on global temperature rise, with Minister Thoriq Ibrahim pledging to increase renewable energy to 30% in the next 5 years.

Elsewhere, the High Court is now considering over a dozen election-related complaints following last month’s Majlis poll – though the arguments posited by Kaashidhoo MP Abdulla Jabir received short shrift from the Elections Commission’s lawyer.

Jabir’s Maldivian Democratic Party announced it would hold an event to mark Labour Day next month while taxi drivers failed to present a united front in protests against new regulations due to be implemented this week.

DhiFM remained steadfast in its defiance of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission – responding to criticism for posting upside down pictures by posting a similar image of the commission’s chair.

Corruption charges were pressed this week against controversial Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed, while the Anti Corruption Commission asked the state to pursue charges against a former state minister for undue expenditure on sports activities.

Minivan News also took time this week to talk discuss the future of hydroponics in the country’s agriculture as well as interviewing the Maldives’ first female DJ.

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Fisheries Ministry and MNDF at odds over decision to destroy confiscated pets

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has said it was not consulted by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) before the destruction of over 120 confiscated pets.

“I was as shocked as anybody else when I saw that they had killed the animals -we were actually talking to the owl owner at the time when I saw the news,” an official with the ministry told Minivan News today.

Confusion surrounded the decision to destroy the animals after a joint operation of all relevant state institutions was prompted by a spate of exotic animal discoveries in the country in recent weeks.

The MNDF yesterday maintained that the animals had been put down upon request of the police, though the police service has denied this.

The Fisheries Ministry has today argued that regulations required the presence of witnesses to the destruction, as well as questioning the legality of the termination of the owl – whose owner had claimed the animal was found rather than imported.

“On Saturday, the ministry’s stand was that if you hand over the animals to us, we would give the choice of re-export – and the fact that the owl was something that was not imported, there was an issue – it was a controversial case that had to be dealt separately,” said the ministry source.

MNDF Deputy Spokesman Captain Ali Ihusaan has refuted these claims, arguing that the owl’s owner had initially claimed that the owl was legally imported, before changing his story.

“The only places that provide this authorisation were the Ministry of Defence and National Security and the Ministry of Environment – we asked both of these authorities and we asked the owner to provide the owner to provide any documentation given by these ministries,” said Ihusaan.

After cross-checking these confiscated creatures with import records, and thus proving they could not have been imported legally, the animals were put down, he explained.

“We are not an animal farm or a zoo and we cannot take care of that number of animals at the same time,” he added. “The animals that we disposed of were not endangered species so we didn’t really have to consult with any other authorities.”

Regarding the requirement that witnesses be present for the animals’ destruction, Ihusaan suggested that this was regulation was only applicable to animals seized at the ports.

The source at the Fisheries Ministry has revealed that a letter has been drafted to request proof that the animals have been terminated, suggesting that this was important in order to halt speculation about the animals potentially being transferred to new owners.

“A lot of people speculate because that actually does happen sometimes and people really don’t trust these institutions, and that’s why I stressed they should be destroyed in the presence of everybody.”

Local media today reported that the lawyer representing the owl’s owner claimed the animal has not been destroyed, arguing that the owner will withdraw charges filed with the Police Integrity Commission if the bird is returned.

The ministry of fisheries source revealed that the outpouring of anger following the animals’ destruction resulted in anxious crowds gathering at the ministry, as well as threatening phone calls being received from angry owners – hence the official’s request for anonymity.

The official went on to suggest that they had clearly requested that all the institutions involved in the operation to confiscate the animals should have been consulted before their destruction, suggesting that the only legal rationale for their transfer to the MNDF’s mandate was that the animals had been deemed ‘dangerous or wild’.

The animals destroyed included 11 iguanas, a snake, a sugar glider (possum), an owl, a squirrel, and 105 rats.

“We did not want any of the animals to be killed,” said the ministry official.

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Authorities pass responsibility for decision to destroy confiscated animals

Confusion surrounds the decision to destroy over 120 animals confiscated by authorities last weekend, with both police and the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) denying responsibility for the move.

With initial media reports today suggesting that the Maldives Police Service (MPS) had “executed” the animals, an official spokesman revealed that custody of the animals had been handed to the MNDF on Sunday, just hours after their seizure.

MNDF Captain Ali Ihusaan subsequently confirmed that all of the animals had been put down on the request of the MPS.

“The animals that were being handed over to the Ministry of Defence and National Security were being handed over in order to get rid of them, and we have established procedures and processes that we go through in order to take care of them and we have gone through that process on the day they were handed over to MNDF,” said Ihusaan.

These claims were promptly rejected by the police, however, who denied having asked the MNDF to terminate the animals.

“The information you have received is not right, we didn’t actually request from the MNDF to put them down,” said a police spokesperson who said he had been unable to contact his MNDF counterpart to clarify the conflicting account.

The spokesman went on to suggest that the responsibility for the transfer of the animals lay with the customs department, stating that the legal rationale for the decision could be explained by customs authorities.

“What we did was was request customs to take over those confiscated animals, to take the animals under their custody. So they requested us to hand over those animals to the MNDF,” said the MPS spokesman.

“Under customs regulations it is not allowed to bring those animals to Maldives. We requested them to take over the case, to take these animals to their custody”.

“I think it is because customs is run under Ministry of Defence, which might explain that decision”.

Minivan News was unable to contact customs officials at the time of press.

EPA deeply concerned

Meanwhile, news of the animals’ termination has prompted an outcry, with groups reportedly gathering outside of the Environment Ministry.

A group of protesters have assembled outside the children’s park in Malé – home to a captive crocodile – in opposition to the move, with one placard reading:  “Stop killing animals against the law and regulations”.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has taken to Twitter to denounce the decision.

“People’s beloved pets should not be killed just like that. Necessary regulations could be made,” tweeted Nasheed.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whom the police have previously said were being consulted on the animal’s care, have expressed concern.

“As an organisation responsible for the protection and well being of all these creatures, we are not happy with killing or doing anything lethal to any of the animals. That is something that we are deeply concerned about,” said Director General of the EPA Ibrahim Naeem.

Naeem denied having been consulted over the care and maintenance of the confiscated animals.

The animals – including 11 iguanas, a snake, a sugar glider (possum), an owl, a squirrel, and 105 rats – were taken by police in an operation to tackle the number of illegal pets last weekend.

The scale of the problem has become apparent as the police have embarked on a campaign to tackle the nation’s endemic narcotics problems, with a series of exotic creatures increasingly featuring in the lists of items seized during raids.

In a joint operation with multiple branches of the government, the police revealed that animals were to be confiscated “so that the legality of their presence in the country can be assessed,” read a police statement.

Customs regulations list dogs and dangerous animals as prohibited from import, while other live animals entering the country are required to have valid sanitary certificates.

The regulation on importing live animals specifies that the procedure for handling animals considered wild or dangerous includes consultation with the Fisheries Ministry and the MNDF, as well as the production of a report, before repatriation or extermination.

When asked if the police had allowed relevant time for owners to produce the necessary certificates before the animals were destroyed, Minivan News was again referred to the customs department.

The EPA’s Ibrahim also condemned those who bring such animals into the country, saying that they should share some of the blame for the animals’ fate.

“We don’t expect these animals in the Maldives. I condemn those who import those who import them to Maldives, they should actually take the responsibility.”

Authorities have confirmed that the endangered slow loris – confiscated during an earlier police operation – was not amongst the destroyed animals. The EPA is currently discussing the potential repatriation of the animal with interested parties.

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Police commence special operation to confiscate dangerous animals

Police have today said they have started a special operation to seize all dangerous animals that are illegally imported to the country.

In a statement the police said they had commenced a joint special operation with the relevant government institutions after having noticed that sightings of such animals on streets and other places had become common in the Maldives.

Police said that aim of the special operation was to seize all these animals and take them under police charge before a regrettable incident occurs.

Furthermore, the police stated that the Ministry of Environment and Energy, the Fisheries Ministry, customs and the Maldives National Defence Force were all involved in the operation.

Police have also appealed to the public to inform police if they have any information by contacting the police hotline – 332 2111, the police emergency hotline – 119, or police Criminal Investigation Department – 963 1696.

On 16 March Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed met with Commissioner General of Customs Ahmed Mohamed and a delegation of senior customs official to discuss the increase in illegal animals being discovered during recent drug operations.

A police statement at the time reported that Waheed had told officials that citizens were now in constant fear, noting that the police did not have any role in the airports and other ports.

He also said that police now needed to conduct as many operations to confiscate illegal and dangerous animals as to curb drug related crimes.

Earlier in March, police discovered a royal python – a nonvenomous snake commonly kept as a pet – following a drugs raid in Himmafushi, Kaafu atoll, on March 4.

In a separate raid on March 7 police also confiscated a Kingsnake and a Mexican red-kneed tarantula from a house in Malé.

A slow loris was also discovered by police in a drugs raid in Malé in Januray 21.  It has been revealed this week that the ministry is considering destroying the animal after attempts to find a suitable home had failed.

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Comment: Manners and animals

“They are like animals…”

These were the words I overheard a few feet away from me, as I stood outside the Hulhumale’ ferry terminal. The voice sounded of an elderly foreign woman. I turned my head to see who that was, judging by my initial glance it was an elderly European woman, possibly in her 40’s, and judging by her accent, Dutch. There was an elderly European man and a younger female, possibly their daughter.

As I listened to a few more words from her, I realised they were talking about the encounter they just experienced while boarding the ferry from Male’ to get to Hulhumale’. I was also on the same ferry.

I must admit, somehow, I wasn’t surprised by those remarks. I could relate to exactly what she was talking about. For a moment, as I stood there I had a flashback of having a similar experience, and making similar remarks (of course not out loud).

I had my first experience boarding the ferry to get to Hulhumale’ about two years back. Having been abroad in Europe for quite a few years, I became accustomed to some of their generally accepted social etiquettes and good manners. For example in the UK, they are well known for their orderly queuing, staying in line among other similar social etiquettes to abide by in public situations, which are considered to be in the best interest of all citizens. Breaking a line in queue, raising your voice to be heard while you are being spoken to, pushing another, taking someone’s seat, rushing your way to the counter when there is some else in front etc would be considered a cardinal sin of good social etiquettes and norms.

I tried to recall what actually may have happened about half an hour ago that led her to make this remark. As I entered the Hulhumale’ terminal in Male’, I noticed these three foreign visitors sitting in the back of the seating area inside the terminal. I glanced around and saw an empty seat in the front row. I made my way over to the seat, put the bag of passionfruits and papaya I was carrying with me on the floor and sat down. As I sat and watched the news from the TV in the seating area, I could also see in the reflection from the glass window in front of me, the growing crowd in the seating area. A minutes before 7:30 there were a lot people standing up in the aisle, even when there were enough seats for all the people to sit down.

Just before the terminal attendant could open the door, suddenly, in no particular order, almost everyone rushed towards the door. Since I was in the front seats, I waited until the door was opened. As I walked to board the ferry in the crowd, I was not very gently pushed by a couple of people, perhaps not purposefully. And yet I was mildly irritated by it, but I didn’t allow myself to ponder any feelings of anger, perhaps I was accustomed to such norms after being a regular ferry commuter for nearly two years.

As I found myself a seat on the ferry and sat down, I noticed the three foreigners were almost the last to board the ferry. And as we neared to Hulhumale’ terminal, even before the ferry closed to the harbour, again all of a sudden in no particular order everyone rushed to get off the ferry.

I imagined, perhaps this was their first time boarding the ferry, and as I related to my first experience two years back, I knew exactly what she meant when she made that remark and possibly how she felt. I assume these visitors are not going to stay here for long, but because of that incident, she was quick to make generalisation about Maldivians. Possibly an experience that will stay with her for a while and possibly an experience she will share with her friends.

At this point, I would like to ask you this question: is this sort of image we want portray to the foreign visitors who visit the Maldives? Particularly away from the polished resort life to the everyday unpolished Maldivian city life?

I wonder if there are others like me, who share a similar view; that we have a lot to learn and work on to improve our social etiquettes and good manners. Possibly we could try to emulate and practice some of the good manners and social etiquettes from developed countries.

We can start off with simple social etiquettes. Let me suggest seven simple things to practice for now:

  1. Always make queues and stand in line, if anyone cuts you off, kindly tell them “Sir/madam, there is a queue here” (moral persuasion is better than pointing fingers)
  2. For heaven’s sake, SMILE, even just a little bit when someone makes eye contact with you, the last thing you want to do is stare back at them with an evil eye. Guys, smile to others guys as well, it’s completely OK (there is nothing gay about it!).
  3. Say ‘thank you’ to whoever serves you, where ever that maybe.
  4. Sit in orderly fashion when there are chairs, if you arrive first to the ferry terminal or board the ferry, sit in front and away from the aisle making it easy for others to find their seats. And when getting off, let the ferry come to a stop at the harbour and let the people in the front seats get off first.
  5. When the ferry terminal door opens, allow the people in the front seats to board first.
  6. Raising your voice and breaking the conversation just to be heard, not only makes you sound dumb, it makes you look immature and proves you lack the communication skills to persuade the other person(s) with good reason.
  7. Even if your relative or close friends say ‘drop in anytime’, don’t take it literally. Let them know in advance you will be coming over and check whether it’s convenient for them. And guys/girls always keep to the time you agree, if you are going to be late or running let give a ring or sms and let them know.

As the overused saying goes: “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Sometimes this might be true. I like to think I am a realist. Some people will just brush it off when they hear about things like what I talked about and just go about their life the usual way.

Since you are still reading this, I know a part of you is saying “Ok, Mr Perfect! This is all very nice, but most of the people are not going to bother practice this anyway, why waste my energy on doing it differently, I’d rather go with the flow.”

I hear you buddy, so let me tell you the rest of the story, how it ended, hopefully you will rethink and take some action. Read on.

After I overhead these remarks and as I turned my head to see them, I made eye contact with her and smiled. There was no reaction from her; perhaps she didn’t see me clearly as it was a bit dark outside the terminal. I took a few steps forward, made eye contact with her again and smiled. There was a partial smile and I said “Hi! You guys waiting for a taxi?” (I took the cue as they were waiting near the taxi stop).

She said “Ya, is this the correct stop?”, I replied “Yes, this is the stop, but there aren’t too many taxis on this island, so it may take a while for one to arrive, but let me help you, I’ve got a taxi number I can try.”

She said “that’s very nice of you, thank you”. I said “sure thing, you are very welcome”. I took my phone dialled and asked if the taxi was available to come over the terminal. In about a minute, the taxi arrived; they thanked me again and left.

My only hope is they would share this story with their friends and loved ones instead of their ferry experience. But, I don’t know if that will happen, maybe they will tell both stories, but even then, it is better than having just a single bad experience. So, it is up to us, you and your friends, to practice good social etiquettes and set an example. If not all, hopefully even a few will recognise and try to emulate you.

Ahmed Lilal is involved in the LAL Consulting Group, established to improve the wellbeing of the Maldivian society through informal education.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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“Mother gave child animals to kill”

Securing womens’ rights is essential to protecting the rights of children, declared Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali at a human rights function last night, moving the audience with her experience of handling a particularly insidious case of maternal child abuse.

“I first saw this case in 2000 when I started working in the childrens’ rights unit,” Maryia said. “At the time, the child was 11 years old. We had first accepted the case when he was six – he had bitten a classmate’s cheek and chewed off a piece of flesh, and his class teacher was despairing about what to do with him. He asked us to send him to the juvenile centre in Maafushi.”

The child had been diagnosed with attention-deficit-with-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), she said. “But his mother wasn’t told to avoid feeding him certain foods, or not to give him Coke or sugary things, or any information like that. So she gave him Coke. And then, when he stole a lump of sugar from a neighbour’s house when he was six, she poured scalding hot water on his hand.”

No assessments of the child’s family background had been made, and nobody “realised just how bad his life was,” Mariya said.

“Because he had ADHD he was difficult to control – so he was put in chains. When I went to the house, his foot was chained to a pole in the middle a dark room with nothing in it except a bed.

“He hadn’t been fed because he had misbehaved, so I asked him what he had done. He got scared and hid under the bed and started to cry, saying, ‘sister, please save me from this place.’ I touched his head and saw it was swollen all over – he said he was beaten by his brother.”

In later appointments, Mariya discovered that each of the other siblings in the family had some kind of psychiatric problem. It later emerged that the child had also been sexually abused.

“When I was evaluating the child, his mother told me ‘he only stays still when you show him horror films’ – she would show him five a day. She told me he couldn’t sleep without killing some kind of animal or living thing, and when the animals were buried, the next day he would dig them up and cut off pieces.”

Horrified, Mariya turned to child psychology experts in the UK for advice. She was told the damage could not be reversed even if the boy was given 11 years of therapy.

“A lot happened to this child,” she said. “It began with ADHD; that was something we could have managed. But [the situation] went beyond of our reach because we because we failed to assure his rights for him. When we consider the human rights conventions [that the Maldives has signed], here is a case where so many of those rights have been violated.”

The Ministry was now working to strengthen the mechanisms for child protection and fulfil its obligations under the convention, she said.

“Securing women’s rights is essential to protecting children rights: mothers have to be psychologically fit to take care of a child.”

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